Home | General Bird Care | Baby Birds | Bird Research – Parrot Parents Give Specific “Names” to their Chicks!

Bird Research – Parrot Parents Give Specific “Names” to their Chicks!

Green Rumped ParrotletsCornell University researchers have just revealed a most surprising bit of avian news that may show why Green-Rumped Parrotlets (Forpus passerinus) and their relatives are such good mimics.  Field research has shown that parrots actually label each chick with unique vocal signature –essentially a name.  The chicks and other parrots imitate these names, and use them when communicating with one another!

Why Mimic Speech?

Everything in nature has a purpose, and so ornithologists have long wondered why parrots have such extraordinary abilities to imitate speech, sounds and the calls of other birds…surely it cannot be just to entertain their owners!  We now have evidence that mimicry is likely vital to parrot social structure and survival.

Parrots Use and Remember Individual Names

Observations of captive parrots led ornithologists to believe that the birds were using distinct calls when “addressing” different individuals…in a sense, each bird seemed to have, and to respond to, a specific “name”.

Studies of video-rigged Green Rumped Parrotlet nests in the Venezuelan llanos confirmed these beliefs.  Adults labeled their chicks with individual vocal signatures even before the chicks could imitate sounds.  As they matured, each chick responded to its “name”, and other flock members learned and mimicked these names.  Prior to this study, only humans and dolphins were known to use names for specific individuals.

These findings provide the first evidence of the transfer of a socially acquired trait among parrots.  Researchers believe that individual names are particularly useful to those species that utilize a fluid social structure, in which flock members come and go.  The process also makes sense when viewed in light of several other parrot characteristics, such as long-term parental care and the high level of cooperation between flock members.

Future Research

Parrotlet ChicksIt is speculated that individual parrots that “call another by name” are opening the door to further, more complex communication…future research will concentrate on this possibility.  Also, it is hoped that an understanding of parrot communication will assist in studies of speech acquisition and learning difficulties in humans.

Another recent study has shown that some parrots understand what they are saying to humans, and use specific words appropriately.  Please check out this article for the amazing details.

So, next time your parrot talks, pay attention…it may know and understand far more than you expect!



Further Reading

Abstract of the article on name use in Parrotlets

Video of Parrotlets in nest (taken during the study)

Parrotlets as Pets

Green Rumped Parrotlets image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kulyka

About Frank Indiviglio

Read other posts by

I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
Scroll To Top