Psittacoidea (true parrots)
New Zealand parrots)
Range of parrots, all species (red)
PARROTS, also known as PSITTACINES /ˈsɪtəsaɪnz/ , are birds of
the roughly 393 species in 92 genera that make up the order
PSITTACIFORMES, found in most tropical and subtropical regions. The
order is subdivided into three superfamilies: the
Cacatuoidea (cockatoos), and the
Zealand parrots). Parrots have a generally pantropical distribution
with several species inhabiting temperate regions in the Southern
Hemisphere , as well. The greatest diversity of parrots is in South
Characteristic features of parrots include a strong, curved bill , an
upright stance, strong legs, and clawed zygodactyl feet. Many parrots
are vividly coloured, and some are multi-coloured. Most parrots
exhibit little or no sexual dimorphism in the visual spectrum. They
form the most variably sized bird order in terms of length. The most
important components of most parrots' diets are seeds, nuts, fruit,
buds, and other plant material. A few species sometimes eat animals
and carrion , while the lories and lorikeets are specialised for
feeding on floral nectar and soft fruits. Almost all parrots nest in
tree hollows (or nest boxes in captivity), and lay white eggs from
which hatch altricial (helpless) young.
Parrots, along with ravens, crows, jays, and magpies , are among the
most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate
human voices enhances their popularity as pets . Some parrots are
intelligent and talk at the level of a four-to-five year old human.
Trapping wild parrots for the pet trade , as well as hunting , habitat
loss , and competition from invasive species , has diminished wild
populations, with parrots being subjected to more exploitation than
any other group of birds. Measures taken to conserve the habitats of
some high-profile charismatic species have also protected many of the
less charismatic species living in the same ecosystems .
* 1 Taxonomy
* 1.1 Origins and evolution
* 1.2 Phylogeny
* 1.3 Systematics
* 2 Morphology
* 3 Distribution and habitat
* 4 Behaviour
* 4.1 Diet
* 4.2 Breeding
* 4.3 Intelligence and learning
* 4.3.1 Sound imitation and speech
* 4.3.2 Cooperation
* 5 Relationship with humans
* 5.1 Pets
* 5.2 Trade
* 5.3 Culture
* 5.4 Feral populations
* 5.5 Threats and conservation
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Cited sources
* 9 External links
ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION
Fossil dentary specimen
UCMP 143274 restored as a parrot (left)
or an oviraptorosaur
Psittaciform diversity in
South America and
Australasia suggests that
the order may have evolved in
Gondwana , centred in Australasia. The
scarcity of parrots in the fossil record, however, presents
difficulties in confirming the hypothesis, and there is currently a
higher amount of fossil remains from the northern hemisphere in the
early Cenozoic. Molecular studies suggest that parrots evolved
approximately 59 million years ago (Mya) (range 66–51 Mya) in
Gondwana. The three major clades of Neotropical parrots originated
about 50 Mya (range 57–41 Mya). The carnivorous stem-parrot
A single 15 mm (0.6 in) fragment from a large lower bill (UCMP
143274), found in deposits from the
Lance Creek Formation in Niobrara
Wyoming , had been thought to be the oldest parrot fossil and
is presumed to have originated from the
Late Cretaceous period, which
makes it about 70 million years old. However, other studies suggest
that this fossil is not from a bird, but from a caenagnathid
oviraptorosaur (a non-avian dinosaur with a birdlike beak), as several
details of the fossil used to support its identity as a parrot are not
actually exclusive to parrots, and it is dissimilar to the
earliest-known unequivocal parrot fossils. Likewise, the earliest
parrots do not have the specialised crushing bills of modern species.
It is now generally assumed that the Psittaciformes, or their common
ancestors with several related bird orders, were present somewhere in
the world around the Cretaceous–
Paleogene extinction event (K-Pg
extinction), some 66 Mya. If so, they probably had not evolved their
morphological autapomorphies yet, but were generalised arboreal birds.
