Parrot: Academics agree that learning a new language is easier if you immerse yourself in a new culture and surround yourself with folks who are fluent in the language. Want to learn French, perhaps?
Head to Paris, spend time with the locals, and before you know it you’ll be ordering cafe instead of coffee, le pain instead of bread. It’s a proven way of becoming multi-lingual quickly and completely.
Most academics, however, have never theorized that this applies to the animal kingdom too.
But if Nigel, an African Gray parrot, is any indication, the same rule does indeed govern our furry and feathered friends — or at least birds.
Nigel flew his coop in Terrance, California in 2000. His owner, Darren Chick (seriously) didn’t know where Nigel went, and eventually lost hope that he would ever be reunited with his fine, feathered friend.
Nigel spoke only one language — English — but he spoke it with an elegant, cultivated British accent, just like his owner speaks it. Parrots, rather like myna birds, are able to pick up whatever language their owner teaches them.
Four years later, Nigel and Chick were brought back together after a determined pet groomer tracked down the bird’s roots, and where he was purchased. In 2014, Nigel came home, unharmed and with a new talent — he speaks Spanish.
It’s all a bit complicated, but basically here’s what happened: Nigel took off, and Chick tried to no avail to find him.
In the meantime, another parrot owner, Teresa Micco, a veterinarian, lost hers as well. It seems that African Gray parrots have a tendency to skedaddle the first chance they get, and so Micco was also on the hunt for her bird, Benjamin.
She posted “bird lost” ads all over the Internet, and tracked those that had been found and written about, all to no avail.
Then, in 2014, she came across a parrot online that sounded a lot like Benjamin. He had been found by Julissa Sperling and her husband, Jonathan, owners of a pet grooming spa in Torrance, Happy Tails Dog Grooming Spa. (Again — seriously).
One evening while at home Julissa heard a voice outside calling, “hello? Hello?” Although upon investigation it seemed no one was at the door, the voice persisted. Finally, when they checked more thoroughly, they found an African Gray parrot had come calling.
Their experience with animals helped them coax the errant bird into a cage, and that’s when they began scouring the Internet for the creature’s owner.
Initially they thought it was Micco’s parrot, but a closer look at an implanted microchip revealed that, though it looked like Benjamin, it was in fact a different bird.
Microchips are a high-tech way of tracking pets, and with a little dogged determination, Sperling found Chick and decided to reunite him with his stray parrot.
But Nigel had changed. He didn’t just speak Spanish, he also muttered the name “Larry” repeatedly, and bit poor Chick during their initial meeting.
Furthermore, his charming British accent was nowhere to be heard. While he was with Sperling, who is from Panama, he kept saying “what happened?” in Spanish, so clearly whomever found Nigel decided to make him a bilingual bird.
Within a week, Chick reported to website The Daily Breeze, Nigel had settled back into his home in sunny California and the two were like birds of a feather once again, best friends in spite of Nigel’s four-year absence.
“It’s really weird,” Chick added, “I knew it was him the minute I saw him.”
Micco, at last report, still has not found Benjamin, but has not given up hope that one day, perhaps, he too will come home to roost.