Kenku can only speak in mimicry, but it has been stated that they can still communicate via methods like telepathy from the Mystic and Warlock classes. So a Kenku with telepathy can communicate their thoughts to others.

However, what if someone were to speak to a Kenku via telepathy? Since telepathy is non-verbal, could a Kenku still mimic the sounds out loud?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ related rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/93309/… \$\endgroup\$
    – ravery
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ For me personally, I would like to know for Mystic's Telepathy from Unearthed arcana (backstory relevant and determines if I have pre-existing phrases I can speak). But having a warlock in my party as well, an interesting rouse we could use would be me mimicking his telepathic phrases for use in social situations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 18:32

4 Answers 4


It depends.

There isn't just one thing called 'telepathy' in 5th edition, so it depends on the source.

The form of telepathy you get from a Mystic or a Warlock with the Old Ones pact would not allow you to 'hear' in your mind. Those require that the target has language, but not one that you necessarily understand, so it apparently isn't transmitting actual words or mental sounds. It's a direct mental transfer of raw meaning. The detect thoughts spell has similar wording, and a helm of telepathy seems to be based on the same spell and only mentions a 'telepathic message', so it would have the same limitation.

However, the telepathy spell specifically says you can share "words, images, sounds, and other sensory messages" (and can consequently mentally communicate with animals and other creatures that don't know languages, as long as they aren't mindless), so yes, in that case you can mimic a sound you learned only via telepathy -- but only with that one spell.


Not likely

While all telepathy is not defined in one place, and each type of telepathy needs to be taken on a case by case basis, there are no instances where telepathy counts as hearing. A Kenku actually needs to hear the sounds to mimic them:

You can mimic sounds you have heard.

[emphasis mine]

Hearing is defined as

perceiv[ing] with the ear 

and a Deafened creature can still receive information through telepathy even though it...

can't hear and automatically fails any ability check that requires hearing.

Examples of telepathy not involving hearing

Note: 5e rules are written with plain English in mind, so if a feature is not defined well, such as the Mystic's Telepathy feature, use the Plain English definition below

Special Trait in the Monster Manual

Telepathy is a magical ability that allows a monster to communicate mentally with another creature within a specified range

The telepathy spell in the Player's Handbook

you and the target can instantaneously share words, images, sounds, and other sensory messages with one another

Plain English definition

the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. If one disagrees with the logic or conclusion of an answer, one is welcome to write their preferred answer in a competing answer post. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 16:31

This largely depends on DM fiat. I don't think there is a RAW answer.

Since telepathy is not hearing, The Kenku can not mimic the thought. Thus, the answer hinges on whether or not the Kenku can put together words it has heard in order to reproduce the thought received.

This related question discusses the kenku's speech capability: Is it possible for a Kenku to speak a language fluently through mimicry?.

Although in your case, the Kenku is not creating a new sentence, the ability to reproduce it hinges on whether the Kenku can break a sentence it has heard into words, then put them together in a different way to replicate the though given to it. Or if it can only repeat phrases/sentences it has heard.

Currently, I can not find any RAW decision one way or the other. However, it is the DM's prerogative to adjudicate fine nuances such as this.

Note: if the Wizard had previously spoken the exact phrases to the Kenku, then he could mimic them from a telepathic prompt.


After much thought (pun intended), I feel that, although this, along with much else in the game, is ultimately left up to the DM's prerogative, it would be best to view this in the context of a Kenku character who was deaf. In this case, it would certainly be able to receive the thoughts of another who was listening to something, but, although the actual sounds might be transmitted, the Kenku would have no reference and would thus be unable to repeat the sounds.

The reason I believe that exercise is helpful is because it is an extreme example of a person's (or character's) perception versus reality. For instance, when I and a friend of mine listen to a song, I will hear the guitar and drums, but struggle to hear the words. However, my friend will hear the words quite clearly and would not, for the life of her, be able to recall or repeat the guitars. So, if she were to communicate the song telepathically to the Kenku, it would hear only what she heard...assuming telepathy transmits the sounds and not a description of the sounds (the reason we probably should require DM intervention), and would only have one person's filtered experience of the song.

On a side note, having the Kenku "hear" something from several different characters might be the only way for it to accurately repeat a sound.


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