Teaching a bird to talk is a process that requires patience and dedication, but one that can come with a large reward. Cockatoos can mimic almost any sound, including words. The size of your bird's vocabulary is entirely up to your efforts, but you should start with short, easy words.
Place your cockatoo in a quiet environment without distraction or outside noises. The idea is to reduce any impediments to learning, to gaining the bird's attention and to allowing the bird to focus on you and what you are attempting to teach him.
Stand before your cockatoo and speak directly to him. Speak slowly and clearly and loudly enough to be heard easily. Repeat the same words or phrases every day and try to associate them with actions if possible. For example, if you are feeding the bird you might say "It's dinner time!" several times. This will create a conscious association between eating and speaking that the bird will recognize and copy over time.
Talk to your bird as much as possible, running down the news of the day, your schedule of events and whatever else will fill the silence. Your cockatoo will learn by copying your speech, so avoid changes in tone and keep things on an even keel. Teach your cockatoo the way you would an infant, with simple words like "hi" and "bird." Once these have been mastered, try to expand your cockatoo's vocabulary with more basic words. Over time complex words can be added to the mix.
Continue to speak to your cockatoo even if she doesn't seem to be making progress. Cockatoos take time to hear, mimic and learn your voice. They are not fast learners but they do learn. In two to three years' time, you can expect your bird to speak freely and often without prompting.
- Cockatoos are not among the most talkative species of parrot. They are less apt to speak frequently and more difficult to train than some other breeds, like the African gray and the yellow-naped Amazon.
- If you have more than one cockatoo, they may teach each other to speak over time. According to the BBC and Australian Geographic, escaped domestic parrots make their way to the parks of Australia, where they meet wild birds and repeat what they have learned while in captivity. The wild birds often pick up some words and repeat them as part of their repertoire of calls.
- Cockatoos will sometimes scream the words they have been taught. This screaming tendency can be irritating and can cause problems with neighbors and visitors.
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.