Not in Front of the Parrot
He probably shouldn't have shown the bird to Jughead.
One of the surest and swiftest ways to reveal something that you really didn't want to is to say it in front of a parrot or other talking bird. Especially a parrot that you've been trying and failing to teach some clever phrase. Birds have an innate sense of timing and can, when properly motivated
, memorize a long and complicated phrase after only hearing it once. Yep, they're as sick as a parrot.
And don't let the fact that you've never spoken aloud about the issue in question reassure you. Any
innocuous phrase that you might have said since the start of the episode can and will be used against you by the bird's selective memory quoting it out of context. A clever lawyer may use that to Make The Parrot Testify
Naturally a subtrope of Talking Animal
. Not to be confused with Parrot Exposition
. See also Polly Wants a Microphone
. Fowl-Mouthed Parrot
is a sister trope for when what you said in front of the parrot shouldn't be said in polite company.
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Anime and Manga
- In Rumiko Takahashi's short story In Lieu Of Thanks, a newcomer to a condo complex finds that the manager gets nervous when another tenant's pet myna cries out "crab shabu!" It turns out that the manager had eaten a crab that the tenant was planning to eat (as it was still alive and escaped, landing on the manager's porch), and the myna picked up the phrase from the tenant lamenting the crab's disappearance. Though the tenant didn't know what happened, the manager felt the bird was accusing her.
- In the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, a parrot repeating what the villain said provides the vital clue to allow Bond to track down the villain's whereabouts. Then the parrot asks a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for a kiss.
- Appears near the beginning of Wild Target. Bill Nighy's assassin character says his name to a victim. After the shooting, the victim's parrot starts repeating the name...
- In The Flintstones movie, this is an important plot point, where there is a talking bird who is used like a tape recorder (called a "ditabird") and things said in front of him are used as evidence against the Corrupt Corporate Executive villain.
- There's an old joke about a woman purchasing a parrot which formerly lived in a whorehouse. The parrot, of course, thought his new home was another whorehouse and that the woman and her daughters were the whores, to their annoyance. Then the woman's husband came home and the parrot greeted him with, "New whorehouse, new whores, but still the same old customers. Hello, Larry!"
- Or the one about the old woman who was a member of La Résistance against German occupation during WWII. Several resistance meetings were hold in her cottage. Naturally her parrot learnt some unsuitable phrases. After a while, the Germans started suspecting the old woman, and a squad was sent to investigate. They didn't find anything definite enough to arrest her, but while they were there, the parrot kept saying "Death to the Germans!" The squad leader promised to be back in a week, and if the parrot was still saying "Death to the Germans!", he would personally wring its neck. Now, the old woman was very fond of her parrot, and didn't want it killed. But how could she make it unlearn that phrase in just one week? At a loss for what to do, she consulted the priest of the nearest village, because he too had a similar parrot. The priest offered to switch parrots for a week. The old woman gratefully accepted. So, the week passed, and the squad of German soldiers returned to her cottage. The priest's parrot sat quietly in a corner. The squad leader, being in a bad mood and really wanting to hurt the woman somehow, went over to the parrot, bent down and whispered to it: "Death to the Germans!" The parrot solemnly replied: "May God hear your prayer, my son."
- A woman bought a female parrot from a pet store but it had an issue. It would always say "I'm a slut, wanna screw?" She spoke to her priest about it and he said "You're in luck, I happen to have a very holy parrot, and he bows his head in prayer every day. Maybe he can help your parrot." So the priest brought his parrot over, and put it in the cage with the woman's parrot. The female parrot immediately said "I'm a slut, wanna screw?" and the priests parrot bowed its head and said "I thank thee, Lord, for answering my prayers..."
- A man was walking through a pet store when a parrot called for his attention. "Buy me, I'm a very interesting parrot!" The man stopped and asked "What's so interesting about you?" "I have no legs," said the parrot. "Well how do you stay on the perch?" the man asked. The parrot replied, "I have a very long penis and wrap it around the perch!". The man did think this was an interesting parrot and bought it. One day the man came home from work and the parrot said "Your friend Harry was over today!" The man said "Really?" "He was hugging your wife!" The man asked for more information. "They were kissing!" The man asked for more info. "They took their clothes off!" Infuriated, the man demanded what happened next. The parrot responded, "I dunno, I got a woody and fell off the perch!"
