Darvin Gebhart is a champion goose-caller. But there are also birds that use human language. Sparkie Williams was a famous parakeet, or budgerigar, that lived in England in the 1950s. He recorded commercials for bird seed and released his own hit single "Pretty Talk." Alex, the African Grey Parrot, was another notable talking bird, with amazing cognitive abilities. Watch a video interview with Sparkie Williams and learn more about him at the British-Library.UK.
Birds Talk, People Squawk
Written by John Kessler
This is BirdNote! [Audio of goose-caller]
This is the call of a goose…or is it? Actually, it’s Darvin Gebhart, demonstrating his championship goose-calling technique. [More calls]
But there are also birds that use human language. Talking birds have varying degrees of intelligence and speaking ability. Some, like the crow, are able to mimic only a few words and phrases, while some budgerigars—parakeets on this side of the pond—have a vocabulary of over a thousand words.
Sparkie Williams was a famous budgie that lived in England in the 1950s. For six years, he worked as a character actor on British radio, and retired a wealthy bird. [Audio of Sparkie]
Alex, the African Grey Parrot, was another notable talking bird. Alex had a limited vocabulary – about 150 words – but he was famous for his cognitive abilities. He could recognize colors and shapes, and also used the word “none” to describe the absence of quantity. In other words, [slowly] he grasped the concept of zero. [Audio of Alex and researcher, Dr. Irene Pepperberg]
Scientists continue to debate whether any other species can truly learn human language. But birds like Sparkie and Alex could certainly hold up their side of the conversation! For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
Audio of “Sparkie Williams the Budgerigar” from British Library Sound Archive
Audio of Darvin Gebhart, Champion Goose Caller, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qGKTED_Pg
Audio of Alex the African Grey Parrot from “Alex the Parrot, an Apt Student, Passes Away," All Things Considered: National Public Radio, aired on September 10, 2007 (archived online)
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org March 2018 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# birdtalk-01-2008-03-14 birdtalk-01b