Why Can Parrots Talk?

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Did you know that birds are the only animals other than humans who can produce human language? Some species (SPEE-shees) or kinds of birds can copy sounds they hear in their environment, and even imitate a few words. Crows, mynah birds, ravens, and hummingbirds can all copy some of the sounds they hear. But the birds that are best at imitating human speech are parrots. They can learn to say hundreds of words, and they understand what some of the words mean. One amazing African Grey parrot named Einstein, who lives at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, can say about 200 words. 

About half of the bird species sing. They learn these songs from other birds. They can do this because of a part of their brain called the "song system." Inside this song system is a part called the “inner core.” The inner core is essential (ee-SENT-chall) or really important to helping these birds learn how to make sounds. Parrots also have an extra part of the song system called an “outer shell.” Scientists think the outer shell helps parrots be really good at copying sounds. But they're not sure exactly how it works.  

Parrots are social animals, which means they want to fit in with the rest of their friends. In the wild, parrots usually make bird sounds because they are surrounded by other birds. But around humans, parrots often imitate human words because they see their owners as part of their new family, or “flock.” They copy human sounds to fit in with their human flock. But parrots are also really smart. African Grey parrots like Einstein are as smart as a 5-year-old human! With training, some parrots can learn the meanings of words, the names of their favorite foods, and even count up to eight.

To see and hear Einstein talk to her trainer and sing "Happy Birthday," watch this TED talk.  

FDA Recalls Several Dry Dog Foods That Could Cause Toxic Levels of Vitamin D

iStock.com/Chalabala
iStock.com/Chalabala

The FDA has recalled several brands of dry dog food that contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. While vitamin D is essential for dogs, too much of the nutrient can result in kidney failure and other serious health problems.

The FDA has already received reports of vitamin D toxicity in dogs that consumed certain dry foods. Pet owners are advised to stop using the following products:

Old Glory Hearty Turkey and Cheese Flavor Dog Food (manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Sportsman's Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Nature's Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Nature's Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food (sold at Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming)

ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food (ANF, Inc.)

Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe (sold at Lidl stores)

Natural Life Pet Products Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food

Nutrisca Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food

For the full list of UPC and lot numbers involved in the recall, visit the FDA's website.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop 12 to 36 hours after pets consume a suspect food, according to PetMD. The FDA says those symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss. "Customers with dogs who have consumed this product and are exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian as soon as possible," the FDA writes.

The agency says the situation is still developing, and it will update the list of recalled brands as more information becomes available. According to WKRN News, veterinary professionals recommend sticking to dog foods that have an AAFCO label (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials) on them.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

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