Why do parrots curse?

Parrots cursing and using profanity is a well-known phenomenon among parrot owners and observers. The use of expletives and inappropriate language by parrots has fascinated and amused humans for centuries. But what drives parrots to pick up and mimic curse words and obscenities? Understanding why parrots swear can provide insight into parrot intelligence, speech capabilities, and social dynamics.

Parrot Speech and Mimicry

Parrots, especially species like African grey parrots and amazon parrots, are renowned for their ability to mimic human speech and sounds. Parrots have a specialized vocal apparatus that includes a large range of muscles allowing them to reproduce many vocalizations. Some parrots have been documented as having vocabularies of over 100 words and phrases.

Parrots are also vocal learners, meaning they learn to make new sounds through experience with their environment and social interactions. When parrots mimic curse words, they are simply reproducing novel sounds they have learned from humans. However, parrots lack real language comprehension. Their cursing is repetition without knowing the meaning of the words.

Intelligence and Socialization

Parrots have large brains for birds and are considered highly intelligent. Their intelligence is exhibited through behaviors like using tools, solving puzzles, displaying emotions, and social learning. Part of their social intelligence involves vocalizations for communication.

Pet parrots bond strongly with their owners and flock. Mimicking the speech of human owners, even curse words, is a way parrots try to fit into the social flock. The cursing establishes a form of vocal rapport. Wild parrots may also mimic each other’s calls as a way of reinforcing social bonds and flock cohesion.

How Parrots Learn Swear Words

Parrots pick up curse words from a variety of sources through the vocal learning process:

Exposure to Cursing Owners

Pet parrots that are regularly exposed to cursing owners will likely pick up some inappropriate language. Some parrots end up with expletives as a dominant part of their vocabulary if it’s a common sound in their environment.

Television and Media

Parrots hear cursing from television shows, movies, song lyrics, radio, and other media. Exposing parrots to media with profanity can inadvertently teach them offensive words.

Interactions with Other People

Guests or house visitors who curse within earshot of a parrot may provide a source for swearing. Some parrots can recall words after only a couple of exposures.


Once a parrot starts cursing, people often laugh or react strongly. This positive reinforcement encourages the parrot to keep using the inappropriate language. The attention rewarded the behavior.

Reasons Parrots Curse

Parrots curse for several psychological and social reasons:

Novel Vocalization

Swearing represents a new sound in the parrot’s repertoire. Mimicking expletives allows parrots to expand their vocal skills and sounds.


Parrots may curse more when bored or seeking interaction and attention. The shock value gets a reaction.

Stress and Emotion

Some studies reveal parrots curse more when anxious, angry, or frustrated. Cursing can be an emotional outlet.

Mood Matches Owner

Parrots may pick up on owners who curse more when angry or annoyed and display mirrored behavior.


Parrots exposed to frequent cursing may swear inappropriately because they cannot grasp when cursing is unsuitable.

Do Parrots Understand Profanity?

While parrots have an impressive ability to mimic human speech, research indicates parrots do not actually understand the meaning behind the curse words and profanity. Studies testing parrots’ language comprehension have found:

No Contextual Use

Parrots do not demonstrate knowledge of when certain curse words are more appropriate or contextually relevant. Their cursing is not guided by situational usage rules like it is for humans.

No Syntactical Rules

Parrots may combine curse words with other words without following language syntax rules. This suggests a lack of higher language processing abilities.

No Word Associations

Parrots cannot associate curse words with definitions or definitions with other words. For example, a parrot likely does not understand that the word “apple” relates to the concept of a fruit.

No Abstract Thinking

While parrots can vocalize expletives, they lack human abilities for abstract thought and reasoning about the words’ purpose and meanings.

How Common is Parrot Cursing?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how prevalent cursing is among parrots, but some statistics indicate it is reasonably common:

Pet Parrot Surveys

A survey of pet parrot owners found 33% reported their parrots using inappropriate language. Other surveys have reported between 25-50% of companion parrots pick up cursing.

Species Differences

African grey parrots have numerous anecdotes of cursing and are likely one of the most profane species. However, many parrot species have tales of cursing like cockatoos, amazons, and macaws.

Parrot Intelligence

The most profane parrots tend to be species considered more intellectually gifted. Their advanced mimicry abilities may make cursing more common.

