These Parrots Won’t Stop Swearing. Will They Learn to Behave—or Corrupt the Entire Flock?

A British zoo hopes the good manners of a larger group will rub off on the eight misbehaving birds

Close-up of bird with grey feathers
African gray parrots are highly intelligent birds that can learn to closely mimic human voices. Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED

A few years ago, a zoo in Britain went viral for its five foul-mouthed parrots that wouldn’t stop swearing. Now, three more birds at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park have developed the same bad habit—and zoo staffers have devised a risky plan to curb their bad behavior.

“We’ve put eight really, really offensive, swearing parrots with 92 non-swearing ones,” Steve Nichols, the park’s chief executive, tells CNN’s Issy Ronald.

By integrating the chatty birds into the larger flock of well-behaved parrots, they hope the group’s good manners will rub off on the trouble-makers.

The swearing saga began in 2020, when five African gray parrots—Billy, Elsie, Eric, Jade and Tyson—were donated to the wildlife park in eastern England. The five bad-mouthed birds seemed to be egging each other on, prompting staffers to separate them and send each one to a different area of the zoo.

But isolation wasn’t enough to solve the problem. Three newly donated birds—Captain, Sheila and another Eric—have now developed a tendency to squawk expletives. This time, rather than keeping them separate, zookeepers have decided to muffle the swearing by placing them with a larger flock.

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“People think parrots are loud birds, but they talk quite quietly,” says Nichols to BBC News’ Kevin Shoesmith. “I’m hoping, above the general noise of the flock, the swearing will be drowned out.”

About 30 of the parrots at the wildlife park make noises that sound like trucks reversing, while others imitate microwaves. Nichols is hopeful the new additions will learn these and other innocuous sounds, he tells BBC News.

Of course, the plan could also backfire: What if the eight miscreants corrupt the entire flock?

“We could end up with 100 swearing parrots on our hands,” Nichols tells BBC News. “Only time will tell.”

In the meantime, staffers have put up large signs alerting guests that they might hear bad language. So far, no one has complained. If anything, the birds’ colorful vocabulary helps keep the mood light and fun amid all the doom and gloom in the world, says Nichols.

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“You never tire of being told to eff off by a parrot,” Nichols tells BBC News. “You can’t help but laugh.”

The parrots learned to swear by closely mimicking human voices—which means that some of the birds have men’s voices, while others have women’s voices, per CNN. Because humans tend to say swear words in a clear and predictable tone, they are often easy for parrots to pick up.

Talking—and swearing—isn’t the only skill parrots can absorb. Some have also learned how to sing: The wildlife park is home to another bird, named Chico, who is renowned for his imitation of Beyonce’s song “If I Were A Boy.”

African gray parrots are highly intelligent, which has helped make them the most popular pet bird in the world, per National Geographic. In experiments, the birds have performed cognitive tasks at levels beyond those of 5-year-old humans.

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