Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Old Bird Turns a New Phrase

Well, Coco gave me a bit of a pleasant surprise this evening! She turned a new phrase!

I do not personally subscribe to the notion that birds with the propensity to mimic human speech have a window of opportunity within which to learn. This may be another old-bird tale similar to the idea that allowing a bird access to a mirror will cause them to fail to 'bond' with their companion.
It has been my personal experience that the window of learning (for all birds and all types of learning) is lifelong.

While I do tend to speak to Coco with the same phrases and speech patterns as we go about the daily business of life, I do not spend time formally training her to mimic speech. She picks up what she picks up. She has learned to use certain phrases within context to a degree. For example if she cannot find food she will ask, "are you hungry?". This is a phrase that I say when I am placing food. Thus, she has learned to associate the phrase with receiving food. I believe her repeating the phrase back to me when she is unable to find food is an effort to trigger me to "do" what it is she has learned I do when she hears me speak that phrase. (Now, had I really been smart, I would have simply said, "I'm hungry" when placing the food instead of asking her if she was hungry!)

As fun as it is to hear a bird mimic human speech, whistles, etc., more important is the role it plays in providing interaction and enrichment between companion and bird. We take turns - she will whistle a tune, I will whistle it back. She will say a word, I will repeat it back. She seems to enjoy going first and hearing me repeat what she chooses. It is a fun method of interaction for both of us. She is much more responsive to this pattern than if I take the lead. So we can have a great time as I allow her to select what word, phrase or whistle she would like to hear me say next and we take turns. Often she will go through her entire vocabulary in short order.

In addition to providing enrichment for the bird and fun for the companion, vocal interactions afford the opportunity to engage a bird in a hands-off manner. This is handy for new birds to our home, for birds that do not desire hands-on interaction at a particular time or circumstance, and even for maintaining communication and contact when the companion is in a different room. It is fun to call back and forth!

I will also use a variety of sounds such as purring barking, honking noises, etc. in an attempt to engage and amuse her. If nothing else, it catches her attention!

So while I do not formally speech train her, I can virtually guarantee that any word said in haste, anger or with great emotion (even if said only
one time) is quite likely to be immediately and frequently repeated! Yet another reason to keep our language clean "around the children"!

If she likes the way something rolls off her beak, she will quickly latch onto it stronger than Barney on a peanut butter rawhide!

So tonight my almost 14 year old gal (birthday June 1) surprised me with a new phrase - while I was cleaning the budgie fort. She plainly said,

"Can I help you?"

Of course, upon hearing it, I repeated it back to her several times.

She silently stared at me as if I had just given my acceptance speech for the Idiot of the Year award!

I am not aware of it being a commonly spoken phrase, around her, and certainly not a purposeful one. Over the years, when she has been expressing excessively loud vocalizations, there have been a number of times that I entered the room and asked her exactly that question - Can I help you?? !!

Apparently she has been paying attention!

Too bad I couldn't take her up on the offer and get her to help with the cleaning!

We've come a long way since the baby days.... here she is at less than 3 months of age! Bananas are still a big favorite!



Marianne said...

Well, I've been trying to get Captain to say "hello, mama" for a couple months. She knows each word separately. But she refuses, lol. I thought it was because she was older. So that gives me hope. Tell Coco I said Hi. :) Oh, and Barney, of course.

Arlene said...

Well that's quite a unique way of teaching. I love how you will repeat what she says. I would imagine that if she comes up with a new sound she'll be more apt to repeat a new word or sound that you say. Brilliant Robin. Sounds almost like reverse psychology.
Lets hope she doesn't come up with a word that she never heard from you guys. :-)

Simple Southern Happiness said...

Thank you for the laugh, her looking at you getting the award. Birds are smart, the wheels are always truning. A friend's Eclectus when wanting to go to go bed at night will start repeating, "wanta' go to bed?". at no other time of day does he repeat this. Coco is blessed, what a fort.

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