The combined evidence supported the hypothesis of Psittaciformes being
"near passerines ", i.e. the mostly land-living birds that emerged in
close proximity to the K-Pg extinction. Analysis of transposable
element insertions observed in the genomes of passerines and parrots,
but not in the genomes of other birds, provides strong evidence that
parrots are the sister group of passerines, forming a clade
Psittacopasserae , to the exclusion of the next closest group, the
Europe is the origin of the first undeniable parrot fossils, which
date from about 50 Mya. The climate there and then was tropical,
consistent with the Paleocene-
Eocene thermal maximum . Initially, a
Mopsitta tanta , uncovered in Denmark's Early Eocene
Fur Formation and dated to 54 Mya, was assigned to the Psittaciformes;
it was described from a single humerus . However, the rather
nondescript bone is not unequivocally psittaciform, and more recently
it was pointed out that it may rather belong to a newly discovered
ibis of the genus
Rhynchaeites , whose fossil legs were found in the
same deposits. Fossil skull of a presumed parrot relative from
Green River Formation in
Fossils assignable to Psittaciformes (though not yet the present-day
parrots) date from slightly later in the
Eocene , starting around 50
Mya. Several fairly complete skeletons of parrot-like birds have been
found in England and Germany. Some uncertainty remains, but on the
whole it seems more likely that these are not direct ancestors of the
modern parrots, but related lineages that evolved in the Northern
Hemisphere and have since died out. These are probably not "missing
links " between ancestral and modern parrots, but rather psittaciform
lineages that evolved parallel to true parrots and cockatoos and had
their own peculiar autapomorphies :
The earliest records of modern parrots date to about 23–20 Mya.
The fossil record—mainly from Europe—consists of bones clearly
recognisable as belonging to parrots of modern type. The Southern
Hemisphere does not have nearly as rich a fossil record for the period
of interest as the Northern, and contains no known parrot-like remains
earlier than the early to middle
Miocene , around 20 Mya. At this
point, however, is found the first unambiguous parrot fossil (as
opposed to a parrot-like one), an upper jaw that is indistinguishable
from that of modern cockatoos .
Phylogenetic relationship between the three parrot superfamilies
The Psittaciformes comprise three main lineages:
Cacatuoidea . The
Strigopoidea were considered part
of the Psittacoidea, but recent studies place this group of New
Zealand species at the base of the parrot tree next to the remaining
members of the Psittacoidea, as well as all members of the
Cacatuoidea are quite distinct, having a movable
head crest, a different arrangement of the carotid arteries, a gall
bladder , differences in the skull bones, and lack the Dyck texture
feathers that—in the Psittacidae—scatter light to produce the
vibrant colours of so many parrots. Colourful feathers with high
levels of psittacofulvin resist the feather-degrading bacterium
Bacillus licheniformis better than white ones. Lorikeets were
previously regarded as a third family, Loriidae, :45 but are now
considered a tribe (
Loriini ) within the subfamily
Lorinae , family
Psittaculidae. The two other tribes in the subfamily are the closely
related fig parrots (two genera in the tribe
Cyclopsittini ) and
budgerigar (tribe Melopsittacini).
Lories and Lorikeets
Phylogenetic relations between parrots
List of parrots
The order Psittaciformes consists of roughly 393 species belonging to
92 genera. The following classification is based on the most recent
proposal as of 2012. Skeleton of a parrot
SUPERFAMILY STRIGOPOIDEA :
New Zealand parrots
Nestoridae : two genera with two living (kea and New
Zealand kaka ) and several extinct species of the
New Zealand region
Strigopidae : the flightless, critically endangered kakapo
of New Zealand
SUPERFAMILY CACATUOIDEA : cockatoos
* Family Cacatuidae
* Subfamily Nymphicinae : one genus with one species, the cockatiel
* Subfamily Calyptorhynchinae : the black cockatoos
* Tribe Microglossini : one genus with one species, the black palm
Cacatuini : four genera of white, pink, and grey species
SUPERFAMILY PSITTACOIDEA : true parrots
Psittacinae : two African genera,
* Tribe Arini : 18 genera
Androglossini : seven genera.
* Subfamily Psittrichasinae : one species, Pesquet\'s parrot
* Subfamily Coracopsinae : one genus with several species.
Pezoporini : ground parrots and allies
* Tribe Platycercini : broad-tailed parrots
* Subfamily Psittacellinae : one genus (
Psittacella ) with several
Loriini : lories and lorikeets
* Tribe Melopsittacini : one genus with one species, the budgerigar
Cyclopsittini : fig parrots
Agapornithinae : three genera
Polytelini : three genera
Psittaculini : Asian psittacines
* Tribe Micropsittini : pygmy parrots
Glossy black cockatoo
Glossy black cockatoo showing the parrot's strong bill, clawed
feet, and sideways-positioned eyes
Extant species range in size from the buff-faced pygmy parrot , at
under 10 g (0.4 oz) in weight and 8 cm (3.1 in) in length, :149 to the
hyacinth macaw , at 1 m (3.3 ft) in length, and the kakapo , at 4.0
kg (8.8 lb) in weight. Among the superfamilies, the three extant
Strigopoidea species are all large parrots, and the cockatoos tend to
be large birds, as well. The
Psittacoidea parrots are far more
variable, ranging the full spectrum of sizes shown by the family.
