Teaching Your Bird to Talk

Teaching Your Bird to Talk

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by Diane Grindol, Tom Roudybush

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From two noted experts-the first in-depth book on teaching your bird to talk

Teaching a bird to talk isn't as difficult as it may seem. In this easy-to-follow guide, avian experts Diane Grindol and Tom Roudybush reveal how you can communicate with your parrot far beyond "hello" and, in turn, understand what your bird is trying to communicate to


From two noted experts-the first in-depth book on teaching your bird to talk

Teaching a bird to talk isn't as difficult as it may seem. In this easy-to-follow guide, avian experts Diane Grindol and Tom Roudybush reveal how you can communicate with your parrot far beyond "hello" and, in turn, understand what your bird is trying to communicate to you.

Teaching Your Bird to Talk compiles an impressive amount of background, training, and research regarding bird vocalizations, walking you step by step through the behavioral mechanics of training parrots to talk (as well as starlings, mynahs, and other birds). Whether you want your bird to mimic words, talk on cue, or have some understanding of what you are saying, this guide shows you the type of training you need to do with your bird. The book also takes a close look at the work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg-the world's foremost authority in the field of parrot intelligence and trainer of Alex the African Grey Parrot.
* Identifies which species of bird are likely to talk and which aren't
* Explores field research on regional languages and dialects of parrots in the wild
* Features true stories from owners of talking birds
* Explains how to handle problems with vocal parrots, such as screaming and using inappropriate language
* Offers tips on feeding and housing birds, and finding an avian veterinarian

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* “… represents the compilation of a vast quantity of background information.. The authors clearly have considerable experience in the field of aviculture.” (Cage & Aviary Birds, 13th March 2004)

Product Details

Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
8 MB

Read an Excerpt

Teaching Your Bird to Talk

By Diane Grindol Tom Roudybush

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-4165-X

Chapter One

Keeping a Talking Bird

We're guessing that since you picked up this book, you have some interest in keeping a talking bird. If you have the right situation and personality, that can be a really fulfilling choice. Certainly, talking birds are interactive companions who enliven a household. Be careful and consider all the facts, though. Companion birds require a lot of attention, and you will have to provide it.


It's possible you already have a bird whom you want to teach to talk. If that's the case, we have information for you that will tell you which species of bird are likely to talk and which aren't. You might take a look at these lists to see whether your bird is one of the species that talks readily. If he isn't, you need to decide whether you want to make any great effort to teach a bird who has low potential (not because of his individual personality but because of his species). If you do, we discuss various methods of training birds to talk, and one of them still might work for your bird.

If your bird is one of the great talkers, you might want to assess his individual potential. His age, history and what talking capability you want are all factors that will make a difference in your success. Please read on and enjoy finding your answers.


For those of you who have not yet acquired a bird,this is a good time to look at your options and get a bird who will be more of what you want. Most of the birds who talk are some type of parrot. Not all parrot species are talkers, though. Some birds are justly famous talkers, such as African Grey Parrots and Budgies (often called Parakeets), while others, such as Ravens, really don't have much to say. One expert on Ravens specifically discouraged us from considering Ravens, because they have limited vocabularies and (despite what Edgar Allen Poe might think) "nevermore" is not one of their natural calls. There are also a few legal problems with keeping native species that eliminate Ravens and Crows from consideration in the United States.

A really good choice for a talking bird who isn't a parrot is the European Starling. They are not expensive (free if you can catch one), legal to keep in most areas, talk well and have a great history on the stage. Starlings are an introduced species in North America, where they were imported for roles in Shakespearian plays. North America has about 200 million Starlings. Mother Nature isn't likely to be discouraged by the taking of just one, if you offer the bird a good home.

The other part of the equation is you, your home and your family. Parrots demand a lot of attention and demand it loudly. They are neither for the timid nor for the traveling salesman who can't offer them enough attention. Please read this chapter all the way to the end and consider what it says about bird care before buying or accepting a bird. You could save yourself (and your bird) a lot of grief, and enhance the enjoyment you can get from having a talking bird.

It's your choice. And, as you can see, there are plenty of things to consider about what kind of bird you want. It's always easier to get a bird after you have prepared for it. Buying a bird and then trying to find appropriate housing, food and care usually result in temporary measures becoming permanent, to the detriment of your bird. In the long run, "temporary measures" usually result in more work and cost for you as well.


Bird care is the first consideration when buying a bird. If you find you don't have the resources, both time and money, to care for a bird-please don't get one. Birds are flock animals by nature, and any bird who is social craves to find his place in a flock and needs a lot of social interaction. If you take a bird from his place in a wild or captive flock and put him in your home, it's your responsibility to provide for his social needs. This is the single greatest area of failure for first-time bird owners. They don't have enough time to interact with their bird.

