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Title: Parrot  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Bird, Parrots, Birdcage, Carolina parakeet, Lilian's lovebird
Collection: Articles Containing Video Clips, Parrots, Psittaciformes, Ypresian First Appearances
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Temporal range: Eocene - Holocene,[1] 54–0Ma
Blue-and-yellow macaw (Ara ararauna)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Psittacopasserae
Order: Psittaciformes
Wagler, 1830

Cacatuoidea (cockatoos)
Psittacoidea (true parrots)
Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots)

Range of parrots, all species (red)

Parrots, also known as psittacines ,[2][3] are birds of the roughly 372 species in 86 genera that make up the order Psittaciformes,[4] found in most tropical and subtropical regions. The order is subdivided into three superfamilies: the Psittacoidea ("true" parrots), the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos) and the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots).[5] 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 America and Australasia.

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. 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. 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.[6] 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.[7]


  • Taxonomy 1
    • Origins and evolution 1.1
    • Phylogeny 1.2
    • Systematics 1.3
    • Other lists 1.4
  • Morphology 2
  • Distribution and habitat 3
  • Behaviour 4
    • Diet 4.1
    • Breeding 4.2
    • Intelligence and learning 4.3
      • Sound imitation and speech 4.3.1
      • Cooperation 4.3.2
  • Relationship with humans 5
    • Pets 5.1
    • Zoos 5.2
    • Trade 5.3
    • Culture 5.4
    • Feral populations 5.5
    • Threats and conservation 5.6
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Notes 7.1
    • Cited texts 7.2
  • External links 8


Origins and evolution

Blue-and-yellow macaw eating a walnut held in its foot

Psittaciform diversity in South America and Australasia suggests that the order may have evolved in Gondwanaland, centred in Australasia.[8] The scarcity of parrots in the fossil record, however, presents difficulties in confirming the hypothesis.

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 County, 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 Ma (million years ago).[9] Other studies suggest that this fossil is not from a bird, but from a caenagnathid theropod or a non-avian dinosaur with a birdlike beak.[10][11]

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 Ma. If so, they probably had not evolved their morphological autapomorphies yet, but were generalised arboreal birds, roughly similar (though not necessarily closely related) to today's potoos or frogmouths (see also Palaeopsittacus below). Though these birds (Cypselomorphae) are a phylogenetically challenging group, they seem at least closer to the parrot ancestors than, for example, the modern aquatic birds (Aequornithes). 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. Indeed, 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 falcons.[12]

Europe is the origin of the first undeniable parrot fossils, which date from about 50 Ma. The climate there and then was tropical, consistent with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Initially, a neoavian named Mopsitta tanta, uncovered in Denmark's Early Eocene Fur Formation and dated to 54 Ma, was assigned to the Psittaciformes; it was described from a single humerus.[13] 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.

The feathers of a yellow-headed amazon. The blue component of the green colouration is due to light scattering while the yellow is due to pigment.

Fossils assignable to Psittaciformes (though not yet the present-day parrots) date from slightly later in the Eocene, starting around 50 Ma. Several fairly complete skeletons of parrot-like birds have been found in England and Germany.[14] Some uncertainty remains, but on the whole it seems more likely that these are not direct ancestors of the modern parrots, but related lineages which 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 Ma and are also from Europe. Subsequently, the fossil record—again 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 Ma. At this point, however, is found the first unambiguous parrot fossil (as opposed to a parrot-like one), an upper jaw which is indistinguishable from that of modern cockatoos. A few modern genera are tentatively dated to a Miocene origin, but their unequivocal record stretches back only some 5 million years (see genus articles for more).

Fossil skull of a presumed parrot relative from the Eocene Green River Formation in Wyoming.

The named fossil genera of parrots are probably all in the Psittacidae or close to its ancestry:

  • Archaeopsittacus (Late Oligocene/Early Miocene)
  • Xenopsitta (Early Miocene of Czechia)
  • Psittacidae gen. et spp. indet. (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)—several species
  • Bavaripsitta (Middle Miocene of Steinberg, Germany)
  • Psittacidae gen. et sp. indet. (Middle Miocene of France)—erroneously placed in Pararallus dispar, includes "Psittacus" lartetianus

Some Paleogene fossils are not unequivocally accepted to be of psittaciforms:

  • Palaeopsittacus (Early – Middle Eocene of NW Europe)—caprimulgiform (podargid) or quercypsittid
  • "Precursor" (Early Eocene)—part of this apparent chimera seems to be of a pseudasturid or psittacid
  • Pulchrapollia (Early Eocene)—includes "Primobucco" olsoni—psittaciform (pseudasturid or psittacid)

Molecular studies suggest that parrots evolved approximately 59 Ma (range 66–51 Ma) in Gondwanaland.[15] The three major clades of Neotropical parrots originated about 50 Ma (range 57–41 Ma).





