Avian Expert Articles

Study Suggests Parrots Name Their Chicks

green-rumped parrotlet pair
Female and male green-rumped parrotlets in Venezuela By kulyka/flickr

We lovingly name each other with a personal moniker. But what about animals and other living things? We know too well that birthed and hatched creatures are well-attended to by their parents. Do the parents apply names to their young in specific ways just like we do? Although the animal kingdom is huge, and this idea can be explored with all creatures, let’s look at the mounting evidence supplied by one-time Cornell University ornithologist Dr. Karl Berg (currently with the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley).

Since 1987, Dr. Berg has intently studied the individual sounds made by parrots to seemingly identify the young nestlings individually. By 2011, Dr. Berg had come a long way to believe that parents and surrogate parents were able to call a certain bird “by name.” The naming convention allowed the parrots to properly respond to their surrounding others. The process is referred to as “pattern recognition,” a process we fully recognize as being within the growth scope of a young child. It is, nevertheless, quite surprising to us to learn that our animal world likely does the exact same thing.

Name Calling

green-rumped parrotlet
Green-rumped parrotlet by Jam.mohd/CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Through a series of tests, Dr. Berg recognized that parrots learned to communicate individually by “name” from a young age. One test in the study involved switching eggs to prove that the response to calls and names were not specifically inherent by genetics. The young birds responded to the new parents’ specific call. In the wild, Dr. Berg utilized well-placed cameras to watch — and listen — to the developing communication between the parents and the young birds. Over time, and in the wild, the birds were found to be specifically communicative, often in personal ways. In the nests, the chicks were aware of the “voice” of their parents and responded in expected excitement.

Dr. Berg’s  study was vast and has naturally led to several offshoots of learned communications skills exhibited by the parrots of study and how they might help us to understand communications better in all species. Here is a brief video to further highlight the communication depth displayed by parrots in the wild.

Dr. Berg’s current work is focused on parrot vocalization in the nest and in their natural habitats to determine their ongoing physical and social development, as well as the increase of their intelligence. Dr. Berg is also working to learn how baby parrots learn their communicative skills, in part, maybe apart from their parents and how that knowledge could be used to further understand human cognitive skills develop in young children. The main component of the study investigates the possibility of sibling interactivity as a learning process for parrots, and possibly for children as well.

The animal kingdom continues to reveal that we’re not the only “sophisticated” species out there in this big world. With new knowledge, we’re finding that birds are much more intelligent than we had originally thought. For bird caregivers, that’s a concept not lost on them.

One thought on “Study Suggests Parrots Name Their Chicks

  1. I find this both facinating and not surprising. My moluccan cockatoo, scarlet macaw and golden mantled rosella greet each other by human name, never mix up names and my African grey congo and male/female eclectus have separate contact call/whistle for each flock member.
    As humans we believe ourselves to be superior and often don’t look, listen or accept what is in front of us.
    Lori Gibbons

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