How Do Birds Talk Without Vocal Chords?

INSTEAD OF A LARYNX with vocal chords, birds have a syrinx, a distended portion of the trachea. In the wall of the syrinx are two thin, oval membranes that vibrate and produce the bird’s vocalizations. Syrinxes differ slightly anatomically across bird families, involving the attachment of various muscles. Genetic differences also influence birds’ vocalizations.
via hyperboleandahalf

Sound is accomplished by expelling air across the mouth of the bifurcated trachea. Different sounds are produced by changing the depth and shape of trachea. So, talking parrots are really whistling in different variations. Congo African Grey Parrots (CAG) are well known for their ability to "talk", which may be caused by more control, or stronger trachea. But that does not mean that a Cockatiel (Cockatiels are not well known for their talking ability), could have a greater vocabulary than an African Grey Parrot.

Parrots and some members of the crow family are the perfect combination of anatomy and neurology to learn human speech. Their syrinxes are capable of making the sounds and, unlike some birds, they are not hard wired genetically to speak only one "language." Much in the same way English speakers can learn to speak French or Russian and vice versa, parrots and crows can learn to speak human words. However, for success it takes a willing, motivated student and a patient teacher.


This ability has made them prized as pets from ancient time to now. In the Masnavi, a writing by Rumi of Persia, AD 1250, the author talks about an ancient method for training parrots to speak.

"Parrots are taught to speak without understanding the words. The method is to place a mirror between the parrot and the trainer. The trainer, hidden by the mirror, utters the words, and the parrot, seeing his own reflection in the mirror, fancies another parrot is speaking, and imitates all that is said by the trainer behind the mirror."

Studies with captive birds have given us insight into which birds are the most intelligent. While parrots have the distinction of being able to mimic human speech, studies with the African Grey Parrot have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences.  Along with crows, ravens, and jays (family Corvidae), parrots are considered the most intelligent of birds. The brain-to body size ratio of psittacines and corvines is actually comparable to that of higher primates.  One argument against the supposed intelligent capabilities of bird species is that birds have a relatively small cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain considered to be the main area of intelligence in other animals. However, it seems that birds use a different part of their brain, the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale, as the seat of their intelligence. Not surprisingly, research has shown that these species tend to have the largest hyperstriata, and Dr. Harvey J. Karten, a neuroscientist at UCSD who has studied the physiology of birds, discovered that the lower part of avian brains are functionally similar to ours. Not only have parrots demonstrated intelligence through scientific testing of their language using ability, but some species of parrot such as the Kea are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles.



6 comments:

  1. Credit the art you use, please! :) http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/05/sneaky-hate-spiral.html

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  2. Interesting. Especially in the cases of parrots that can imitate so many sounds.

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  3. If you looking for Vocal Trainer in Nashville in Tn, USA. Kim Franca is available for you.

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  4. Love my pigeons and their noises. I'd love to have a disabled starling, as they can speak up to 300 words and complete phrases. Their noises are so weird. they're more entertaining than parrots.

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