Parrot Police: According to a recent story reported by ABC news, Florida police recently answered a call from a man who reported that he could hear a woman’s voice screaming “Help, let me out” coming from a neighbor’s home.
When several deputies from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office arrived at the home in Lake Worth, they found the owner out in the driveway, working on the brakes on his car. The officers told the man why they were there, and the man promptly introduced them to his 40-year-old parrot named Rambo.
While the man was working on the car, Rambo was hanging out on an outdoor perch where he liked to talk and sing.
Apparently, when both the man and Rambo were much younger, and the bird lived in a cage, the man had taught his pet to say “Help, help! Let me out!” Rambo was apparently practising the phrase when the neighbor became concerned and called the sheriff’s office.
After hearing the explanation and meeting the parrot, the deputies were relieved, and had a good laugh over the whole incident. The deputies were so amused that they posted the incident on their Facebook page. The man introduced the neighbor who made the call to his yelling pet, as well.
Parrots are, of course, wonderful mimics who can learn to repeat all sorts of things. A quick internet search will rapidly produce a lot of videos of parrots mimicking not only people, but inanimate objects as well. One website for parrot owners has many stories about odd behavior from the birds.
One owner recounted her parrot’s ability to summon their dogs in from the yard on command. The bird will first whistle for them (something the owner says she can’t do, herself), and then to get on their beds. Another recounted a story of their bird tormenting his wife by imitating a ringing phone in the living room of their home while his wife was elsewhere in the house, causing her to come running multiple times.
Besides just being amusing, parrots’ ability for mimicry is sometimes extremely useful. In 2017, Live Science talked about parrot mimicry and one of its more useful applications. Specifically, the piece referenced an at-that-time story from the Detroit News, in which a parrot was used as a witness in a murder case., when a man had been shot and killed by his wife, who was convicted after the parrot was heard multiple times repeating “don’t f—ing shoot’ multiple times, in his owner’s voice.
The bird’s comments weren’t a solid evidentiary factor leading to the wife’s conviction, but all of these stories do make you wonder why and how parrots are such amazing mimics, not just of words, but also of voices, or even objects like telephones or teakettle.
Parrots possess certain physical adaptations which make such sophisticated mimicry possible.
They produce sounds with an organ called the syrinx, which is in their respiratory tract, just above their lungs. They can also further control the sounds they make by using their tongues, and by opening and closing their mouths, the same way that human beings do.
Lacking all of the same vocal equipment that humans possess, they do have to use slightly different means of reproducing certain sounds than we do, but it’s undeniably effective. They can even vary the pitch and tones that they use to talk, making them able to sound remarkably like specific people.
Besides having the physical wherewithal to reproduce a wide range of sounds, parrots also have certain cognitive equipment that helps the process along.
Their brains have collections of grey matter which resemble those found in songbirds, but those collections are surrounded by an outer layer of nuclei. The combination which is believed to have evolved some 29 million years ago, seem to play a role in the bird’s ability to mimic.
Certain species of the birds have more of this extra layer of nuclei, and others have less, which is why certain breeds of the bird seem to pick up the ability to reproduce sounds faster and in greater volume than other species.
The ability to produce such a wide range of sounds and to mimic is thought to be a way of helping birds bond with mates and identify their flocks, both of which are extremely important to a wild parrot’s ability to survive, since a single bird is much more vulnerable to predators.
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That evolutionary imperative even explains why parrots mimic people; it gives them a means of bonding with their human flock. The ability to get the attention of law enforcement is just a bonus.