Parrots are celebrated for, and renowned for, their talking abilities. Besides, there are plenty of iconic movie scenes and trending YouTube videos of them doing so. And quite effectively might I add. But you’ll soon notice that these are Macaws or the larger parrot species. So it’s only natural to question if all species of parrots can speak, and if so – how well. Cockatoos are one such example…
So, can cockatoos talk? Cockatoos can talk, although they can only learn a limited number of specific words and phrases (between 20-30, on average). While they can be taught new words by their owners, it does typically take a bit of time and require some consistency on the part of the owner.
While cockatoos can certainly speak; they’re relatively quite soft and high pitched when they learn to do so.
Equally, these birds are not generally capable of mimicking the individual’s voice who taught them such words.
So paring these two things together; you have a bird that cannot speak as well or as clearly as most other species of parrot.
Instead, they are mostly known for their “babbling,” which is more like a continuous and repetitive noise.
While it may sound like they’re talking if you were to listen closely you’d soon find that there is no clear sentence structure.
But lets not be too harsh here.
They are birds, after all.
And amazingly, they can actually mimic other animal sounds more clearly – such as dogs barking or cats meowing.
This is perhaps where they are most effective vocally, opposed to human speech.
But credit where credits due!
Let us now take a closer look at how these parrots typically communicate, before looking at how an owner could get them talking – if desired!
How Do Cockatoos Communicate?
Cockatoos communicate via screams, screeches, and using their body language. They are flamboyant communicators, known for being quite noisy.
In their natural environment, communication is critical to cockatoos’ survival.
So it comes as no surprise that they quickly learn the right noises to make from their parents and siblings, at a young age of life.
In fact, they have an amazing ability to leverage a particular body organ to do so. And they share this with other parrots, and birds, too.
It’s called the Syrinx.
And its essentially a voice-box.
Using a careful orchestra of muscles, in accordance with the air, cockatoos can make sounds.
Its what enables them to sing.
But it also allows them to talk.
And as is the case with all parrots; they mimick what they hear.
This is precisely why parrots end up saying different things; or latch on to different phrases and words specifically.
Of course, there are limitations on what they can learn; and it also depends on the circumstance and setting.
For instance, a cockatoo that is frightened is likely to make a very distinct hissing sound, whereas one comfortable and familiar with their environment will more likely repeat a learned word – or two!
Do All Cockatoos Talk?
Not all cockatoos can, or will talk. It depends mostly on how they have been raised and what they have been exposed to.
The main reasons why a cockatoo may not talk are:
- A lack of exposure to words,
- A cockatoo that is shy, unsure or reserved in nature.
As cockatoos are merely mimicking what they hear, it makes sense that not all will be able to talk.
At least to begin with.
Birds that are not exposed to humans, or very frequently, are not likely going to be able to ‘talk’. At least with human words that is.
Then there are birds that are new to a home, or still unfamiliar with their environment.
A cockatoo is not going to want to make much noise during this time, they are still becoming aware of what is going on around them and their main concern is survival, at this stage.
It generally takes a cockatoo some time to gain confidence in their surroundings and with their new owners.
The more content and confident they feel – the more inclined they will be – to talk.
Can You Teach A Cockatoo To Talk?
An owner can teach a cockatoo to talk. These birds may not be great talkers, but the ability is there and they can learn to do so, in time.
But, you must be prepared to put in the time and remain consitent.
It can take a long time for a cockatoo to not only learn words and phrases, but build up the confidence to want to do so.
As such, it can take months, perhaps years, for a cockatoo to begin freely speaking.
If you want your cockatoo to be a chatter; It helps to communicate with them regularly and soon after you take them in.
You can talk about anything, but just be sure to keep talking to them.
In time, you may notice your cockatoo catching on to what your saying, particularly those words you repeat often.
And these are very clever birds; they’ll begin to adapt their sound range to suit their surroundings.
So, you may even find that they combine their natural sounds with words they learn in your care.
Its kind of like a cockatoo-human hybrid language, at times!
Nevertheless, how you speak will naturally influence the way your cockatoo communicates.
If you are chatty or live in a house with other people, your bird will be more likely to have a lot of different vocalizations.
If you are quiet and live alone, your cockatoo will ultimately be less noisy.
Cockatoos can be very funny when they want your attention; they will whistle and use words they hear from others.
It can be embarrassing at times, but good fun.
And as an owner of this bird, it actually helps to try and learn cockatoo language too!
Here me out on this one.
I’m not going crazy.
You can start to get an understanding of what your cockatoo is saying by recording their screams and squawks.
Taking note of when they are doing so, and what they are doing at the time.
Its a good idea to jot down other accompanying behaviors,
Soon, you should be able to get a better understanding of what each sound may mean.
For instance, they may make a particular sound in the morning, or just before/after eating etc.
But unless you keep track, its going to be hard to detect these kind of nuances.
Nevertheless, by and large, cockatoos are chatty birds.
They are social by nature and typically enjoy communicating with their owners (assume they are not shy and timid, of course).
In fact, they have been known to call out to see if their owners are present.
They also may scream in response to loud noises, if an unfamiliar person enters the room, or if they are particularly excited or feeling playful.
Thankfully, they do tend to be noisier at sunset and around dawn – so there is some reprieve before the next day. Phew!
Do Cockatoos Understand What You Are Saying?
Cockatoos cannot comprehend language like humans; they don’t naturally communicate by words and sentences and so it is unlikely they know what humans are saying.