The most obvious physical characteristic is the strong, curved, broad
bill. The upper mandible is prominent, curves downward, and comes to a
point. It is not fused to the skull, which allows it to move
independently, and contributes to the tremendous biting pressure the
birds are able to exert. A large macaw, for example, has a bite force
of 35 kg/cm2 (500 lb/sq in), close to that of a large dog. The lower
mandible is shorter, with a sharp, upward-facing cutting edge, which
moves against the flat portion of the upper mandible in an anvil-like
fashion. Touch receptors occur along the inner edges of the
kerantinised bill, which are collectively known as the "bill tip organ
", allowing for highly dexterous manipulations. Seed-eating parrots
have a strong tongue (containing similar touch receptors to those in
the bill tip organ), which helps to manipulate seeds or position nuts
in the bill so that the mandibles can apply an appropriate cracking
force. The head is large, with eyes positioned high and laterally in
the skull, so the visual field of parrots is unlike any other birds.
Without turning its head, a parrot can see from just below its bill
tip, all above its head, and quite far behind its head. Parrots also
have quite a wide frontal binocular field for a bird, although this is
nowhere near as large as primate binocular visual fields.
Parrots have strong zygodactyl feet with sharp, elongated claws,
which are used for climbing and swinging. Most species are capable of
using their feet to manipulate food and other objects with a high
degree of dexterity, in a similar manner to a human using their hands.
A study conducted with Australian parrots has demonstrated that they
exhibit "handedness ", a distinct preference with regards to the foot
used to pick up food, with adult parrots being almost exclusively
"left-footed" or "right-footed", and with the prevalence of each
preference within the population varying by species.
Cockatoo species have a mobile crest of feathers on the top of their
heads, which they can raise for display, and retract. No other
parrots can do so, but the Pacific lorikeets in the genera
Phigys can ruffle the feathers of the crown and nape, and the red-fan
parrot (or hawk-headed parrot) has a prominent feather neck frill that
it can raise and lower at will. The predominant colour of plumage in
parrots is green, though most species have some red or another colour
in small quantities.
Cockatoos are the main exception to this, having
lost the green and blue plumage colours in their evolutionary history;
they are now predominately black or white with some red, pink, or
yellow. Strong sexual dimorphism in plumage is not typical among
parrots, with some notable exceptions, the most striking being the
eclectus parrot . :202–207 However it has been shown that some
parrot species exhibit sexually dimorphic plumage in the ultraviolet
spectrum, normally invisible to humans.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
Most parrot species are tropical, but a few species, like this
austral parakeet , range deeply into temperate zones. See also: List
of Psittaciformes by population
Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents and
South Asia , Southeast Asia
Central America ,
South America , and
Africa . Some Caribbean and
Pacific islands are home to endemic species . By far the greatest
number of parrot species come from
Australasia and South America. The
lories and lorikeets range from
Sulawesi and the
Philippines in the
Australia and across the Pacific as far as
French Polynesia ,
with the greatest diversity being found in and around
New Guinea .
Arinae encompasses all the neotropical parrots,
including the amazons, macaws, and conures, and ranges from northern
Mexico and the
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego in the southern tip of
South America. The pygmy parrots, tribe Micropsittini , form a small
genus restricted to
New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The
Strigopoidea contains three living species of aberrant
parrots from New Zealand. The broad-tailed parrots, subfamily
Platycercinae , are restricted to Australia, New Zealand, and the
Pacific islands as far eastwards as
Fiji . The true parrot
superfamily, Psittacoidea, includes a range of species from Australia
New Guinea to
South Asia and Africa. The centre of cockatoo
Australia and New Guinea, although some species reach
Solomon Islands (and one formerly occurred in
New Caledonia ),
Wallacea and the Philippines.
Several parrots inhabit the cool, temperate regions of South America
New Zealand . One, the
Carolina parakeet , lived in temperate
North America, but was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.
Many parrots have been introduced to areas with temperate climates,
and have established stable populations in parts of the United States
New York City
New York City ), the
United Kingdom ,
Belgium and Spain
, as well as in
Few parrots are wholly sedentary or fully migratory . Most fall
somewhere between the two extremes, making poorly understood regional
movements, with some adopting an entirely nomadic lifestyle. Only
three species are migratory – the orange-bellied, blue-winged and
swift parrots .
