How Many Words Can An African Grey Parrot Learn? (We’ve Got Your Answer)

  • Time to read: 9 min.

How many words can an African Grey parrot learn? This parrot species is considered one of the most popular among all birds. For this reason, it is not surprising that everyone wants to know how broad their vocabulary can be. 

An African Grey parrot can learn a maximum of 1,000 words in its lifespan. They can even use these words without mixing up their contexts. However, an African Grey requires extensive training to start talking and broaden its vocabulary.

African Grey Parrots Are Smart

What makes parrots popular is their ability to talk. People choose these birds because they bring entertainment whenever they mimic the human language. 

Moreover, one of the most popular parrot species is the African Grey.

African Grey parrots are beautiful birds. But apart from their gorgeous plumage, these birds are also brilliant. In fact, African Grey parrots are recognized as the most intelligent parrot species. They can learn to speak with proper training, significantly if it socializes with their human companion most of the time. 

But how many words can an African Grey parrot learn?

How Intelligent Is An African GREY Parrot?

African Grey care givers observed the high innate intelligence that these parrots possess. Dr. Irene Pepperberg proved those observations true when she conducted studies on the cognitive abilities of her African Grey named Alex, along with additional specimens. 

Dr. Pepperberg purchased Alex in 1997 and has proved to be receptive when she trained him through positive behavioral reinforcement. 

Dr. Pepperberg and Alex proved that parrots could link sound and meaning. Such opposed the old theories that parrots can only mimic voices but do not understand their implications. 

Before Alex died in 2007, he could count from zero to six and identify seven colors and five shapes. Alex could also differentiate objects by their shape, color, and material. 

That said, African Grey parrots rank as one of the most intelligent animals. Researchers even compare their intelligence to a three or four-year-old human child. 

African Greys: How Many Words Can They Learn?

An African Grey parrot can learn and expand its vocabulary to 1,000 words throughout its lifetime. True enough, This level of intelligence on birds sounds impressive. However, they require extensive training to develop their vocabularies. 

As mentioned, African Grey parrots can say words and understand their meanings. For instance, they can use the words “hello” or “goodbye,” and they will not mix up when they should use it. Meaning they can say “hello” when their human companion arrives and “goodbye” when they leave. 

An African Grey’s ability to talk makes them a wonderful pet. They are also sociable, so keeping them at home can be a fascinating experience. But it is essential to note that keeping them as a pet is a huge responsibility you need to commit to for decades (they have been known to reach 50 or more years of age). (source)

How Long Would It Take For African Greys To Talk?

African Greys are popular pets, and owners cannot help but share their bird’s video whenever they talk. Such is why people want to have these birds as a pet.

However, bringing home an African Grey parrot does not mean that it will talk immediately. You need to allot time every day to train your African Grey to talk, which can be time-consuming, especially if you are often busy with other things. 

In the wild, parrots make sounds like a way to communicate with their flock. So, when your parrot mimics what you say, it means that it sees you as a part of its flock, which means that it treats you like family.

As mentioned, African Grey parrots can learn to expand their vocabularies. They learn to copy words by hearing them repeatedly. That means that it needs to absorb and process words before being able to mimic them. For this reason, it will take time for you to repeat a word before they pick it up. 

Mimicking the sounds from their environment is expected in African Greys and other prolific talking species.

So, while African Grey parrots can learn up to 1,000 words, you need to exert time, effort, and much patience when teaching them. 

How To Train An African Grey To Talk

Parrots are the only non-human creatures that can speak. This ability, along with their colorful plumage, catches the attention of animal lovers to make parrots their pets. 

There are 350 species of parrots, all of which possess unique and exciting qualities. But among them all, the African Grey parrot is the most intelligent one. 

An African Grey Parrot can learn a thousand words. However, how can you teach one to speak?

1. Form A Bond

African grey parrots are moody when they get bored. The reason is that they are highly active and require regular activities. For this reason, you need to spend time with your pet by playing games and stimulating their minds. Regularly spending time with your African Grey will help you form a bond with it. 

Moreover, forming a bond with your parrot will allow you to train it efficiently. Bonding with your African Grey at least an hour a day is enough for it to get acquainted with you and its environment. 

You can also offer your parrots treats while playing with it. Rewarding your pet whenever it obeys your commands will encourage it to perform well whenever you ask it to do something. Offering treats can also make your African Grey relaxed and comfortable whenever you pet and touch it. 

2. Teach It To Talk

African Grey parrots can mimic human words and sounds, such as a doorbell or a phone.

Teaching an African Grey can be challenging as it requires time, effort and a lot of patience.  

An African Grey parrot can learn 1,000 words. But it would be best if you started with simple words to make them talk. 

3. Give Praise

You need a clear voice if you want your parrot to understand you. You also need to pick a quiet surrounding to help your parrot master the words faster. 

Speak to the bird as if you are talking to an infant. This way, you will make it feel at ease as it will likely become afraid when your voice is too loud. Also, make sure to praise it whenever it tries to mimic the sounds to motivate it to follow what you teach. 