  Other birds

Phylogenetic relationship between the three parrot superfamilies based on the available literature[8][16][17]

The Psittaciformes comprise three main lineages: Strigopoidea, Psittacoidea and 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.[8][16][17]

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 which, in the Psittacidae, scatters light in such a way as 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.[18]

Lorikeets were previously regarded as a third family, Loriidae,[19] but are now considered a tribe (Loriini) within the subfamily Lorinae. The two other tribes in the subfamily are the closely related fig parrots (two genera in the tribe Cyclopsittini) and budgerigar (tribe Melopsittacini).[8][16][17]


The following classification is based on the most recent proposal, which in turn is based on all the relevant recent findings.[5][8][16][20][21][22][23]

Skeleton of a parrot

Superfamily Strigopoidea: The New Zealand parrots.

Superfamily Cacatuoidea: Cockatoos

Superfamily Psittacoidea: true parrots.

Other lists


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, 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

  • Parrots, Macaws and Allies
  • Parrot videos on the Internet Bird Collection

External links

  • Cameron, Matt (2007). Cockatoos. Collingwood, VIC, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.  

Cited texts

  1. ^ Waterhouse, David M. (2006). "Parrots in a nutshell: The fossil record of Psittaciformes (Aves)". Historical Biology 18 (2): 223–234.  
  2. ^ "Psittacine". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  3. ^ "Psittacine". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  4. ^ "Zoological Nomenclature Resource: Psittaciformes (Version 9.013)". 2008-12-29. 
  5. ^ a b Joseph, Leo et al. (2012). "A revised nomenclature and classification for family-group taxa of parrots (Psittaciformes)". Zootaxa 3205: 26–40. 
  6. ^ Snyder, N; McGowan, P; Gilardi, J; & A Grajal (2000), Parrots: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, 2000–2004. Chapter 1. vii. IUCN ISBN 2-8317-0504-5. Chapter 1. vii.
  7. ^ a b Snyder, N; McGowan, P; Gilardi, J; & A Grajal (2000), Parrots: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, 2000–2004. Chapter 1. vii. IUCN ISBN 2-8317-0504-5. Chapter 2. page 12.
  8. ^ a b c d e Wright, T.F.; Schirtzinger E. E., Matsumoto T., Eberhard J. R., Graves G. R., Sanchez J. J., Capelli S., Muller H., Scharpegge J., Chambers G. K. & Fleischer R. C. (2008). "A Multilocus Molecular Phylogeny of the Parrots (Psittaciformes): Support for a Gondwanan Origin during the Cretaceous". Mol Biol Evol 25 (10): 2141–2156.  
  9. ^ Stidham, T. (1998). "A lower jaw from a Cretaceous parrot". Nature 396 (6706): 29–30.  
  10. ^ Dyke, GJ; Mayr, G. (1999). "Did parrots exist in the Cretaceous period?". Nature 399 (6734): 317–318.  
  11. ^ Waterhouse DM (2006). "Parrots in a nutshell: The fossil record of Psittaciformes (Aves)". Historical Biology 18 (2): 227.  
  12. ^ Suh A, Paus M, Kiefmann M, et al. (2011). "Mesozoic retroposons reveal parrots as the closest living relatives of passerine birds".  
  13. ^ Waterhouse, D.M.; Lindow, B.E.K.; Zelenkov, N.; Dyke, G.J. (2008). "Two new fossil parrots (Psittaciformes) from the Lower Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark". Palaeontology 51 (3): 575–582.  
  14. ^ Dyke, GJ; Cooper, JH (2000). "A new psittaciform bird from the London clay (Lower Eocene) of England". Palaeontology 43 (2): 271–285.  
  15. ^ Tavares ES, Baker AJ, Pereira SL, Miyaki CY (2006). "Phylogenetic relationships and historical biogeography of neotropical parrots (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae: Arini) inferred from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences". Syst Biol. 55 (3): 454–470.  
  16. ^ a b c d de Kloet, RS; de Kloet SR (2005). "The evolution of the spindlin gene in birds: Sequence analysis of an intron of the spindlin W and Z gene reveals four major divisions of the Psittaciformes". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36 (3): 706–721.  
  17. ^ a b c Tokita, M; Kiyoshi T and Armstrong KN (2007). "Evolution of craniofacial novelty in parrots through developmental modularity and heterochrony". Evolution & Development 9 (6): 590–601.  
  18. ^ Burtt, E. H.; Schroeder, M. R.; Smith, L. A.; Sroka, J. E.; McGraw, K. J. (2010). "Colourful parrot feathers resist bacterial degradation". Biology Letters 7 (2): 214–216.  
  19. ^ Forshaw, Joseph M.; Cooper, William T. (1978) [1973]. Parrots of the World (2nd ed.). Melbourne Australia: Landsdowne Editions. p. 45.  
  20. ^ White, Nicole E. et al. (2011). "The evolutionary history of cockatoos (Aves: Psittaciformes: Cacatuidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 59 (3): 615–622.  
  21. ^ Schweizer, Manuel; Seehausen, Ole and Hertwig, Stefan T. (2011). "Macroevolutionary patterns in the diversification of parrots: effects of climate change, geological events and key innovations". Journal of Biogeography 38 (11): 2176–2194.  
  22. ^ Joseph, Leo; Toon, Alicia; Schirtzinger, Erin E. and Wright, Timothy F. (2011). "Molecular systematics of two enigmatic genera Psittacella and Pezoporus illuminate the ecological radiation of Australo-Papuan parrots (Aves: Psittaciformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 59 (3): 675–684.  
  23. ^ Schweizer, M.; Seehausen O, Güntert M and Hertwig ST (2009). "The evolutionary diversification of parrots supports a taxon pulse model with multiple trans-oceanic dispersal events and local radiations". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 54 (3): 984–94.  
  24. ^ Demery, Zoe P.; Chappell, J.; Martin, G. R. (2011). "Vision, touch and object manipulation in Senegal parrots Poicephalus senegalus". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278 (1725): 3687–3693.  
  25. ^ Brennand, Emma (2011-02-02). "'"Parrots prefer 'left handedness.  
  26. ^ a b Steadman D, (2006). Extinction and Biogeography in Tropical Pacific Birds, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-77142-7 pp.342–351
