Squawk! Polly wants a cracker! Pretty bird! Pretty bird! These are just a few of the things you might hear coming out of a parrot’s mouth.

If you have pets or just love animals, you may have wished from time to time that you could have real conversations with them. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk with your dog about how your day at school went?

If you have a pet parrot, could your wish come true? Parrots and certain other birds do seem to be able to talk, but can they hold a real conversation?

Not really! Although parrots seem to be able to talk, they’re not really talking like humans. They’re not choosing and saying words with specific meanings. Instead, they’re simply imitating sounds they’ve heard.

Repeating sounds they’ve heard before — often many times — is called mimicry. The “talking” we hear from parrots can consist of imitations of all sorts of sounds, from spoken words to creaking doors to barking dogs.

Just because they’re not really “talking” doesn’t mean that parrots’ mimicry isn’t impressive. Did you know that parrots don’t have vocal cords like humans? It’s true! Instead, parrots use muscles in their throat to direct airflow through their mouths to mimic the sounds they hear around them.

Parrots, such as African Greys and Amazons, aren’t the only birds that can learn to imitate sounds, including human voices. Some other birds known for their ability to “talk” include Indian Ringneck Parakeets, Budgies and Cockatiels.

If you’re WONDERing why some birds imitate sounds they hear, it’s because they’re social creatures. They feel a need to be able to interact with those around them. When kept as pets, these birds see their human owners as their family and want to communicate with them.

Since a human owner usually can’t learn a bird’s “language,” the bird instead tries to learn the language of its owner. Although these birds are often quite intelligent, imitation is still the best that they can manage. Mimicry becomes a way for them to get attention and interact with their owners.

If you want to have a bird that talks as a pet, the best thing to do is to find a bird that already knows how to imitate sounds. Even if a bird knows how to imitate a few sounds, though, you’ll still need to spend lots of time training it and providing positive interactions to encourage more “talking.”

69 Join the Discussion

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    • WOHOO, we are so glad you’ve learned something new, Emily! We also love your connection between parrots and babies– they learn in a similar way! Great job, we’re excited to Wonder with you soon! :)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Ethan B! We’re so happy your’re here and you learned something new about those cool parrots! :)

  1. Parrots are really cool pets, and speaking of parrot pets, a neighbor has a parrot in a cage outside his house. When me and my mom were walking with Snowy and Ramona all the time, we pass the parrot which always talks to use. He says hello and always whistles, one time when I said hello, he made a fart sound, it was hilarious!!!! :) :)

    • WOW, Carlos, how cool that your very own neighbor has a parrot of his very own! We bet his parrot hears a bunch of different noises and sounds and is excellent at repeating them! We’re glad to hear he is a friendly kind of pet, too! We also love that you and your mom are walking your animals outside– they need exercise just like we do! Have a SUPER day! :)

  2. I learned some new things:

    #1 That parrots can’t talk

    #2 They try to talk but it just comes out as crazy sounds

    #3 I am shocked that parrots don’t have vocal cords.

    • Nice work, Jules! We are glad you are WONDERing with us today about parrots! It’s very interesting to understand why they make the sounds they do! Great job summarizing all that you have learned– we are so proud of YOU! :)

    • That’s great news, Ruby! We love when Wonderopolis helps with school– it’s so much fun to learn something new together! We hope to Wonder with you soon! :)

  3. I have an African Grey bird named Maya. She’s incredibly talented from what I’ve seen, which is why I’m so drawn to this article. I think she is smarter than what this article indicates. We literally prank each other. Me by knocking on wood so she’ll say “Come in!” or her imitating my cell phone ringtone. I think it’s a little more than just mimicry of sounds and just a need to communicate. I think she really attempts to hold some form of conversation with me through some of her memorized phrases.

    • WOW, it sounds like you have a SUPER cool relationship with Maya, Lulu! We think it’s fun to recognize how certain animals and pets can become a part of the family– it’s like having a sibling! We bet it’s lots of fun to spend time with her… the pranks you mentioned made us chuckle here at Wonderopolis! :)

    • Great connection to the movie Paulie, pokemonlover! We hope you enjoyed learning about how parrots communicate– we’re glad you stopped by our Wonder of the Day®! :)

    • Hello to the WONDERful students in Mrs. Foster’s class! We are glad you’re WONDERing with us today! Parrots are pretty cool animals, where they have the ability to mimic humans and sounds they hear. Depending on their surroundings, parrots can mimic human voices, sounds in nature, and other animals, to name a few! If you’re still interested in learning more about these interesting creatures, we Wonder if you can do some research of your own! We bet you’ll be successful! :)

  4. This is cool. I have a cockatiel of my own, but he’s not very good at talking. He can whistle a few songs from tv though.

    • WOW, that’s super cool, Devan! We are glad you shared your pet story with us– we bet you two have a lot of fun together! :)

    • Very cool, Lilly Billy! We Wonder what your homework assignment was? We are glad we could work together, Wonder Friend! :)

    • We Wonder if you learned anything new about parrots today, Ty? We are SUPER glad you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Great Wonder, Kaliana! We know that parrots can mimic the human language, but animals each have their own ways of communicating! We are so proud of your great question– way to go! :)

  5. If I had a parrot I would talk to it all day long!!! I would teach it how to sing and dance! I learned a lot about birds mimicing at a show called Flights of Wonder….it was really good.

