Certainly some of the most commonly asked questions from novice and perspective bird owners are in regards to a bird's speech potential. Unfortunately talking ability is one of the driving reasons for people to want a parrot. We receive calls regularly from people with little to no bird experience wanting to purchase an African Grey parrot that will talk.
As many of you are aware African Greys are very advanced birds that require an owner with extensive bird experience to do well long term. Though, Greys are known for their ability to speak, there are Greys that never utter a word. Just as there are parakeets and cockatiels that will talk up a blue streak. Talking ability should be one of the lesser reasons to purchase a pet bird. Upwards of 95% of the pet birds purchased in this country are given up in the first two years mainly because the bird cannot live up to unrealistic owner expectations. At Parrot Island, our primary concern is for the well being of the parrot and the owner's happiness overall. This is why we are so cautious of the type of birds we sell and to whom we sell them.
With all of that said, I have to admit that I, myself, enjoy my birds' talking ability. My two Double Yellow Headed Amazons are talking their fool heads off as I write this article. As Terry would definitely tell you speech is also dependent on your level of noise tolerance. The level of noise that is acceptable to one bird owner may be totally unacceptable to another. All of this should be taken into consideration when encouraging your bird to talk.
I have been very fortunate in my birds' willingness to learn to speak and sing. I firmly believe that the reason that they talk as well as they do is because they enjoy it themselves. I love my birds unconditionally and they know when I talk and sing with them that it is our special time to spend together. I have always encouraged them vocalizing by talking rather than screaming. Even my little Caiques, Scooter and Skeeter, talk quite a bit as does my son's female Budgie, Chirpie. My opinion on which birds choose to speak has a lot more to do with the individual bird and their owner than the species of bird. Caiques are not known for their great talking ability, but Scooter and Skeeter are sure doing their share. Speech is a way for your bird to interact with you. The more exciting you make the process the more likely your bird is to join in.
With our birds, I have found that choosing a time of day when they are very active, either early morning or around supper time, or in the car, helps them hold their interest in speech training. Mix morning with a good bath and we have a real party. Our two Amazons, Lt. Columbo and Sam, love talking and singing during their bath. Especially after a bath when I am using the blow dryer on them lightly. Also, in the car driving back and forth to the store, we play children's songs. Lt. Columbo's favorites are Wizard of Oz Songs, Yankee Doodle, Oh What A Beautiful Morning, and Bingo.
Songs that they have learned to sing have been taught to them in segments. I have simply repeated portions of songs until they have them down and than I add the next part. Columbo is a real ham and loves the attention he gets when he talks and sings. Sam is much quieter and usually talks in a quiet little girl's voice, which often is a welcome change to boisterous Lt. Columbo.
Many customers ask us about the use of tapes to aid in speech training. We have found that the repetitive tapes generally do not teach a bird interactive speech. Your bird may learn to repeat words used on the tape but they will not understand the appropriate time to use the words unless you are there listening with them. Do not go away for the day with the tape on. Be energetic when you talk to your bird and say things that correspond with what you are doing at the time, such as good morning and goodbye. If you really prefer to use a training device, I would recommend the "Wordy Birdy." This is a recorder that you will record your own voice and messages. Your bird will be familiar with hearing your voice and be more attentive. This should be used in addition to individual interaction with your bird to enforce training.
Most importantly, always praise your bird when he or she says things you want to hear. You will find that your bird will be as happy and excited as you are. Love your birds for what they are and the rewards will come.