Wild Fact #604 – Smart Talking Bird – African Grey Parrot

Wild Fact #604 – Smart Talking Bird – African Grey Parrot


Photo by Peter Fuchs (Wikimedia)

Today’s Wild Fact is really going to go to the birds.  Of course, I mean this literally as we are talking about one of the smartest birds I know, the African Grey Parrot.  Okay, so maybe I don’t really know them but I know of them so that has to count for something.  I am guessing by now you realized these Parrots can be found in the rain-forests of west and central Africa.  You have probably also noticed that these Parrots are not nearly as colourful as their more common Parrot cousins.  This doesn’t make them any less spectacular though.

I wasn’t kidding when I said the African Grey Parrot was one of the smartest birds I know.  In fact, scientists actually believe this particular Parrot to be one of the most intelligent bird species found on our little planet.  Now I am not saying I would copy off these guys during exam time.  Let’s face it, they are still birds. So what makes the Grey Parrot more intelligent than other birds?  Like other Parrots, the African Grey Parrot is capable of imitating human speech.  In fact, this particular sub-species is known to be the best at imitating humans.  Believe it or not one captive Grey Parrot, N’kisi, was believed to have a vocabulary of over 950 words! That bird has a larger vocabulary than I do.

Photo by Snowmanradio (Wikimedia)

Besides being able to imitate humans (and other birds, which is unique among wild Parrots), the African Grey Parrot is capable of associating these words with their meanings.  That’s right, they aren’t just repeating what they hear but they actually understand what the words mean.  They are also able to understand the concepts of colours, shapes, numbers, etc.  Incredibly, these simple birds have been known to complete cognitive tasks equivalent to that of dolphins, chimpanzees and even toddlers.  Yep, your pet Grey Parrot is just as intelligent as your 2 year old kid.

African Grey Parrot Fast Fact – Just to illustrate how intelligent the African Grey Parrot is, I wanted to share a quick story with you.  I am sure all of you have heard of Jane Goodall, famous for her work with chimpanzees.  Well, when she went to visit N’kisi (remember the bird with the large vocabulary) the Parrot greeted her by saying “Got a Chimp?”.  Believe it or not N’kisi had seen pictures of Jane Goodall with Chimpanzees and put the two together when he greeted her.  Just one example of how they actually understand the meaning of the words they speak.  Pretty impressive, right?

I couldn’t possibly write a whole fact about the amazing talking Grey Parrot without including a short video clip.  If you want to be impressed today then check out Einstein the African Grey Parrot below.  Enjoy the rest of your day!


  1. Avatar
    PC Nicholas March 16, 2011

    If I had to get a pet, this would be it! I wonder how long it takes for them to say like a dozen words or so? Very Inspiring post, Nathan! Thank You!

    • Avatar
      Nathan March 20, 2011

      Hi PC,

      Definitely an interesting bird. I believe the length of time they begin talking depends on several factors. Getting the parrot when they are young definitely speeds things up as older birds don’t learn as easily. You know the old saying, “You can’t teach an old African Grey Parrot new tricks”.

      As well, the amount of time you spend teaching these birds to talk plays a role. I believe the tonal pronunciation and other speech qualities play a role as well.

      Thanks for the thought provoking question. Let me know if you ever get a pet Parrot!

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