Numerous challenges are found in studying wild parrots, as they are
difficult to catch and once caught, they are difficult to mark. Most
wild bird studies rely on banding or wing tagging, but parrots chew
off such attachments. Parrots also tend to range widely, and
consequently many gaps occur in knowledge of their behaviour. Some
parrots have a strong, direct flight. Most species spend much of their
time perched or climbing in tree canopies . They often use their bills
for climbing by gripping or hooking on branches and other supports. On
the ground, parrots often walk with a rolling gait.
Play media A yellow-tailed black cockatoo using its strong bill
to search for grubs A white-eyed parakeet couple eating queen
palm seeds ; parrots have curved and strong beaks that can break very
The diet of parrots consists of seeds , fruit , nectar , pollen ,
buds , and sometimes arthropods and other animal prey. The most
important of these for most true parrots and cockatoos are seeds; the
evolution of the large and powerful bill can be explained primarily as
an adaptation to opening and consuming seeds. All true parrots except
the Pesquet\'s parrot employ the same method to obtain the seed from
the husk; the seed is held between the mandibles and the lower
mandible crushes the husk, whereupon the seed is rotated in the bill
and the remaining husk is removed. A foot is sometimes used to help
hold large seeds in place. Parrots are seed predators rather than seed
dispersers , and in many cases where species are recorded as consuming
fruit , they are only eating the fruit to get at the seed. As seeds
often have poisons that protect them, parrots carefully remove seed
coats and other chemically defended fruit parts prior to ingestion.
Many species in the Americas, Africa, and Papua
New Guinea consume
clay , which releases minerals and absorbs toxic compounds from the
gut. Chestnut-fronted macaws , Yellow-crowned amazons , and
Dusky-headed parakeets at a clay lick in Ecuador
The lories and lorikeets, hanging parrots , and swift parrot are
primarily nectar and pollen consumers, and have tongues with brush
tips to collect this source of food, as well as some specialised gut
adaptations to accommodate this diet. Many other species also consume
nectar when it becomes available.
In addition to feeding on seeds and flowers, some parrot species prey
on animals, especially invertebrate larvae. Golden-winged parakeets
prey on water snails , the kea of
New Zealand hunts adult sheep
(though uncommon), and the
Antipodes parakeet , another New Zealand
parrot, enters the burrows of nesting grey-backed storm petrels and
kills the incubating adults. Some cockatoos and the kākā excavate
branches and wood to obtain grubs ; the bulk of the yellow-tailed
black cockatoo 's diet is made up of insects.
Some extinct parrots had carnivorous diets. Pseudasturids were
probably cuckoo or puffbird -like insectivores, while messelasturids
were raptor -like carnivores.
With few exceptions, parrots are monogamous breeders who nest in
cavities and hold no territories other than their nesting sites. The
pair bonds of the parrots and cockatoos are strong and a pair remains
close during the nonbreeding season, even if they join larger flocks.
As with many birds, pair bond formation is preceded by courtship
displays; these are relatively simple in the case of cockatoos. In
Psittacidae parrots' common breeding displays, usually undertaken by
the male, include slow, deliberate steps known as a "parade" or
"stately walk" and the "eye-blaze", where the pupil of the eye
constricts to reveal the edge of the iris.
Allopreening is used by
the pair to help maintain the bond. Cooperative breeding , where birds
other than the breeding pair help raise the young and is common in
some bird families, is extremely rare in parrots, and has only
unambiguously been demonstrated in the
El Oro parakeet and the golden
parakeet (which may also exhibit polygamous , or group breeding,
behaviour with multiple females contributing to the clutch). The
vast majority of parrots are, like this feral rose-ringed parakeet ,
Only the monk parakeet and five species of lovebirds build nests in
trees, and three Australian and
New Zealand ground parrots nest on
the ground. All other parrots and cockatoos nest in cavities, either
tree hollows or cavities dug into cliffs, banks, or the ground. The
use of holes in cliffs is more common in the Americas. Many species
use termite nests, possibly to reduce the conspicuousness of the
nesting site or to create a favourable microclimate . In most cases,
both parents participate in the nest excavation. The length of the
burrow varies with species, but is usually between 0.5 and 2 m (1.6
and 6.6 ft) in length. The nests of cockatoos are often lined with
sticks, wood chips, and other plant material. In the larger species of
parrots and cockatoos, the availability of nesting hollows may be
limited, leading to intense competition for them both within the
species and between species, as well as with other bird families. The
intensity of this competition can limit breeding success in some
cases. Hollows created artificially by arborists have proven
successful in boosting breeding rates in these areas. Some species
are colonial , with the burrowing parrot nesting in colonies up to
70,000 strong. Coloniality is not as common in parrots as might be
expected, possibly because most species adopt old cavities rather than
excavate their own.
