When and How to Train a Parrot to Talk

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Lovingly and Patiently

The short answer to this question of how do you train a parrot to talk is lovingly and patiently. The slightly longer answer follows.

Teaching a parrot to talk can be easy, but it can become difficult. It is easy to learn and apply the basic guidelines which will lead to success some of the time. It is difficult to diligently keep up the method of training if nothing remotely successful happens for weeks on end. It is important to persevere. It’s only through perseverance that the truly surprising training unfolds.

At four months old, a parrot is old enough to begin the simple training method. The young parrot will look forward to the training at the same time each day. If your parrot is older than four months when you bring him home, that’s all right, too.

Parrots, like most animals, have built-in 'clocks'. Parrots’ interior clocks are tuned to the millisecond, so if you begin the training at 9:15 a.m. on two consecutive mornings, your parrot will be expecting you at 9:15 a.m. on the third morning. Parrots are creatures of habit. This is actually helpful to a human's efforts toward training.

Parrots need Love

Husband, Bob, with our Kalani on left and Joey on right.
Husband, Bob, with our Kalani on left and Joey on right.

Parrots Like to Watch you Repeat Yourself

Give your parrot a little fruit or some small bit of food just before the 15-minutes of training begins. You do not want your parrot to be overly hungry and unable to think straight, but you do not want him to be anywhere near a level of satiety when you are training him or her. (Let’s call the parrot a ‘him’ for the sake of brevity.)

Parrots like repetition. They like to watch you repeat yourself. They smile. They time you to see how long you will carry on. They will let you repeat yourself for hours unless you outwit them by training them when they are hungry. Be certain to have their breakfast ready in small, easy-to-give amounts. Once they get the idea that they will receive a morsel of food in return for their co-operation, they will give you the pleasure of repeating a word for you. But do be humane. Do not try to train a parrot that has not had any breakfast at all. Give him some breakfast before training, but not enough that he is too full to care about food.

Now, here's what you do.

Greet your parrot every morning with the same phrase. You can call out your greeting when you enter the room, but then walk over to the parrot and repeat your greeting at eye-level so you know you have his attention. You might say, “Good morning! Good morning Sunshine!” You might even want to sing a line or two from a song while you are standing in front of your parrot. If you do, sing the same couple of lines from the same song every morning – and not too many lines of a song. Your parrot will easily memorize the words to the song. He might not repeat the words out loud without your daily coaxing and human-performance by rote, but he will have it memorized.

Where Did You Put All the Veggies?

Now hold up your hand in a vertical position, palm towards you, thumb downward, next to your bird and say, “Up”. When your parrot steps onto your hand, praise him and gently rub his head. Every morning, do the same thing. Repetition. He loves it! He feels secure and loved. To humor you, he will soon say, “Up.”

Research has been done with an African Grey parrot named Alex which revealed parrots can learn to identify colors. If you want to do more than repeat words to your parrot every morning and evening, liven up the training by using various colored items which are identical in shape.

You might, for instance, have a small red toy and a small identical blue toy. To begin, hold the red toy almost within the parrot’s reach. Say, “Red toy. Red toy.” Then ask your parrot if he wants the red toy? Encourage him to say, “Red Toy.” If he attempts to say it, praise him. Hold him, love him, talk to him. Then give him the toy for a moment and praise him some more for getting the red toy. Now gently take the red toy away and almost offer him the blue toy. Say, “Blue toy. Blue toy. Do you want the blue toy? Blue toy.”

Kela, Pionus Parrot

Parrots Want to Interact With You

Irene Pepperberg is a professor at Harvard University. She is well known for her studies in animal cognition. Pepperberg developed a model-rival technique while working with Alex, her African Grey parrot, and in turn, Alex taught the doctor that he understood how to solve numerical problems. He understood syntax, too. There is an excellent video available of Dr. Pepperberg’s showing Alex’s capabilities when two trainers worked with him; one being the model and one being the rival.

If you read about Dr. Pepperberg’s years of work with Alex, you might decide to ramp up your one-on-one training-and-gameplaying with your parrot to a more sophisticated level. But if your goal remains to merely train your parrot to mimic words of your choice – and if you are diligent and enthusiastic, he might learn one word a month -- or several -- until he has a broad repertoire of mimicked words. However, the truly surprising training which I mentioned at the beginning of this hub is the training that you as a person undergoes to understand the complexity and potential of your parrot.

Kela Bird Supervising Chow Time

Parrots Choose Words and Sounds That Appeal to Them

You may be one of the lucky people on earth to discover the intelligence of a parrot. There is so much more to a parrot than the ability to mimic.

My particular parrot friends, Joey, Kalani and Kela, have chosen for themselves the words, exclamations, songs, whistles and odd noises they want to replicate. They communicate with us in many ways.