Urban Legends

Stories propagate on the internet about extraordinarily foul-mouthed parrots like Einstein the African grey. While these extreme cases are embellished, they originate from a real basis.

Parrot Species Reported Cursing Rate
African Grey 45%
Cockatoo 35%
Amazon 25%
Macaw 20%
Budgerigar 5%

Why Cursing is Problematic in Parrots

While cursing parrots may initially seem funny, the inappropriate language can become problematic for owners. Reasons cursing is troublesome include:

Social Embarrassment

Profanity loud and in public can be embarrassing for owners and prevent bringing the parrot out socially. Cursing can be offensive to others.

Reinforcement Issues

Rewarding cursing with laughter can encourage the behavior. But scolding can also reinforce it. This makes cursing tough to eradicate.

Limiting Homes

Profanity can limit adoption or rehoming options should an owner need to give up their parrot. Many potential owners will not accept a foul-mouthed parrot.

Negative Health Impacts

High levels of cursing may indicate an anxious, frustrated, or abused parrot. This parrot may need medical or behavioral interventions.

Unsuitable for Children

Cursing parrots obviously make poor pets for homes with young children who could pick up the inappropriate language.

Curbing Cursing in Parrots

For parrot owners who want to clean up their bird’s profane vocabulary, here are some training strategies that may help:

Remove Reinforcement

Ignore cursing completely and do not give any reaction. This takes away the reward that encourages it.

Teach an Alternative

Train a replacement word like “oops” as something appropriate to say instead. Reward the proper term.

Limit Sources of Exposure

Prevent the parrot from hearing cursing on television, radio, or from house guests by removing access.

Use a Clicker

Clicker training can reinforce an alternative reaction when the parrot starts to curse.

Utilize Noise Distraction

Interrupt cursing with a startling but harmless noise like pennies in a can. Use this to derail vocalizations.

Increase Non-Verbal Interaction

Engage the parrot in enriching play, exercise, and bonding sessions focused on non-vocal connection to meet their needs.

Consult an Avian Behaviorist

In extreme cases of cursing, working with a certified parrot behavior professional can identify causes and customize training protocols.

The Complexity of Parrot Profanity

Parrot cursing illustrates the multifaceted nature of parrot intelligence and vocal capabilities:

Advanced Mimicry

Parrots can reproduce incredibly complex human speech with intricate physical coordination. But this mimicry does not equate to comprehension.

No Intent

While cursing parrots sound profane, research indicates they do not actually grasp the offensive or taboo nature of expletives. They lack intent to be inappropriate.

Creative Applications

Some pioneering studies are exploring using parrot vocal mimicry abilities for creative applications, like music. But cursing remains a more problematic mimicry area.

Ethical Dilemmas

Parrot cursing raises complicated ethical issues around responsible captive parrot stewardship and preventing the propagation of offensive language across generations of parrots.

Species Uniqueness

Ultimately the phenomenon highlights the distinctive intelligence and communicative abilities of parrots compared to other animals. But it also illustrates limitations in comparison to human cognition.

The Future of Parrot Profanity

Parrot cursing persists as an issue for avian caregivers and owners. As parrot guardians move forward, some crucial areas to address include:


Controlled studies on cursing frequency across parrot species, captive populations, and geographies will provide valuable data on scope and trends over time. Factors driving profanity rates should also be scrutinized.

Ethics Reform

Industry and owner standards need updating to strongly discourage reinforcement of cursing and propagation from generation to generation in captive flocks.

Owner Education

Pet parrot caregivers need better education on cursing prevention and cessation. Avian veterinarians should consistently provide guidance on curbing inappropriate language.

Flock Socialization

Greater understanding is needed on how interacting with other parrots may encourage cursing within flocks, along with solutions to address contagious profanity.

Continued Research

More comparative cognitive research on parrot language use versus human development and processing will further document where parrots’ abilities end. This can clarify their lack of actual profanity comprehension.

The Rewarding Yet Vexing Mimicry of Parrot Profanity

Parrots cursing illustrates the incredible vocal mimicry talents of these highly social and intelligent birds. Yet their cursing also represents a behavioral problem for caretakers rooted in misunderstanding of parrot cognitive abilities. With greater human insight into parrot psychology and application of compassionate training protocols, avian companions can develop richer spoken repertoires minus the profanity.

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