- There is an old Soviet joke about a man who comes to the KGB and says, "My parrot flew away, did you see it"? The KGB officer replies, "We don't deal in such things". Then the man says, "OK, but if it ever comes here, just remember that I don't share its views".
- According to an Israeli joke, Assad Sr. once bought a parrot who was specifically trained to tell Assad, ‘Moshe Dayan fucked you! Hahahaha!’ over and over. Assad brought the parrot home, and the parrot did as it was instructed, despite Assad telling it to shut up. Finally he got mad and cut out the parrot’s tongue. The parrot covered one eye with one wing and flipped him the bird with the other.
- The pseudo-encyclopedia The Dictionary of the Khazars at one point makes reference to the mechanism by which the Khazar language was preserved, despite the civilization's having been extinct for centuries - their language was repeated and passed down through generations of parrots on the shores of the Black Sea.
- In Anne of Avonlea, Anne befriends an old man even though his parrot repeats his less-than-neighborly comments about her every time she comes around. He tries to rectify it by saying nicer things when he sees her coming, but apparently the parrot likes getting him in trouble.
- The parrot in Next does this (given it's established level of intelligence, probably specifically for the lulz) at least once.
- Invoked with the help of Voluntary Shapeshifting at the beginning of Animorphs #15, when Cassie talks the others into helping her shut down a fast food restaurant that uses live parrots as a gimmick.
parrot!Jake: Awk! Try the Jungle Burgers! Made with real cat meat!
parrot!Marco: (to man wearing a toupee) Awk! Nice toupee! Where'd you get it, the carpet store?
parrot!Cassie: Awk! We should be flying free in our native habitats! Awk!
- Older Than Print: An Arabian Nights story features a husband who suspects his wife is unfaithful and, before he leaves on business, buys a parrot in hopes it will inform him of what's going on.
- Inverted in The Three Investigators novel The Secret of the Stuttering Parrot. Parrots taught clues to the location of a hidden treasure have been so badly traumatized by their treatment at the hands of criminals that they refuse to talk. Fortunately, a mynah bird in the group (a last-minute replacement for a dead parrot) has memorized all the clues, and can be easily coaxed to repeat them.
- Uncle Feather the Mynah in Superfudge, while he doesn't pick up actual secrets, learns just enough accidental phrases (and comic timing, apparently) to call his owner's ex-kindergarten teacher "stupid" in front of the entire class.
- An eerie variation occurs in Robert Smythe Hichen's classic horror story "How Love Came to Professor Guildea". Among other hints of a growing supernatural presence, the professor's parrot begins to twitch and move in increasingly unnatural ways, and babbling in a low, grotesque voice. It turns out that the parrot is mimicking something the human characters can't perceive...
- Mr. Big from the Garrett, P.I. series, aka "The Goddamn Parrot", was specifically trained to invoke this trope by Morley before he gave the bird to Garrett as a prank. Turns out it was pre-loaded with rude phrases and a tendency to cry rape.
- In the novel All Clear by Connie Willis, Alf and Binnie's parrot repeats the less-than-polite conversation about hiding said parrot from the landlady verbatim within earshot of said landlady, causing Polly, Eileen, Alf, Binnie and the parrot to be evicted from the boardinghouse. This may have been due to the in-story nature of the space-time continuum.
- In the Petsitters Club book The Rude Parrot, it is revealed that the parrot the Petsitters are babysitting was saying rude words because it was mimicking the speech of its previous owner, who had died.
- Played very darkly in Chabon's The Final Solution.
- In The Twelve Chairs, Ostap Bender starts a fake anti-Soviet resistance cell as scam to raise some money from local bourgeoisie. A parrot is present on the meeting of said cell. This parrot didn't talk before, but afterwards it starts to squawk quotes from Ostap's dangerously seditious speech.
- Though not technically parrots, the Jabberjays in "The Hunger Games" fit this trope, being mutant birds specially bred to mimic what they hear and report back to the Capitol.
Live Action TV
- Niles Crane had a talkative cockatiel for several episodes of Frasier. Its crowning moment of glory was to utterly sabotage an important party by repeating the insults Niles had spoken in the kitchen about his guests being drunks and lechers in hearing range of the not amused drunks and lechers.
- NYPD Blue had the Pointy-Haired Boss bring in an obnoxious parrot that repeated everybody. Sipowicz forces the boss to get rid of it by a simple trick: he plants a tape recording of somebody shouting "Douchebag! Douchebag!" in the parrot's room overnight.
