African greys are considered to be among the best talkers of all domestic parrots. While inclination to talk can vary a lot between individuals, generally African greys are very fond of talking and can even mimic words and phrases having only heard them a handful of times. They generally start talking by the time they’re a year old.
The ability to talk is perhaps one of the number one things that attract people to parrots as pets.
They are unique in their ability to do so as house pets, and it’s naturally a very novel thing to experience with any pet.
There’s a lot to learn about this when it comes to African greys, so let’s find out more.
Do African greys talk?
African greys are great talkers and most will at least learn a handful of words based on what they hear you saying.
They are known as a highly adept species when it comes to talking.
Though all parrots are thought of as big talkers, this is not always the case.
Generally speaking, parrots possess the same physical capabilities for mimicry.
A lovebird, for example, has more or less the same vocal apparatus that allows mimicking speech as does an African grey.
A lot of it comes down to general intelligence and simply an inclination to mimic speech.
That said, then, African greys are great talkers for all of these reasons.
On the one hand, they are large birds with a powerful syrinx, which is the internal organ that parrots use to speak.
It is their equivalent to our larynx.
This allows them to speak loudly and clearly.
At the same time, they are also uniquely intelligent as parrots, which gives them a higher capacity for accurately reproducing noises as well as a bigger inclination to do so.
While it is not a hard and fast rule, it is generally thought that more intelligent birds are more inclined to mimic speech as it brings them closer to the human “flock” of which they are a part.
So, yes, African greys can and do talk.
Usually, they will simply start talking of their own accord, and you won’t particularly need to train them.
However, there’s a very important caveat to this—so let’s look at whether all African greys talk.
Do all African greys talk?
The simple answer is no, all African greys do not talk.
While the vast majority will talk to some extent if exposed to enough speech, it’s important to realize that many African greys simply will not feel the same inclination to speak and mimic your speech.
Their high intelligence makes them good speakers, but it also makes them highly individualized animals. Personalities can vary a lot between species, and so while most are in the habit of learning to speak, not all of them will.
There are things you can do to encourage an African grey to talk, but you should also prepare yourself for the possibility that yours simply doesn’t want to.
It might instead latch onto any number of other noises it will hear from your home, such as the beeping of a microwave, distant sirens, or any other such rhythmic noise.
So, while it’s rare that African greys won’t talk at all, it’s also far from an impossibility.
How, then, can you encourage an African grey to talk?
How do I get my African grey to talk?
The process of training an African grey to talk can be very different for each individual.
For some, little to no active training might actually be required.
As mentioned, some will be far more inclined to mimic speech, and thus will simply start picking up words and phrases as they spend more and more time with you.
Even then, it’s always helpful to speak loudly and clearly to your parrot to give it words to mimic in the first place.
That said, training for an African grey to get it to talk can take a long time, but the process is fairly simple.
The most common way of doing it is basic positive reinforcement.
Talk to your African grey a lot, every day.
Speak words loudly and clearly that you want them to pick up and learn to mimic.
When the parrot makes any attempt to mimic the word, have a treat on hand to reward them.
A clicker can be a great addition to this, as they will come to associate the noise of the clicker with treats and with mimicking speech.
For the most part, this is really all you need to do to get an African grey to talk.
Indeed, most won’t even especially need positive reinforcement.
They are quite natural speakers, and so they tend to just pick up speech regardless.
However, as mentioned, some can be less inclined to speak, in which case positive reinforcement should be a big help.
Again, though, it’s important to remember that not all of them will want to speak at all, and no amount of training will be able to change that.
It’s certainly unlikely, but it’s not impossible.
How many words can African greys speak?
Again, this of course varies a lot between individuals.
Most African greys are capable of learning a fairly wide range of words and even phrases, and can deftly handle a wide vocabulary.
It’s hard to put an exact figure on it, as many will learn very different amounts.
Some African greys will be more content to endlessly mimic only a handful of words, though they may “know” far more than that.
On the other hand, many take great pleasure in speaking a wide range of words and phrases.
As with anything, it depends on the individual.
What age do African greys start talking?
African greys will usually start talking by the time they are around a year old.
Again, this can of course vary a lot between individuals.
Some may not start talking until much later, and some may start a bit earlier.
However, an African grey is unlikely to be speaking much before it’s older than 8-10 months.
That said, after they’ve reached a year old, they could start talking at any time, really.
While it’s probably a fair bet that a three-year-old African grey which has never spoken likely never will, it’s also far from impossible.
Again, it can vary a lot!
Do African greys understand me?
It depends what you mean by “understand”.
In the semantic sense, they do not understand the meanings of words.
We’ve gone to lengths to illustrate parrot speech is mimicry, and not speech in the sense that we would use the word.
So, they do not understand you on the level that you would understand another person.
However, African greys are highly intelligent animals.
They can understand things in a more basic sense, though they will naturally not do so immediately.
Take a simple command such as “no,” for instance.
If you notice a behavior in your parrot that you do not want it to exhibit, softly but firmly tell it no, and end the interaction.
Eventually, they will come to associate the word “no” with this implicit punishment.
The same is true in the inverse.
They will understand something like “yes” if it is accompanied by a treat.
But they understand the context of the noise, not the word itself.
Do African greys understand what they are saying?
The simple answer is no, they do not understand what they are saying.
Noises of any kind are a vital part of parrot socialization, and so all species are inclined to vocalize to a large degree.
These vocalizations can be incredibly complex in what they indicate and in what they can communicate between two birds.
However, they understand what they are trying to communicate when they mimic your speech—but they do not “understand” the words in the sense that we do.
They talk and mimic your speech as a way of bonding and communicating with you.
If an African grey called polly is always saying she wants a cracker, that doesn’t mean she literally wants a cracker—even if it did, the parrot doesn’t “understand” that this is what the words mean.
It’s just an association of noises.
So, though it is purely mimicry and they are not trying to communicate with you in the sense that we would use the words, it is nevertheless a fascinating phenomenon that illustrates the power of an African grey’s mind.
They are highly intelligent birds and this accurate mimicry is a fantastic social tool both among parrots and between us and parrots.
If you are after a talking parrot and are ready for the responsibility that comes with it, an African grey is a great choice.