In 2016 researchers released a study with an incredible headline: monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready. It showed that monkeys are held back from speech not by their bodies, but by their brains. But if that’s the case, what’s the deal with birds?
Parrots are known for their ability to mimic human speech with incredible accuracy. It’s jarring to hear an animal so vastly different from us speaking our language. So how do they do it? Partially, neurology: parrots are wired for communication in ways other animals (including other birds) are not. But it’s largely physiology. Birds are uniquely equipped to make sounds, and this video will give you a basic overview of how that works.
Vox’s Kimberly Mas talks with Mya Thompson of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn more about the avian vocal organ called a syrinx and why parrots in particular are driven to mimic those around them: Why parrots can talk like humans.
Related videos include The Fanciest Bird in the World: Superb Lyrebird, A.I. Experiments: Bird Sounds, and how do birds learn to sing?
Learn more about talking birds and African Greys on Wikipedia. Plus: Why can’t monkeys talk? Scientists rumble over a curious question.