Talking Birds – 10 of the Best VideoKeith
Ten talking birds – watch the video.
Of all the creatures on this planet, only two can produce human language: humans and birds. Of the few birds that can imitate human speech, including mynah birds, crows, and ravens, parrots are clearly the best at it—they give TED talks, speak multiple languages, and even front heavy metal bands. How come our closest relative – apes can’t talk but birds can?
Parrots are vocal learners, meaning they grasp sounds by hearing and then copying them. Although several other bird species can discern and repeat sounds, parrots are the tops.
Erich Jarvis, a Duke University neuroscientist and vocal learning expert, recently published a study in Plos One explaining why. Any bird that’s a vocal learner has a part of the brain devoted to this, called the ‘song system.’ But in parrots, the song system has two layers—an inner ‘core,’ common to all avian vocal learners, and an outer ‘shell,’ which is unique to parrots. Jarvis thinks that this recently discovered ‘shell’ is what allows parrots to be such expert mimickers (though he hasn’t figured out exactly how it works yet).
But why do they copy human speech? It’s natural to them, Parrots try to fit in, be it among other parrots or other people.
In the wild, parrots use their vocal prowess to share important information and fit in with the flock, says Irene Pepperberg, a research associate and part-time lecturer at Harvard. Pepperberg is best known for her work probing the intelligence of an African Grey Parrot called Alex, who lived in Pepperberg’s lab for 30 years, until his death in 2007. “A single bird in the wild is a dead bird; It can’t look for food and look for predators at the same time,” Pepperberg says—but in a flock they can trade-off responsibilities.
Parrots are even capable of learning and using varying dialects. Yellow-naped Amazon Parrots in Costa Rica, for example, have regional dialects, and when they swap regions, the transplants often pick up the local twang, Tim Wright, who studies parrot vocalization at New Mexico State University, found in his research.
So we have now been talking birds.