They can however, learn to recognize patterns, and learn to connect a particular sound, word or phrase with an activity, event or object.
For instance, if you greet your cockatoo with a “good morning” and a “good night”, they will soon learn to pick up on what this means. They may even respond, or anticipate these words by talking out, around these times.
Another example can be seen through using treats.
If you offer treats to your cockatoo when saying a word, they may try to say this word back to you (whether in the moment or a later time) in the hopes of getting the treat.
Along similar lines, you can teach a cockatoo tricks.
A popular example is teaching “kiss”. Saying “kiss” and getting your bird to touch your mouth with their beak. If they do so, rewarding with a treat.
Cockatoos will never learn or know what a kiss actually is, but they can learn to know that this action gets them a treat!
How Much Time Does It Take A Cockatoo To Learn A Word?
It can take a cockatoo a long time to learn a word; they need to get used to learning the word and becoming familiar with the tone. But generally, it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years for them to speak.
As such, if you are looking to teach a cockatoo to speak, it’s essential to communicate clearly and loud enough. A cockatoo needs to understand the word inside out, and essentially learn to mimic it.
For this reason, it is best to start out teaching one word. And one word only.
Picking a short, one-syllable word, will give a cockatoo the chance to learn it more quickly.
As such, excellent beginner words include: “hello” which you can later advance to “bye-bye.”
These are words that you should always look to great your cockatoo with. And even get other family members, or visitors to say to your bird too.
Its important that you focus and promote repetition of that one word. Be sure to say it daily and expose it to your birds often.
When you notice your cockatoo attempt to mimic the word, repeat it again and enunciate it as clearly as possible.
When your cockatoo says “hello” or “bye-bye,” respond with the same word.
It is only when they master this one word, should you look to move on to another.
And even then, return to the words that they do know.
And, if you notice even with extended efforts and repetition that your cockatoo is just not getting it – accept it for what it is.
Some cockatoos will never speak humans words. They may prefer other sounds, even from other pets, or may even prefer to whistle.
If your bird does turn out to be non-verbal, keep in mind that this is normal.
Don’t let it put you off still talking to them. They will still enjoy the attention, and appreciate your acknowledgement of them.
And you never know, they may speak a word or two in time.
How Many Words Can A Cockatoo Say?
Cockatoos can learn between twenty to thirty words, which often includes phrases. Although, it is generally a good idea to start with singular words, and only introduce phrases once they are able to do so.
Its important to consider that this is just an average.
Some cockatoos may not say any words at all; others may be able to say up to 50 (and sometimes a few more).
It all depends on circumstance and exposure.
A cockatoo that spends a lot of time around humans, is comfortable in their surroundings, and is in good health is much more likely to speak.
Nevertheless, cockatoos are not known for having the best speaking abilities or vocabularies compared to other parrots.
The Macaw being perhaps the best example of this.
How Do I Teach My Cockatoo To Talk?
You can teach a cockatoo to talk, but bear in mind, this process takes dedication and patience.
The extent of your bird’s vocabulary will depend on several different factors; including their health, confidence, repetition of specific words, and your persistence.
Nevertheless, let’s look at a simple strategy to teach a cockatoo to speak, step by step:
Make sure that your cockatoo’s environment is peaceful without distractions or learning impediments, as you will need their full and undivided attention.
So, turn off any music, the TV and perhaps even shut the windows!
Any noise is bad noise in this context.
Speak Slowly And Clearly
Face your cockatoo and speak slowly and clearly to them.
Make sure that you are loud enough for them to hear you and repeat your words.
Try to connect your words with action; for instance, say “dinner” every time you feed them. Or “morning” when you first greet them each day.
Around food words particularly well, as it will create awareness and an association between eating and talking.
Keep doing this, in time your cockatoo recognize this and begin copying you – in anticipation of food!
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Talk to your cockatoo as often as you can, and be sure to fill any silence with the words you are looking to teach.
Try to keep the same voice tone so your bird doesn’t become confused.
Your cockatoo may not seem too interested in speaking and may not seem to make any progress – hang in there!
It can take time for these birds to hear and learn your voice.
It can take a few years before your cockatoo knows to speak freely; they are not the fastest learners.
So, be sure to keep on going. It can be hard – but if you are persistent enough and willing, you should be able to make it happen.
Cockatoos are highly sociable parrots that thrive on the attention given by their owners.
In fact, cockatoos can quickly become depressed if they don’t receive sufficient love and attention.
And they will let their owners know!
These birds are not aloof by any means and they will do all they can to get their point across.
They generally communicate by body-language and screams and this should be somewhat expected if you are new to owning one.
And they can be loud.
Just consider this if you have neighbors nearby, or are in desperate need of silence in the home.
Nevertheless, cockatoo make excellent companion birds once their owners adequately meet their needs.
They are funny, affectionate, and generally great fun to be around.
These birds can talk, even if it is not as well as other parrots.
And it will likely take you a bit of time.
Even if your cockatoo shows little to no interest in talking, it is something that you can try to cultivate.
A good relationship is certainly a pre-requisite; they need to know that they can trust and depend on you. And that they are safe in the environment
So, be sure to keep talking to your bird and spending as much time as possible with them.
This should result in a happier and healthier cockatoo, one a lot less likely to scream; and one more likely to engage in the interesting exchange of words.
Wondering what other parrot species talk? Then check out my following guides:
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.