Talking Birds

Talking Birds, Intelligent Creatures


daltonparrotOwning a talking bird is a much greater responsibility than anyone previously told you. I discovered this duty as a result of working with a macaw that has developed a greater vocabulary than any other nonhuman animal on the planet. What I have found is that parrots are extraordinarily smart. While humans have not been able to decode the natural language of birds, some parrots are intelligent enough to learn our language and that is quite a feat!

Because of their high intelligence, keeping a bird in a cage all day is cruel. It isn’t right. As a comparison, think about how you might pass the time if you had to remain in a small bathroom all day with little to do. A human might go insane under the conditions some people keep birds; the unending boredom that many captive birds experience is a likely explanation for some of the problems owners experience in keeping caged birds.

Parrots are inquisitive animals and will explore things in great detail, sometimes making owners irritated by their proclivity to disassemble things. I believe that parrots should have toys on a gym outside or in a room where they can observe a yard or large atrium. Even a simple toy such as a swing can enrich a parrot’s environment. My bird, Arielle, enjoys playing outside for several hours each day on our screened porch. Arielle often sits on her swing and listens to the songbirds and watches squirrels, butterflies, wild birds, and other animals going about their business. A content bird is likely to play and to speak when an owner is unaware. Birds perform similarly to toddlers at play. Both birds and toddlers each learn to play on their own, make noises, and to speak ongoing monologues¹.  (Information about recording bird speech appears in a companion article, at Recording Speech by Birds)

Many years ago, I discovered that my macaw was a “closet” speaker. I attribute my bird’s exposure to a variety of experiences as a prime reason for her interest in learning language and for her desire to communicate with me. Studies with children and language-using animals find that once an animal begins to learn that it is likely to continue to learn at an accelerated rate.², ³ Learning begets more learning. The evidence shows that the more a parrot learns the more the bird is likely to learn. 4

This article was contributed by Michael Dalton, Author of Another Kind of Mind: A Talking Bird Masters English, E-mail address:

¹ Dalton, Michael S. Another Kind of Mind: A Talking Bird Masters English.   Clearwater, FL: Arielle Publishing, 2007.

² Doupe, Allison J., and Patricia K. Kuhl. “Birdsong and Human Speech: Common Themes and   Mechanisms.” Annu. Rev. Neurosci, 22, (1999), pp. 567-631.

³ Bates, Elizabeth, and Judith C. Goodman. “On the Inseparability of Grammar and the Lexicon:    Evidence from Acquisition, Aphasia and Real-time Processing.” Language and Cognitive Processes,    Vol. 12 (5/6), (1997), pp. 507-584.

4 Dalton, Michael S. Another Kind of Mind: A Talking Bird Masters English.   Clearwater, FL: Arielle Publishing, 2007. Pp. 102-104.

Listen to Arielle at Is this parrot really talking?