Talking birds are those birds that can mimic human speech. Scientists and researchers have not yet arrived at a conclusion regarding the aptitude for languages present in the birds. Different species of birds have different levels of talking ability. Some can mimic almost all words, whereas some can only speak a few. The common pet bird known as Budgerigar is a well-known talking bird that can mimic around 2000 words of vocabulary, whereas the Corvids can speak only a few vocabularies. Some birds learn human speech by cultural inheritance from the previous captive birds present in their flock. It is believed that the talking birds have been present since the 5th century BC. A plum-headed Parakeet was called as Bittacus by Ctesias, which is recorded in the ancient records.
History of Talking birds
The Talking birds like Parrots have evolved from around 40 million years ago. From the study of fossils, it is claimed that the early types of parrots were first found in the areas that we now recognize as Germany, Austria and England. They were highly prized during the times of monarchs and kings, and were only found in the chambers of wealthy and highly designated people like kings, queens or ministers. Later, in the medieval period, everyone was fond of these talking little creatures. They started to keep them as pets at home. Its talking ability made them a good companion bird, especially for the voyagers who travelled for a long period of time. They used to carry these talking birds for leisure. Some people used to hang the cages of these talking birds in front of the house, and these little birds used to give intimation about the arrival of strangers. In the Roman empires, tutors were appointed to teach Latin language to the Indian origin parrots. Some early inscriptions reveal that these parrots were taught to speak by hitting them on the head. In China, these talking birds were considered very auspicious. They still carry their small singing birds along with them while travelling.
Types of Talking Birds
Birds mostly get their talking ability by interacting with humans. It is not necessary that a captive bird only can have this ability. Some wild birds like Lyrebird, Australian Magpies and Bowerbird also have the ability to speak, but of course, only after a few interactions with human beings. There are two types of mimicking birds, namely, the Parrots and the Songbirds. Some of the birds from the parrot group are:
These parrots are from the Psittaculini tribe and Eceltus Roratus species that basically are from the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Sumba, Maluku Islands and some northeastern parts of Australia. They have a brilliant skill of mimicking sounds and human speech. They always fool their owners by making sounds like that of a doorbell, phone bell, running water or the voice of any person absent from home.
The bird species of the Amazon are mostly talkers, which include the Yellow-Crowned Amazon, Yellow-Headed Amazon, Yellow-Nape Amazon, the White-Fronted Amazon and many more. Amazon parrots are commonly called as green parrots and they belong to Amazon genus. They are one of the best companion pet birds due to its extraordinary intelligence and talking ability. It mimics human speech in different tones, and is interested in learning new words.
African Gray Parrot
These parrots are well known for their cognitive abilities and vocabularies with clear speech. In this genus, there are two different species of companion Parrots known as Timneh African Gray and Congo African Gray. Compared to the Congo Parrot, the Timneh is more capable of learning the language and to speak at a very young age. The Congo requires at least 12 months to start with a single word. Some species manage to learn a few words, whereas some types have a vocabulary of 500 plus words.
These birds are good talkers, but not as good as some parrots. They are from the Cacatuidae Family, and are endemic to the Australian region. The male Cockatoos are comparatively more intelligent than the female and can be easily trained to talk. The Yellow-Crested Cockatoo is considered to have a good or fair talking ability, whereas the long-billed crested Cockatoo is entitled to a description of a “very clever talker.”
The common Parakeets or budgerigars are very popular and the most liked pets due to their talking skills. They are very social and mingling birds that have gravelly tiny voices. Renowned for the vocabularies and clear speech, they have the ability to grasp many words and phrases as some big parrot species have. During the period between 1954 and 1962, a budgerigar known as “Sparkie” had the record of learning largest vocabulary of about 531 words and 383 sentences before its death. That record was broken in 1995 by another Budgerigar named as “Puck”, and its name was included in the Guinness book of World record for learning the highest vocabulary of 1,728 words. Hence, it is known as a clever bird, which can easily learn to talk.
- The Quaker Parakeet or monk Parakeet is a talking bird, but its distinctive feature is that, along with the human speech, it tries to mimic household sounds like the sound of an alarm, microwave beeps or ring of a telephone.
