Backyard Chirper

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Planet of the Birds? Wild parrots picking up language from domesticated birds

In the film The Planet of the Apes, chimpanzees and other monkeys effectively pick up English and became super smart as humans dwindle in numbers and intelligence. Now, it appears that birds are the animals we really have to be worried about.

According to the Courier Mail, scientists were getting calls from people who were out in their gardens and heard voices calling from the trees. I imagine the first call probably ended with the scientist thinking the person was insane, but a few more calls helped reveal that the voices were coming from parrots.

The birds were apparently calling down “Hello there,” “Hello darling” and “What’s Happening?” One bird was a bit bolder and squawked “Who’s a pretty boy, then?”

So, who are these brazen birds bellowing from the treetops? It seems these birds learned to speak from domesticated birds that escaped or were released by owners.

This is how it works. A domesticated parrot, particularly a cockatoo, learns to speak from its owner over the years. Then, one day the bird escapes and joins a flock of other birds. It continues to speak among the crowd and eventually, the whole flock learns to speak. As chicks are born, they too learn to speak those words and keep passing it down through generations.

These birds mimic the sounds they hear and it’s unlikely they have much grasp of the concepts the noises represent. Still, it’s pretty disturbing to unexpectedly have a bird trying to hit on you and saying hello from the trees.

Birds are already known to be extremely smart, so who knows what could happen. Scientists think that the words from parrots that live in isolated areas will probably devolve into incomprehensible noise over the years. However, birds who live near cities might learn even more words.

So, the next time you’re outside, be careful of those suspicious birds congregating at your bird feeder. They could be conspiring against you and planning on making this the planet of the birds.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.