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Friday, May 8, 2009
Birds Know What They’re Saying

By Linda Costello
Explore the diaries of daily life with large birds.

Muggsy, African grey parrot
Photos courtesy of Linda Costello
Muggsy, my African grey parrot.
McMurphy and Molly, green-winged macaws
McMurphy and Molly, my green-winged macaws.

My birds never cease to amaze me. When I talk to them, they look me in the eye as they cock their head knowingly. In my experience, it’s the African grey parrots and macaws who seem so able to communicate on a more mutual level.

As I prepared their food this morning, they repeatedly told me, “I’m hungry.” My daughter Valerie phoned, and I talked to her on the speaker as I continued to get the birds’ food ready. She was astonished to hear the birds in the background repeatedly telling me they were hungry, even though she knows they can talk. The birds leave absolutely no doubt that they know what they are talking about.

This usually goes on every morning. I often think, with some guilt, that maybe I should get the food ready the night before for my poor, starving birds.

Later in the day, Molly and McMurphy, my green-winged macaws, played the sound effects game with me. When I asked, “What’s a duck say?” They responded, “Quack, Quack.” I then got otherwise occupied, but McMurphy kept on with the quacks, even though I didn’t respond. To my surprise, he then said, “What’s that?” Of course, I answered, “That’s a duck!”

To me, this is proof that my birds are not just mimicking me. They know what they mean, and they say what they mean!

My African grey, Muggsy, is a phenomenal communicator/talker – but she only talks when it suits her. One day, I was carrying Muggsy back to the car after we had participated in a fourth of July parade. Muggsy wore her Flightsuit. A man on his front porch called out to me as we passed. He asked if we could wait a minute while he called into the house for his children to come outside to see the birds.

A little girl came outside eating a popsicle. Muggsy spotted it right away, and asked her, “Is it good?” That little girl’s eyes grew wide in disbelief. It was a hot, summer afternoon, and I’m sure Muggsy would have liked a taste of that popsicle!

More recently, I moved Molly and McMurphy’s cage away from a window that the birds love to look out of as they exclaim, “Look, look at the birdie outside!” “I see the birdies outside!”

The new spot for the cage had a mirror behind it. After the move, I was surprised to hear McMurphy say, “Look, look in the mirror.” “I see a birdie!” This tells me that she does indeed know the difference between looking out the window and looking into a mirror!

One day, I was telling the macaws what good birds they were being, and Muggsy chimed in with, “Muggsy’s a good bird. Yea, I’m so good!”

Muggsy is special, and she knows it. And she makes sure I don’t forget it either!

I know I don’t have to convince most bird owners just how amazing birds are. I’m sure you have many such stories of your own birds that are quite amazing too.

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Reader Comments
The birds definitely know what they are saying. If one of our cockatoos gets too noisy one of the african greys will say " Who's making all that racket" and another will say "Hey Marley, Cool it." If our dog gets bouncy and jingles the tags Indy will say "Ya want to go out" and Gabby will say "Benji, front door. Sit." Loki, our Scarlet Macaw will pinch you with her beak and then say "Ouch! That hurt" They'er amazing and people that don't have birds just don't understand.
Ken, Vero Beach, FL
Posted: 1/20/2010 4:30:42 PM
I know exactly what you mean. Nikki, my African Grey talks a lot. Recently one of his toys fell on the floor so he looked down at it and said, "you fell down! did you bonk your head?" probably because that's what I say to him when he falls while playing. He tickles me all of the time!
Marianne, San Diego, CA
Posted: 5/20/2009 4:00:27 PM
Birds totally understand what is going on around them! One night the dogs were begging in the kitchen so I said, "No dogs in the kitchen!" when my Grey immediately responded, "That's what I thought!" She's never said it before or since. The very fun part is that they listen so well that they seem to know everything you are doing - sight unseen.
Shawn, Eugene, OR
Posted: 5/20/2009 9:00:08 AM
Birds DO know what they are saying!!! I agree with you 100%. My grey Ruby likes to go to bed at 8pm and not a minute late. She goes into her cage and she will say, "It's time to go to bed". If I don't get up immediately to lock her cage, and turn off her lights, she will say in a slightly annoyed voice, "Good Night, I'm tired and I want to go to bed, sweet little girl". Of course she gets her way and we vacate her room pronto.
Wilma, Upper Tantallon, NS
Posted: 5/8/2009 5:44:37 PM
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