Mimics need to be exposed to the sounds they are going to mimic. This means a budgie has to be surrounded by human speech if he's ever going to talk. He’ll also be more inclined to learn after he’s been finger-trained. At this point he’ll be very comfortable in your presence, and will judge your voice to be a reassuring part of the background music.
Some budgies prefer higher voices - i.e. women and children rather than men. If you’re a male and you’re the only one who’s going to be teaching, there’s not much you can do about it; but you could try talking at the top end of your range as much as possible!
Women have the best voices, according to budgies!
There are several things you can do maximise your chances of ending up with a talking bird.
- Your pet will need to be settled in and no longer afraid of you and his surroundings, before you can begin teaching him. Take advantage of the budgie when he’s in a listening mood – sitting on his perch, slightly fluffed up, and chattering away to himself.
- First thing in the morning is the ideal time for a talking lesson; or in the evening when he’s calmed down a bit after an exciting day.
- Repeat the words you want to teach him several times, with your face close to the cage. The budgie will watch you intently. His pupils might dilate as you speak – this is a good sign, and shows he’s getting excited by the sounds.
- Choose something versatile, like the bird’s name. You can then vary the standard “Hello Mango” with phrases that incorporate the word – “Good boy, Mango!”, “How’s Mango today?”, and so on.
- Restrict these phrase-focused training sessions to 10 or 15 minutes. One in the morning and one in the evening is fine; but remember to throw in your chosen word or phrase at other times too, mixing it in with the general white noise of the room.
- Limit the other sounds in the room when you‘re training (e.g. mute the TV or radio).
- Don’t just stick to the words you’re teaching – have a proper conversation, but keep returning to that core phrase.
- Keep it lively - repeat words with feeling rather than in a monotone. Budgies will respond to an animated voice more than a drone. Don’t whisper, or the words will never sink in; and don’t shout, or that will merely scare him.
- Always talk to your budgie – greet him with “good morning”, say goodnight before retiring, and use lots of hellos at other times. Say things like “Where’s your food?” when replenishing the supplies, or “Clever boy!” when he hops onto your finger. Keep him engaged in conversation. He will come to associate the various sounds with the activities and times of day.
- Respond to your budgie’s body language with words – sooth him if he’s looking stressed, chatter gently to him when he’s relaxed and beak-grinding.
- As soon as any recognisable sounds appear in your budgie’s conversation, repeat them back.
- Once he’s mastered the first phrase, concentrate on the next one. It will take him time to build a repertoire, so be patient.
- Reward him with a favourite treat the first few times he says the new word or phrase. It’s the oldest trick in the pet book, but it works.
- Never show any impatience or frustration, in word or gesture – you can easily switch from a fun companion to an intimidating monster in your budgie’s estimation!
Advanced Budgerigar Talking Training
Going beyond the first few words and phrases - the ‘meaning’ of which will be limited to a general sense of happiness and wellbeing in your budgie’s mind - is for committed trainers only. You’ll need to spend a lot of time with the bird, commenting on everything that’s going on around him.
The next level up involves getting him to associate certain sounds with certain situations and moods. At this point you’ve moved beyond the 15 minute starter sessions to something approaching a full day at school.
Start by naming all the items of food as your budgie eats, like an over-attentive waiter. Name the cage toys when he plays with them, and introduce people as they enter the room - say “Hello [name]” when they arrive, and “Bye bye [name]” when they leave. Name and comment on everything. Some of it will sink in.
A budgie can even learn to name food items
This level of teaching relies on the fact that your budgerigar is a very intelligent bird. He is able to associate mood with situation, and to identify and express basic emotions – love, anger, happiness, fear, even grief. You can respond to these states of mind with appropriate words and phrases. Remember that budgies are very vocal animals, and using sound to express mood is all part of their biological wiring.
Here are some tips for getting emotional with your birds:
- Affection: when your budgie is sharing quality time with his mate or best friend - displaying affection through mutual preening, for example - say things like “Mango loves Minnie!” or “Mango’s a beautiful bird!” (substituting appropriate names, of course). You can also do this when the affection is aimed at you – while the budgie is enjoying a little stroking under the chin, or ‘preening’ your finger with his beak.
- Anger: the noise involved in bouts of budgerigar anger may deafen the bird to your words, but persevere. Anger can also be expressed with raised wings and open beak – all the kinds of behaviour you get when the birds are bickering over food. Throw a bit of “Mango is so angry!” or “Mango doesn’t like [something]!” into the mix, using a slightly sharper tone of voice than usual (it’s a bit of a knife-edge balance this one, as you don’t want to make the budgie scared, but you want the phrase to rise to the occasion and lodge in the budgie’s head).
- Pleasure: when your budgie is sitting and quietly twittering to himself or grinding his beak, he is happy and content. Phrases such as “Mango is a happy little bird!” or “What a lovely song!”, or “Listen to Mango’s crackly beak!” will sink in readily and capture the mood for him. It’s a lovely moment when your happy, beak-crackling budgie first mutters “happy little bird” to himself.
- Fear: the tightening of feathers, a distress call, rapid breathing, a wild flapping to the side of the cage or a frozen-but-ready-to-fly stance, all indicate fear. Try saying “Mango is scared of [something]!” or “That scared Mango!” Again, if your budgie comes to repeat these phrases when he is scared, it is a very touching moment – and very useful too, as he will be telling you something is amiss.
- Grief: this is not something most budgies will express; but occasionally they might display grief-related behaviour if a companion or chick has died. A sad bird will be restless, searching the cage for the missing friend. Grief may be accompanied by relative quietness or listlessness (but always be on the alert – a quiet or listless budgie is more likely to be ill than mourning). Use phrases like “Mango is very sad!” This can also be applied to times when your bird is actually ill; although in these circumstances he should be taken to a vet as soon as possible, rather than being taught to say how ill or sad he is!
Budgie anger management
Not many birds will make it this far with the vocabulary of emotions. Many will simply pick up the new phrases and mash them up with everything else. But observe your budgie closely, and see if there is any correlation between what he’s feeling and what he’s saying. It’s a pretty mind-blowing concept, but budgies really are clever enough to get to this stage. Sometimes!