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How to Teach Your Parrot or Exotic Bird to Talk

by recycler on August 18, 2010

What you talkin

One of the best reasons to get a parrot or exotic bird for a pet is because they alone have a trait that no other pet shares: the ability to imitate sounds…to talk. Your bird will naturally pick up sounds and phrases and learn to mimic them, but you may not like what the bird is repeating unless you take control and actively teach the bird how to speak. But just how do you teach your parrot to talk?

Start Young

Just as it is with human children, puppies, kittens—pretty much anything with a beating heart and a brain—the most efficient way to train parrots is to start young. You want to begin training your parrot to talk when they are 4 to 6 months old at the very latest. This doesn’t mean that old birds can’t pick up new phrases, but they will get more and more difficult as the bird ages.

Even before you start your “talk sessions” with the bird, you want the person who is going to be holding the lessons (the best communicator) to begin building trust with the hatchling. Teaching your parrot to talk is a marathon not a sprint.

Immersion

Immediately after you get your new young bird all settled in to it’s new home you want to begin socializing it. Put simply, this means you do not want to shelter the bird from humans. Invite people over and keep the bird out in the open, immersed in the conversation and social energy. The more variety the better. This will not only facilitate teaching the parrot to talk, but also get it used to human interaction.

Focus

When you are sitting down to train your parrot, for your “talk sessions”, it is advisable to remove all distractions, including any extra people or pets. And this also includes things that distract you just as well as the parrot. One-on-one, with nothing else going on except the lesson, is the best way to effectively train your parrot to talk. You can keep the parrot focused by holding the bird directly in front of your mouth as you repeat the phrase of the lesson. Let’s face it…it’s a lot harder to keep things on task if you are shouting across the room from in front of a TV.

Stick to a Schedule

You want to set a strict schedule for your “talk sessions” and you want to stick to it. We recommend either in the morning or the evening, when birds are said to be more talkative.

Choose one word or phrase and dedicate your session to it, repeating it over and over, slowly and clearly for 15 to 20 minutes. You want to keep the word or phrase short and simple. We also suggest that you use visuals when repeating the word to help with association—like waving when you say “hello” or showing the bird an apple when you repeat “apple”.

Also, keep in mind that even if it is not during a “talk session” you still want to reinforce words and phrases along with the visual queues. Try saying “Up” every time you are picking up the bird and “go to your cage” when you are returning the bird to it’s cage.

Treats

You know those lazy Saturdays when it seems only the smell of home-cooked victuals can get your butt off the couch? Well, animals, even birds, are no different. Food is the ultimate motivator. This is why you should also remember to have treats readily available when you are training the bird, and even when you are not. Every time the parrot mimics you, feed it a treat, rinse and repeat. The quickest way to a parrot’s garrulous heart is through its stomach. And it doesn’t have to be a cracker.

Other Tips

You aren’t restricted to just words. Parrots and other exotic birds can imitate a great number of sounds, including whistles and clicks. Have fun with it!

You can use a tape recorder for when you are out, but it is not recommend unless it is a last resort and you just don’t have the time (though if you don’t have the time, we would suggest you not get a parrot at this time!). It will be less effective because there aren’t visual cues or treat rewards…and the bird will get bored with it quickly.

Good luck!

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