Talk with parrot

Talk with parrot: We know that parrots are able to repeat words or phrases they hear, but do they really know what they are saying?

We all know that parrots have the admirable ability to reproduce various sounds and articulate a few words of human language.

Nevertheless, one question remains unanswered: do parrots understand what they say or do they only repeat what they hear?

How do parrots imitate sounds?

Some birds, such as parrots, macaws, and parakeets have a natural ability to mimic the sounds they hear around them. We owe this incredible ability to the very special manipulation they make of their syrinx, an organ that makes up their vocal system.

The syrinx is a bony box whose structure is formed by fused and hollowed rings. Inside, we find the vibratory membranes and the bifurcation of the trachea which allows the formation of the bronchi.

The complexity of each bird’s song is directly related to the structure of the syrinx. Indeed, the size and format of this organ vary greatly from one species to another. The same thing happens with the vibrational membranes and the muscles that regulate their vibrations.

Generally speaking, the more complex the structure of the syrinx, the more sophisticated and varied its vocal potential will be. Songbirds, like canaries, can use a wide variety of sounds and melodies because they have a very rich syrinx.

Syrinx parrot

Syrinx parrot

Regarding the complexity of the syrinx, parrots are at an intermediate level. Even if their vocal organ is a little more modest, these birds know how to explore them with great skill. Their intelligence, expressiveness, and predisposition to learning “compensate” for the simplicity of their syrinx.

It should also be pointed out that there are different species of parrotsIt is for this reason that we speak of the different complexities of the syrinx. Among these species, we can cite the African grey parrot, the most talkative and intelligent species.

Moreover, it is precisely a gray parrot named Alex who will help us determine if parrots understand what they say. Some studies by psychologist Irene Pepperberg have shown that this language understands the meaning of words.

Does parrots understand what they say?

Does parrots understand what they say

To answer this question, let’s first take a few moments to get to know the story of Irene and Alex a little better. In the 1970s, Irène adopted Alex from a pet store when the parrot was only one year old.

For thirty years, Irène took care of him, encouraging him to learn different things and using positive reinforcement. The amazing result is that Alex learned to identify over 50 objects by name and memorize over 100 words.

Elsewhere, Alex has demonstrated intelligence comparable to that of a five-year-old child. In a test, he managed to communicate the shape and color of an object after touching it. In addition, Alex was able to distinguish numbers from 1 to 6, various shapes, and colors.

The ability to accurately communicate sensory perceptions should assume that the individual understands what he is saying. In other words, he is aware of the meaning of words and knows how to articulate them to express something coherent with reality.

Thus, the challenges passed by Alex would be proof that the parrots understand what they are saying. In other words, they don’t just randomly repeat what they hear in exchange for a reward.

How to check that parrots understand what they say?

This is probably the question Irene asked herself in the face of the skepticism of the scientific community. So the psychologist decided she had to use statistics to show that Alex’s abilities weren’t an isolated case or a ‘fluke’.

As Irene had not found any studies on gray parrots to conduct her experiment, she decided to carry out tests on Alex repeatedly. However, by dint of performing the same task between 10 and 20 times, the parrot ends up being exhausted and even stressed.

Unfortunately, Alex died soon after, when he was only 31 years old. You must remember that red-tailed gray parrots can live up to 50 years in captivity. Thus, Irène lost her faithful companion and the heart of her research.

There is no doubt that Alex has been a true reference point in research on the intelligence of parrots. Thanks to its surprising abilities, we are very close to being able to say that parrots understand what they are saying.

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