- Small Wonder: In an early episode, the Lawsons have the Brindles as uninvited house guests after the latter family's house burns down. Naturally, the Brindles' parrot reveals the real cause of the fire.
- On The Nanny, a parrot exposes that Fran told Val about Cher secretly staying at the Sheffields'. Although that is not why it spread to the media. Maxwell himself was responsible for that.
- In Season One of Twin Peaks, a search of the cabin where Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski were tortured reveals the only potential witness: Waldo the Mynah Bird. Hoping the bird will talk if left alone, Agent Cooper sets his tape recorder by Waldo's cage. Main suspect Leo, afraid of what the bird might say, shoots it — but not before the bird says his name on tape.
- A variation is found on Friends. Monica is babysitting her nephew Ben. She accidentally bangs his forehead against a ceiling beam while tossing him up and down. Rachel agrees that they shouldn't tell Ross, but then Ben says, "Monica BANG!" Monica is mortified. "He's gonna rat me out!"
- The Fast Show had one of these, who seemed to have been trained to have a vocabulary amounting to "Wanker" and "Twat". "Oh, bugger..."
- In a cartoon skit on The Electric Company, a plumber knocks on an apartment door. The parrot inside says, "Who is it?" followed by the plumber explaining, "I've come to fix the sink." This repeats several times before the plumber gets fed up and faints. Later, the parrot's owner comes home and asks, "Who is it?" The parrot says, "It's the plumber. He's come to fix the sink."
- In Robin Williams' HBO Comedy Special Weapons of Self-Destruction, Robin talks about the dangers of keeping a parrot in the bedroom while having sex:
Sooner or later your parrot will go, "Not the ass." Whoa, Petey! Uh, he's been watching porn again... "Fuck me Teddy, fuck me hard!" Ha ha ha...Honey, who's Teddy?
- Also happens in an episode of Family Matters when Carl's boss, Commissioner Geiss, leaves his parrot, Andre, with Carl for a couple of weeks. During that time, after being irritated by the bird, Carl says his boss is an idiot right in front of it. Fortunately, Carl doesn't get in trouble when he learns that Mrs. Geiss already taught the bird to say that. However, the Commissioner lands himself in a pickle of his own when he calls his wife a pain in the butt as he and the parrot are leaving.
- Subverted in one episode of Desperate Housewives, where Orson Hodge's backstory is revealed. His wife mysteriously disappears, and when his neighbor pops by to ask about her, the wife's parrot says, "Orson, No! Please! No!" It is later revealed that his wife is in fact alive, and the parrot just recites Orson's wife's pleas to not leaving her and getting a divorce.
- In “Comrade Harold”, an episode of The Red Green Show, Ed Frid borrows his girlfriend’s parrot for the animal segment. Unfortunately, the bird calls Ed a loser who can’t commit. To make matters worse, the parrot refers to Ed by name.
- Hannah Montana: Jackson once dated a girl named Becky but it ended when his best friend asked him to watch over a parrot. Said parrot repeated unkind things said about another Becky.
- On My Name Is Earl, Darnell revealed that back in the day before he got put into Witness Protection, he shared an apartment with a man who was a porn star. That porn star is now married to the governor of whatever state Camden is located in, and she got him a job as the warden of the state prison. A porn movie was being filmed in the apartment just as Darnell returned. He was OK with that, but asked if he could put a cloth over Mr. Parrot's cage.
Darnell: I don't want to hear him talking about this all night.
- A second-season episode of Perry Mason had a parrot as witness to its master's death; it kept repeating a line where the victim pleaded with his killer to put down the gun. However, it turned out to be a substitute identical parrot, specially trained by someone who intended to kill the owner and wanted to shift blame onto someone else who hated the owner. Ironically, the guy who trained the parrot found the owner dead before he could kill him; he left it marching around the corpse anyway.
- A Missing Episode of Dad's Army had a couple of old ladies with a talking parrot that had belonged to their dead brother. The ladies were rather deaf, so didn't know the parrot was saying things like, "Shut up you old hags," and, "Take off those knickers and get up them stairs."
- Get Smart used this trope a couple of times. In one case, a parrot that was supposed to be used to monitor a pet shop that was a KAOS front instead gave away Max's identity by repeating part of his conversation with the Chief.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Petries' neighbors, the Helpers, have a parrot who constantly says "Don't be nervous" in imitation of the husband, Jerry, who's a dentist.
