Polly Wants a Microphone
aka: Talking Bird
"I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him"
Possibly the most common type of Intellectual Animal
is a talking bird
, and you know you've seen it already. Parrots
, mynah birds
and other birds capable of mimicking human speech are likely to be outright fully intelligent and articulate. Most common in settings where there is an element of the fantastic that can be used to Hand Wave
the inaccuracy, but even fairly mundane, realistic stories sometimes do it. Someone who Speaks Fluent Animal
is not needed here (but may show up nonetheless).
Be careful if you're talking about something you want to keep a secret — Not in Front of the Parrot
open/close all folders
- Windex has a commercial that features two naughty talking crows that trick a guy by closing his glass door.
- Inverted in one of ESPN's Winter X Games XV commercials of 2011, in which two snow owls are "talking" with subtitles.
Anime & Manga
- The Idiot Crows trope, seen in too many animes to count.
- Hippo in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch is a talking penguin. Fuku-chan might also count, but he never speaks in bird form, so we don't know whether he can't or whether he's just shutting up while undercover.
- Averted, oddly, in Pokémon, with the parrot Pokémon Chatot. It's known for repeating human speech, all Pokémon are supposedly sentient, with a large number (The humanoid and psychics in particular) appearing sapient, and a cat Pokemon learned human language and speaks it fluently. But every time a Chatot is featured it just mimics human words without understanding them like a real-life parrot. Go Figure.
- Digimon naturally has talking bird Mons; Piyomon, Hawkmon, and Falcomon have been used as partners.
- Aversion: Princess Tutu's Ahiru/Duck is about the only sentient animal in the series that doesn't talk unless transformed into a human girl.
- The second season of Yes! Pretty Cure 5 has Syrup, at least in mascot and "birdplane" form.
- The crows Oboe and Ocarina, Hamel and Sizer's companions (respectively) in Violinist of Hameln. Justified in that they were originally winged humanoids cursed to turn into crows.
- In Idaten Jump, Hosuke the owl. He's actually a human old man trapped in an owl's form.
- Inko-chan from Toradora!. Despite being utterly incapable of saying its own name, it seems to always be saying the right thing (or at least, things that are appropriate for the situation) at the right time. Even more pronounced in the novels, where it's even capable of breaking out in cold sweats in respond to a threat from Taiga.
- Dera Mochimazzui in Tamako Market, who talks and and is sentient enough to know what he is talking about. He's on a mission to find a bride for the prince of an island nation, and the female protagonist made an Accidental Proposal with the bird.
- Kir from King of Bandit Jing.
- Matthew the talking raven and his predecessors in The Sandman.
- Carl Barks had two parrot characters, Yellow Beak, and Joe from Singapore. Both are fully intelligent, but neither are very anthropomorphic (especially compared to the Parrot character José Carioca).
- The National Lampoon had a long-running comic strip "Chicken Gutz" by Randall Enos. The eponymous Butt Monkey character had a bird perched on top of his hat, who provided constant snarky commentary on the proceedings.
- Mr. Eleven from Ghost Rider, a talking crow that leads people to make deals with the devil.
Films — Animation
- Iago from Disney's Aladdin. Interestingly, for most of the original movie, Iago pretends to be a regular parrot when in the presence of characters other than Jafar. In The Return Of Jafar, Jafar claims that "If it weren't for me, you'd still be in a cage at the bazaar squawking 'Polly want a cracker'", which is sometimes taken to mean that Iago was a normal parrot whom Jafar made articulate with some sort of magic. On the other hand, no one seems to find it surprising that Iago is articulate.
- Inverted in Rio where the Spix's macaws can actually indeed talk, but none of the humans can understand them. In fact, said macaws can actually talk to other birds and animals, but they cannot talk to people.
- Merlin's "highly educated", snide and sarcastic pet owl Archimedes in Disney's The Sword in the Stone, of course.
Films — Live Action
- The parrot of 102 Dalmatians, who thinks he's a dog, and is voiced by Eric Idle.
- Scary Movie 2 had a very foul-mouthed parrot that at one pointed started begging to be killed.
- Pirates of the Caribbean has Cotton's parrot. It speaks for its owner, who had his tongue cut out. While it cannot speak fluently (it speaks in various short phrases, which the other pirates interpret), its phrase selection is a good deal larger than the standard.