    • That sounds like a great time, Patrick! We bet having a pet parrot would be a fun way to have a conversation! We bet you’d have a great time dancing with your pet parrot, too! Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment, Patrick! :)

    • Hi there, Hannah! Parrots are SUPER cool– we Wonder if you will ever get to hang out with a parrot in the future? We certainly hope so! :)

    • Cool beans, Emmy123456! We bet you have great company at home with Petey and Polly! We like their style, too! We Wonder what’s cookin’ with you, Wonder Friend! We hope it’s all great, WONDERful things! :)

    • Hi there, Missy, we are glad you are WONDERing with us today! We understand that certain animals, even if they are pets, have instincts. We hope you are able to enjoy a pet bird sometime in your life, or maybe a family member or friend will have one. However, we are glad you pointed out that pets deserve a quality life under one roof– we wouldn’t want anything to happen to ANY of your pets! :)

  6. It is Carlee speaking here, I love birds even ones that talk. My brother might get me a parrot. I would fall over if he could already talk. I love WONDEROPOLIS it is SSSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO COOL.;) :)

    Now it’s Sophia I already knew parrots could talk I used to have two parakeets but they died. But I might get 2 next summer I love WONDEROPOLIS.

    • Hi there, Carlee! We think your brother sounds like a very generous guy! We bet it would be FUN to have a pet parrot at home!

      Sophia, thanks for sharing your comment with us today! We’re sorry to hear about your parakeet, but we hope you can enjoy another pet in your house soon! :)

    • We’re glad to heart that, T’Shaw– parrots rock! We are glad you commented on our pet Wonder today… keep up the SUPER WONDERing! :)

    • Hi there, Angel, thanks for sharing your comment today! We’re glad you enjoyed our exploration – in search of the lost city! :)

    • How cool, Brenaia! We are glad you enjoyed our parrot Wonder– we hope you learned something new! We Wonder if you have a parrot as a pet at home, or if you have a favorite bird?! :)

    • Hi there, Grace, thanks for sharing your comment about our parrot Wonder! We think it’s interesting to learn about how parrots actually communicate, and why they mimic! Have a SUPER day! :)

    • We are glad to hear it, Emily! Parrots are talented animals– they are great pretenders! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • Hey there, Jackson, we’re glad you asked! Birds may have a language of their own, but we don’t speak the same language! Parrots are great at mimicking sounds, but they don’t communicate like humans do! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • HOORAY for WONDERing and parrots, too, Erica! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! We look forward to WONDERing with you soon! We Wonder if you have a pet parrot? :)

    • We’re glad you’ve been WONDERing about your future pet, Erica! We hope you’ll let us know if you get a parrot! :)

    • Thanks for your comment, Angel! We love when our awesome Wonder Friends visit– just like you! Wonderopolis has friends all over the world, and we take turns answering questions and comments. It’s a lot of fun!

      It sounds like you have been WONDERing about parrots with us– how cool! We Wonder if you have ever seen a parrot in person? What did she or he say? :)

    • We hope you’ll read our Wonder, Angel! You will definitely learn something new and cool with us! Have a SUPER day! :)

  7. Actually, you’re quite wrong. Most parrots are mimics, But many who own an especially talkative parrot like an African Gray know very well that the bird can converse on a very basic level beyond mere mimicry. It can choose words to express specific thoughts — “Where you going?” is one example. “It’s raining out,” is another (when in fact it has begun to rain). The bird can and often will select a word it knows and place it correctly into a sentence in a form the bird has never heard previously. What surprises me is the glib way the idea of a talking parrot is dismissed here. You evidently don’t know parrots or the literature.

    • Thank you for sharing some more information on parrots with us, James! We appreciate you stopping by Wonderopolis and leaving a comment! :)

    • Hi, Amanda! Great job citing your sources for your paper! The official Wonderopolis Permissions Policy states:

      Wonderopolis materials may be cited or excerpted in periodicals, books, and educational materials under the following stipulations:

        1. A URL of the material referenced is provided so that readers may access it online
        2. Inclusion of the following branding information: “Wonderopolis is brought to life by the National Center for Families Learning.”

      Since our Wonders are sometimes updated, the proper way to cite the publishing date is to list the date you consulted our page for your research. Good luck on your paper! :)

  8. That is cool! I have a fake parrot. If I talk about something, then my parrot repeats what I say. My mom’s teacher give it to me. I LOVE MY PARROT! <3 Also, my parents, friends, and more! :D ;)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can parrots really talk?
  • What is mimicry?
  • What types of “talking” birds are there?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Imagine you are on a trip to the deepest part of the jungle in search of your very own parrot. Unfortunately, you get lost and must now learn to live amongst the animals.

What will you do? How will you communicate? Your ability to talk won’t help you much. You will have to learn how to communicate with animals in new and different ways.

How would you communicate basic messages to animals you meet? Think about how you might get across the following messages:

  • Hello!
  • Goodbye!
  • I’m hungry.
  • I’m friendly.
  • Stay away!

In addition to your voice, how else would you communicate? How might you use your hands, your feet or other parts of your body? Have fun thinking about ways you might be able to communicate with wild animals without using language!

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Parrot Learning audio update, children will hear from a researcher who believes parrots may develop language-like communication and other abilities in ways similar to humans.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a closer look at something that affects all of our lives in some way, sooner or later.

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