Sing along with birds who know thewords
There was an article in a magazine about new scientific studies which show that birds have remarkable cognitive skills. One type of bird brain that gets studied a lot is Psittacidae, which includes parrots, parakeets and the like.
One researcher had a Gray Parrot that developed a vocabulary of more than 100 words and could assemble them into simple sentences. It made me recall some birds I have known.
A friend of mine taught his parrot to say to anyone who got too close, “Stand back! I’m an eagle!” The same bird included in his repertoire, “I can talk. Can you fly?”
There’s a sad story about one precocious parrot. This was about 75 years ago, so I guess it isn’t unkind to tell it now.
A family my mother knew had a parrot that could speak lots of words. Every morning, the mother of the family would call her son’s name up the stairs to wake him up. Soon, the parrot began calling him, too. After a while, his mother didn’t bother to holler for her son. At the right time every day, the parrot would yell his name over and over.
Then, the son died. But the parrot called for him at the same time every morning, over and over, impatiently. The family had to give the bird away.
My earliest experience with birds was with my grandmother’s canaries. She had three through the years. They were all named Dickey. And they all tweeted their little yellow heads off.
One died when I was a little boy. I remember the solemn backyard burial and going downtown on the elevated to a Market Street shop near Second Street to buy a replacement. Another died when I was in my teens, and she bought a third.
There were radio programs for canaries in those days. One live program from Chicago on Sunday afternoons, called “American Radio Warblers,” featured 10 canaries singing while an organ played.
I would swear that there were daily canary broadcasts, also. An internet search doesn’t reveal any, and if Wikipedia never heard of it, I must be wrong, right, folks?
But I insist that in the ’30s, a bird food company sponsored singalong broadcasts for canaries. It consisted of many canaries singing while background music played. Grandmom’s second canary, the most accomplished of the three, sang along with the birds on the radio — not only sang, but got excited shortly before the program started, couldn’t wait to join in his with his brothers on the radio (only male canaries sing), and followed along with their warbling.
The scientists who study canaries (except for a few who disagree) say that male canaries learn their songs from their fathers in the first five or so weeks of their lives and create a melody they think will best attract the lady canaries.
A lot of the research on canary singing was done by the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany. I wondered why an institute named for a theoretical physicist was interested in tweety birds.
It seems that scientists there study genetics and found that a gene designated FOX2, which has a lot to do with humans learning and speaking language, is also found in song birds.
So, if some ornithological Dr. Frankenstein finds a way to cross a parrot that learns words with a canary that learns melodies, we might have a bird that can sing the tune and the lyrics.