Walking around a park in Australia these days, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stumbled into a Disney movie, as wild birds fly down and greet you with a perfectly intelligible “Hello.”
Don’t worry…you haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole! There’s actually a perfectly reasonable explanation. It seems that escaped pet parrots have been teaching their wild cousins scraps of English they picked up while in captivity. As ornithologist Jaynia Sladek, from the Australian Museum, explained to Australian Geographic,
“The birds will mimic each other. There’s no reason why, if one comes into the flock with words, [then] another member of the flock wouldn’t pick it up as well.”
Like human infants, who will often repeat whatever words they happen to hear, whether you want them to or not, many species of birds learn to communicate by imitating the sounds that other birds make. In fact, when it comes to learning sounds through imitation, birds and humans are a lot alike, according to behavioural biologist Johan J Bolhuis. As he explained to BBC News,
“I have studied budgerigars – small parrots – that can teach each other to speak Japanese words. In this and other research we found that the brains of these birds are organised in a similar way to human brains with regard to vocal learning. Also, the same genes are involved in song and speech.”
“Hello cockie” is the most commonly spoken phrase among Australian wild parrot flocks. However, also much like young children, the birds have taken to teaching each other curse words that they learned in captivity. Since young parrots learn sounds from their parents, that means that Australia’s wild cockatoos could be swearing at unwary humans for years to come!