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.”

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