Sunday, February 03, 2008


An African Grey, yesterday.

Greetings. I am in Asia. Writing a thriller. Yep. Maybe I will blog about this at some point, maybe not. Quite frankly, I might not, cause thriller-writing is knackering. Sorry.

Until that moment when I possibly blog about my Asian travels and experiences, or not, as the case may be, here is another piece of warmed-over journalism, lazily culled from all the stuff I wrote for Maxim about ten years ago.

And people say blogging is hard. Cuh.

How to teach a bird to talk

Choose your species
Different kinds of birds have different talking abilities. Macaws are pretty good speakers, but are loud and rough voiced and sound like a Glaswegian after a pint of lighter-fuel. Mynah birds from India are fairly chatty, but somewhat dim and repetitive. Likewise budgies, cockatoos, lovebirds and lorakeets - they can all be taught to speak, but tend to be rather slow on the pick up. According to Irene Pepperberg, the world’s top bird-speech expert, the smartest and clearest talking birds are, without doubt, African grey parrots.

Say some words
Once you’ve purchased your African grey, don’t expect him to be instantly nattering away like a teenager with her first mobile. It takes time. And of course individual critters vary in personality - some are sharp, some retarded. First off, try saying something clear and simple - ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, etc. Say it slowly, close to the bird. Then say it again and again, and again, for ten minutes, then repeat these ten minute sessions twice a day for several months. If this gets boring you can make a tape and play it next to the cage.

Don’t say fuck
Birds like shortish words with hard, clear consonants. That’s why ‘Pretty Polly’ is so popular. It’s also why ‘fuck’, ‘shit’, ‘arse’ and all the other Anglo-Saxon swearwords are so quickly picked up by even an averagely stupid budgie. And remember, it might be, on the face of it, a laff to teach your nan’s parakeet to say ‘suck my dick, muthafucka’, but do you really want to listen to this phrase several dozen times a day? Every day? For seventy years? Parrots are some of the longest lived creatures on earth.

Try a sentence
Once your bird has mastered some simple phrases - and these should come in a few months - you can move on to more complex constructions, and even get the birds to say them at the right time: like ‘are you going out?’ when you are going out. However, if your bird proves to be a total smart-alec, keep him away from irrelevant noises. Quick birds have been known to pick up and repeat baby gurgles, phone trills, human snoring. And the quickest birds, according to Irene Pepperberg, actually understand some of what they’re saying. Which is another reason not to teach them to say ‘wanker’.

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