The eggs of parrots are white. In most species, the female undertakes
all the incubation , although incubation is shared in cockatoos, the
blue lorikeet , and the vernal hanging parrot . The female remains in
the nest for almost all of the incubation period and is fed both by
the male and during short breaks. Incubation varies from 17 to 35
days, with larger species having longer incubation periods. The newly
born young are altricial , either lacking feathers or with sparse
white down . The young spend three weeks to four months in the nest,
depending on species, and may receive parental care for several months
As typical of K-selected species, the macaws and other larger parrot
species have low reproductive rates. They require several years to
reach maturity, produce one or very few young per year, and do not
necessarily breed every year. :125
INTELLIGENCE AND LEARNING
Sun conure demonstrating parrots' puzzle-solving skills
Studies with captive birds have given insight into which birds are
the most intelligent. While parrots are able to mimic human speech,
studies with the
African grey parrot
African grey parrot have shown that some are able to
associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences. Along
with crows , ravens , and jays (family
Corvidae ), parrots are
considered the most intelligent of birds. The brain-to body size ratio
of psittacines and corvines is comparable to that of higher primates.
One argument against the supposed intelligent capabilities of bird
species is that birds have a relatively small cerebral cortex , which
is the part of the brain considered the main area of intelligence in
other animals. However, birds use a different part of the brain, the
mediorostral HVC as the seat of their intelligence. These species
tend to have the largest hyperstriata, and Harvey J. Karten, a
neuroscientist at the
University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Diego , who
studied bird physiology, has discovered that the lower part of the
avian brain is functionally similar to that in humans. Not only have
parrots demonstrated intelligence through scientific testing of their
language-using ability, but also some species of parrots such as the
kea are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles.
Learning in early life is apparently important to all parrots, and
much of that learning is social learning. Social interactions are
often practised with siblings, and in several species, creches are
formed with several broods, and these, too, are important for learning
social skills. Foraging behaviour is generally learnt from parents,
and can be a very protracted affair. Suprageneralists and specialists
generally become independent of their parents much quicker than partly
specialised species who may have to learn skills over long periods as
various resources become seasonally available. Play forms a large part
of learning in parrots; it can be solitary, and related to motor
skills, or social.
Species may engage in play fights or wild flights
to practice predator evasion. An absence of stimuli can delay the
development of young birds, as demonstrated by a group of vasa parrots
kept in tiny cages with domesticated chickens from the age of 3
months; at 9 months, these birds still behaved in the same way as
3-month-olds, but had adopted some chicken behaviour. In a similar
fashion, captive birds in zoo collections or pets can, if deprived of
stimuli, develop stereotyped behaviours and harmful behaviours like
self plucking. Aviculturists working with parrots have identified the
need for environmental enrichment to keep parrots stimulated.
Sound Imitation And Speech
Talking bird See also:
Animal language Play media
Video of an orange-winged amazon saying "hello" having been prompted
by some humans
Many parrots can imitate human speech or other sounds. A study by
Irene Pepperberg suggested a high learning ability in an African grey
parrot named Alex . Alex was trained to use words to identify objects,
describe them, count them, and even answer complex questions such as
"How many red squares?" with over 80% accuracy. N\'kisi , another
African grey, has been shown to have a vocabulary around a thousand
words, and has displayed an ability to invent, as well as use words in
context and in the correct tense.
Parrots do not have vocal cords, so sound is accomplished by
expelling air across the mouth of the bifurcated trachea, in the organ
called the syrinx . Different sounds are produced by changing the
depth and shape of the trachea. African grey parrots of all
subspecies are known for their superior ability to imitate sounds and
human speech. This ability has made them prized as pets from ancient
times to the present. In the
Masnavi , written by Rumi of
1250, the author describes an ancient method for training parrots to
Although most parrot species are able to imitate, some of the amazon
parrots are generally regarded as the next-best imitators and speakers
of the parrot world. The question of why birds imitate remains open,
but those that do often score very high on tests designed to measure
problem-solving ability. Wild African grey parrots have been observed
imitating other birds.
