Jan 28 2011
A few days ago Steve Gosser posted this video of his grandmother’s talking budgerigar. Amazingly, the bird speaks in complete sentences.
How and why do parrots learn to do this?
Birds sing using their syrinx, a fancy two-sided voicebox with muscles that can control each side independently. This allows the bird to sing harmony with itself, something that wood thrushes are especially good at.
Songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds(!) learn their songs. The rest make appropriate sounds but don’t improve upon them.
Most songbirds learn during a sweet spot of time while they’re growing up. In white-crowned sparrows this is at 10 to 50 days old, and then they’re done. Mockingbirds, on the other hand, learn new songs throughout their lives.
Birds learn by listening to and memorizing the phrases and song traditions of adults in their area, though they don’t practice them at first. After they’ve memorized the audio template, they begin practicing out loud to match it. Studies on the brain waves of zebra finches show that they think about their songs while asleep and practice in their dreams!
Because parrots are social birds, they learn and practice the song traditions of their flock in order to become part of the group. For pet birds, their flocks are the members of their household so they learn the phrases they hear and repeat them when the flock is happy together or when they want attention (as in “Flock, come here!”).
Even so, it’s impressive when a bird speaks in complete sentences. Turn up the sound on your computer and listen to Steve’s video. This bird is a virtuoso!
(video by Steve Gosser)