Guest Blogger Fatbirder
As a birder, one of the most exciting experiences is encountering birds that can mimic other birds or other sounds from its environment so they fool you into thinking they are another species or even something from our world. For example, I used to hear a starling that sat on a nearby roof and called exactly like a telephone ringing! I would look around wondering if I had a call until realising it was one of nature’s orchestra. While there are many species of caged birds that are trained to mimic human speech, what really amazes me is the natural ability of wild birds so many different sounds.
However, in this article, I’m going to concentrate on the top birds that have the ability to mimic human speech and other sounds, and why they are considered the best talking birds in the world. Let’s start with what is often considered the number one talking pet bird, the African Grey Parrot; it is one of the most well-known talking birds in the world. This species is native to West and Central Africa and I’ve seen it in the wild where, sadly it became scarce because of unscrupulous people capturing wild birds for the pet trade. It is highly prized for its intelligence and ability to mimic human speech. The African Grey Parrot has a large brain relative to its body size and is capable of memorising hundreds of words and phrases. It is said that this species has the intelligence of a five-year-old child, and can solve puzzles, understand concepts, and even use tools. Truly one of the natural world’s cleverest species.
In the wild, African Grey Parrots use their mimicry abilities to communicate with other birds and animals, but in captivity, they have been known to mimic a variety of sounds including telephones, doorbells, and even car alarms. They are so good at mimicry that they are sometimes used as ‘service animals’ to help people with disabilities. They can be trained, for example, to shout ‘fire’ if they detect smoke and so alert their human companions to danger.
Of all birds commonly held in cages, the Hill Myna, also known as the Indian Hill Myna; a species of bird native to Southeast Asia is probably the best known ‘talking bird’. This bird is not only known for its ability to mimic human speech and other sounds, but also musical instruments and animal calls. Considered one of the best talking birds in the world, it is often kept as a pet for its ability to learn and mimic sounds. In the wild, this species uses its mimicry abilities to attract mates and to communicate with other birds. They are also known to mimic the sounds of other birds in their environment which may be an in-built mechanism to help it find food sources that other species locate.
One of the commonest pet birds, certainly in the western world is the Budgerigar, also known as the Budgie or sometimes the Parakeet. It is a small parrot native to Australia. Despite its small size, the Budgerigar has a remarkable ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. This species is highly social and loves to play and interact with humans, making it a popular pet bird. In the wild, Budgerigars form huge flocks and their interactions with humans may be a displacement behaviour when kept in captivity as single or paired birds. They use their mimicry abilities to communicate with other birds and to defend their territory. They are known to not only mimic the sounds of other birds, but the sounds of the wind and other environmental sounds as well.
South America’s best known ‘talking’ species is the Amazon Parrot. It is known for its ability to mimic human speech and other sounds, including car horns, sirens, and even human laughter. The Amazon Parrot is highly social and loves to play and interact with humans, making it a popular pet bird. It is said that, in the wild, Amazon Parrots use their mimicry abilities to communicate with other birds and to defend their territory, but no one is really sure why some species mimic seemingly random sounds.
The Common Raven is a species of bird native to Eurasia and North America. While this bird is not typically kept as a pet, it is still considered one of the best talking birds in the world due to its ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. All ‘corvid’ species are known to be highly intelligent and able to solve problems and use tools such as pine needles to winkle food out of crevices. Ravens have been known to mimic the sounds of other birds, as well as human speech, traffic noises and the sound of water bubbling over rocks. The Raven appears in literature as the talking pet of a Dicken’s title character Barnaby Rudge. It is said that it is based on Dickens’ own pet talking raven ‘Grip’. Moreover, Dickens sent a copy of his manuscript to his American friend, the poet Edgar Alan Poe, who may well of based his poem, The Raven, on that inspiration.
In Europe, even back in medieval times people were known to have kept Jackdaws as pets partly for their ability to mimic human speech.
The best talking birds are those that have developed their talent through their natural habitat, not just those kept in captivity. From the highly intelligent African Grey, to the boisterous Amazon Parrot, the small but talented Budgerigar, the Mynah with its remarkable mimicry, to the highly intelligent Common Raven, these birds all have their own unique talents and behaviours that make them excellent talking birds. Whether you are a bird enthusiast or simply enjoy the sound of birds chattering, there is no denying that these birds are some of the most fascinating creatures in the avian world. There is recent evidence of wild birds mimicking human speech picked up from another bird! Apparently an escaped talking parrot in Australia passed on the skill to some wild cockatoos!
Many of these ‘talking’ birds are among the best of natural mimics, but many others mimic other birds such as catbirds and mockingbirds in the Americas and Starlings in Europe, Asia and Africa. However, the greatest mimic of them all is not known for copying human speech but hundreds of natural and man-made noises. The Lyre birds of Australia have been found to be perfect mimics of everything from cell phone rings and camera clicks and whirs to the sound of buzz-saws and falling timber. A skill developed as part of their ways of attracting mates, just like the classroom impersonator trying to impress his friends and teenage crushes.