- It eventually learned a phrase that the crew understood perfectly: "Don't Eat Me!" as the cannibals apprehended the crew.
- Home Alone 3. One of the few bearable things in the movie.
- The Survivors begins with Robin Williams getting fired by his boss's parrot. No, really.
- The title character of Paulie is such a parrot; the catch is that every other parrot in the movie isn't, and most humans have difficulty believing that Paulie is.
- He also can't communicate with other birds.
- He almost became famous, but during the press-conference switched to "Polly want a cracker" type talk instead to spite the scientist who tricked him.
- Deep Blue Sea has Preacher's foul-mouthed parrot, who's later eaten by a shark.
- The James Bond film For Your Eyes Only features one who comes in handy when Bond runs out of clues to the villains' hideout, as it overheard them discussing where they were headed.
- Anton Arcane's parrot in The Return of Swamp Thing.
- Laserbeak from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
- Mac from The Real Macaw is this.
- The Ur Example (at least as far as this trope's horror potential goes) is Edgar Allan Poe's famous raven in the poem "The Raven." The narrator begs of the bird to answer increasingly desperate questions about the afterlife and the hope of reuniting with his Lost Lenore, but the raven constantly answers, "Nevermore," rather pessimistically. The last stanza suggests that the bird has taken up permanent residence, and is less bird than evil portent of despair and damnation. You know, typical Poe.
- Discworld has two: Quoth, the raven (har dee har har), and the parrot in Eric. Both have limited wossnames... vocabularies, especially the parrot. Which led to the splendid line (from the parrot) "Wossname wossname wossname wossname wossname!"
- From the children's literature book Matilda, the titular character and a neighbor kid teach a parrot scary phrases, then hide it in the chimney. The end result is that her parents tear the house apart looking for what's making the noise, and Matilda gives the neighbor kid his parrot back with her parents never figuring out what happened.
- From the children's book series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the main character's parrot Penelope was originally depicted realistically, but in the last book of the series she was an Intellectual Animal.
- The Unkindness of Ravens, a story about a researcher trying to boost animal intelligence. His only success had been with the ravens. They eventually wanted to leave the lab to have chicks. The story had one raven return to talk with the scientist. They figured out that the intelligence (and speech) couldn't be made hereditary. They'd have to come back and be altered.
- Doctor Dolittle's parrot, Polynesia, was the one that taught him to speak animal.
- Kehaar from Watership Down, except that he's speaking animal language, not English.
- When first introduced, Kehaar speaks "hedge", the lingua franca of the world, but later learns Lapine, the native tongue of the rabbits.
- Ravens in American Gods are fully articulate and intelligent, which is hardly surprising, them being Odin's companions and whatnot. Shadows asks one to quoth "Nevermore". The raven is not amused.
Raven: Fuck you.
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has talking ravens, including Roac son of Carc, the chief of the ravens of the Lonely Mountain.
- Peach (which is short for Machu Picchu, but the full name is rarely used) in the Young Wizards series, although this one may be justified by the fact that exposure to wizardry has said to have altered all of Tom and Carl's pets, not to mention that she's one of the Powers That Be in disguise.
- Oreb in Gene Wolfe's Books of the Short Sun.
- Madison, the African Grey in the Dick King-Smith novel Harry's Mad and its TV adaptation.
- Averted in the Alternate History Alien Invasion novel In the Balance by Harry Turtledove. One of the aliens is quite excited on discovering there's an animal called a parrot who'll say exactly what it's told, as their human collaborator is refusing to make further propaganda broadcasts. The collaborator is tempted to let the aliens make idiots of themselves, but reluctantly informs them that no human would take anything said by a parrot seriously.
- One novel in Erle Stanley Gardner's lengthy Perry Mason series, The Case of the Perjured Parrot, turns on the eponymous parrot (it doesn't exactly testify, but it is observed that its claws are cut too short, which is a clue to the murderer). In the television adaptation, it was voiced by Mel Blanc.
- The Dark Tower and A Song of Ice and Fire both have talking ravens. For the most part, they just seem to act like parrots, but it's implied they are capable of comprehending human speech.
- Jeor Mormont's white raven in A Song of Ice and Fire at first seems to only be unusual in that it's able to speak at all, only using this to ask for corn and repeat people's names and taught phrases. However, its tendency to say unusually apropos things has several characters suspicious that it's smarter than it looks.
