In the wild, young birds learn their own language in exactly the same way as we teach our own children to talk. Their ability to learn to communicate with other members of their flock is a critically important part of their future survival in the dangerous natural environment in which they must live.
Birds’ learning abilities are not only confined to communication by their voice – from a very young age they must also learn how to eat by themselves and become expert at flying. Through evolution, each bird species has refined these “life skills” so that they are very quickly able to “fend for themselves” from a very young age in many and varied natural environments. Birds that live in rain forest environments, such as the Eclectus, enjoy a community-based on a sophisticated level of social interaction. They enjoy a visually rich environment that keeps them active all day. Their extraordinary ability to learn many tasks in captivity reflects the stimulating natural habitat of their forebears.
Desert birds, like budgerigars, have learnt to survive under the harshest conditions and although their natural environment may appear poor visually, their ability to learn is based upon their survival skills. Survival in the desert requires a strong social organization that stimulates rapid breeding activity. Budgerigars also make extremely good talkers.
It is not that we want our birds to merely mimic, but they should be encouraged to communicate with us in a meaningful manner. This is called cognitive behaviour and we know that certain birds have the capacity and are able to communicate with us in a logical fashion. With this ability a pet bird will be able to better communicate its needs in a language understood by its carer. At the same time, we must also endeavour to understand the pet birds' methods of communications. Pet birds may communicate by making certain sounds. Some sounds indicate that it wants to be touched or come out of its cage. Other sounds are made when birds are frightened.
Birds also communicate by body language and as caring owners we need to understand this body language.
The methods we use to teach our birds to talk are exactly the same as those we use when teaching our children to talk. Both children and birds learn to talk by looking and listening to their parents and siblings. We take over this parenting role of the birds’ parents when we decide to get a young bird, who will learn to talk more quickly than older birds.
Before we can teach our birds to talk, there are a few important prerequisites. These are listed below:
- The pet bird must be perfectly healthy and happyThe pet bird must be intelligentThe pet bird must love and trust the owner and completely, and vice versaThe owner must be caring, patient and have time to spend with the birdThe pet bird must have a regular daily routineYoung birds soon after weaning learn to talk more quickly than older birds
Birds that are less than 100% healthy will not reach their talking potential. Our health programmes will help your bird to achieve perfect health. Your bird also must be happy in his environment; for example, he must have plenty to do to keep him busy.
Not every bird has the capacity to talk. Some bird species are more intelligent than others. We consider the Eclectus, Budgerigars, African Greys, Sulfur-crested Cockatoos and Long-billed Corellas to be the best talkers. This is not to say that other species do not talk. We have seen Lorikeets, Ringneck Parrots, Macaws, Major Mitchells, Amazons, Galahs and 28 Parrots become very good talkers. We have never heard Neofemas, Peachface parrots, Cockatiels nor small Conures talk, but they make many other sounds and communicate in this way. (Many bird owners have different experiences with the species discussed in this paragraph. We’d love to hear from you if you have one of these species that talks - that info will be published on the respective species page.)
Love and Trust
Birds will only talk if they love and trust their owner. It is a method they use to get their loved ones attention. Without this love and trust, your pet bird will never talk because it has nothing to say to you.
Care, Patience and Time
Birds respond in exactly the same way as children do. The more care and time we give them, the more quickly they will learn.
Birds need a set daily routine to feel safe and be happy. Time set aside for lessons should form part of this daily routine. Short lessons that incorporate playfulness offer the best way to teach your bird to talk.
The weaning period of birds corresponds to a child between the ages of 2 and 5. This is an age when learning a language is easiest. In the wild, this is a critical age when birds learn to survive on their own. They must learn the language of their parents and the foods that they can eat, and at the same time learn to fly. This requires a lot of mental energy and the brain is most receptive to learning at this age. We can use this ability to our advantage in teaching birds to talk. We may also teach older birds to talk but must give them more time to learn.
The First Lesson
Assuming that your bird is perfectly healthy, intelligent, happy and loves you, then it is ready for its first lesson. This must be a fun, loving experience in a quiet room. Birds like to talk most towards dusk or in the morning and this is the best time for a lesson. First of all, we need to show your bird that it is loved. We do this by scratching the bird behind the neck in the same way that its parents preened it in the nest. This is a love signal from us to the bird and it is the same as “necking” in humans. This is a starting point of teaching your bird certain words. As the neck is tickled we must say “I love you” then your bird understands the action as a token of love. As we tickle the neck we repeat the words “I love you” and kiss the beak. As we kiss the beak, we say “kiss” and your bird then understands the meaning of the word “kiss” and relates it to the love we have for it.
After we have established our mutual love we can then teach his or her name. This needs repetition and clarity for your bird to learn its name. The phrase “I love you, Birdie” or whatever name you have for your bird, is the best way to teach your bird its name.
After your bird knows its name and will ask for kisses, it is then time to teach cognitive behaviour. To do this we, a word must accompany every action. For example, in the morning we greet with “good morning” and at night “good night”. We should also name the foods offered to the bird, especially favourite foods or treats. Your bird must also know commands such as “hop up” to go onto the arm and “come”. These are identical commands used for dogs, but birds are often far more clever than dogs. When we scratch the bird under the wing, we say “scratch”, etc. Within a short time your bird will understand our word for each action. Your bird will then communicate to you in its own language; for example, lift its wing to be scratched and extend to its morning greeting “good morning”. Within a short time, the learning process will then cascade and your bird will pick up words without lessons.
After the previous lessons have been learnt this final lesson teaches your bird to communicate with you in a meaningful way. Learning in the wild involves young birds watching their loved ones (mates, parents and siblings) interact. At this stage of learning, your bird will understandably consider you stupid if you repeat words that have no meaning. It will learn quickly by watching and listening. There are many examples that show this increased ability to learn, for example, Lorikeets love to mimic the telephone and their owners answering the telephone.
The fastest way to teach your bird to speak with meaning is through jealousy, and "jealousy learning" is Lesson 3. Nearly always a pet bird will pair bond to one member of the family just as it will select a mate in the wild. This allows us to use jealousy as a teaching tool.
Copyright © 2004 Rob Marshall, All Rights Reserved.
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