Questions About Your Article on Parrots and Their Ability to Speak

Questions About Your Article on Parrots and Their Ability to Speak

Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing

Lynn H. asks,

Hi Mitch,

Thank you for your helpful articles. We spoke a while back on the phone.   I just read your article on parrots and their ability to speak and understand what they are saying. 

I think I mentioned to you that I took a class called Hang on “Intro. to Ethology,” the study of animal behavior with Irene Pepperberg while at Northwestern and met Alex. 

I have found that the article you shared that rings true with my parrot, Gonzo. 

What I do not understand is why she does not choose to use/learn new words.

I’m guessing that she has already succeeded in communicating with me so she does not need to do so.

I was just wondering if there is a time when this naturally stops.

She does continue to add new sounds to her repertoire, such as imitating my alarm. Just wondering.

And, like most people, the only word that she does not seem to understand or chooses to ignore is the word “no.”

Also, I corresponded with Catherine about the three-day light exposure using the light I purchased from you since Gonzo continues to lay eggs.

I removed everything she could rub up against but she is doing it again.

I guess birds will be birds. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions to curb this behavior.  in the meantime, we will try some more three-day light exposure.

Warm regards, Lynn

Catherine replied,

Dear Lynn

Thank you very much for liking the articles we put out. Mitch works hard on the weekly email.

I have found from my own experience that birds learn new words rapidly and well during the first 3 years of their lives, the younger the better, as Sunshine, my Indian Ringneck learned words while I hand-fed him and finally repeated them back to me at 6 1/2 months. After 3 years they don’t learn as much. I suppose by that age they are able to understand us well enough and visa versa and don’t care.

However, we currently have 2 small parrots that live near each other, the African Ringneck is 21 and the other, a Quaker is 11.

The ringneck came to us at about 16 years old and with a number of words and phrases that he uses and has not added to since we took him in.

The Quaker is quite vocal in chirps and squawks but doesn’t talk to us in words other than to grumble or whisper to himself inside his tent talking to his toys and food.

On occasion, he will call out “Chili!!!” in a shout as that is how he learned his name, since he is often being scolded for something, LOL!  He will also laugh out loud on occasion, usually after biting me.

Neither has learned anything new in the 3-7 years we have had them.

They both know how to wolf whistle and our cockatiel too. And if I want them all to respond all I have to do is wolf-whistle and they all chime in.

I know some larger and smarter birds (bigger bird-bigger brain) may learn new words later in life than 3 years.

I have also found that young birds will learn all we teach them, but unless the words are related to something tangible, they drop it from their vocabulary.

For example. “Nummy, nummy, good boy, etc” can relate to food and affection, but cute phrases like “I can talk, can you fly” mean nothing, get them nothing for saying it, and can be forgotten in no time.

As for the word “no”. Birds are amoral, meaning there is no good or bad, everything is theirs. When you say No, your bird basically feels that you are preventing it from getting or doing what it feels is theirs or should be able to do.

You may find it easier to instead, steer them toward something else that will not hold their interest and away from the forbidden item or action.

Over time, the action may be not done again, but only if they find something better, not because you said no.

ZooMed avian light box panel with LUX statistics
The light treatment. If after 3 days the broody behavior resumes, you can repeat the treatment again for up to 7 days (and nights).

Also, if the cage is big, the light may not be bright enough or close enough to affect the pineal gland through the eyes.

You can put the bird in a small cage or carrier (18″-20″) for the 3-day treatment or get more bulbs to create a brighter space.

Also, be sure to make sure she doesn’t have dark areas to hang out in as that can encourage broody behavior.


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