do birds know their names

Parrots, which have long amused us for their ability to imitate our vocal patterns, actually learn to caw their “names” from their parents, says a new Cornell study. The research offers the first evidence that parrots learn their unique signature calls from their parents and shows that vocal signaling in wild parrots is a socially acquired rather than a genetically wired trait.

Karl Berg, a doctoral student in the graduate field of neurobiology and behavior, led the research team whose findings were published July 13 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Previous research had shown that all wild parrots use unique “contact calls” that not only distinguish each bird individually, but also communicate their gender, and the mate and larger group they belong to.

Building on this knowledge, Bergs team set out to discover whether the contact calls of wild parrots are something they learn from their parents in their early formative weeks or whether they are genetically determined in each nestling and then taught to their parrot family and community.

The team set up inconspicuous video cameras and audio recorders inside and outside 17 nests of newly hatched green-rumped parrots (Forpus passerinus) at a wild parrot research center in Venezuela created by Tomas Blohm 51 for several months in 2007-08. To determine whether the individual contact calls were innate or socially acquired, the researchers “cross-fostered” nine of the nests, switching eggs between them so that “foster parents” would raise hatchlings genetically unrelated to them.

Once they had analyzed the similarities and differences in the digital recordings of just under 5,000 individual parrot calls, the results indicated that the signature calls were socially acquired — the parents gave the chicks their own call, which the chicks chirped back at the parents and would continue to use though with some tweaking.

Indeed, the nestlings all adopted contact calls markedly similar to those their parents (whether biological or foster) vocalized to them for the first weeks of their lives.

The findings “can also have implications for understanding why vocal learning evolved — or did not evolve — in other vertebrate groups like humans,” Berg said.

To that end, he noted that parrots have two noteworthy characteristics: a large brain relative to their body mass, and a lengthy nesting time during which nestlings are dependent on their parents.

“Parrots can have extremely long periods [leading up] to independence, and this is thought to be related to their large brains,” explained Berg. The same goes for primates, he said, with humans in particular being “off the charts” when it comes to a lengthy stage of child dependence.

More research is required, to better understand the evolution of and interaction between these physical and behavioral traits, he said. “We still dont have good explanations of how these behaviors help wild individuals survive and reproduce in nature,” he said.

The paper offers some possible explanations: Perhaps the parrots far-ranging journeys to “communal foraging sights” are what impress upon each parent the need to have their fledglings names sorted out — not unlike human parents need to call for their children by name at a crowded fair.

What is clear, however, is that parrots evolved vocal skills fulfill a natural purpose beyond squawking that they want a cracker.

Co-authors of the study are biologist Soraya Delgado, visiting scholar Kathryn Cortopassi, and Jack W. Bradbury, professor emeritus, all of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Steven Beissinger from the University of California-Berkeley. The research was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

According to Berg, “Parrots’ enormous brains are thought to be related to the extremely long periods [leading up] to independence.” He stated that the same is true for primates, with humans being “off the charts” in terms of a protracted stage of child dependence.

A recent Cornell study claims that parrots, who have long entertained us with their ability to mimic human speech patterns, actually pick up their “names” from their parents. The study provides the first proof that parents teach their distinctive signature call to parrots, and it demonstrates that vocal signaling in wild parrots is a socially learned behavior rather than a genetically determined characteristic.

The paper suggests a few theories. Maybe the parrots’ extensive travels to “communal foraging sights” make each parent realize how important it is to know their fledglings’ names—just as human parents must call for their offspring by name at a busy fair.

The results “may also have implications for understanding why other vertebrate groups, such as humans, did not evolve vocal learning,” according to Berg.

It is evident, though, that parrots’ developed vocal abilities serve a purpose beyond simply letting people know when they want a cracker.

Although my name is “Robert,” I have no idea what dogs call me in their doggie minds.

Scientists are gradually learning how to decipher the conversations of a wide variety of animals. These creatures lead lives full of romance, intrigue, schemes, fights, and appetites. One day, we will be able to follow the action and, just imagine, interrupt a conversation and refer to a parrot, a dolphin, or a horse by its “true” name.

She tells about a horse called “Silver. He’s just going about his business in his stall when the researchers arrive with another horse—one from Silver’s herd. Silver turns to resume eating hay after looking up and watching “Pepsi” pass by. Pepsi disappears behind a barrier. Now comes the science. Pepsi is currently standing quietly behind that barrier, which conceals a tape recorder owned by the researchers. The researchers occasionally play Pepsis’s distinctive snort, or whinny, to help identify her. Silver glances up at the Pepsi whinny for a moment before returning to his meal. No biggie, the horse that just walked by has snorted. Thats to be expected.

In her fantastic new book Animal Wise, science writer Virginia Morell details an experiment with horses and whinnies, which are animals that resemble names.

But they so help us. We use names constantly. But there are subtle differences. Yes, we give our dogs names, and Ralphie responds when we call to him. Ralphie might know who he is, but I doubt he knows who we are. (“You! My World! My Universe! My Everything!” doesnt count. ).


Do birds recognize their owners?

Recent studies have shown that birds can recognize humans and may know their voices too. Their research shows that birds recognize humans, their faces, and in some cases our voices. For example, pigeons will get out of the way for specific humans that have previously shooed them away.

Can a bird learn its name?

Karl Berg asks the question, “How do parrots get their names?” The answer is that parrots learn their names while they’re in the nest. They hear their parents using each other’s names and begin calling themselves by names that sound similar, but not identical to those of their parents.

How long does it take for a bird to know its name?

It might take several weeks. The first few words are the hardest when teaching a bird to talk and the first indication that he is trying to speak is with a soft mumbling sound. He will keep practicing on his own so when you hear him doing this, repeat the word again for him.

Do talking birds actually know what they’re saying?

They imitate many things, from spoken words to creaking doors to barking dogs. Most parrots are simply mimicking their owners. They don’t really know what they’re saying. But some professionally-trained parrots have learned to understand what they’re saying.