- The parrot in Next; his uncanny use of language is handwaved as the result of being genetically altered. He's also far and away the most awesome character in the book because of this.
- The titular character in Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge has a talking raven that likes to shout "I'm a devil!"
- In the Garrett, P.I. series, the Goddamn Parrot, aka "Mr. Big", is given to Garrett by a friend as a joke. Operating under its own power, it's incredibly foul-mouthed, and prone to saying things he fears will get him lynched ("Help! Rape! Please, mister, don't make me do that again!"). When operating under the psychic control of the Dead Man, it becomes a mouthpiece and perpetual nag for Garrett's partner.
- One of the early Animorphs books has the group morphing parrots to tell off a seedy restaurant that's mistreating the birds. They start yelling things at the potential customers that drive them away.
- The Raven: Just one word and nothing more.
- Parodied in The Areas of My Expertise, where these attributes - and, indeed, the Shakespearean page quote - are modified so that they apply to lobsters. Lobsters are introduced to America because of the Shakespeare passage and there's a failed attempt at establishing them as popular pets, but then everyone realizes that they are ugly, violent little animals, so instead the lobsters just get eaten.
- In The Hunger Games, talking birds are mentioned to have been used for espionage, but this stopped after the people being spied on caught on and started giving out false information to the birds.
- Justified in Michael Crichton's last novel, Next, which features a genetically uplifted parrot. Unfortunately, he seems to be surrounded by humans too stupid to recognize how intelligent he is.
Live Action TV
- Kiki in The Enid Blyton Adventure Series.
- An episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had Hercules turned into a pig and eventually meet a parrot who he can speak with through Animal Talk (where it didn't have the stereotypical parrot voice), and which could speak to people through Polly Wants A Microphone (where it did), and could translate between the two.
- On The Young Ones, a pirate is insulted by his own parrot. Subverted in that the pirate thinks the parrot is a dog (he keeps it on a leash) and assumes his boatswain is the one who insulted him, because dogs can't talk.
- Raven Familiars in Dungeons & Dragons can speak. A Wizard Did It (or Sorcerer, or Adapt, or Hexblade, Dread Necromancer or arcane caster with the right feat)
- The "Stormwrack" source book officially introduced parrot familiars that are mechanically identical to ravens. Players probably took parrot familiars and used the statistics for ravens even earlier than that.
- Taken to extreme in Los Angeles 2035 where there are translator parrots. Ok, they are mutated birds, but still...
- The birds in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door will exhibit this if you hide. But only one is a parrot (the rest are ravens), and if you're not hiding, it says the stock parrot phrases (and, for some reason, "Shine get!").
- The parrot drops the act after the end of the chapter, though.
- Infocom's Sorcerer has Belbozz's talking parrot, who provides a crucial clue to getting out of the Hall of Enchanters at the beginning of the game.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has two myna birds, and while they both talk, one of them is a bit of a subversion: It will say it's not good at human language and will only interact with Wolf Link (who can understand all animals), offering a minigame.
- Douglas Adams' computer game Starship Titanic featured a very screechy parrot voiced by former Python Terry Jones. Who loved eating chicken.
- The Kea is a type of parrot that would indeed enjoy eating chicken.
- One case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney used a talking parrot as a crucial witness to a case. Mildly subverted in that the parrot is never implied to be especially intelligent. Instead, the key lies in which specific words the parrot was trained to repeat.
- Metal Gear Solid 2 has a parakeet that may or may not be intelligent because it's possessed by the spirit of a genius hacker. Did we mention this is the point the game starts to get really weird?
- Vienya's familiar Moja, from Knights in the Nightmare. Just how intelligent Moja is, we don't know — he does communicate telepathically with Vienya, though, and is capable of translating for her in only slightly clipped Japanese (complete with kanji). Justified because, well, he's her familiar and that's what he's there for (she's a selective mute and can't/won't communicate in any other way).
- Pecker the monkaw from the Jak and Daxter series.
- Loulou and Coucou from the Nancy Drew games are both capable of giving you hints, and appeasing their wishes is required to progress in both games in which they appear.
- In Chapter 5 of StarTropics, you meet Peter, the talking parrot. You have to bribe him with worms to get him to talk, and what he says is a clue to the puzzle in Captain Bell's tomb. He's also the great-grandson of the original Captain Bell's pet parrot.
- The Granstream Saga has the talking parrot Korky. He claims he's a spirit beast, but none seems to believe him.