- Used somewhat realistically in a The Far Side cartoon, of all places: A group of mobsters are discussing the location of their new hideout in a pet shop full of parrots. "Alright, let's repeat the address a hundred times or so to make sure we all get it."
- Well, the parrots may have been realistic... this is The Far Side, after all.
- The Far Side loved this trope. One comic has a pet shop parrot repeating its owner's last words ("Rack! The anaconda is loose! Call Animal Control!"); another has it repeating its thuggish owner's proscription to "Shut up, boid!" between snatches of song; a third shows a parrot standing over a quicksand patch declaring, "Let go, Morty, you're pulling me in!"
- FoxTrot did a plot similar to this, but with a toddler instead of parrot. While Paige was babysitting, she watched a TV show she wasn't allowed to watch (a Brand X version of Jerry Springer) and the kid picked up a swear word from the show. Hilarity Ensued.
- In one of the Bottom Live stage shows, Richie is looking after the vicar's parrot, but discovers - shortly before a visit from the queen - that it has acquired a large vocabulary of bad language from Eddie.
Richie: Eddie! Have you been teaching the vicar's parrot to swear?
Eddie: Er... No.
Parrot: He spunky, wanky, titting well has, you know!
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario is only able to defeat a certain boss after guessing his name, and he learns it after listening to the bad guy's pet parrot. This being a fantasy world, though, the parrot is much more capable of speech than usual, so Doopliss is slightly off the hook.
- In the Gold, Silver, and Crystal versions of Pokémon, you obtain a password in Team Rocket's base from a Murkrow - a crow Pokemon. Sure, it's not an actual parrot, but that's because the parrot Pokemon didn't show up until the fourth generation.
- In Ultima VII: The Black Gate, striking a parrot (any parrot, anywhere in the game world) with a gavel causes it to reveal the map coordinates of a pirate treasure.
- In Ultima VII Part II: Seprent Isle, hitting a parrot with a mallet will eventually make it say "That will not work this time!"
- Double Subversion: In case 4 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix calls a witness' pet parrot to the stand, hoping that it'll blab an important piece of evidence, but finds the opposition has thought ahead and managed to re-train the parrot. It still gives enough information to let him go ahead with the trial.
- In the Adventure Game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, at one point an archeologist required you to answer a question in order to proceed. The solution to the puzzle? Talk to the archeologist's parrot.
- In the adventure game Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life, you have to play a keyboard for a parrot to learn and repeat later. This being Monty Python, you have to play the keyboard incorrectly for the parrot to learn it correctly.
- In Laura Bow: The Colonel's Bequest, there's a parrot who will provide some pretty helpful information at the right times.
- Playing a word game with Loulou the parrot is necessary to complete The Curse of Blackmoor Manor.
- In Infocom's Sorcerer, the player character's mentor's parrot prowides some important clues by saying things like "Where did I leave my spectacles?", "Now where can I hide this key?" and "You should never have let down your mindshield, you doddering old Enchanter. Squawk!" Then it starts asking for crackers.
- In this Futility Closet, a parrot helps the police by repeating the burglars' names.
- The parrot Helga's dad gets in an episode of Hey Arnold! memorizes one of her love poems to Arnold — including her name in the last line. Fortunately, the parrot is eaten by a giant lizard before it can get that far.
- In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "The Parrot Trap", Dexter creates a robot-parrot to keep around the lab, largely to hear it mimic his bragging and self-praise ("Dexter is the most brilliant mind in the entire universe!"). It backfires in short order when the parrot begins to mimic Deedee, then escapes the lab and threatens to blab about it to Dexter's parents.
- Seen in an episode of Doug. Plus, the parrot was used to parody "The Raven".
- The Flintstones: "Frantic City! Frantic City!"
- In one of the flashbacks on Family Guy Peter teaches Joe's new pet parrot to say the word "cripple".
- In the same episode, Peter's new parrot, Adrien Beaky picks up some things.
Adrien Beaky: Pick a lane, bitch!
Peter: Isn't that funny? He heard me say that on the way over in the car.
Adrien Beaky: I gotta pee. Where's that Snapple bottle?
Adrien Beaky: I had a gay experience at camp.
Peter: (nervously laughs) We uh, had the radio on and they were saying some wacky stuff...
