When I am posed with this request I always warn that once the bird talks they will be asking for methods to silence them!
A survey carried out quite a few years ago amongst bird owners revealed interesting statistics, with at least 72% of the respondents having used the obvious training technique of using words or phrases repetitively. Repetitive conditioning is a highly successful method employed by any trainer or behaviourist to achieve results. 35% had exposed their birds to other pets that talked, whistled or sang.
Some 25% used radio or television in the same room, ensuring that these appliances were not adjacent to the bird’s cages – for health reasons. 25% subscribed to schooling lessons utilising the expertise of professional bird handlers and 13% played tapes repetitively.
Two percent claimed that they talk and sing to their birds; 15% said that they talked to their parrots as if they were another human being.
Sometimes a bird may repeat a word which receives an enormous response from people present and the human reaction will certainly reinforce the desire for the parrot to say the same thing at the time of the identical reaction.
This may be a bird bobbing up and down on its perch in response to people laughing and shouting “up-down, up-down” and the positive stimulation results in repetitive conditioning which, inadvertently, leads people to believe that the bird understands exactly every word being said. This is impossible in reality. Our language is not their language, but they can certainly mimic us with association of sound, tone and deed.
Some 22% of respondent bird owners conducted training more than three times a day, 11% trained twice a day and three percent once a day; 19% had learning sessions lasting one to six minutes. Nine percent tutored their birds anywhere from seven to 15 minutes, and four percent school their birds for more than 15 minutes at a time. Can a bird concentrate for so long? Six percent of bird owners did not even attempt to teach their birds to talk, sing or whistle.
Some people were so patient and persistent that the occasional bird said its first word after three years – possibly just a delayed and limited learning ability or the sounds it heard were not compatible with its natural repertoire. Some birds mimicked a word within 24 hours! Domestically-bred, hand-fed birds, on average, learnt to vocalise much quicker than wild-caught imported parrots and parakeets.
Vocabularies varied from one word and several sounds to hundreds of words. African greys, budgies and Amazon parrots were the best learners or were they percentage-wise the more popularly kept companion animals?
By talking to the bird at feeding time or just before covering the cage at sunset, the chance of it picking up words are enhanced because it is more focused and once at roost it can mull over the latest sounds heard at the last contact with the family.
So if you want a babbling budgerigar, a loquacious lorikeet, a garrulous galah, an Amazon with the gift of the gab then just keep talking.