Like many parrot owners, I’ve tried just about everything possible to teach my birds to speak – repetition, “mentor birds”, training CDs, begging and pleading, and so on. A recent article in The Journal of Neuroscience (Jan. 2010) has added a new technique – a good night’s sleep!
Sleeping and Speaking
Just as with people, a full night of undisturbed sleep has been shown to greatly improve the ability of European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to remember what they learned during the day. I’m particularly interested in this because, in my experience, the much-maligned Starling (note the Latin name – vulgaris!) is actually just as intelligent and curious as most parrots.
In fact, unbeknownst to most folks, Starlings can mimic human words quite well. An injured Starling kept at the American Museum of Natural History was a childhood favorite of mine. The museum’s unofficial mascot, it lived there for many years and delighted all with its impressive vocabulary.
Your Parrot’s Night
Parrot owners sometimes overlook the importance of sleep. Most parrots are native to tropical regions, that where nights average 12 hours in length year round. Our own long days and short nights do not suit them well (nor us, it seems!).
Attention should also be given to your parrot’s quality of sleep…easily-missed disturbances such as passing cars, a cat at the window or lights from other buildings can disturb its sleep and contribute to health or behavioral problems and, it appears, learning abilities.
Implications for People
Interestingly, much of what was observed by working with Starlings seems applicable to people as well. It is hoped that further work in this area will offer insights into how our brains retain (or fail to retain!) knowledge.
Until then, try letting you parrot sleep more and please report back with your results!
If you doubt my “Talking Starling Story”, please check out this video of a very talented Starling.
For more on parrot training, please see Parrot Tricks: Where do I Start?