Animal Cognition stated that some birds preferred to work
alone, while others like to work together as with African grey
parrots. With two parrots, they know the order of tasks or when they
should do something together at once, but they have trouble exchanging
roles. With three parrots, one parrot usually prefers to cooperate
with one of the other two, but all of them are cooperating to solve
RELATIONSHIP WITH HUMANS
Pet Cuban amazons in Cuba
Parrots may not make good pets for most people because of their
natural wild instincts such as screaming and chewing. Although parrots
can be very affectionate and cute when immature, they often become
aggressive when mature (partly due to mishandling and poor training)
and may bite, causing serious injury. For this reason, parrot rescue
groups estimate that most parrots are surrendered and rehomed through
at least five homes before reaching their permanent destinations or
before dying prematurely from unintentional or intentional neglect and
abuse. The parrots' ability to mimic human words and their bright
colours and beauty prompt impulse buying from unsuspecting consumers.
The domesticated budgerigar, a small parrot, is the most popular of
all pet bird species. In 1992, the newspaper
USA Today published that
11 million pet birds were in the
United States alone, many of them
parrots. Europeans kept birds matching the description of the
rose-ringed parakeet (or called the ring-necked parrot), documented
particularly in a first-century account by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder . As they
have been prized for thousands of years for their beauty and ability
to talk, they have also often been misunderstood. For example, author
Wolfgang de Grahl says in his 1987 book The Grey
Parrot that some
importers had parrots drink only coffee while they were shipped by
boat, believing that pure water was detrimental and that their actions
would increase survival rates during shipping. Nowadays, it is
commonly accepted that the caffeine in coffee is toxic to birds.
Pet parrots may be kept in a cage or aviary ; though generally, tame
parrots should be allowed out regularly on a stand or gym. Depending
on locality, parrots may be either wild-caught or be captive-bred,
though in most areas without native parrots, pet parrots are
Parrot species that are commonly kept as pets include
conures , macaws , amazon parrots, cockatoos , African greys,
lovebirds , cockatiels , budgerigars , caiques , parakeets , and
Pionus , and
Poicephalus species. Temperaments and
personalities vary even within a species, just as with dog breeds.
African grey parrots are thought to be excellent talkers, but not all
African grey parrots want to talk, though they have the capability to
do so. Noise level, talking ability, cuddliness with people, and care
needs can sometimes depend on how the bird is cared for and the
attention he/she regularly receives.
Scarlet macaw riding a
tricycle at a show in
Parrots invariably require an enormous amount of attention, care, and
intellectual stimulation to thrive, akin to that required by a
three-year-old child, which many people find themselves unable to
provide in the long term. Parrots that are bred for pets may be hand
fed or otherwise accustomed to interacting with people from a young
age to help ensure they become tame and trusting. However, even when
hand fed, parrots revert to biting and aggression during hormonal
surges and if mishandled or neglected. Parrots are not
low-maintenance pets; they require feeding, grooming, veterinary care,
training, environmental enrichment through the provision of toys,
exercise, and social interaction (with other parrots or humans) for
Some large parrot species, including large cockatoos, amazons, and
macaws, have very long lifespans, with 80 years being reported, and
record ages of over 100. Small parrots, such as lovebirds, hanging
parrots, and budgies, have shorter lifespans up to 15–20 years.
Some parrot species can be quite loud, and many of the larger parrots
can be destructive and require a very large cage, and a regular supply
of new toys, branches, or other items to chew up. The intelligence of
parrots means they are quick to learn tricks and other
behaviours—both good and bad—that get them what they want, such as
attention or treats.
The popularity, longevity, and intelligence of many of the larger
kinds of pet parrots and their wild traits such as screaming, has led
to many birds needing to be rehomed during the course of their long
lifespans. A common problem is that large parrots that are cuddly and
gentle as juveniles mature into intelligent, complex, often demanding
adults who can outlive their owners, and can also become aggressive or
even dangerous. Due to an increasing number of homeless parrots, they
are being euthanised like dogs and cats, and parrot adoption centres
and sanctuaries are becoming more common. :77–78 Parrots do not
often do well in captivity, causing some parrots to go insane and
develop repetitive behaviours, such as swaying and screaming, or they
become riddled with intense fear.
Feather destruction and
self-mutilation, although not commonly seen in the wild, occur
frequently in captivity.
Ten thousand hyacinth macaws were taken from the wild for the
pet trade in the 1980s. As a result, Brazil now has only a very small
number of breeding pairs left in the wild. Main article:
International parrot trade
The popularity of parrots as pets has led to a thriving—and often
illegal—trade in the birds, and some species are now threatened with
extinction. A combination of trapping of wild birds and damage to
parrot habitats makes survival difficult or even impossible for some
species of parrot. Importation of wild-caught parrots into the US and
Europe is illegal after the Wild
Bird Population Act was passed in
The trade continues unabated in some countries. A report published in
January 2007 presents a clear picture of the wild-caught parrot trade
in Mexico, stating: "The majority of parrots captured in
in the country for the domestic trade. A small percentage of this
capture, 4% to 14%, is smuggled into the USA."
