Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sparkie Williams, the talking budgie

Our new budgie of the month, Sparkie Williams (1954 - 1962) was a talking budgie with a repertoire of more than 500 words and eight nursery rhymes. He was owned by Mrs Mattie Williams, who lived in Forest Hall, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

And the winner is...

Sparkie put 3,000 rivals to flight in 1958 when he won the BBC International Cage World Contest for talking budgies. By the time he had won this, he was about three-and-a-half years old. He was so good that he was not allowed to take part again!

National celebrity

Image © Kiwi's Angels
Sparkie soon became a national celebrity. He was used in an advertising campaign for Capern’s bird seed and they offered him many jobs in other television and radio programs. His name was appearing all over the press world.

With the fame came the fortune. Within a couple of years Sparkie was rich enough to never have to worry about where the next bowl of Trill was coming from. He even had £1,000 in his own bank account.

Even after his death, the world didn't get enough of Sparkie Williams. People suddenly noticed that the bird had a brown cere! Could it be a disease? Did Sparkie receive inappropriate treatment from the taxidermist? Or was he in fact a GIRL? Image © Herring Bros, click on image to enlarge.
Bird Mimicry CD

Sparkie's fame spread far and wide. His voice was even used on the Bird Mimicry CD in the British Library.

Image © Tesco Books
The album Bird Mimicry contains recordings of mimicry from wild and captive birds that accurately imitate things from horse whinnies to wood being sawn. All of the sounds have been drawn from the British Library Sound Archive that holds the world's largest collection of nature sounds.

In true Geordie language, Sparkie chirped out: "Wor little spuggy ran oop the wahter spoot. The rain came down and washed the spuggy oot."

For anyone south of Newcastle the rhyme tells how a small sparrow was stuck in a drainpipe before being washed out by the rain. It is one of the nursery rhymes that Sparkie was taught as a young budgie.

The 1958 record

Sparkie even made his own record, which sold over 20,000 copies. The record was issued by Capern’s, the budgie seed company for whom Sparkie made commercials, to help owners teach their birds to talk.

Image © Kiwi's Angels
Everything He Ever Said

When Sparkie died, he was stuffed by the best taxidermist in London and taken on a tour of Britain in an exhibition of his life and work, before coming back to the Hancock Museum in 1996. Sparkie Williams was then acclaimed as the world’s most outstanding talking bird in the Guinness Book of Records.

Everything He Ever Said is the name of the exhibition that opened in December 2002 in Newcastle's Hancock Museum.

At the museum, you could also get t-shirts printed with a couple of catch phrases from Sparkie, including: "I'm just a crazy mixed up kid" and "What are you looking at?"

The exhibition also included Mattie Williams's diary, which recorded how she trained Sparkie to talk, alongside a photograph of Mattie and Sparkie. The real Sparkie was not in the exhibition, as he stayed at his permanent home in another part of the Hancock Museum.

His display has been updated recently and visitors can now hear him talk after Hancock staff transferred the original reel-to-reel tapes of his performances on to digital CD.


Michael Nyman. Photo © FRANCESCO GUIDICINI
Sparkie Williams even became the inspiration for a new opera by composer Michael Nyman and fellow artist Carsten Nicolai: Sparkie: Cage and Beyond. It was premiered at the Berlin Festspiele in March 2009. The opera is based on Michael Nyman’s 1977 piece Pretty Talk. They used original material from Parlophone and played a 7-inch flexi disc that contained short sentences recorded by Sparkie’s owner, Mrs Williams, to encourage her pet to speak - followed by replies from Sparkie himself.
Sparkie: Cage And Beyond also features further recordings from the Sparkie archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.


  1. I would love to have been at something like the BBC International Cage World Contest for talking budgies.

    Is that Bird Mimicry record available anywhere? Would be an awesome thing to have ;)

  2. Yes, I saw that it's available on Amazon :)

    Talking birds are fun ^^

  3. can someone tell me how to tell the gender of budgies??