Talking birds are birds that can mimic human speech. Talking birds have varying degrees of communication capabilities: some, like the crow, are able to mimic only a few words and phrases, while some budgerigars have been observed to have a vocabulary of almost 2,000 words. The Hill Myna is a commonly kept pet, well known for its talking ability – while its relative, the European Starling, is also adept at mimicry. Wild cockatoos in Australia have been reported to have learned human speech from ex-captive birds that have integrated into the flock.
The young of some birds learn to communicate by social learning, imitating their parents, as well as the dominant birds of their flock. Lacking vocal cords, birds are thought to make tones and sounds using throat muscles and membranes – the syrinx in particular.
Songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds are the three groups of birds able to learn new sounds, though not necessarily words. Pet birds can be taught to speak by their owners by mimicking their voice. If then introduced to wild birds, the wild birds may also mimic the new sounds. This phenomenon has been observed in Sydney, Australia, with wild parrots uttering phrases such as "Hello darling!" and "What's happening?" in parks.
Types of talking birds
Common parakeets (Melopsittacus undulatus), or budgerigars, are a popular talking-bird species because of their potential for large vocabularies, ease of care and well-socialized demeanor. Between 1954 and 1962, a budgerigar named "Sparkie" held the record for having the largest vocabulary of a talking bird; at his death, he knew 531 words and 383 sentences. In 1995, a budgerigar named "Puck" was credited by Guinness World Records as having the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words.
Many species of the genus Amazona, particularly the Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix), are outstanding talkers. Yellow-napes (Amazona auropalliata), Yellow-crowned (Amazona ochrocephala) and Panama Amazons (Amazona ochrocephala panamensis) are highly regarded as talking parrots. They tend to relate sounds to relationships more than the African Grey Parrots, and therefore outperform the African Grey Parrots in more social environments.
African Grey Parrots
"Alex" had a vocabulary of about 100 words, substantially less than world record holders, but he is perhaps the best known talking bird due to the publicity surrounding his potential cognitive abilities. In learning to speak, Alex showed scientist Irene Pepperberg that he understood categories like "same and different" and "bigger and smaller". He could identify objects by their shape ("Three-corner", "Four-corner", up to "Six-corner") and material: when shown a pom-pom or a wooden block, he could answer "Wool" or "Wood" correctly, about 80% of the time. Alex could identify the difference between yellow and green same-sized objects by saying "Color" or identify a larger one by naming its color. If asked what the difference was between two identical blue keys, Alex learned to reply, "None" (he pronounced it "Nuh").  Alex died on September 6, 2007.
"Prudle" held the Guinness World Record for the bird with the biggest vocabulary for many years with a documented vocabulary of 800 words.
"N'kisi" is noted for his impressive English usage skills and other abilities. As of January 2004, he had a documented vocabulary of 950 words. N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.
"Einstein" appeared on many television shows and became famous for her ability to recreate sounds as well as talking. Video clips show her making the sound of a laser beam generator and an evil-sounding laugh. She has been trained by Stephanie White.
"Bibi", a Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), is is able to use greetings from 20 different languages and count in 6, earning her the nickname "The Polyglot Parrot." At 6 years old, Bibi has already developed a vocabulary of more than 500 words.
Most parrot species are capable of mimicking human words. Many can learn to use phrases in context; they can also be trained to imitate any words. Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) are also reputed to be skilled talkers.
- Lyrebird, ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from its environment
- Mockingbird, ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from its environment
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- Recordings of an African Grey parrot talking