Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. When the staff at the Australian Museum in Sydney began receiving calls about entire flocks of talking cockatoos, galahs and corellas, they suspected pranksters, or that alcohol was involved. But, oddly enough, the reports turned out to be genuine. It seems that an odd phenomenon is taking shape in Sydney and other Australian cities…wild parrots are talking to one another – and to people!
Mimics by Design
Cockatoos and other parrots are social birds, and have complicated systems of communication that we are only just beginning to understand. For example, ornithologists recently learned that some species provide their chicks with “names” that are then learned and used by other flock members (please see article below). The ability to learn from one another, and from people, is behind Australia’s latest unique bird story.
City Life Fosters Talkative Wild Birds
People have been hearing groups of birds uttering phrases such as “Hello there” (and others that I cannot repeat here!) to one another. One woman tossed out a casual greeting to Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo perched on a park bench and was shocked to receive a “Hello Darling” in reply! Talkative wild cockatoos are especially common in suburban yards, parks, cities and other places where birds congregate and are in frequent contact with people.
Talking birds that have escaped captivity are apparently responsible for starting the trend. Such birds usually take up with wild relatives, at which point they likely “show off” their unusual talents. New words probably fade away over time in the countryside, but in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and other urban areas the words may be reinforced by contact with other pets or people themselves (apparently, some urban Australians have the endearing habit of talking to birds; please see video below). For example, in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, where cockatoos have become very comfortable around people, talking birds are said to be quite common.
Drought, Bird-Friendly City Helps Process
Another factor may be the long term drought in western New South Wales, which has forced cockatoos to relocate to new habitats. Many wind up in Sydney, where they find food, water and protection from hunting. The new influx of displaced birds from the west has made it more likely that wild individuals will learn human words from feral pets.
Australia’s Avian Bullies
Quite a few Australian bird species have taken to city life, and several seem to have a talent for annoying people. Please see this article for more on ibis, cuckoos and cockatoos “behaving badly”.
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Video: Man asks cockatoo to spare his garden (maybe this is how wild ones learn to speak!)
Research Notes: Parrots “Name” their Chicks
News Stories: Australian birds
Sulphur crested Cockatoo Solution image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio