An African grey parrot perched near his window watching the world go by and ignoring all the humans in the room that he understands, but does not agree with.

Can Parrots Understand Humans?

Can Parrots Understand Humans?

Parrots can understand humans before we understand ourselves. Parrots are more aware of their surroundings, sounds, and our intentions because they are built to be more aware of all things. Yes, parrots can understand humans. Don't confuse understanding a human with cooperating or agreeing with a human.

Parrots Construct Context and Expectation Like Humans

What we do is a fascinating collection of actions. Humans are practitioners of chaos theory. We just think we make sense. To a parrot a human is an unwashed laundry pile of conflict. They can cypher our imbalances. But if we aren't willing to slow down while taking in their body language and words, their skills are wasted on us.

Case in point. Our parrots and the asphalt roof of their bird room.

Felix, our African Grey Parrot looking out his favorite window to watch humans fix the roof that belongs to him. He understands what and where they are going. He doesn't care about the why.

The roof doesn't reflect the sun. It bakes those in the room during the summer months. We spent a weekend applying coats of bright white roof sealant to fix our reflection issues. This DIY roof sealing project became quite the game for Butters and Snickers, blue and gold and scarlet macaws. They performed the loudest versions of Hide and Seek and Guess What I'm Doing during the entire process. Felix, pragmatic African grey, on the other hand, felt none of it was his concern. He had bigger fish to fry than worrying about humans. He was thinking about things.

A ladder leaning against the roof just outside their window required a good dressing down. Butters and Snickers growled and yelled at the ladder. They flew to the top of the macaw cage closest to the laddered window to warn said ladder they were watching it's every move. Then burst into a flurry of jettisoned feathers around the house to land again in the same spot. There they leaned into the window with synchronized growling. A menacing and ominous tone the ladder did not take seriously.

Butters and Snickers, our blue and gold and scarlet macaws perched among fresh gathered tree branches placed on top of their macaw cage for foraging fun. They look out the window while chewing sticks. They understand our every move. They may not agree with any of it, though.

On Saturday the leaf blower's dangling orange wire refined rules of engagement. Catch dad coming down the ladder! Catch dad going up the ladder! Follow dad's footsteps on the roof! Yell at the ceiling! Yell at the ladder! Threaten the orange worm from Mars! Fly in circles! Screech at the ceiling!  

Sunday started slower. The roof goop needed to harden in hot sun. We gathered in the bird room to share breakfast while the sun did its job. Butters and Snickers were nonplussed. Inpatient for the game to start. Their appetite for food replaced with the expectation driven appetite for more chaos and orange worms from Mars.

Where's the ladder? Where's the Mars Worm? What are you still doing in here? They pouted on their cage waiting for the game while we waited for the sun. Felix waited for nothing. He ate pasta wheelies on his digesting perch without fanfare. None of this was any of his business.

Once context is set parrots expect routines.

Two macaws stare up and out windows looking for ladders and Mars Worms. They scramble cage top to cage top for a better view. Snickers, nonplussed, twists his head robotically muttering an uncertain "HUH?". The roof work is finished. How boring.

The size of your parrot does not affect the size of your parrot's understanding. A parrot's concern is orbiting three concerns. What they want. What you have. What is dramatic. Parrots need inclusion when it comes to understanding. When in doubt about what they may understand, explain yourself. They are listening. They expect you to understand that.

Kathy LaFollett is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


  • Even a little budgie understands more than people think. They look and see everything! And they are awesome at picking up on your emotions. But if you really want them to understand you you have to be willing to spend the time it takes to get to know your bird. Just because you say something to them doesn’t mean they will understand. Completely. If they know you well they will understand you better.
    Thank you Kathy! I love this!

    Jeanie on

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