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British zoo has new plan to rehabilitate its potty-mouthed parrots

Steve Nichols

A British wildlife park has hatched a new plan to rehabilitate its potty-mouthed parrots after they unleashed a tide of expletives.

Back in 2020, five foul-mouthed African gray parrots, donated to Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in eastern England, were isolated from the flock in an attempt to improve their language.

But, from Tuesday, the team is adopting a different, riskier approach of integrating three newly donated, cuss-happy birds – named Eric, Captain and Sheila – alongside the original five miscreants into the flock.

“When we came to move them, the language that came out of their carrying boxes was phenomenal, really bad. Not normal swear words, these were proper expletives,” the park’s chief executive, Steve Nichols, told CNN.

“We’ve put eight really, really offensive, swearing parrots with 92 non-swearing ones,” he said.

If the new strategy works, the eight parrots could learn “all the nice noises like microwaves and vehicles reversing” that the other parrots in the flock favor, Nichols added. But if the other 92 instead pick up the expletives, “it’s going to turn into some adult aviary.”

After some time in isolation, integrating the five original birds into the flock was “mostly” successful, Nichols said, but they still curse sometimes, and even laugh afterward, mimicking the most common reaction to their foul language.

Parrots precisely echo the sounds they hear, so “six of them have got men’s voices, two of them have got ladies’ voices and when they’re all swearing it does sound really bad,” Nichols explained.

The park has installed large signs warning visitors about the parrots’ language, but Nichols said it hasn’t received a single complaint.

In fact, historically, “we did hear a lot more customers swearing at parrots than we did parrots swearing at customers,” Nichols said.

African grays are highly social parrots, forming groups of up to 1,000 birds to roost at night in the wild, and communicating with each other through various calls.

Researchers believe their intelligence is almost unparalleled in the animal kingdom, comparable to that of apes, whales and dolphins.

Expletives are particularly easy to mimic for African grays since they are almost always said in the same tone and context, without any other words surrounding them, Nichols explained.

“When you tell someone to eff off, you usually say it the same every time,” he said.

For now, the park is hoping they will learn the sounds of the flock, and mend their potty-mouthed ways.

“I’ve just left them up there and there’s lots of noises, which is brilliant … from squeaking gates to doors slamming, people laughing and mobile phones,” Nichols said.

“I’m hoping that’s part of the settling-in period, but I don’t think they will ever lose the swear because as soon as somebody swears, they’ll be swearing as well.”

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