People buy parrots, and they just assume the bird will talk and talk, they’ll even be happy with the bird babbling without saying much of anything – sort of like their own Larry King with feathers. But that’s not how it works. All birds don’t pop out of the shell talking, but many can be taught…This reader question addresses the issue:
Q: My parrot is 4-years old. He whistles, he sings and says ‘Hi Charlie.’ But he won’t say anything else. He does move his mouth and his tongue, but nothing comes out. He talks a silent blue streak. How can I get him to talk like parrots are supposed to? E. S., Martinsville, Ind.
A: Who says all parrots are supposed to talk? There are many parrot species, some are more likely to talk than others. A predisposition for talking varies from species to species. Avian behaviorist Chris Davis of Channahon, IL explains African grey parrots and the various Amazon parrot, for example, are among the most likely to speak. Lovebirds and some kinds of conures are far less inclined to talk. “But so much also varies on the individual bird,” adds Davis. “I have ten fingers, but I can’t play the piano worth a darn. All parrots have the vocal apparatus, but it doesn’t mean they have that particular talent. Also, so much depends on the teacher and the environment. I may have the talent to play the piano, but you’d never know it if I never have the chance to learn. Some piano teachers really stink, others truly motivate their students – and can mold an ordinary talent into a virtuoso.”
The good news is that it’s never too late for a bird to learn, what’s more, your bird is still very young. Davis says speak Motherese or Momese. These are terms to describe the deliberate method teachers speak to toddlers. Instead of saying hello, it’s hellllowww, accentuating sounds and syllables. Parrots like drama, so also speak enthusiastically and with lots of volume and facial expressions, or hire Kenneth Branagh to talk to your birds.
Start with naming a favorite object the bird might like such as a favorite toy, such as a stick. Enlist your spouse or a friend, and present the stick, talk about the stick, and make a big deal about stick in front of your bird. Do this for three or four minutes at a time (too long gets boring) several times a day if you can. Eventually your bird may sort of mutter as you described, but listen carefully for the word ‘stick’ within that babbling a blue streak. As soon as your bird says the secret word, he gets the stick. Tell your bird how wonderful he is! Let him play with the stick for several minutes. Take the stick away, then ask if he wants the stick back? “I bet he’ll either repeat the word ‘stick’ or say ‘yes,” says Davis. “Even when birds don’t talk, they understand far more than we typically give them credit for.”
Another motivator is a favorite person. If your bird loves grandpa, talk to your bird about him and then call him into the room over and over and over again – each time he makes only a momentary appearance. If the bird says “grandpa,” the reward is a long and engaging visit from gramps.
“Some birds can learn from playing repetitive cassette tapes or using other methods,” says Davis. “But today, we consider that method outdated. In truth, birds learn best when they get what they want. Still, don’t have unrealistic expectations – no matter what you do – not all parrots will talk.”
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