On the other hand, a family full of kids who are interested in and taught how to interact with a bird can provide a great surrogate flock. They can even teach the bird how to talk and leave you with just providing the food and cleaning up the mess. Yes, in some ways birds are typical pets.

The Cage

Except perhaps for the cost of the bird and his first wellness veterinary visit, the cage is the greatest setup cost of keeping a bird. Cages vary so much in size and style that we won't make any attempt to recommend any particular cage, except to offer some tips on what your bird needs.

First, the cage should be big enough. Your bird needs to fully stretch his wings once in a while, and a cage should be at least big enough to accommodate that need. If you know what kind of bird you want to buy, get some idea of how wide his wingspan is and multiply that by at least one and a half. The cage should be at least that big in one of its horizontal dimensions.

The height of the cage is usually not a problem in the cages that are commercially available, but it should allow your bird to climb on the sides without hitting his head when his tail is near the floor. Your cage can't be too big. Birds are natural athletes, and if you offer your bird space enough to fly and play inside his cage, he will appreciate it.

You should take some time buying a cage. A cage is an investment in your bird's home. The cage you choose will make a great difference in the amount of effort you will need to spend giving your bird proper care. When you buy a cage, have a place in mind in your home where the cage will go. Take all the measurements of this area to the store to help you buy a cage of the right size.

The next consideration is basic cage construction. It needs to be well made without any sharp protrusions or edges. Many birds have leg bands that can catch on sharp bits or wire protrusions. Unless you are buying from a well-known manufacturer that backs up its cages with a money-back guarantee, carefully inspect the exact cage you want to buy. It's an easy way to avoid later problems.

Any openings on the cage should also be carefully considered. This includes the spacing between any bars and all access to feeders and waterers-if your bird needs to stick his head through the cage wall to reach food and water in containers that hang from the outside of the cage. These spaces should be either large enough for the bird to easily stick his head through (obviously, they need to be large to access food and water) or small enough so the bird can't get his head through at all. Openings that are about the size of the bird's head allow the bird to force his head through, but it may not be easy for him to extract his head from the opening. Birds stuck this way die every year as they struggle to get loose and break their necks. Fortunately, most cage manufacturers recognize this problem and build cages to avoid it.

It is convenient for you to have access to food and water dishes from outside of a cage. Look for this feature. It can be especially helpful if you have a friend, family member or pet-sitter care for your bird in the future.

Other cage considerations include the presence of a playpen on the top and a seed catcher that collects some of the mess around the bottom of a cage. Try to find a cage that is easy to clean. Paper liners fit most easily in square or rectangular cage pans. You'll have the easiest time cleaning cages with deep pans for cage paper. We leave it to you to do some good shopping that will enable you to look at all the options and decide whether they fit into your life. They all have their good and bad points.


Proper perches are essential, since birds spend most of their lives, even while asleep, on their feet. Most cages come with perches made of round, even dowels, which you will want to change for more appropriate perches when you get your cage home. Dowels, with their hard surface and uniform size, put the same stress on a bird's feet all the time. There is no chance for the bird to change his position on the perch to allow one part of his foot to take the stress while resting another part. It is much better to use small branches from trees as perches, because a branch is uneven along its length and enables your bird to find the position that works best for him at any time.

Depending on where you live, finding perches can be an outing and a lot of fun. Find a place where chemical sprays are not used on the trees or on the ground, and seek out the branches of the size you want in your cage. There is nothing like a walk in the woods picking up a few sticks for your bird!

There are many woods that can be used for perches, although some are thought to be toxic or to have other problems. Redwood, for example, is believed to cause problems in the guts of birds if they ingest some splinters, because the wood doesn't degrade the way many other kinds of wood do. It's a good idea to use local woods that come from sources that aren't likely to be sprayed with something that will harm your birds. Also, collect wood from a location well away from roadways where cars emit harmful fumes. Ask local veterinarians, bird club members or pet shops what they suggest or use.

Perches should be placed in the cage in such a way that the bird does not perch directly above his food or water. This will help keep droppings out of the food and water dishes.

Cage Placement

This is a far more important matter than it might seem at first glance. There are many things to consider about placement of a cage. Never place a cage too close to a source of heat or in a draft. This might seem obvious, but some sources of heat are not so easily identified unless you take a little time and think about them. A vent from a heat and cooling duct can be a problem. In the winter it might be too hot for your bird to endure all the time; in the summer it might chill a bird who can't get out of the airflow.