- In Ultima VII: The Black Gate, parrots have only a few lines of normal conversation (putting them on the same level as most town guards...) but if you threaten them with a gavel, they will tell the location of the hidden treasure in a bid to get you to spare them. Curiously, all parrots in the game know this secret, so perhaps they have a terrifying hive mind going.
- LEGO Island has Mr. and Mrs. Pollywanna, a pair of talking parrots who also act as the Brickolinis' telephone.
- In The Sims 2, you can teach a parrot to talk. (Or a kestrel, because it's really just a palette swap.) Of course, it, like your Sim, will still be Speaking Simlish.
- Grandia II gives us Ryudo's pet falcon Skye (Skye would disagree).
- Blackwing, Vaarsuvius's raven familiar in The Order of the Stick. Not bothering to speak Common at first because of a strained relation with V, he proved since the start of the fifth book to be quite smart. However, he is a familiar, so he grows smarter as his master becomes more powerful.
- In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Farting Dragon" (seriously), the secretive Scissorsmith's attempts to keep Jack from discovering the dragon's location (because he didn't want a customer to leave without buying anything) are foiled by his... wife, who was turned into a talking crow by a wizard the Scissorsmith had angered.
- From G.I. Joe: Shipwreck's parrot, Polly (who often seems smarter than her owner).
- The Flintstones The Movie's dictabird.
- Also the original Flintstones series and its spinoffs would make use of various talking birds for some of its Stone Age devices (such as office intercoms).
- Maya And Miguel's pet parrot, Paco.
- The Tom and Jerry movie Shiver Me Whiskers has two pirate captains each with a parrot that has to translate for them because both pirates are unintelligible.
- Iago from Disney's Aladdin.
- And also voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, Digit from Cyberchase.
- Needle from Conan The Adventurer.
- An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes had a bird that supposedly only said "Grunk" and "Snark". When Jimmy finds out it can speak perfect English, he's surprised, to which Heloise asks "Where are you from?"
- Professor Pericles, one of the main villains of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. When he first appears (in which his first line is offscreen), Velma comments how parrots can mimic human speech, but the prison officer notes it's the first thing he's said in decades. He speaks normally (with a German accent) throughout the show.
- An African Gray Parrot by the name of "Alex" was intelligent enough to not only have a vocabulary of 150 words, but also a basic understanding of them (he was at least capable of counting a few items and announcing their number). He was reported to have the IQ equivalent to that of a five-year old human child.
- Also, it's estimated that Parrots are the most intelligent members of the bird family. Therefore, while it will take a looooong time to train them (they have the attention span of a human toddler), one with enough patience CAN eventually teach a parrot to learn to understand basic conversations.
- Or you could just teach them to play Xbox.
- Not most. Crows and magpies are smarter. They just have no means to learn human vocabulary.
- Though the debate of "smarter" can't reasonably be tested and proven, a number of captive corvids have been recorded repeating human speech and sound effects. They just don't take to it as readily as parrots.
- The 'magenpies' described in My Family and Other Animals certainly seem to have been able to mimic humans, and seem to have been able to link certain utterances to effects.
- There is a parrot and a crow at the Pittsburgh Avain Conservatory. The parrot cannot say anything, but the crow learned, because everybody was busy trying to teach the parrot and he wanted the attention.
- Though not only do they have short attention spans, but they can be moody and very tricky. Alex was notorious for this; while the researchers were trying to teach other parrots, he would feed them wrong answers.
- The Guinness Book of World Records lists the bird with the largest vocabulary as Puck, a budgerigar (or parakeet). That's right, a parakeet. His vocabulary was in the range of 1,700 distinct words, and he displayed somewhat of an understanding of context, as do many other talking parrots — it's just not a straightforward, human-like understanding of context.
- Parrots are one of the few animal species capable of recognizing rhythms and dancing to them.
- Mockingbirds are an interesting example in that they don't usually mimic human speech, but can mimic almost any other kind of sound. They've been reported mimicking everything from other birds, to cats, to car horns and ringing cell phones.
- Don't forget the Australian Lyrebird.
- Ravens have been reported to mimic the howling of wolves when they find a deer or other large prey animal trapped in snow or underbrush. The howling attracts the attention of real wolves, who come to check out the possible intruder; instead, they find and kill the deer, and the ravens get to scavenge the carcass's remnants.