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Escaped Pets are Teaching Flocks of Wild Cockatoos to Talk!

Sulphur Crested CockatooHello, 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

GalahQuite 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”.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.


Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio


Further Reading

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


  1. avatar

    I am sure it is funny to hear a wild bird talking as if it was a captive bird. A friend of mine has an umbrella cockatoo and she now has a cute southern draw. .I have learned so much about birds from him that someday I may even have one.

  2. avatar

    Hi Michele,

    Yes, I can imagine the surprise when this first started. Years ago I cared for a 1/2 acre bird exhibit at the B Zoo; one day while checking up I heard “Help, let me out”! I traced the voice to a Hill Myna that had been injured previously and caged for a time; the keepers had taught it this phrase, but the bird hadn;t repeated it until released into the large exhibit..

    Best, Frank

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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.
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