Many kinds of appliances also generate a lot of heat. Things like dishwashers, clothes dryers, stoves, refrigerators and freezers can generate a considerable amount of heat that can be unbearable in the long term.

One of the more common sources of heat people provide to their birds as an act of kindness is the sun in the winter. But many birds die from the heat of the sun when they are placed in a south-facing window just to let them "get a little sun." A bird should never be left in the direct sun without a way of getting into the shade. A bird should only live near a window if there is an eave or awning over it that prevents direct sunlight from heating up his living quarters.

Keep the Cage Away From Noise

Many people have suffered greatly from placing their bird's cage near a source of noise. One of the really big problem areas is the television. Birds are vocal and social animals who like to be heard. The first impulse of such a creature is to be louder than anything around him. That includes the television, stereo, radio, washer, dryer, vacuum cleaner ... you get the idea. The bird will compete for your attention even when you're watching your favorite evening program. Occasional vocal competitions with appliances might be fine but to hear only your parrot when you want to hear something else can really damage a relationship.


Water is easily provided. The main consideration is that it needs to be clean and offered in a way that keeps it clean, or else the waterer needs to be cleaned regularly. One of the ways to keep water clean is to provide it in a drinker with a reservoir that feeds into a tube the bird can drink from. The tube usually has a ball or a peg and valve system that keeps water from flowing until the bird touches it with his tongue or beak. These drinkers are relatively inexpensive and make providing clean drinking water easy.

The other way to give your bird water is with a water dish. These usually need to be cleaned and refilled several times a day. Birds have a tendency to put things in their water dish and foul the water. Anything left wet at room temperature has the potential to grow bacteria. Bacterial growth may magnify the number of pathogenic bacteria to levels that can infect your bird. So clean water is essential.

Water should be offered without additives, unless directed by your veterinarian. There are vitamin and mineral additives available in pet supply stores that are meant to be added to a bird's water, but we do not recommend them, since they can provide a medium for the growth of bacteria. Vitamins and minerals are better provided in food than in water.

Food and Feeding

There are a number of ways to feed your bird. Some of them are a lot of work and others are as easy as filling a feed dish. All of them can be made wholesome, although feeding a variety of foods cafeteria-style makes this more difficult.

The easy way to feed a bird a wholesome diet is to buy a good prepared diet at the pet supply store. These come in a variety of forms that include added vitamins and minerals, eliminating the need to supply additional vitamins. In fact, many of these foods are best used without the addition of supplements, since the additional vitamins and minerals can lead to toxic levels or imbalances.

It is best to choose a mix that doesn't allow your bird to choose one seed or item in preference to another, because when he picks out his favorite, he may be ignoring other foods with important nutrients. Some of the fortified seed mixes claim to be adequate for your bird, but this is based on the assumption that the bird eats all the food presented to him, rather than choosing just a few items.

The best food to use is a formulated diet without added colors or fragrances. Many people worry that this kind of prepared diet doesn't offer enough variety to provide their bird with adequate environmental stimulation. This is easily solved by adding fresh vegetables or fruit in an amount equivalent to the amount of prepared diet your bird eats each day. The amount of energy (calories) in this much fresh vegetables or fruit is about one-twelfth that provided by the prepared diet, because fresh vegetables and fruit are mostly water. This means your bird will still need to eat almost the same amount of prepared diet he ate before you added fresh fruits and vegetables-which means their addition will not greatly imbalance the diet. But it will keep your bird from getting bored with his food.

Do not add high-fat foods such as sunflower seeds or peanuts, except as occasional treats. These will greatly reduce the amount of the prepared diet your bird eats, and that means he will be eating fewer essential nutrients.


Excerpted from Teaching Your Bird to Talk by Diane Grindol Tom Roudybush Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

DIANE GRINDOL has written a column for Bird Talk magazine since 1995 and has put on educational seminars for pet bird owners since 1996. She lectures regularly at seminars and bird clubs throughout the United States. She is the author of The Complete Book of Cockatiels, The Canary: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet, and Cockatiels For Dummies, all from Wiley.

TOM ROUDYBUSH, M.S., is the president of Roudybush Inc., a bird feed company. He conducted pioneering research on the nutrient requirements of psittacine birds as a student and employee of the Avian Sciences Department at University of California-Davis. He lectures on avian nutrition to both veterinary and pet-owning audiences throughout the world.

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Teaching Your Bird to Talk 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not all parots talk
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has everything! It is informative, easy to understand, and fun to read!!!! I would recomend this to any bird lover!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My faith in this book went right down the drain when I saw a Sun Conure on the front. They do not imitate human vocalizations. They do repeat calls. Mine screams, but I still love him. The author is solid but I would not buy it.