Pet Birds Gone Wild - and Teaching English

You’re walking down the street in sunny Sydney, when the distinct pink flutter of a wild galah, a rosy-colored bird endemic to Australia, flutters past and exclaims, “Hello, Cocky!”

Are you talkin' to me? Wild galahs and other parrots are speaking up all over Australia.
Are you talkin' to me? Wild galahs and other parrots are speaking up all over Australia. Photo: Fred Coles.

Don’t be put off by the rude bird. Apparently, this avian-running-of-the-mouth is a pretty common occurrence.

It turns out, wild parrots—including galahs, cockatoos, and corellas—have picked up the lingo from former pets that have flown the coop, according to the Herald Sun. The offending phrase above, likely taught to a cockatoo, is one of the more common, though a few unprintable ones have caught on, too. Understandably, the birds tend to surprise pedestrians strolling through the RoyalBotanic Gardens orCentennialPark.

Martyn Robinson, a naturalist at Sydney’s AustralianMuseum, explains that despite the recent media buzz, this isn’t a new phenomenon in Australia. “Reports from Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, [the Northern Territory] and Adelaide all came in after this story broke, which is exactly what you’d expect,” says Robinson in an email.

The theory is that people have trained their pets to speak, then pets escape and join wild flocks. Eventually, younger males in the flock learn talking tricks from the chatterboxes, likely in the hopes of adding a new wooing technique to their repertoires.

Robinson acknowledges that being confident which of these birds are former pets and which are wild birds isn’t easy. “The chances of one or two talking birds in a flock being pets is pretty high—but up to a third or so talking birds in a flock is more likely to be some of the birds learning from others,” he says.

Robinson also reminds us that parrots aren’t the only birds parlaying. Myna birds, lyrebirds, ravens, magpies and currawongs are all avian gabbers as well. 


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