Parrot Talk: It′s Not All Nonsense | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 03.08.2006
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Parrot Talk: It's Not All Nonsense

Parrots are practically the new chihuahuas. DW-WORLD.DE -- your fashion-conscious news source -- is heading the trend in bringing you the latest and juiciest bits from the fascinating world of name-dropping birds.

Of course we call each other names!

Of course we call each other names!

As an animal, you can't go any higher in the fashion world than becoming a must-have accessory of the cutting-edge Tokyo teenage fashion mafia. Parrots are yet to achieve the cult status of the Taco Bell dog, but -- judging by the recent media coverage -- they seem to have taken their first steps on the way to stardom.

Hats off to parrots. For centuries, they've been stuck with a single, utterly demeaning and confidence-crushing role of a pirate's sidekick. Year after year, generation after generation, they've been hanging out exclusively with men who call themselves Captain Randal Chumbucket, No-Eyes Herb or Jelly-Legs Wade; the seafaring demimonde whose fashion accoutrement consists of a peg leg, an eye patch and a hook; and pre-metrosexual creatures who never shave or bathe, let alone condition or exfoliate.

But those days are over. All of a sudden, parrots are all the rage.

"I wanna hold you and hug you and call you George"

Sprachlabor bei der europäischen Kommission

In the future, no language lab will be complete without a course in parrot phonology

Only days after a parrot in the German city of Koblenz earned his celebrity status by almost getting its owner arrested when one elderly lady mistook its voice for that of a neglected child -- yelling "Mother! Mother!" -- parrots are in the news again.

German behavioral scientists have discovered that parrots address their children with distinct squeaks or "names," if you will. Not only does the mother bird appear to have the uncanny ability to call a particular child, but the individual parrot chicks also seem to know when they are being addressed and respond accordingly -- despite the natural cacophony of their surroundings. It is, namely, perfectly acceptable in the parrot world for several interlocutors to speak at the same time.

"The birds definitely use a particular call exclusively with a particular bird and never for any other birds," says Rolf Wanker, head of the Hamburg University Zoological Institute's behavioral research lab.

"What is not yet clear, however, is whether these calls can be equated with what we would call names such as Hans or Fritz or whether they could be more generic labels such as 'my baby' or 'my mate,'" Wanker said.

A rose by any other name…

Jamie Oliver in Berlin

Star chef Jamie "Fresh Herbs" Oliver is also creative when it comes to children's names

First of all, if parrots were giving conventional names to their children, one would certainly hope that they would be a little more inventive than Hans or Fritz. No respectable avian wants to call their children Hans or Fritz. If they did, they would be the laughing stock of the entire tropical forest.

Judging by their fabulous, flashy attire, parrots would probably go for something more exotic and glamorous -- like all celebrities do. Just ask Dweezle (Zappa), Fifi-Trixibelle (Geldof), Jermajesty (Jackson) or Daisy Boo (Oliver).

And if they had to chose a German name, they would -- in order to raise the community intellectual bar a notch higher -- probably do it in the fashion of Tommy Lee Jones by calling the parrot chick something along the lines of Kafka Lee Jones.

What are they talking about?

Piraten im Piratenland auf Fehmarn

Parrots are slowly breaking out of the shackles of history

Secondly, if parrots are using generic labels, we can't be too sure that they are actually using affectionate platitudes such as "honey" or "sweetie." For all we know, they could be hurling profanities at each other, telling their kids to shut up for once or uttering cries of parental despair ("Shive me timbers!") Centuries of piracy must have left some kind of cultural trace on the species.

Other studies have shown that birds develop regional "accents" and "dialects" as well. In the United States, sparrows on the East Coast can laugh for days when one of the local clowns starts imitating their distant cousins from the south.

The discovery by German scientists remains, nonetheless, a fascinating one. Too bad the elderly lady from Koblenz, who called law enforcement because she didn't realize she was eavesdropping on the neighbor's parrot, didn't know about it.

Yo-ho-ho. And a bottle of rum.

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