Angela Weastell of Dunedin asks :-

How do parrots talk?

Alexander Davies, a veterinarian at Massey University, responded.

When you talk, air passing out through your larynx is directed through a narrow slit formed by a fold on each side. The sounds you make are modified by changing the position and tension of these vocal folds and the position of the larynx itself, changing the position and movements of your tongue, cheek and lips, and the resonance of the air spaces in your head. You will know that your speech is altered if your vocal folds are enlarged by inflammation (laryngitis), if your tongue or cheeks are affected by local anesthetic used by your dentist, or if you have a cold and your nasal passages are blocked.

Movements of your larynx, tongue, cheeks and lips are made by many different muscles, all controlled by the brain through nerves. Just think what your brain must do to hear a message from one friend, remember it but not think about what it means, and pass it on to another friend ... parrot fashion?

Is this what your parrot does? No, for a parrot, mimicking speech is a much greater achievement. Parrots have no vocal folds, few muscles to move their tongue, no cheeks and no lips. The sounds it makes do not come from its head, but from a different organ, the syrinx. This is a narrowing of the airway to the lungs at the base of the neck. Air passes through this narrow passage, causing membranes at the side of the syrinx to vibrate and make sounds. Muscles control the position and tension of the membranes, as well as the position of the syrinx. The syrinx can be moved so that it is surrounded or not by special air-filled bags that protrude from the lungs, air sacs. This can change the resonance of the sound rapidly.

So, if your parrot hears a message often enough, it will remember the words. It can then say them, using a sound instrument unlike that which made those words in the first place. This is rather like a violin trying to copy the sound of a flute, except that the parrot improvises much more successfully, articulating words, not a mere tune. Its instrument is not the only thing that is different; the brain of a parrot remembers speech in a way very different from ours. To talk parrot fashion, your parrot must be really clever.