Are You A Bird?

Comments from and lopsided conversations with my parrots

Sarah Ouellet


Male cockatiels resting, personal photo

“Oh, do your parrots talk?” This is the first question anyone asks me when they learn we house birds. Most people are expecting me to say of course they do, and hear me quote the clever and cute words our birds utter.

Most of our birds do not express themselves in intelligible words. We house thirty birds. Of these, three parrots and a handful of cockatiels offer up understandable words. Most of the words spoken in the bird room are mine with no expectation of a response.

“Good morning birdie wordies,” my morning greeting when flicking on the lights in the bird room. Chirps, whistles, the wolf whistle, hisses, and the occasional “Hi bird” greet me.

Words are not the only way birds attempt to communicate. Honks, chirps, peeps, head bumps, beaks, and wings convey needs or affection. For example, our macaw will wrap one of his wings around my husband’s head, giving a feathered hug. Or press his body against his chest.

Our macaw and African Grey welcome verbal exchanges, whereas others enjoy whistle challenges. The sessions, as our birds are not trained performers, are brief.

Ruby, personal photo

Hearing “Are you a bird?” thrills people. In that department Ruby, our African Grey, does not disappoint. She has an extensive vocabulary which she enjoys using on some days. She also mutters which sounds, to my ears, like a litany of complaints issued in a low rumble. Unfortunately, I suspect she learned muttering from me.

The other day I asked, “Are you a good bird?” “No.” “Are you a bad bird?” “Yes, and you are a brat,” followed by a crackling laugh.

Offered food of any kind, Ruby responds with “Mmmm, good.”

Although Ruby has heard my name over the twenty years she has lived with us, she only greets my husband by his name.

Ruby often asks, “What are you doing?” “Cleaning up the mess you birds make.” “OK.” “Want to help?” Silence, cocked head, and then a barrage of every word, whistle, and sound she knows.



Sarah Ouellet

Retired passionate animal and nature lover. Feeder of stray cats, rescuing those who want to be rescued.