Why do birds mimic us
Have you ever met a parrot and said hello, only for them to talk back? Some swear like sailors, some like to give kisses, but all parrots like to get chatty! Cute and conversational, we thought we would look into the cute and quirky language habits of our fancy flighted friends.
Why do birds mimic us?
There are lots of species that mimic sounds in their environment, such as whales and monkeys, but birds seem to be the most adept at it. Several species are known for their mimicry including parrots, crows, mockingbirds, lyrebirds, catbirds and thrashers. There are a variety of reasons birds might mimic sounds but bird lovers agree they tend to fall under these categories:
- Safety: Sounds may be used to claim territory, mimic predators to scare other birds away, or protect a food source.
- Mating: Certain birdsongs are used for mating, and a more complex sound may make the bird more attractive to mates.
- Social interaction: A domestic bird who is bored or in need of social interaction may mimic sounds to ‘talk’ to itself.
- Proximity learning: Just like some humans, birds may just be mimicking sounds they hear regularly in their environment, such as construction noises or a phone ringing.
How do birds mimic us?
So why can some birds only chirp but others can form a sentence? Scientists have discovered that it’s a lot to do with the brain – parrot’s brains are wired with different ‘song systems’ and have ‘shell song nuclei’ that other birds don’t.
In terms of hardware, birds have a drastically different voice ox compared to humans. They can produce two sounds at once and have incredible range beyond the scope of humans. Considering the sounds we have recorded birds making; chainsaws, jackhammers, car alarms, etc, it’s no wonder they can also imitate human voices.
Does this mean birds are smart?
On the one hand, the ability to mimic language is not the same as understanding it. While scientists agree that animals have language and can communicate in a variety of ways, whether they can learn another language and understand it like a human is under debate. Many chimps have been taught sign language in labs, but we have yet to prove that they understand meaning and syntax or they are just copying and performing for a reward.
Having said that, parrots are a lot smarter than you might think, and it has been suggested that they do learn languages in a similar way to humans. Studies have shown that some birds learn similarly to have children and teenagers learn, and many researchers are dedicated to using bird learning to better understand the patterns of human learning. Isn’t that crazy!?
The most famous bird: Alex
Dubbed “The World’s Smarter Parrot”, Alex was and African Grey bought from a pet store by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg to participate in an “avian learning experiment (ALEx)”. Alex was trained to identify objects and colours and was able to accurately name them 8/10 times. He was also able to request objects or reject objects by combining phrases. He knew 100+ words and by the time he passed, Pepperberg estimated he had the emotional intelligence of a two-year-old. He was also the first animal to ask an existential question, specifically “what colour?” in reference to himself.
In conclusion, our feathered friends are far smarter than we give them credit for! Be careful what you say around them – never say anything you wouldn’t want them repeating back!
For teaching your bird to talk, there’s flash cards, trick books and vocal coaching. For everything else, there’s i.Pet!