It is true that it is best to avoid letting your parrot hear whistling if you want him to learn to mimic. An example I can give you is our beloved Joey, the African Grey. He adores my husband -- as does his companion, Kalani. Joey heard the Andy Griffith theme music the first week we had him in our home. Andy Griffith or someone whistles a complete song at the beginning of the program. Joey heard the whistling one time, and only one time, all the way through. He whistled the entire song when my husband came home from work. We were ecstatic. We thought it was so cute and we made a big deal. Well, after that Joey didn't pick up many words around the house like Kalani did, but whenever he wanted my husband's attention, he would whistle the whole Andy Griffith theme song. It doesn't matter to us. We love him so much and he communicates with us in different ways.

Kela Bird, our daughter's white-headed Pionus Parrot, learned many words at first by the basic techniques of training I described above. But soon our daughter realized Kela was picking up whole phrases he heard in the household and she stopped the training. Kela's timing for exclaiming the right sentence at the right time is very funny. Kela is in charge of the cats and dogs in his household. They respect his sharp beak. In his younger days, Priscilla shouted at the cat to not think for a minute that Kela is for dinner. Even these many years later, Kela will sometimes repeat his favorite command to the cat. "Potcha, you leave Kela alone! You hear me, Potcha?"

It's probably good and well to start your relationship with the basic training of your parrot. After awhile, you might want to implement some of the techniques Dr. Pepperberg has developed over the last decade. Alex, her special feathered friend, passed away at the age of 31. But he gave Dr. Pepperberg enough understanding and knowledge that she has been able to continue her research with many other birds.

I'm providing a link to a short video about Dr. Pepperberg with her birds. It's really a must-see if you are going to own a parrot.


Parrots Love to Learn and Learn to Love.

Yes, it is easy to train a parrot in the basic techniques so they will mimic you -- unless, of course, you let them hear some whistling first. It is difficult, I assert, to continue with just basic techniques and expectations of mimicry when the knowledge opens up to you that these special creatures are so much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They want to interact with us on many subjects. They have the capability if we will give them the keys to understanding the human labels we put on things. They are smart and they like to learn. They need to learn and have a sense of something mentally challenging every day. If they were in their own part of the world enjoying real freedom, they would be learning something new everyday.

I must put a caveat here. I am against the capturing and selling of birds. But I have visited enough pet stores to know that many of these birds live in little cages and many others get purchased by people who will not give them a good home environment. So I am, I admit, a person who wants to walk into a pet store and rescue every parrot there; big and small. (But I digress.)

Parrots love to get a reaction out of you. If it pleases you that they mimic some word like 'up' -- then they will -- even though they might drop the word soon for lack of interest in it. But if and when they hear an exciting sound in your household or outside or perhaps an exciting phrase you have shouted, they will share it with you daily to get a reaction. This is if they elicited a strong reaction from you the first time. Dripping water, an annoying microwave beep, a crying baby -- you just never know what is going to be your parrot's latest and greatest buzz of the day. And if they can get a negative reaction from you, it's still attention, so they might introduce it with a shriek, give the blast of the baby-crying imitation and then another shriek to finish it off because you're busy reading your newspaper instead of playing with them. They are such characters! They must be kept busy with challenging toys if you are not available to play with them.

Lovingly and patiently UN-training a parrot, unfortunately, does not usually succeed. But if you already have a parrot you probably know: It doesn't matter whether your parrot behaves, misbehaves, talks, mimics or anything else. You love him for just being him.

Kela Bird enjoying an outing.  (Wings clipped.)  Ears wide open for new sounds to imitate.
Kela Bird enjoying an outing. (Wings clipped.) Ears wide open for new sounds to imitate.

© 2012 Pamela Kinnaird W

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Comments 26 comments

Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Budgies are so cute. I'm glad you understand them. We had two, but I gave them to a lady and her husband who could give them more love and peace. Their little antics and light chirping drove my husband around the bend, but our two African Greys could squawk and scream when he'd come home, almost deafening me if he wouldn't stop to hold them and play with them -- and none of that bothered him a bit. Thanks for stopping by.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

...and budgies don't talk a lot as a rule. So I am more interested in talking "Parrot," as they have a distinct and complex language of their own which we see as song. So far I have learned to say "Shut the frig up," and "get your own frigging seed, i'm busy!"

They ignore me and carry on gossiping about idiot humans.

Bob x


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Glad you enjoyed it, alexadry.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA

This is interesting to me because I am interested in how different species of animals can be trained, voted up!


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Steel Engineer, thank you for taking the time to read the hub.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I'm sorry to read that you had to give up your African Grey. But I can relate a little because my husband is oblivious to the loud, shrill noises of the African Greys -- and I'm not. They are amazing birds though, for sure, and once you have one as a companion, he is always in your heart.


handymanbill profile image

handymanbill 4 years ago from western pennsylvania

Great hub. i used to have an African grey but my wife could not really appreciate it. He amazed me as to the sounds that he could make. He was a perfect mimic and amazed me what he could do. Great hub.


Steel Engineer profile image

Steel Engineer 4 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine

Funny joke: a thief breaks into a house in total darkness. After fully placing both feet inside, he hears a voice.

"Jesus is watching."