- Happened to Mike from Mike, Lu & Og in the episode "Repeat After Me" with Wendell's bird Skipper, who took her lines out of context to offend her friends.
Lu: Now that everybody hates you, I'm the most popular girl on the island.
Skipper: Rawk! Spoiled brat! Spoiled brat!
Lu: And if he keeps this up, the only one.
- Stoked: Lo's plans for ditching work are blabbed by the restaurant's cockatoo.
- Also happens in an episode of the animated version of Ace Ventura where a parrot over heard everything the episode's villain had said about his plan.
- Subverted on G.I. Joe, in that the secret overheard by Shipwreck's parrot actually turns out to be the key to defeating a COBRA plot. The bird has the courtesy not to blab the code words to unlock a formula hypnotically buried in Shipwreck's memory until it can save the day by doing so.
- The Kids From Room 402: Jesse and Vinny once taught a parrot to say rude things as part of a prank. Unfortunately, for them, the parrot heard them using their names while discussing ideas.
- "Awk! Polly want a Leshawna!"
- In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Farting Dragon", the Scissorsmith's rather talkative parrot tells Jack where the dragon is that's causing the foul smell plaguing the town. (Although the Scissorsmith had previously told Jack that's it's actually his wife. ("Never sell a wizard an expired fishing license," he warns. Of course, the guy was pretty eccentric.)
- Though not a parrot, a rumor that the Furby could mimic what was said to them (a misunderstanding of how the pre-programmed Furbish-to-English transition in the toy's speech worked) had several intelligence agencies banning the toy from their offices to prevent the little cretins from repeating top-secret information to unauthorized members of society.
- This parrot learned to say "I love you Gary". His owner's name was Chris.
- A crime was solved because of this trope. At a murder the only evidence found was a flute with a defective key that produced a unique sound. A sailor was found in possession of a parrot that would make a sound exactly like the flute. Later evidence proved that the sailor was guilty.
- On the other hand, in American courts the parrot's "testimony" alone is not proof of guilt. There was one case (Wiki Magic, anyone?) where the suspected murderer was the boyfriend of the victim, but the parrot said the name of the victim's roommate followed by what seemed to be a plea to stop.
- Because parrots have very long lifespans and often outlive their owners, it's frequently advised to parrot owners to avoid swearing around their parrots so that when the owner dies, the parrot will have an easier time finding a home. (Oddly enough, most prospective pet owners don't want their birds to swear at them.) Suffice it to say: no matter how hard you try, no matter how polite you are around your parrot, the one time you break your toe on the coffee table and slip up with a Cluster F-Bomb, the parrot will remember. Inevitably.
- Andrew Jackson's parrot had to be forcibly removed from his funeral because it wouldn't stop swearing. In two languages! (It was fluent in English and Spanish)
- There was an article that made the rounds in 2004 about Winston Churchill's 104-year old parrot that supposedly still was around to exclaim, "F—- the Nazis!" Unfortunately, within a couple of days, historians and Churchill's daughter disavowed the claim.
- A parrot in Romania was overheard reciting jokes making fun of the eldest son of Nikolai Ceaucescu. The secret police put it under arrest and interrogated it to try and find out who it had learnt them from.
- Aside from speech, parrots have also been known to imitate ringing phones, doorbells, knocks on the door and so on, well enough to interrupt conversations because the listeners excuse themselves to answer the caller.
- Including a parrot who had lived for several years in a care home for elderly people in Glasgow. After it was re-homed, its new owner took it to the vets saying it was sick, it seemed to be constantly coughing and grizzling with discomfort... (of course a genuinely sick parrot wouldn't cough like a human anyway...)
- A fire station had to get rid of its pet parrot because it had learnt to perfectly imitate the alarm bell.
- There was a story a while back about a couple who kept their African grey in their bedroom; they "got busy" one night, and while guests were over, the African grey repeated the events of the night back to them.
- Parakeets and Quaker parrots are also notorious for this.
- There's a Mexican stock phrase named Mataron hasta el Perico (They killed even the parrot), who was adopted after a notorious mass murder case that happened in the 1950s when the killer killed even the owner's parrot, since it knew the name of the murderer.
- The menuridae (or lyrebirds) are a family of Australian birds which song is a perfect imitation of any noise the bird have heard (males seem to be more skilled than females). Not only other bird songs, but also cameras, chainsaws, car alarms, etc. And even sometimes the human voice.