Birdsafe California Bird Nerds


Parrots never get too old to "talk"

I have an 11-year-old male eclectus, a 13-year-old umbrella cockatoo and a 5-year-old male Moluccan cockatoo. I am wondering if they are too old to learn to speak. The eclectus used to say several phrases and between 10 and 15 words, but doesn't speak very often now. The umbrella knows about 10 words, and the Moluccan only says hello and his name. Would a tape be helpful at all?

-- Pam,

THE ABILITY TO MIMIC human speech is probably the reason why there are so many parrots kept as pets today. When people see our parrots in any of our shows one of the first questions is inevitably, "Does it talk?"

While all parrots have the ability to "talk," not all have the desire. Some parrots may develop astonishing vocabularies of hundreds of words while others never utter "hello". One of the keys to training a parrot to talk is repetition. They repeat things they hear often, and things they like to say. Unfortunately, the things they pick up aren't always the things we want repeated!

Speech training tapes are pretty straightforward. They take a word or phrase and repeat it over and over until either your bird repeats it or you throw the tape out because it is driving you batty. Another option, which I have used, are recorders such as the Wordy Birdie, which you can use to record and play back whatever you choose. Many people prefer this option because you get to pick what is repeated and the bird is more likely to sound like you.

Your parrots will never be too old to learn something new, and speech-training tapes are certainly one of the many ways to encourage your birds to pick up a few new words.

Grey Fisher Grey Fisher is a trainer at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Previously he was a trainer with Natural Encounters, Inc., a world-renowned organization that helps zoos all over the world train birds and many other types of animals using positive reinforcement. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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