Can Parrots Really Talk?

Although some parrots have been known to learn to speak as many as 50 words, the fact is that parrots are excellent mimics. When they speak, they are really only mimicking words and do not understand what they are saying. Don’t be fooled by the parrot who shrieks “Hello” when you come in, it might say the same thing when you leave! And the parrot who says “Polly wants a cracker” is not telling you it is hungry.

With careful training, parrots can be trained to speak words, sing, and whistle. But they are not speaking in the sense we know it. They are just making a sound they once heard, a sound which has no connection to their inner feeling. They are not using speech to communicate.

While parrots are good mimics, other birds, such as the myna bird and the crow, can be taught human sounds too.

Interestingly, many other birds who do not imitate human sounds can imitate the sounds of other birds. Mockingbirds got their name because of their mimicry powers. Some baby birds, raised with species of birds different from their own, can make sounds just like those other birds.

The calls and songs and different sound patterns of birds in the wild serve another purpose, communication. There are danger calls, alarm calls, food calls, mating calls, and territorial calls.

The most talkative parrot on record, an African gray parrot belonging to a London family, had a vocabulary of almost 1,000 words!

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

6 thoughts on “Can Parrots Really Talk?”

  1. Parrots, Donkeys, and Serpents can all TALK. Look it up in the Bible.(God’s Holy Word) Look it up under Numbers 22 and Genesis 3:1-5.
    Now, about parrots, you can teach them to talk and everything, they can even under stand you. Well. BYE

  2. I believe that parrots do understand some of the words they are saying/associated with actions. Everytime I cover my birds for the night, one says “Bye-bye” – he knows he’s going to bed. He also says this when he wants to be left alone! they also know the word “cookie-cookie” and will ask for it when they want one! Trust me, they understand some of what they’re talking about!

  3. Actually parrots can and do understand language in a very similar sense that humans understand vocal language. In the wild Macaws even have their own local dialects.
    And how could you forget the great Alex the African Grey who was part of a study with Dr. Irene Pepperburg for many years. Alex not only could speak and understand it but she could spell and she could also add and subtract- she did basic math. It’s not so hard to believe or amazing, people act like they are so special and awesome but they are not. We are all animals and when you are a social or gregarious animal making and using sounds to communicate with others in your group is a necessity not some magical gift given only to western european humans. Animals may not do things the way humans do but that does not mean they are any less capable of surviving and getting the most out of life. Certain humans really need to check themselves. You are not little amazing gods that are above all other living things. regardless of what ever your man made religion may have told you. Get right with your Mother Earth and DEcolonize your mind. Peace.

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