TEACHING YOUR BIRD
Not all birds with the ability to talk will learn. There is never a guarantee. Due to their uncanny ability to mimic voices and sounds so exactly, African Greys are generally accepted as the best talkers, but some will never speak a word. If you MUST have a talking bird, the only way to be sure is to buy one who already does.
Either sex of budgie will talk, but a talking cockatiel will most likely be a male. This is probably because the males have a much greater range of vocalizations in their repertoire, while females are usually limited to a one or two note call. This is not the case with most larger birds, where either sex is equally adept.
If you have a bird known for its talking ability, you will probably want to try to teach him. The "R" sound seems to be easy for birds to imitate, and one of the easiest first phrases to learn is "pretty bird". We taught a male cockatiel to say this in only 3 days!
If you're home during the day or spend a lot of time near your bird, you can repeat a phrase 5 to 10 times whenever you go near the bird. Speak clearly and directly to him from fairly close. This is the method we used on the cockatiel previously mentioned and it worked very well.
If you prefer, you can make a tape recording for the bird. I don't recommend endless loop cassettes for this because I think the bird gets pretty sick of hearing the same thing over and over. When I taught my African Grey to say her first phrase, I used a cassette tape that was 45 minutes on each side. I recorded the same phrase about 10 times, then left about 20 minutes of silence, then the same phrase 10 times again, then 20 more minutes of silence, then the phrase again. This basically took up one whole side. I turned this on in the mornings as I left for work (it automatically shut off after running through once) and also again in the afternoons when I got home. I observed her undetected several times while the tape was playing to gauge her reaction and interest. The silent times worked really well. She was interested each and every time the phrase came on. In less than 2 months, she learned "what ya doin'?" She then began picking up all kinds of things with no formal training. If there was something specific we really wanted her to say, I made another tape in the same manner.
Other people prefer to teach phrases in the proper context only. For instance, repeating "good morning" to the bird first thing in the day, every day, will eventually result in a bird that greets you in the morning with "good morning". I think it works best with the bigger birds, as Greys especially seem to be quite capable of responding appropriately to the situation.
My Grey, Felie, is kept in the dining room. On the far end is a door leading to my son's room. Every morning, I open my son's door and say "Alex" to awaken him. When I get about 2 steps from the door, Felie now calls out (in a perfect copy of my voice) "Alex". We also have 4 Pomeranian dogs. They get let out from the dining room. When I open the door to call them back in, Felie calls "Pom Pom, come on." Why she doesn't call any of the others I don't know!
None of these methods has to be used exclusively; in fact a combination probably works best. Whatever method used, most birds speak more and more easily once the hurdle of learning the first word is overcome.
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Anita M. Golden
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