Parrot Speak

Posted by Bird Tricks on

None of my parrots are great talkers.  Aside from Theo, my goffins cockatoo, who has never uttered anything sounding remotely like human speech, they all have a small repertoire of words which they use when they choose to.

Libby, my quaker, is probably my best talker and has made big leaps in his vocabulary over the past year or two.  He likes to watch Pluto the quaker parrot videos over and over, and is eager to learn whatever Pluto says.  He is a long way from having the Quaker Song down, but he’s off to a great start.

Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, greets me everyday with a boisterous Hi! How doin’? when I return from work, and informs passersby that I’m a bird when he’s outside.  He associates words with objects and will call them by name IF he feels like it. I know he can talk because he does when it suits him, like the cute and VERY clear hello he purrs when I’ve caught him in the act.

I asked a friend of mine, a retired school teacher in Louisiana, if I could read the vocabulary journals she has kept on her scarlet macaw Fergie, and Blusher, her red fronted macaw.  When I opened the attachments, I was surprised to see hundreds of entries.  Some were cute and funny,  some were impeccably and appropriately timed, they were all amazing.  I just had to share a few of them:

Their correct usage of pronouns is astonishing. One example:

I was on the floor after cleaning cages.  Fergie was “owning” the floor.  I ended up on the floor with a toy.  Fergie finally came to me.  Blusher was on the swing and tried every way to get me.  She tried “Up,” “Mama,” “Step up.” and finally “I up.”

This was a conversation his owner had while trying to order something by credit card over the phone with Fergie nearby:

Once upon a time I had to have hand surgery.  The PT that followed required my doing exercises.  I got my hand level, started the exercises, and counted them off: “One, two, three, etc.”  My bird started learning the numbers.  I thought that was cool until I realized that he could not say the number “four” clearly.  I feared the worst, so I quit saying the numbers.  Not to be deterred, he somehow managed to learn a few numbers, his favorite being “five.”

Weeks after this I was making a phone call and I had to give my VISA number (or account number, or some such thing).  My bird was on my arm.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Two one six.
Bird: Five.
Clerk: Two, one, six, five.
Me:  No.  There is no “five.”
Clerk:  OK.  Two, one, six.
Me: Three two nine.
Bird: Five
Clerk: Three two nine five.
Me:  No.  There is no “five.”
Clerk: OK.  Three, two, nine.
Me: Six, two, three.
Bird: Five.
Clerk: Six two three five.
Me:  Sir, there is no “five.”  Could you wait while I put my bird down?

Note:  She has recently noticed that the birds are not just using numbers arbitrarily.  Lately there has been a correlation between the number and how many items are present.

A conversation with Blusher:

Blusher: Mama?
Me: Yes, Blusher?
Blusher: Want up.
Me: Blusher, we’re going to take a nap now.
Blusher: Mama?
Me: Yes, Blusher?
Blusher: Want up? Do you want up?
Me: No, Blusher. I want to take a nap.
Blusher: Mama?
Me: Yes, Blusher?
Blusher: Want up.
Me: Blusher, we’re going to take a nap now.
Blusher shrieks and shrieks and shrieks.
Sound of Blusher’s guts coming up.
Blusher: Mama?
Me: Yes, Blusher?
Blusher: Get up.
Me: No, Blusher. I’m going to take a nap.
Repeat the above for 5 (at least) minutes. I finally give up and don’t answer her. She continues alone for a long time then gives us about 20 minutes of quiet. Then she starts again.
Blusher: Mama?
Blusher: Want up.
Blusher: Mama? I want up.

Fergie requesting to go to bed:

While I was at computer; she had said “light” and I told her I couldn’t go to bed now that I was working on the computer.  She said “light” a few more times then said “night night.”

The next night she said “Light” three times and each time I told her I was busy and couldn’t turn off the light.  Then she said “Night night” three times and each time I told her I was busy.  She then flew off my shoulder and stayed somewhere behind me.  She kept saying “Light.”

I knew she could not get in any trouble back there, so I ignored her until the lights went out.  She had flown to the top of the piano and had reached up and grabbed the light switch, saying “Light” until she finally got it to turn off.

As soon as the light went off, she let go of the switch and it popped back up and the lights came back on.  She had not pulled it completely down, but she knew exactly what she was doing.

And another from the journal:

Tonight I heard the sound of two birds “fighting,” but they were in their cages.  It had not really dawned on me what I was hearing until Blusher said, “Hey, you two.  Break it up.”

Sunshine is an african grey that came through a shelter in need of a new home.  While he was adjusting to his life at the shelter, this video was made.   

(In another, he repeats a one time conversation his former owner had with, perhaps,  a carpet cleaning company, he spells out the owner’s last name and starts to spell Albuquerque – which I just had to look up!)


Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →


  • Oh yeah, I am embarrassed to say that Fred learned that expression from me, not my husband. When he was a baby, he would be on my desk while I was typing and I type about 80 wpm. He would want my attention so to get me to stop typing, he would bite my fingers as they flew across the keyboard. This would sometimes surprise and of course it hurt, so that is when I would say what I probably should not have said. Anyway, Fred is a real Adventurer and he is not afraid of anything or anyone, except for those little Miller moths and I wonder why. When I walk into the room he calls out very cheerily, “Hi Baby”! When Tony walks into the room, he calls out in a totally different voice, “Hey Fool”.

    I need to spend more time with him because I know he would pick up the tricks very quickly. If I whistle a new song, no matter how far away he is, he hustles over to me and gets right up in front of my mouth. Once I finish, he chirps once and to me it means, again and it takes about three days of this for him to learn the new song. I am disabled and he is a great friend and a loving companion. Thanks again for helping me to work through some of his aggressive behavior as I never wanted to break his spirit. He has such an awesome personality.

    Peace, Love & Happiness,

    Sugarshirl on
  • Hi Sugarshirl,
    It sounds like you have an exceptionally smart bird on your hands! You should definitely try trick training him.
    Here’s a tip for you: My quaker came to me saying a naughty word (begins with “a” and ends with “hole”). Because the ‘h’, “o”, and “l” sounds were all there we turned it into “hello” with a big exclamation point on the end! He only said “hi” before that so it worked out well. When he said his word, I said “hello”. He was rewarded for repeating back my version. It came together very quickly. Try replacing his word with “thank you”, perhaps, because a lot of the same sounds are in place already.

    Patty on
  • Chet,

    My Cockatiel, Fred, uses words approriately and with the correct inflection. At the Bird Farm where we got him as a hand fed baby 6 years ago, the man there still clips his nails and wings. He tried to tell my husband that birds only mimic but Tony told him that he did not know Fred. Once the guy had to pull out a broken tail feather and Fred said loudly and with strong inflection, “F*** You”! It surprised the guy and he asked my husband if he had heard correctly and Tony told him to finish his job as there was one more broken tail feather to pull out. Of course Fred told him again and then he set Fred on the counter and Fred started whistling his 10 different songs that he knows the first two verses to. A crowd gather and the kids were all laughing and smiling and Fred was a big ham. My point being is that birds are really a lot smarter than some people think.

    I love your training CDs and DVDs and I do read almost all of your posts, but I just had to comment on this one. Thanks for all the info you supply, I am positive that you have helped many, many birds and their owners to be happy.

    Peace, Love & Happiness,

    Sugarshirl on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.