The zoo is hoping that by adding the eight cursing African grey parrots to a larger flock, their swearing will become "diluted."
African grey parrots are known for their intelligence, social nature, and capacity to learn words. But this last ability has proven to be a problem for Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in Friskney, England, where eight parrots spew such foul swear words that the zoo has had to post a warning sign.
“For your information,” the zoo’s sign about the “infamous swearing parrots” reads, “every common swear word can be heard in this aviary so please be aware if you have people with you of a sensitive nature.”
Now, the zoo is hoping that they can “dilute” the parrots’ swearing by adding them to a larger flock. However, Lincolnshire Wildlife Park CEO Steve Nichols acknowledged to the BBC that the plan could backfire.
“We could end up with 100 swearing parrots on our hands,” Nichols said. “Only time will tell.”
The story of the “infamous swearing parrots” started back in 2020, when five African grey parrots named Billy, Tyson, Eric, Jade, and Elsie were donated to the zoo. African greys are known for their ability to repeat human words, but zoo officials were startled to hear the parrots spew off a string of curses.
Initially, the five cursing parrots were kept in isolation so as to not put off visitors. But instead of upsetting anyone, the birds actually became the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park’s star attraction.
“You never tire of being told to eff off by a parrot,” Nichols remarked. “You can’t help but laugh. Of course, visitors stand around the enclosure swearing, trying to get the parrots to copy them.”
Recently the zoo has acquired three more swearing parrots: another bird named Eric, and two named Captain and Sheila. According to Nichols, they’re even more foul-mouthed than their predecessors.
“When we came to move them, the language that came out of their carrying boxes was phenomenal, really bad,” Nichols explained to CNN. “Not normal swear words, these were proper expletives.”
African grey parrots are known for their ability to mimic human speech, and Nichols told CNN that curse words are especially easy for them to pick up. People usually swear in the same tone and say just one or two words at a time, which makes it easy for the birds to learn and mimic.
“When you tell someone to eff off, you usually say it the same every time,” Nichols said.
Though the birds have proven surprisingly popular, the zoo has decided to add the eight swearing parrots to a flock of 92 non-swearing parrots, both for their benefit and in hopes that their cursing will become “diluted.” African greys are highly social and often form groups of up to 1,000 birds in the wild, where they communicate frequently through different calls.
“Parrots are flock creatures,” Nichols explained. “They need to be with other parrots. The bigger the flock, the happier they are.”
He suspects that the eight swearing parrots’ cursing will diminish as they integrate with the others, though it probably will not disappear entirely.
“[O]nce it’s in their vocabulary, it’s usually there for good,” he said, noting that the other birds imitate things like trucks backing up, squeaking gates, doors slamming, people laughing, and mobile phones. He’s hopeful that Billy, Tyson, Eric, Jade, Elsie, Eric, Captain, and Sheila will pick up these sounds.
Still, Nichols acknowledged that it’s possible that the eight swearing birds will teach a thing or two to the other 92 about human curse words.
If so, he remarked to CNN, “it’s going to turn into some adult aviary.”
After reading about the foul-mouthed birds at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park, see why Alex the African grey parrot may have been the world’s smartest bird. Or, discover the stories of some of the world’s most terrifying birds.