Once the parrot has mastered a word, move on to the next word, following the same procedure. If you know that your African Grey already knows the meanings of the words you taught, then you can go ahead and teach it simple phrases. (source)

Can African Grey Parrots Understand What They Say?

Experts have said that parrots can only mimic words but not understand their meanings for a long time. For instance, a parrot may say “hello” whenever it sees you without actually meaning it. Instead, it only imitates the words it has heard many times whenever it sees someone walk into a room. 

Experts concluded that an African Grey parrot could learn the most words compared to other parrot species. However, they concluded that the parrots could only mimic those words but not understand their context. 

However, African Grey parrots proved experts wrong. In recent studies, experts have utilized the “question and answer” type of research to determine if African Greys can answer correctly. These correct answers indicate that they can understand the questions they are asked. 

Moreover, one of the most notable African Grey parrots in the field of science was Alex, whom Dr. Irene Pepperberg owned.

Alex would understand the words he used and identify objects even if they differed from what Dr. Pepperberg showed her before. For instance, he knew that two items, such as a key, are the same, even when they differ in color and material. 

Additionally, Dr. Pepperberg and her team would ask Alex questions like “What shape?” or “What color?.” These are common questions often asked children to assess their intelligence level. But Alex would often answer these questions correctly, suggesting that he had an intelligent mind that understands the context behind words. (source)

Do All Parrots Understand Words?

While an African Grey parrot can learn up to a thousand words, it is essential to note that each individual bird from the species has a different level of intelligence, just like people. 

For instance, a parrot may say “how are you?” only because they recognize that their human companion says this phrase whenever they enter the room. However, it does not understand the meaning behind that phrase. 

Another example is when a parrot copies the sound of appliances, such as a microwave or oven. The parrot is aware that those sounds catch the attention of its owner, so it mimics the sound as a communicative call to its owner. (source)

Are African Greys Good For Beginners?

An African Grey parrot can learn words and phrases with proper training, making them fascinating and unique pets. While such is true, it is essential to note that African Greys are not suitable for beginners. They require a tremendous amount of dedication, which you may not be able to handle if you are a beginner.

In addition, African Greys are highly intelligent. For this reason, they

  • are highly sensitive to their environment.
  • require regular mental stimulation

For these reasons, they need an experienced birdkeeper to take care of them. 

Additionally, African Grey parrots are not fond of close physical contact. So, if you are a beginner who wants a bird to play with constantly, this parrot may not be an ideal pet for you.

Teaching an African Grey to talk is also a long and continuous process. Though an African Grey parrot can learn words and phrases, training may frustrate you, especially if you are not knowledgeable about their species. 

The Pros And Cons Of Getting An African Grey

Before getting an African Grey parrot for a pet, it is crucial to consider your knowledge and capabilities first. This way, you will be able to assess whether or not you can handle these birds’ intelligence. Similarly, you need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of African Greys. 

ProsCons
Can make great petsNot ideal for beginners
Great talkersIt can be too loud at times
Loves to playRequires regular undivided attention
It has a lengthy lifespanLife-long commitment (source)

Are African Greys Friendly?

An African Grey parrot can learn to talk with proper training. This species is deemed one of the most talented birds on the planet. African Greys are also charming, which serves as their way to capture everyone’s attention. But this behavior is matched with sensitivity and intelligence, leading to issues concerning their behavior.

A small change in the routine of an African Grey parrot can trigger its sensitivity. If such happens, they may pluck and chew their feathers and other bad habits. 

Additionally, African Greys are not like other parrots that like cuddling. While they are sociable and require hands-on attention, they only tolerate a little petting and head-scratching. They also do not like intense physical contact. 

However, that does not mean that these birds are not friendly. An African Grey parrot can learn to play with you once you have made a routine for their activities. They also want regular mental stimulation, which can be in the form of games like puzzles. 

That said, African Grey parrots are friendly birds. (source)

A Takeaway About The African Grey Parrots

African Grey parrots are brilliant, as seen in the study conducted by Dr. Irene Pepperberg. They can learn words and phrases and understand the meaning behind them. For instance, Alex’s African Grey parrot was able to use “hello” and “goodbye” without mixing them up.

However, it is essential to note that African Greys are not ideal for beginners. They are highly sensitive, so you need to keep their routine unchanged to prevent triggering their sensitivity. They also require much attention, which can be challenging to give, especially if you have if you have a busy schedule.

But African Greys are friendly parrots, so they can be a great addition to your home if you are knowledgeable about birds. 

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  1. Alvin Silverstein, Virginia B. Silverstein, Laura Silverstein Nunn, Beautiful Birds. USA: Lerner Publications, 2003.
  2. William Thomas Greene, Parrots in Captivity, Volume 3. G. Bell and Sons, 1887.
  3. Irene M Pepperberg, The Alex Studies: Cognitive And Communicative Abilities Of Grey Parrots, USA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  4. Nikki Moustaki, Parrots For Dummies. USA:  John Wiley & Sons, 2021.
  5. Nicolae Sfetcu, The Birds World. MultiMedia Publishing, 2014.