How Wild Parrots Name Themselves

Green-rumped parrotlets in Venezuela, female and male (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

30 September 2021

If you’ve ever been around pet parrots you know they mimic everything they hear from human voices to mechanical beeps. In the wild, however, they mimic only the sounds of their own species. Baby parrots learn these sounds from their parents while in the nest including each parent’s signature contact call that functions like a name.

As baby parrots mature they mimic their parents’ signature contact calls and slightly modify them to create their own unique names. They say their own names and they call each other by name.

Much of this was discovered a decade ago by Karl Berg as he studied nesting green-rumped parrotlets (Forpus passerinus) in Venezuela. His paper, published in July 2011, described how parrots learn their names from their parents.

Green-rumped parrotlet studies continue to this day. In 2018 Karl Berg, now at the University Texas in the Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), received a grant to study how parrot language develops from babbling to real “speech” and the relative merits of learning speech among few or many siblings. Here’s the news from UTRGV.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos from Cornell Lab of Ornithology and UTRGV)

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