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A pair of parrots at a zoo in England have a swearing problem


African grey parrots are able to mimic all sorts of sounds, including the human voice, whatever those voices say, which can sometimes be a little salty. Parrots at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in England have been known to swear, to the dismay and delight to visitors. But the park may have found a way to curb the bird. Steve Nichols is CEO of Lincolnshire Wildlife Park. Thanks very much for being with us.

STEVE NICHOLS: That's OK, sir.

SIMON: What do the parrots say? Can you tell us?

NICHOLS: Probably not. Probably the easiest way to work it out - we have a couple of levels of swear words in this country. And some of them are swear words that children sometimes use that you'll just chastise for on the lower end of the scale. But then the next level is obviously what adults use, which are quite abusive. And believe me, these are on the next level of abuse. If you can imagine what it's like if you were to stub your toe as you're walking through...


NICHOLS: ...The bedroom at nighttime...


NICHOLS: ...That word that comes out is what they're using all the time.

SIMON: How do parrots learn these words?

NICHOLS: Well, African greys are relatively unique in the fact that they don't only learn the word or the noise of the word. They actually learn the voice, as well. So once they tune themselves into a person, that person, if he says any particular word quite frequent, the chances are the bird will pick it up.

SIMON: And, of course, you want the wildlife park to be welcoming to children. What can you do about it?

NICHOLS: Well, there's not much we can do about it other than what we've tried, which is we've moved the offending eight African greys to a colony of 92, so that's making a hundred. And the colony of 92 are quite renowned for making all the mechanical noises that we're used to just generally hearing in a house day by day - things like a microwave or a squeaking door or a kettle. When you stood around, when you're feeding it or when people are around there, it sounds like a normal household. You can hear TV in the background. You can hear games that children play on their arcade games. And we're hoping that the eight that's gone in will pick up all these repetitive noises and repetitive sounds, rather than all the 92 pick up the eight's language, which will make it a very interesting place then.

SIMON: So you essentially hope the parrots imitate other parrots - the clean-talking parrots?

NICHOLS: Yes. That's the idea.

SIMON: It strikes me that, you know, a colony of swearing parrots would be a real tourist attraction. Do I have that wrong?

NICHOLS: (Laughter) No. It would, yes. I must say, I've been looking after parrots one way or another for the last 30 years. And even now, when I walk past an enclosure and these parrots in there - when they say hello or when they're talking, you just answer them as though you're answering your colleague or a friend or anything. You just say, I'm fine, you OK? Or hello. When you're walking down and one actually calls you an expletive or actually says something very, very bad, it's very difficult not to laugh. So, I mean, to parrots, it doesn't make no difference. They just know that if they make this noise, we usually end up laughing. And the general public - we can actually hear them. So it ends up where the parrots are being swore at by the people trying to get the parrots to swear.

SIMON: You're a sanctuary, so if the birds continue to swear, you'll keep them anyway?

NICHOLS: Oh, 100%. Yes, they'll not be swearing any more or any less than the staff here. And to me, it's just like...


NICHOLS: To me, it's just one of those things that whatever a bird comes with, whatever baggage it's got, we'll look after and make sure it's OK.

SIMON: Steve Nichols is CEO of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park. Thanks so much for being with us.

NICHOLS: Take care now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.