  27. ^ Steve Baldwin. "about the Wild Parrots of Brooklyn". Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  28. ^ Coughlan, Sean (2004-07-06). "Wild parrots settle in suburbs". BBC News. 
  29. ^ "The Brussels Connection". Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  30. ^ a b Butler, C (2005). "Feral Parrots in the Continental United States and United Kingdom: Past, Present, and Future". Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery 19 (2): 142–149.  
  31. ^ Sol, Daniel; Santos, David M. ; Feria, Elías & Jordi Clavell (1997). "Habitat Selection by the Monk Parakeet during Colonization of a New Area in Spain". Condor 99 (1): 39–46.  
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  34. ^ a b c d e f Collar N (1997) "Family Psittacidae (Parrots)" in Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 4; Sandgrouse to Cuckoos (eds del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J.), Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
  35. ^ Diamond, J (1999). "Evolutionary biology: Dirty eating for healthy living". Nature 400 (6740): 120–121.  
  36. ^ Gartrell, B; Jones, S; Brereton, R; Astheimer, L (2000). "Morphological Adaptations to Nectarivory of the Alimentary Tract of the Swift Parrot Lathamus discolor". Emu 100 (4): 274–279.  
  37. ^ Kea – Mountain Parrot, NHNZ. (1 hour documentary)
  38. ^ Greene, Terry (November–December 1999). ) on Antipodes Island"C. novaezelandiae hochstetten) and Reischek's Parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor"Aspects of the ecology of Antipodes Parakeet ( (PDF). Notornis (Ornithological Society of New Zealand) 46 (2): 301–310. 
  39. ^ Cameron 2007, p. 114.
  40. ^ Rowley I (1997) "Family Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)" in Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 4; Sandgrouse to Cuckoos, del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J. (eds.) Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
  41. ^ Oren, David C.; Novaes, Fernando (1986). "Observations on the golden parakeet Aratinga guarouba in Northern Brazil". Biological Conservation 36 (4): 329–337.  
  42. ^ Eberhard, J (1998). parrots"Agapornis"Evolution of nest-building behavior in (PDF). Auk 115 (2): 455–464.  
  43. ^ Sanchez-Martinez, Tania; Katherine Renton (2009). "Availability and selection of arboreal termitaria as nest-sites by Orange-fronted Parakeets Aratinga canicularis in conserved and modified landscapes in Mexico". Ibis 151 (2): 311–320.  
  44. ^ Heinsohn, Robert; Murphy, Stephen & Legge, Sarah (2003). "Overlap and competition for nest holes among eclectus parrots, palm cockatoos and sulphur-crested cockatoos". Australian Journal of Zoology 51 (1): 81–94.  
  45. ^ Pell, A; Tidemann, C (1997). "The impact of two exotic hollow-nesting birds on two native parrots in savannah and woodland in eastern Australia". Biological Conservation 79 (2): 145–153.  
  46. ^ Masello, J; Pagnossin, M; Sommer, C; Quillfeldt, P (2006). "Population size, provisioning frequency, flock size and foraging range at the largest known colony of Psittaciformes: the Burrowing Parrots of the north-eastern Patagonian coastal cliffs".  
  47. ^ Eberhard, Jessica (2002). "Cavity adoption and the evolution of coloniality in cavity-nesting birds". Condor 104 (2): 240–247.  
  48. ^ Forshaw, Joseph (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 118–124.  
  49. ^ Iwaniuk, Andrew (2004-02-09). "This Bird Is No Airhead". Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  50. ^ Beynon, Mike (April 2000). "Who's a clever bird, then?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2007-09-01. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  51. ^ Cruickshank, A; Gautier, J & Chappuis, C (1993). "Vocal mimicry in wild African Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus". Ibis 135 (3): 293–299.  
  52. ^ Gill, Victoria (18 May 2011). Parrots choose to work together. BBC
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  54. ^ Warburton, L. S.; Perrin, M. R. (2006). "The Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) as an agricultural pest in Zambia".  
  55. ^ Christian, C; Potts, T; Burnett, G; Lacher, Jr (1999). "Parrot Conservation and Ecotourism in the Windward Islands". Journal of Biogeography 23 (3): 387–393.  
  56. ^ Ward, Sam (1992-12-21). "USA Snapshots: Most Popular Pets". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
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  61. ^ Lowther, Jason; Cook, Dee; Roberts, Martin (2002-08-05). Crime and Punishment in the Wildlife Trade (PDF). World Wildlife Federation. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  62. ^ Boehrer, Bruce (2004). Parrot Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.  
  63. ^ Craig, Robert D. (1989). Dictionary of Polynesian mythology. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 6.  
  64. ^ Handy, E.S.C. (1930) Marquesan Legends, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press: Honolulu, pp. 130–1
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  74. ^ Campbell, T. S. (December 2000). "The Monk Parakeet". The Institute for Biological Invasions. 
  75. ^ Moorhouse, Ron; Greene, Terry; Dilks, Peter; Powlesland, Ralph; Moran, Les; Taylor, Genevieve; Jones, Alan; Knegtmans, Jaap; Wills, Dave; Pryde, Moira; Fraser, Ian; August, Andrew; August, Claude (2002). "Control of introduced mammalian predators improves kaka Nestor meridionalis breeding success: reversing the decline of a threatened New Zealand parrot". Biological Conservation 110 (1): 33–44.  
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  78. ^ Kakapo Recovery Programme (2010). "Then and Now". Kakapo Recovery Programme. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  79. ^ Barré, Nicholas; Theuerkauf, Jörn; Verfaille, Ludovic; Primot, Pierre and Maurice Saoumoé (2010). "Exponential population increase in the endangered Ouvéa Parakeet (Eunymphicus uvaeensis) after community-based protection from nest poaching". Journal of Ornithology 151 (3): 695.  
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See also

