Ancient Egyptians are believed to have been the first civilization to kept parrots as pets. Yet the first record, to describe the exotic birds, is to be found in Indian literature, written more than 3,000 years ago. And for Indian people, the ability to communicate with parrots was an important achievement, considering that Kama Sutra lists that one of the 64 requirements for a man is to teach a parrot to talk.
And it was from India, that Alexander the Great brought the first parrots to Europe, circa 330 B.C.
Parrots were kept as companions to the upper class of the Roman Empire, where professionals were employed to teach them to speak Latin.
Instructions on how to teach parrots to talk are to be found in the writings of Pliny the Elder, circa 80 A.D., where he advises that the birds conduct clear conversations and in order to teach them to speak, they must be given a few raps with a small stick on the head, which is as hard as their beak.
The parrots came back on trend during the Middle Ages. Marco Polo and his crew brought African grey parrots to Portugal in the mid 1400s, to soon the talking birds become a subject of interest and commercial trade. Pope Martin V was among the prominent collectors, to even appoint a special keeper of his parrots.
The birds spread across Europe after Columbus brought a pair of Cuban Amazons to Queen Isabella when he returned to Spain in the 1490s.
When comes to Britain, Henry VIII had a much-loved African grey parrot during the 16th century; yet the first written English record comes from 1529, from John Skelton’s poem Speak-Parrot – My name is Parrot, a bird of Paradise.
Before the word parrot came into common usage, the exotic creatures were often referred to as birds of paradise and also known as popinjay (first recorded in use in 1322 and borrowed from the Old French papegai, deriving from the Arabic babagha) and later replaced by parakeet, deriving from the French perroquet, probably a pet-form of the male forename Pierre.
The meaning of parrot to describe a person who repeats the words or ideas of others mindlessly or without understanding developed circa 1570, first recorded in use by James Bell, in his 1581 translation of Walter Haddon and John Foxe’s Against Ierome Osorius Byshopp of Siluane.
Followed by John Fletcher’s 1652 comedy The wild-goose chase: “Our women the best Linguists, they are Parrots.”
And parrots are, indeed, chatty – Puck, a blue parakeet landed in the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records for his vocabulary skills, with a recognized set of nearly 1,800 words.