The man freezes. After a minute, hearing nothing, he begins to look through a dresser.

"Jesus is watching," comes the voice again.

This time, the thief clicks on his flashlight, scans, and finds a parrot in a cage. He approaches the parrot, and says, "So, you are Jesus, eh?"

"No," chirps the parrot. "My name is Moses. Jesus is the Doberman."


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you, Angela Brummer, for stopping by to read. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for sharing it.


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

Awh... I just love this. The parrots are adorable and clearly a part of your life! I am going to share this!


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

You must see some wonderful birds where you live! Thanks for taking the time to read my hub and comment.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 4 years ago from South Africa

Awesome hub, Pamela! And so true with ALL we do - "It’s only through perseverance that surprises unfolds."

"Parrots, like most animals, have built-in 'clocks'" - Yes, they do, but I've never realized that we can use this truth in our efforts to train them... Mmmm....

Voted up and thought-provoking :)


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

suzettenaples, thanks for all the good votes and for taking the time to read my little hub on these feathered friends.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

This is such a beautiful, interesting and informative piece on parrots. I find your work with these birds fascinating and what a wonderful home and learning environment you have provided for them. I like the scholarly research you have included and the Dr's. work with parrots. That is so interesting.

Your photographs of the parrots are beautiful indeed. Voted up, interesting and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of training parrots.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

African Grays -- or any parrot for that matter -- are full-time companions and so it's a big commitment. If you're out for the evening and you have one lone bird at home, you'll know he's lonely and listening intently for your return. It sure is a big decision to make -- as you've alluded.

You asked if we have let our parrots be free to roam the household. Without children or other pets around, there are still plenty of precautions to take before allowing that, but, yes, we believe it's good for some time periods every day. Parrots also like to sit on the top of their home-cage, but this shouldn't be allowed too much or they get really territorial. We've had a nice tree-looking stand for them to hang out on for hours and interact with us. They are put in a cage and covered at their bedtime. Then they're quiet as can be -- by instinct. As for droppings, I never tried very hard to train our parrots -- just went by luck and always had an eco-friendly cleaning solution nearby -- but my daughter trained her Pionus Parrot, Kela, to only 'mess' while hanging over the side of the cage (over the newspaper) or inside the cage. Parrots do understand once they get used to your scoldings.

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Wasn't that something? So great! And you've reminded me of a story about Joey I'd like to write one day. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you, thumbi7. Parrots are so smart and when they've been taken out of their natural habitat and put into a pet store, it's heartbreaking. I am so against the capturing of birds, but once they're already captive and sometimes even stuck in the back room of the pet store with a sign that says, 'Attack Bird, Beware' -- like the Pionus Parrot my daughter and I rescued -- it's just so hard not to want to rescue all of them.

Thanks for commenting.


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia

I have been thinking of having an African Gray for years but now, after reading this hub, I might give it a try. Just have to find the right breeder.

Do you let them loose in your household? How do you 'control' their 'droppings' Can they be toilet train?(I know this sounds silly!!)


emilybee profile image

emilybee 4 years ago

This is so awesome, great pics. On the news the other night was a parrot who got lost. He was able to give his address to someone and they brought him home! How cool is that! Awesome hub.


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 4 years ago from India

Some amazing facts about parrots.

I loved the pictures.

I feel you are really lucky to have such beautiful companions around you

Thanks for sharing


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

Thank you for your comment. Parrots hold a place in our hearts if we have to let them go on without us -- as you no doubt know. I hope you've mended from giving your Cockatoo to a trusted person. Cockatoos are so loving.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 4 years ago from Sweden

Parrots are lovely pets and good companions. I had a Cockatoo many years ago, but he didn't speak though. I realized that I couldn't keep him since he was too lonely during the days. They need company and it is a big responsibility to have a parrot considering how old they can be! You did a great article describing how to take care of an parrot! Voted up, interesting, useful

Tina


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

I know that feeling. Thanks for commenting.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona Author

You made me laugh. Thank you for your comment. I enjoyed it.

We had two budgies once. Husband doesn't mind really loud parrots, but he decided he can't stand budgies, so when I was at work, he'd put them in the closet -- unbeknownst to me. He had moved a dresser into the spare bedroom's closet and stuck the cage on the dresser for most of the day -- with the closet doors closed. It turned out the seeds were dropping behind the dresser. I had no idea. But one day he got his payback! He discovered 200 cockroaches had taken up residence on the underside of the drawers of the dresser. I'm so grateful I wasn't home at the time while he got rid of several kinds and sizes of cockroaches.

Budgies are lovely. My favorite bird is one of their cousins, the red-capped parrot. At least, I think it's a parakeet.

I'm glad you enjoy your budgies.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Only me! No swearing today.

I just have a couple of budgies. They are very sweet together (in love and lust) but don't interact with "Daddybird" much. They have a good squawk in 'em too!

They desperately want to breed but it's such a chore and responsibility.

Bob


Irob profile image

Irob 4 years ago from St. Charles

MIss my African Gray

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