Guess Who’s Talking – Eclectus

Taco oval shaped photoIt’s hard work to learn the human language, if you’re a bird.  Did you know that birds don’t’ have vocal cords? The syrinx is the birds’ “voice box” and is located at the base of the trachea in the neck area. The vibrations of the syrinx membrane produce sound. A parrot has to learn how to make human sounds using this membrane, which is not an easy task. Now, that’s probably more than you wanted to know about parrots talking. Isn’t it?

I don’t even pretend to know how many times I’ve been asked, “does it talk” in reference to my Red Sided/Solomon Island Eclectus, Taco, when we are out and about. Since almost everyone, whether they are bird owners are not, are familiar with the African Grey’s ability to talk, I am always asked “can she talk as well as a Grey?” Well….. I have to admit that my answer has gotten me in more trouble more than once! I always respond that I would put Taco up against an African Grey, any day , for her talking ability and cognitive reasoning ability.  Excluding of course the famous Alex, now deceased, who had about 20 years of learning experience on Taco.

Before I get myself in more hot water, I want to explain that this comment is not a put down to the African Grey. It is merely my way of educating the non-bird or non-Eclectus owning public that Greys are not the only parrot that talks well. Taco has a clear vocabulary of approximately 200 words and phrases and learns more every day.  Her ability is not really that rare among Eclectus. I’ve known several Eclectus  that have at least a 250 word vocabulary and  are great cognitive thinkers. When there is more than one, I know of a pair that also talks to each other in English rather than Eclectus, except when they don’t want an owner to know what they are saying.

I feel that the more verbal stimulation the Eclectus receives the more likely it is that bird will be a good talker. It also seems that verbal stimulation should come from an actual person, not a recording. Repetition by an artificial source is not nearly as successful as verbal stimulation with interaction from you. I believe the reason behind this is that the bird wants to communicate with you. Therefore, it tries harder to talk like you. Not to mention the fuss we make over them when they talk. When you have just a recording playing the same thing over and over, I believe the bird actually tunes it out, as there is no other interaction to peak its interest.

Do birds learn human language faster from other talking parrots?  Another Eclectus owner I know thinks so.  She has two Red-sided Eclectus.  She indicates that the male didn’t really talk till he was almost exactly one year.  When he did learn to talk, he took off and had 15 to 20 different words and phrases within a few days of his first Hello.  (I bet he knew all the words all along, just didn’t want his owner to know how smart he was.)   She indicates that her male is sort of a “closet” talker.  He prefers to talk to her when his back is turned. The female of the pair is a totally different story. She attempted to talk at 4 months and has chattered all day and some of the evening ever since. She seemed to learn from the male much better and faster than from the owner and her family.  The female also talks directly to a person and she expects an answer!

Once they learn to talk, does that mean they will continue to talk? Not always. I have talked to a few Eclectus owners and other parrot owners who indicate their birds stopped using their learned vocabulary, usually for unknown reasons.  Shiori, a friend’s four year old female Eclectus, stopped using her vocabulary shortly after her now ex-husband flew the coop, so as to speak. When her ex was around he watched lots of  TV turned up LOUD.  My friend is a quiet person  (if she doesn’t know you) and watches little TV, so Shiori’s world changed and she became quite.  Shiori now over eighteen years old still talks on occasion, but not like she did previously. Yet, another good friend who owns a male Eclectus, Reggie, when her relationship status changed, her bird continued to talk and imitate sounds.

My own experience is that when we are busy and Taco has less interaction she becomes quiet and less talkative. We are by nature a noisy family. So Taco is normally a very talkative bird, she talks loud too. My husband says she gets that from me. He used to tell our friends that he could find me in a mall or store by just listening for my voice. That is not exactly true, although I have to admit that my voice carries even when I am not being loud. The point I am trying to make is perhaps how much and when your bird talks, could be a reflection of its early verbal interactions and current family and home life.

One thing that almost everyone agrees on is once an Eclectus owns you; the bird’s talking ability is just an added bonus to being loved by one of these intelligent creatures. My friend summed it up so well when she said, “I love her (Shiori) so much that I don’t care if she NEVER says another word.”

With camping and family vacations right around the corner, we’ll discuss traveling with your Eclectus or companion pet. Until next time, never underestimate your Eclectus!

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