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Simon Says!

They say you should never get an African Grey parrot because of their famous speaking abilities. It’s not fair to the parrot, and besides, there’s no guarantee that the African Grey you get will actually talk, unless of course you adopt an already-speaking adult, which is a very good idea.

While African Greys on the whole are considered the best talkers of all the parrots, many individual Greys never say a word.  Most, however, start talking before their first birthday, and many have large vocabularies by then. They don’t just mimic, either. They talk. They communicate. They speak in context.

Even though you shouldn’t get one for the speaking ability, that’s precisely why most of us get them. Otherwise, we’d probably choose less challenging parrots.

Greys are known to be extremely sensitive. They hate change. They are famous for developing, in captivity, the neurotic tendency to pluck their own feathers out if all their needs aren’t perfectly met. They tend to have many fears, and they can literally die of fright. They become very attached to one person…if you’re lucky, they’ll tolerate other family members, but they’ll generally fear and loathe your friends. And no matter how extensive their vocabulary is, odds are they will be absolutely mute when you have guests over, so everybody will have to take your word for it. If you want a show-off, get an Amazon parrot.

My African Grey, Simon, adores me. He tolerates GC, and gives him a kiss through the cage bars every night at bedtime. He likes Oboe and Rosie, is indifferent to Duncan, and his relationship with Kazoo is complicated. He screams bloody murder if anybody else approaches his cage.

For a Grey, he’s pretty easy-going. With some Greys, you have to introduce new toys very gradually, hanging them several feet away from the cage for weeks, then moving them a few inches closer every day until the bird finally allows them into the cage. Simon welcomes new toys eagerly. He loves toys.  He’s also an enthusiastic eater and happily tries new foods.

He turned one and a half years old this week, and he has never uttered a word. He whistles and clucks and loves to make sounds when there’s music on, but he doesn’t speak. Even though I broke the cardinal rule and got him for his (potential) speaking ability, I fell in love with his personality and I will love him forever even if he never speaks. And, frankly, I was beginning to resign myself to that possibility.

Until last week! He started babbling away in conversational tones. This is how Greys get ready to speak. It’s the conversational equivalent of  lorem ipsum text! I am absolutely mesmerized and charmed by this. He even speaks in two distinct voices, playing both roles in the conversation! One voice sounds like a man speaking through a mechanical voice box, and the other voice sounds like a sweet little girl.

I made a little video of him. It’s not much to look at, but it’s lovely to listen to.


8 comments to Simon says!

  • Oh how lovely!!!!!!!!!!

  • Julia

    This part is brilliant: “It’s the conversational equivalent of lorem ipsum text!”

    I am sure you can hear much more than I can, because you have been listening to him all along. It is still thrilling. I suppose he’ll be like a child and babble for a while and then start speaking intelligibly. Do you know where he got the two voices from? Do the birds have to hear a voice and then imitate it, or do they have their own speaking voice? So many questions!

    • Good questions Julia! Not sure where he got the two voices from – especially the more masculine one. Generally they imitate their people’s voices. I’ve heard that they’re more likely to pick up their favourite person’s partner’s voice, since that’s the voice they see their favourite person responding to most. They’re also likely to pick up a child’s voice.

  • …they’re beautiful animals, and I love the way they sound, but the commitment is crazy. Cats and dogs I can do, I could / can / have put up with their idiosyncrasies for eighteen years or so, but not sixty.

    Just curious… what happens when you two want to take off for a weekend?

    • gc

      Love that Vertical Video PSA. Thanks Gabriel.

      • Me too, that was great. I never actually realize I’m shooting vertical video until I go to look at it after, and then I always slap my forehead and say Doh!

    • It IS a big commitment. But people commit to whole series of cats and dogs, so committing to a very long-lived bird is sort of the same. You raise a good point about going away for a weekend. We’re actually doing that for the first time since getting the parrots. We’ve got a pet sitter coming in to feed them, but I’m already worrying about it. I hope the birds don’t spend all weekend thinking I’ve abandoned them. :(