African Grey parrots are among the most prolific talkers of all pet birds. These birds will generally start talking at approximately one year of age. This is not a carved in stone rule, some might begin to talk earlier, and some later. Greys learn to talk easily and display intelligence roughly equivalent to that of a 3 year old child.
Greys learn what they are interested by
You don’t have to work to teach an African Grey to talk but they learn what they want to learn. They are incredibly curious, and any noise that they find interesting will be mimicked by them. You will hear your young bird barking like your dog, or ringing like your telephone. Phrases that they hear often will be repeated, if they find it interesting enough.
I once had a dog visit for several weeks that would bark incessantly. Any noise that was unexpected would get her started barking. I would call out to her to ‘shut up’. It wasn’t long before my African Grey was barking in perfect imitation of the dog, and then saying ‘shut up’. I didn’t particularly want her to say shut up, and so I changed the phrase to Keisha, quiet! Soon my bird had changed her phrase too.
That’s one good thing about these prolific talkers. When they stop hearing something on a regular basis, they stop saying it. That’s not to say that the word or phrase leaves their vocabulary. The word is still there in their minds, waiting to be pulled out when you least expect it.
Make a new phrase fun for them
An easy way to get your African Grey to pick up a new word or phrase is to make it sound fun and interesting. Talking in an unusual voice will usually get their attention. When you have their attention, the hard part of the job is done. Keep repeating the phrase at appropriate times while using a tone that will keep their interest.
When a grey finds a word or a phrase that they like it doesn’t take them long at all to start repeating it. You might hear your bird repeating your phrase after as little as one day. My bird has learned a few things that quickly, but it usually takes longer. The last phrase that we taught her, to say ‘how rude’ after a huge ugly burp, took about a week for her to learn. She had learned the burp in only one day.
My daughter was visiting one day, and pointed her finger at her son while making the sound of a Star Wars laser blaster. The very next day, after only hearing that sound once, my bird was making it. That is a sound she finds very entertaining, and repeats often.
Timing is everything
An African Grey can learn to reply to certain phrases, or to speak things at appropriate times, such as saying ‘hello’ when you pick up a phone, or as I mentioned above, saying ‘how rude’ after hearing a burp. You can teach them to sing a song, or to answer a question you ask. The trick to teaching these things is repetition, and making it fun for them. Gain their interest and curiosity, and there is no end to what you can teach them. They will never stop learning new things to say, the only limits are what they are exposed to.
You will be entertained constantly with an African Grey Parrot as a pet. Your guests will marvel at the variety of things your bird can say. It is well worth the effort to teach your bird to say cute and witty things. You will enjoy it, and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when your bird says the things you teach it.