Children and parrots with potty mouths

Yellow-naped Amazon parrot are renowned for their ability to mimic the words and sounds that humans make, and Delbert is no different. He can sing Happy Birthday, and shout Yee Haw and can even copy the sound a person makes when they sneeze.

One of his favourite songs is ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’, but the day he started replacing the B in buck with an F, Barbara Heidenreich, his owner and professional animal trainer, knew that somebody had been swearing around Delbert.

“The reason it is so common for parrots to pick up swear words, is because we often say them with such gusto and emotion. This makes them stand out from our everyday conversation” says Heidenreich.

She adds “people often react to a swearing parrot with enthusiasm and laughter. For many parrots this reinforces the behaviour.” This means the bird will continue to curse to get a desired reaction.

Parents may see the similarity in how young children learn to swear. Hearing a three year old say a four letter word may be shocking to some, but hilarious to others. If a parent reacts with a smile and laughter there is a good chance the child will use this adult vocabulary again.

Addressing foul language in parrots and children involves the same strategies. The goal is to ignore the utterance of four letter words and heavily reinforce the use of appropriate language or sounds. This will make it more likely acceptable words will be used, and the bad words will be dropped from the repertoire.

If an expletive slips out, the loss of desired attention or fun activity immediately after the word is uttered can also help decrease its use. However this technique works best when paired with heavily reinforcing the bird or child for saying suitable words.

Heidenreich was successful in training Delbert to drop the “fowl” words and focus on fun phrases such as “I love you” and “Yabba Dabba Do.” “Thanks to positive reinforcement training, every morning I am serenaded with songs, cute quips and bizarre sound effects” says Heidenreich. See some samples of Delbert singing and talking below.

Heidenreich’ s DVD Train Your Parrot to Talk gives parrot owners the tools they need to reform potty mouthed parrots into polite birds with exquisite and extensive vocabularies. You can learn more about parrots and how to train them at