When we think about talking birds, the first species that pops into your mind is likely to be parrots. Everyone knows about the amazing ability of parrots to mimic human speech. But did you know that other bird species are capable of this feat too?
Crows are remarkably intelligent creatures who can be taught to do all sorts of tricks when kept in captivity. But can crows talk like parrots? Absolutely.
Crows are extremely capable mimickers of human languages. They have an incredible audio memory and similar vocal anatomy to parrots. This enables them to duplicate a whole range of sounds, including the things we humans say.
So, why don’t we see many talking crows? How do they do it, and how can they be taught this skill? Let’s find out…
Why Don’t We See Many Talking Crows?
People have been keeping parrots as pets for centuries. Parrots are extremely sociable birds and are far more likely to seek out human contact. Crows, although very sociable amongst themselves, are far warier of people.
To get good at mimicry…
You have to be around people, and there isn’t a whole lot of crossover going on between humans and crows. There are several reasons there aren’t many domesticated crows out there.
Firstly, in the United States, it’s illegal to keep a crow as a pet due to the fact they are migratory birds. You’ll have to get a federal permit to do this.
As with anything government-related, this isn’t an easy process. And, it’s usually only wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, or aviaries that receive them.
In western culture…
The crow or raven is synonymous with bad omens, commonly seen as a companion to witches and the likes. Maybe, if this association with the dark side wasn’t so prevalent, there would be more historical contact between our species, and we’d be more familiar with their speaking abilities.
Let’s be honest; they aren’t nearly as visually appealing or as cute as parrots. If they were a little more endearing to the human eye, it’s feasible that crows’ ability to mimic would be as widely known as that of parrots.
How Do Crows Talk?
People rely on their vocal cords, teeth, and lips to make a wide range of sounds. Birds don’t have any of these anatomical advantages. So, it’s quite amazing that species like parrots and crows can mimic humans at all.
Like other birds, crows have to use their tongues, throat muscles, and airways to make the variety of sounds they produce. Us humans create sounds using our larynx. Birds do have a larynx but are incapable of producing sounds from it.
However, they do have what’s called a syrinx. This is found between a bird’s larynx and its lungs and is the primary anatomical feature that enables them to produce sound.
Birds have two syrinxes and can produce independent sounds from one or both at the same time. This gives them the ability to create two separate tones at the same time. Beak and tongue structure, neck muscularity, and windpipe length also regulate how complex those noises will be.
This goes a long way to explaining why larger birds like crows are more capable of mimicry than their smaller cousins. That said, parrots also have a more complex tongue structure than crows. This gives them a slight edge when it comes to the precision of pronunciation.
Some sounds are impossible…
Due to the anatomical differences between humans and birds, exact replication of the human language is not possible for birds. Soft vowel sounds are particularly difficult for birds.
Meaning they are always going to struggle to mimic certain words. However, what they are very good at is creating harsh consonant sounds like b, d, k, p, and t.
How To Teach a Crow to Talk?
So, can crows talk like parrots? Most definitely. Crows learn to mimic human language in much the same way as parrots do. This process can be sped up dramatically by following these basic rules.
Nothing helps a crow learn the ropes more than daily human interaction. They will soak up an amazing amount just by regular exposure to humans. This can either be through hearing commonly used words around them or by directly talking to them. The more they hear a certain word, the quicker they are likely to pick it up.
As with us humans, teaching birds to speak is easier if you have them from a very young age. Their minds are a blank slate and will be easier to imprint upon. They’ll also be less cautious around you.
That’s not to say that older birds aren’t capable of learning words; it just may take a little longer. Regardless of age, given enough time, crows are intelligent enough to learn speech at any age.
The easiest way to teach a crow to talk is by teaching one word at a time and repeating it as often as possible. Fortunately, crows have an excellent memory, and when coupled with repetition, this speeds the process up when compared with other birds. Follow this technique, and you’ll eventually be able to teach them sentences and songs as their vocabulary expands.
In the beginning, it may be some time before a crow will be able to say its first word. These things don’t happen overnight. But, with patience and rewarding them with treats, you will start to see results after a while.
As the months pass and the crow gathers more words, the speed at which it can process and learn will get faster and faster. As already mentioned, they are super-smart creatures with excellent memories, comparable to that of a gorilla.
Given the right circumstances, their progress will be exponential. You can even teach them to count and differentiate colors.
Unlike parrots, crows are naturally suspicious of people. You need to establish a friendship before you start trying to teach it to talk. However, once a bond has been created, you’ll be amazed at how fast they can pick up speech.
Crows Are Extremely Communicative
One of the reasons why crows can mimick human speech is not only their raw intelligence but their already advanced methods of communication with each other.
Crows are extremely sociable birds who have developed complex systems of communication. They make a wide range of sounds and have also been seen through studies to employ different methods when communicating with family and friends.
They even have regional differences and nuances in the way they sound depending on what part of the world they inhabit. Body language also plays a large part in their communication. This all sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?
Comparison to Parrots
The only reason parrots have a more renowned reputation for human speech, is purely down to the amount of historical interaction we’ve had with them. Crows simply haven’t had the same level of interaction and, therefore, the same chance to build their speaking credentials.
Given that they are widely considered to be the most intelligent bird species, there’s a good chance that they would even outperform their avian cousins if the roles were reversed.
See for yourself…
There are some great videos on YouTube that demonstrate the amazing ability of crows to learn a language when they’ve been taught in captivity from a young age. Here’s a great one.
In this video, Fable the raven demonstrates her ability to not only repeat words but to mimic the exact tone and sound of her handler’s voice. Remarkable. Ravens are part of the same avian family as crows, in case you were wondering.
What might have been…
In a way, it’s a little unfair on crows to even make a comparison with parrots, given the time we’ve had to study the colorful chatterboxes. But, as more research takes place, it is certainly becoming clear that crows and ravens have hidden vocal talents that at least put them in the same ballpark as parrots.
It’s hard to imagine a time when they will become more popular pets, though, especially with the federal rules in place regarding crows in captivity.
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Can Crows Talk Like Parrots? – Final Thoughts
Given the right circumstances, crows are remarkably capable of learning to mimic the human beings around them. They have the same anatomical advantages as a parrot combined with outstanding raw intelligence and memory.
Parrots will probably always be the more famous avian mimickers on planet earth. But, crows can certainly give them a run for their money if given the same opportunities to interact with patient teachers.
Heck, they can even be taught whole sentences. It does make you wonder if there are any other species of reclusive bird whose language skills have yet to be discovered?
Until next time, don’t just leave it to the birds.