Saturday, November 22
Besides parrots, a few songbirds can mimic human speech - including the Hill mynas, common mynas, some crows, European starlings, the Northern mockingbird. Among the top 10 talking birds, the Hill Myna is the only non-parrot.
The birds that speak are typically young, and the words are limited. Researchers may debate over just how much the birds understand, but the mynas seem to have minds of their own. They can pick up the odd phrase and surprise and reject phrases despite repeat recitations and pleas. Kaleo is a talking myna who goes through a repertoire of insisting he is a "turkey talker," a duck and a chicken - and it's hard to believe the bird does not understand some of what is saying.
The Hill myna, Gracula religiosa, is a native of south Asia - including Afghanistan and India, reports Encyclopedia.com. "Hill Mynahs are sought, in the west, as pets, because of their endearing mimicking of the human voice. Ironically they are rarely encountered in pet shops as demand hugely outstrips supply," notes GarrettPhelan.com.
Mynas are believed to mate for life. The average lifespan is 12 to 25 years.
Animals can serve as mirrors for their human caretakers, reflecting nature, moods and basic needs all very much in the present rather than past or future.
Talking about the future too much can disappoint or mislead. So-called goal-setting exercises may not be a good idea and dreamers should be especially wary when talking about big goals "Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen," said Derek Sivers in a TED Talk. He explains how talking about a goal can trick the brain into a feeling of accomplishment - long before the work is completed - and that diminishes motivation. "Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you had actually done the work. But when you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found that it's called a 'social reality.'"
elements of a good conversation: relying on words familiar to the listener, keeping an even tone that is respectful, sticking to the point. Cocking their heads, they definitely sound and look as if they are interested in what others have to say. But the myna can't resist being the center of attention and they do not understand open-ended questions. They also tend to change the subject, repeat a lot, and ask too much.
Talking may not be doing, but it is about connecting.
I first saw a myna bird many years ago at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. This tropical bird was kept in a display case that was two meters in height, width and depth - with a microphone. The walls were white and the Hill myna was alert, waiting on its roost for passersby. Sometimes the bird spoke and sometimes it did not. Sometimes the myna would speak only once the visitor started to walk away. Other times, the myna was on a roll, repeating words while cocking its head to listen.
I was only six years old at the time. but I felt sorry for the bird alone in its case. I visited the National Aviary earlier this year and asked about the myna but the staff members did not remember a creature who was once the popular star of the place. This is the myna I remembered for the scenes in Allure of Deceit.
Photo of Hill myna courtesy of Spencer Wright and Wikimedia Commons; photo of parrot and open indoor space, courtesy of the National Aviary and D. Olsen.