The scale of the problem can be seen in the
Tony Silva case of 1996,
in which a parrot expert and former director at
Tenerife 's Loro
Parque (Europe's largest parrot park) was jailed in the United States
for 82 months and fined $100,000 for smuggling hyacinth macaws (Such
birds command a very high price.) The case led to calls for greater
protection and control over trade in the birds. Different nations have
different methods of handling internal and international trade.
Australia has banned the export of its native birds since 1960.
Following years of campaigning by hundreds of NGOs and outbreaks of
avian flu, in July 2007, the
European Union halted the importation of
all wild birds with a permanent ban on their import. Prior to an
earlier temporary ban started in late October 2005, the European Union
(EU) was importing about two million live birds a year, about 90% of
the international market: hundreds of thousands of these were parrots.
No national laws protect feral parrot populations in the U.S. Mexico
has a licensing system for capturing and selling native birds.
Moche parrot, 200 AD
Larco Museum Collection Lima,
Parrots have featured in human writings, story, art, humor, religion,
and music for thousands of years. From Aesop\'s fable "The parrot and
the cat" and the Roman poet Ovid's "The Dead Parrot" to Monty Python
Dead Parrot sketch ", parrots have existed in the consciousness
of many cultures. Recent books about parrots in human culture include
In ancient times and current, parrot feathers have been used in
ceremonies and for decoration. They also have a long history as pets,
stretching back thousands of years, and were often kept as a symbol of
royalty or wealth. In Polynesian legend as current in the Marquesas
Islands , the hero
Laka /Aka is mentioned as having undertaken a long
and dangerous voyage to Aotona in what are now the
Cook Islands , to
obtain the highly prized feathers of a red parrot as gifts for his son
and daughter. On the voyage, 100 of his 140 rowers died of hunger on
their way, but the survivors reached Aotona and captured enough
parrots to fill 140 bags with their feathers. Parrots have also been
considered sacred. The Moche people of ancient
Peru worshipped birds
and often depicted parrots in their art. Parrots are popular in
Buddhist scripture and many writings about them exist. For example,
Amitābha once changed himself into a parrot to aid in converting
people. Another old story tells how after a forest caught fire, the
parrot was so concerned, it carried water to try to put out the
flames. The ruler of heaven was so moved upon seeing the parrot's act,
he sent rain to put out the fire. In Chinese
Buddhist iconography, a
parrot is sometimes depicted hovering on the upper right side Guan Yin
clasping a pearl or prayer beads in its beak.
Parrots are used as symbols of nations and nationalism. A parrot is
found on the flag of Dominica and two parrots on their coat of arms .
St. Vincent parrot is the national bird of St. Vincent and the
Grenadines , a Caribbean nation.
Sayings about parrots colour the modern English language. The verb
"parrot" in the dictionary means "to repeat by rote". Also clichés
such as the British expression "sick as a parrot" are given; although
this refers to extreme disappointment rather than illness, it may
originate from the disease of psittacosis , which can be passed to
humans. The first occurrence of a related expression is in Aphra
Behn 's 1681 play The False Count. Fans of
Jimmy Buffett are known as
parrotheads . Parrots feature in many media. Magazines are devoted to
parrots as pets, and to the conservation of parrots. Fictional films
Home Alone 3 and Rio , and documentaries include The Wild
Parrots of Telegraph Hill .
Feral red-masked parakeets in San Francisco Main article:
Escaped parrots of several species have become established in the
wild outside their natural ranges and in some cases outside the
natural range of parrots. Among the earliest instances were pet red
shining-parrots from Fiji, which established a population on the
islands of southern
Tonga . These introductions were prehistoric and
red-shining parrots were recorded in
Captain Cook in the
1770s. Escapees first began breeding in cities in
California , Texas
Florida in the 1950s (with unproven earlier claims dating back
to the 1920s in
Texas and Florida). They have proved surprisingly
hardy in adapting to conditions in
Europe and North America. They
sometimes even multiply to the point of becoming a nuisance or pest,
and a threat to local ecosystems, and control measures have been used
on some feral populations.
Feral parrot flocks can be formed after mass escapes of newly
imported, wild-caught parrots from airports or quarantine facilities.
