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Are Parakeets Smart? What Science Says

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Cute smiling girl playing with her pet green Monk Parakeet parrot

Parakeets are beautiful and fun to watch and happen to make great pets for families and singles alike. These little birds, also referred to as budgies, enjoy companionship with humans, making them interactive pets that seem to be pretty smart. Is it true, though? Are parakeets smart?

The bottom line is that, yes, parakeets are smart animals. This article breaks down what is known about this topic:

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What Science Says About the Parakeet’s Intelligence

Studies have been done to determine the intelligence of birds, including parakeets, in years past. Science seems to indicate that, indeed, parakeets are smart. Let’s go over what those studies say:

  • Cognitive psychologists got together to complete a two-cup test study where a reward was hidden in one cup, and the other was left empty.1 When they determined that the African grey parrots they were studying could figure out where the treat was hidden, they employed three and four cups in some of their studies.What they found is that parrots (that would include parakeets) can employ inference by exclusion, which, simply put, means that they have complex thinking skills. So much so that the cognitive psychologists who performed the studies surmise that parrots are as smart as 5-year-old human children.
  • Ornithologists studied parrots using both the adaptive approach and the anthropocentric approach to determine that these birds are more intelligent than most other bird species and are even smarter than apes in many cases.2 It was shown that parrots display complex cognition that has been established through evolution rather than ancestry.
  • A behavioral scientist found that a parakeet’s intelligence helps them effectively and efficiently reproduce smart offspring.3 It turns out that female parakeets choose their male reproductive partners based on cognitive intelligence, and they choose those with the best cognitive abilities. If the mate she chooses turns out not to cognitively perform as well as she would like after a mating season or two, she is likely to drop her mate and look for a “smarter” one.
  • Birds might have smaller brains than primates and mammals, but a study has shown that they have more neurons in their brains than mammals and primates of the same mass.4 The neurons in their forebrains are what help them perform complex cognitive tasks and solve cognitive problems as well as, if not better than, primates.
monk parakeet bird perching on girl's fingers
Photo Credit: JWPhotoworks, Shutterstock

How We Can Observe a Parakeet’s Intelligence

Some parakeet behaviors display their intelligence to us humans, even if we don’t have the experience or knowledge to gauge those smarts on a scientific level. The two most impressive traits of the parakeet that let us know they are smart are their ability to talk and their trainability. After all, you have to be intelligent to learn how to mimic people and speak words. You also must be smart to learn tasks and tricks.

Parakeets talk quickly and have high-pitched voices, so it can be tough to understand what they’re saying unless you pay close attention and get used to the bird’s nuances. Nevertheless, parakeets can learn hundreds if not thousands of words and even put sentences together.   Parakeets can also learn a variety of tasks and tricks through training. Some even work with humans and perform in circuses like the little budgies in this video. They would be able to learn such things if they didn’t have cognitive intelligence.

How to Support Your Parakeet’s Intelligence

Parakeets are naturally smart due to their brain and neuron makeup, but the more their minds are stimulated, the more intelligence they will gain. Therefore, it’s a good idea to support your budgie’s intelligence as time goes on to keep them sharp, happy, and healthy throughout their lives. Here are some ways to support your parakeet’s intelligence:

  • Provide multiple perches installed at various levels in the habitat to promote regular exercise and problem-solving.
  • Invest in lots of different toys and make a few available at a time, switching them out once a week or so. This will help keep your bird busy and give them an opportunity to work on their cognitive skills.
  • Socialize with your parakeet daily to help them work on their communication skills. Simply talking to them regularly is enough to allow them to learn new words, phrases, and sounds.
  • Give your parakeet the opportunity to fly and explore outside of their caged habitat regularly. Doing so will provide them with an opportunity to interact with new things and learn how things work on their own.
Parakeet playing toy
Image Credit: Landscapeaway, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Parakeets are intelligent animals that can hold their own when it comes to problem-solving and getting along in the world. Science has shown that parakeets are more intelligent than many other types of birds as well as some mammals and primates of similar size. Regular interaction and opportunities to conversate and problem solve will help keep your parakeet on their “toes” and support their intelligence overall.

Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Soares,Shutterstock

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