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How do parrots "talk"? Why do parrots mimic? Jessi discusses these questions about parrot vocalizations.

Chopsticks video:


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Jessi: Welcome back to Animal Wonders! I'm Jessi and recently we shared a video featuring Chopsticks the Quaker parrot. Showing off his mimicking talents.

He knows over 35 vocalizations that he's copied from humans. Now, we all find this super impressive, and really cute. But I had two questions when I first heard a parrot mimic a human: Why? and How?


Right now, the jury is still out on why parrots are so well to adapted to mimicking external sounds. Unlike songbirds, parrots don't come hardwired for a specific language.

Like humans, parrots are flexible, and they're able to learn dialects, other species's languages, and even non-living noises in their environment. So proposed ideas on why they mimic are:

It's a sign of physical and neurological fitness to impress a mate. It helps them identify where a parrot is from. Sometimes they wanna go for the local girl or maybe they wanna steer clear of the locals, and go for a foreigner. And it helps a mated pair, find each other, over the rucks of the rainforest.

Scientists in the wild are continuing to studying parrot behavior in captivity and in the wild for more clues on why this ability is being selected for. And I am so excited every time new discoveries are made because I think parrot vocalizations are super interesting.

For example, Alex, the African grey parrot and a green pepper bird made leaps and bounds in furthering the studies on parrot communication, concept understanding and creativity.

So far, scientists haven't documented any parrot in the wild making anything other than parrot sounds. But parrot language in the wild, is still super fascinating.

A great example is when Karl Berg did the very first study on wild parrots learning their names. Instead of having it genetically encoded in them.

Many birds have names for themselves. Think of a songbird that's boisterously singing a song, over and over, shouting to potential mates and rival males. "I'm Gilbert. I'm here. Gilbert is here!"

But what Karl Berg found was that green rumped parrotlets not only know their own name, which they probably got from their parents, but they also know the names of other parrotlets, too. As I said, studies are still being conducted on why parrots mimic, but all the new research, seems very promising.

So onto the second question: How do parrots mimic? Parrots can make almost as many noises as humans can make. However, parrots can combine two sounds to create vocalizations that humans can't mimic.

That's because parrots don't use the same muscles to create sounds the mammals do. Instead of using their larynx, like humans, they use their syrinx. What makes the syrinx so special is that it's located at the very bottom of the trachea, where it splits into the two bronchi.

Because of this fork, birds are able to control two separate windpipes to create two different noises at the same time. Pretty neat.

They can also use this anatomy to create continuous vocalizations. Which, as humans, we need to pause to inhale. A parrot can be making sounds through one side of their syrinx and at the same time, open the other side for a little breath.

Some people think that parrots can't mimic sounds that require lips, but that's not true. They can absolutely make the "b" and "p" sounds and they can purr "brrrm", without the use of lips. They can also make the "thuh" noise without the use of teeth. So parrots are amazing at creating noises with their specialized syrinx

Parrots are basically better at vocalizing than we are. Nice work parrots. Nice work. So there you go. Chopsticks was just doing what comes naturally to him. Being awesome.

And if you guys would like to go on an adventure with us every week, and learn interesting things about incredible animals, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel Animal Wonders Montana. Or you can ask me questions throughout the week on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Thanks guys.


Jessi:'s essentials so you don't forget everything in the rush of leaving. This includes: food, enclosure, feeding dishes, sleeping arrangements, outdoor equipment