- The Indian Ring Necked, commonly known as the Rose-Ringed Parakeet is a Psittacula Krameri Manillensis species popular for its clear talking ability. It can grasp many words instantly and can speak clear sentences. They are such clever talkers that once a monk considered a ring necked parrot to be sacred by hearing the small creature repeating the prayers, which the native people regularly chanted. Many audios and videos are available that shows the talking skill of these small birds, which comprise of lengthy recitations, stories, scriptures and poems.
- The Blossom-Headed Parakeet from the species Psittacula Roseata also has a good and clear talking ability, but is very rarely found. Hence it is not considered as a pet bird.
- The African Ring-Neck Parakeets belonging to the species Psittacula Krameri Krameri are good at mimicking human sounds, but have to be trained from a very young age.
- The Derbyan Parakeet from the species Psittacula Derbianais are compared to the Amazon birds in the terms of their talking ability. They are excellent talkers with extraordinary clarity of speech, but they cannot outwit the Amazon birds in terms of vocabulary.
Hill mynahs or common mynahs are from the Gracula genus, and are very well known for loud and descending whistles and gurgles. They belong to the Starling Family, and are native to the hilly areas of South and South-East Asia. They also have a good talking ability similar to the African Gray Parrots. They have the ability to produce similar sounds that they hear everyday in the surroundings with incomparable clarity and perfection. Hence, they are considered to be the best mimicking and the best talking bird in the world.
Corvids belong to the crow family, and are a good talker. They can easily mimic the speeches of human beings. But they need interactions to grasp the human language. Hence the most talking Crows or Corvids can be seen in zoos, wildlife or in the captivity.
Starlings are the passerine birds belonging to Sturnidae Family. They have a very complex and distinct vocalization. They are well known for not only mimicking human speech, but also imitating the sounds from the surrounding areas like car alarms, horns or different patterns of human speech. It is said that they can imitate human sounds so perfectly that people misunderstand the sounds to be that of humans.
These are the New World Passerine birds that belong to Mimidae family. As the name suggests, they are good at mocking and mimicking sounds of other birds, amphibians and other insects. They even try to imitate the songs of other birds. While mimicking the sound of insects and birds, they do it repeatedly in a loud a voice. They are also good at mimicking human sounds in a variety of patterns.
Lyrebirds are ground-dwelling birds found in Australia, which belongs to Menura Genus and the Menuridae Family. They are commonly found in the rainforest areas of Tasmania, southeast Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. These species of birds are best known for imitating sounds from the surroundings. They can possibly mimic the original sound like other bird’s cry or songs, as well as the artificial sounds like a car alarm or horn. They are also good at imitating human speech.
The Australian Magpie is a Passerine birds belonging to Artamidae Family, and are native to New Guinea and Australia. They are known as the most accomplished song birds of Australia, and boast unique and complex vocals. They have a good ability to mimic human speech, words and lengthy phrases. These talking birds can also produce non-human sounds in a very realistic way.
Some Interesting Facts About the Talking Birds
- A bird named “Alex” was so clever that he could recognize “bigger and smaller” as well as “same and different” objects. He had a vocabulary of above 100 words, and he used to reply “none” as “Nuh”.
- “Prudle” had his name in the Guiness Book of World Record for many years for having a vocabulary of more than 800 words
- “N’kisi” was well-known for his talking ability in the English language. This bird is considered as the most advanced and intelligent bird in using human language with high clarity. He had a vocabulary of 950 words.
- A ladybird named “Einstein” was very popular in the television shows for imitating sounds of a laser beam generator.
- A Congo African Gray Parrot named “Bibi” is an exceptional bird who can greet you in 20 languages. Besides, it can also count numbers in 6 different languages. This unique talent has earned her a nickname “The Polyglot Parrot”. Before attaining a 6 years of age, she already had a 500 word vocabulary.
Having discovered a fondness for insects while pursuing her degree in Biology, Randi Jones was quite bugged to know that people usually dismissed these little creatures as “creepy-crawlies”.