Large groups of escapees have the protection of a flock and possess
the skills to survive and breed in the wild. Some feral parakeets may
have descended from escaped zoo birds. Escaped or released pets rarely
contribute to establishing feral populations. Escapes typically
involve only one or a few birds at a time, so the birds do not have
the protection of a flock and often do not have a mate. Most
captive-born birds do not possess the necessary survival skills to
find food or avoid predators and often do not survive long without
human caretakers. However, in areas where there are existing feral
parrot populations, escaped pets may sometimes successfully join these
flocks. The most common era or years that feral parrots were
released to non-native environments was from the 1890s to the 1940s,
during the wild-caught parrot era. In the psittacosis "parrot fever"
panic of 1930, a city health commissioner urged everyone who owned a
parrot to put them down, but owners abandoned their parrots on the
THREATS AND CONSERVATION
Norfolk kaka went extinct in the mid-1800s due to
overhunting and habitat loss. A mounted specimen of the
Carolina parakeet , which was hunted to extinction
Deforestation pushed the
Puerto Rican amazon to the brink of
extinction, still remaining among the world's rarest birds despite
Many parrot species are in decline and several are extinct . Of the
350 or so living species, 130 are listed as near threatened or worse
International Union for Conservation of Nature
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and 16
of which are currently considered critically endangered . Several
reasons are given for the decline of so many species, the principal
threats being habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and for certain
species, the wild-bird trade. Parrots are persecuted because, in some
areas, they are (or have been) hunted for food and feathers, and as
agricultural pests . For a time, Argentina offered a bounty on Monk
parakeets (an agricultural pest), resulting in hundreds of thousands
of birds being killed, though apparently this did not greatly affect
the overall population.
Capture for the pet trade is a threat to many of the rarer or
Habitat loss or degradation, most often for
agriculture, is a threat to many species. Parrots, being cavity
nesters, are vulnerable to the loss of nesting sites and to
competition with introduced species for those sites. The loss of old
trees is a particular problem in some areas, particularly in
Australia, where suitable nesting trees must be centuries old. Many
parrots occur only on islands and are vulnerable to introduced species
such as rats and cats , as they lack the appropriate antipredator
behaviours needed to deal with mammalian predators. Controlling such
predators can help in maintaining or increasing the numbers of
endangered species. Insular species, such as the Puerto Rican amazon
, which have small populations in restricted habitats, are also
vulnerable to (unpredictable) natural events such as hurricanes.
Many active conservation groups have as their goal the conservation
of wild parrot populations. One of the largest is the World Parrot
Trust , an international organisation. The group gives assistance to
worthwhile projects, as well as producing a magazine (PsittaScene)
and raising funds through donations and memberships, often from pet
parrot owners. They state they have helped conservation work in 22
countries. On a smaller scale, local parrot clubs raise money to
donate to a conservation cause. Zoo and wildlife centres usually
provide public education, to change habits that cause damage to wild
populations. Recent conservation measures to conserve the habitats of
some of the high-profile charismatic parrot species has also protected
many of the less charismatic species living in the ecosystem. :12 A
popular attraction that many zoos employ is a feeding station for
lories and lorikeets, where visitors feed small parrots with cups of
liquid food. This is usually done in association with educational
signs and lectures.
Birdwatching -based ecotourism can be beneficial
Several projects aimed specifically at parrot conservation have met
with success. Translocation of vulnerable kakapo, followed by
intensive management and supplementary feeding, has increased the
population from 50 individuals to 123. In New Caledonia, the Ouvea
parakeet was threatened by trapping for the pet trade and loss of
habitat. Community-based conservation, which eliminated the threat of
poaching, has allowed the population to increase from around 600 birds
in 1993 to over 2000 birds in 2009.
As of 2009, the IUCN recognises 19 species of parrot as extinct since
1600 (the date used to denote modern extinctions). This does not
include species like the
New Caledonian lorikeet
New Caledonian lorikeet , which has not been
officially seen for 100 years, yet is still listed as critically
Trade, export, and import of all wild-caught parrots is regulated and
only permitted under special licensed circumstances in countries party
to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered
that came into force in 1975 to regulate the international trade of
all endangered wild-caught animal and plant species. In 1975, 24
parrot species were included on Appendix I of CITES, thus prohibiting
commercial international trade in these birds. Since that initial
listing, continuing threats from international trade led
CITES to add
an additional 32 parrot varieties to Appendix I. All the other parrot
species are protected on Appendix II of CITES. In addition,
individual countries may have laws to regulate trade in certain
species; for example, the EU has banned parrot trade, whereas Mexico
has a licensing system for capturing parrots.
* Birds portal
List of parrots
* Parrots of
* Parrots of
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