Talking Finches

By Julie Duimstra, NFSS Panel Judge

Talking finches are not that uncommon! I have heard the little Red Headed Finch that was featured in the article utter the word “Turkey” very clearly over the telephone! His talent is limited however…… he did not dial my telephone number.! 🙂

Years ago at a bird show in Medford, OR, I witnessed my first talking finch, a hand fed Java Rice Bird that said the word, “Hello” in a very clear little voice. More recently I have heard a hand fed chocolate and white pied Bengalese (Society) finch say, “Flick my bird” – an abbreviated version of what his owner Clara Gontero always said to Flick when she would uncover his cage in the morning, i.e., ……”How is Flick my bird….?”

I have hand raised several finches over the past five years. Bengalese, Zebra and the Diamond Firetail Finch are the species that I have worked with. I know many others who have enjoyed the rich rewards of this labor intensive endeavor. The hand tamed finches are endearing little souls and offer a whole new dimension to what we think of as pet birds.

There is a window of time during which birds learn their songs. The late Dr. Luis Baptista at the California Academy of Sciences devoted much of his life’s work to the study of song in birds – its development and the variations or dialects that exist from region to region. Not unlike our own patterns of human speech and how they differ with geographical regions.

Luis was fascinated with how birds learn their song. When I visited with him last year in his laboratory at the California Academy of Sciences, he played sonograms or recordings of bird songs and encouraged myself and others to record the vocalizations of the birds that we keep.

I began to think about the birds that I had raised over the years and the “songs” that each one subsequently developed. I reflected on one little Society Finch (not hand raised incidentally) that incorporated portions of three distinctly different songs from 3 different cocks into his own little song. I was totally amazed by this!

I have also heard the trilling song of a canary pour forth from a brilliant, multi-colored Gouldian Finch cock! The Gouldian was housed in the same room with a singing canary at that critical time when the pieces of its song was forming and the result was that it incorporated the canary’s entire song as its own!

Having said all of this in this uncharted area of “talking finches” all I can offer are my observations. I must say, I have found this whole concept very fascinating and just to test it further, I keep repeating simple, one syllable words to the little Bengalese finch that I have just hand raised through fledging ………. to date I have nothing to report in terms of the bird’s speech……….. however, the sex of this bird has yet to be determined!

Hand fed finches as pets! What a novel concept.

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