Trade, export and import of all wild-caught parrots is regulated and only permitted under special licensed circumstances in countries party to CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, 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.[81] 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.

At present the IUCN recognises 19 species of parrot as extinct since 1600 (the date used to denote modern extinctions).[80] This does not include species like the New Caledonian lorikeet which has not been officially seen for 100 years yet is still listed as critically endangered.

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.[78] 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.[79]

, where visitors feed small parrots with cups of liquid food. This is usually done in association with educational signs and lectures. lories and lorikeets A popular attraction that many zoos employ is a feeding station for [7] 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.[77] There are many active conservation groups whose goal is the conservation of wild parrot populations. One of the largest is the

Capture for the pet trade is a threat to many of the rarer or slower to breed parrots. 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 trees suitable for nesting need to 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 anti-predator behaviours needed to deal with mammalian predators. Controlling such predators can help in maintaining or increasing the numbers of endangered species.[75] Insular species, which have small populations in restricted habitat, are also vulnerable to unpredictable events such as hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.

Many parrot species are in decline and several are 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.[74]

Deforestation pushed the Puerto Rican amazon to the brink of extinction, still remaining among the world's rarest birds despite conservation efforts.[72]
A mounted specimen of the Carolina parakeet, which was hunted to extinction

Threats and conservation

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 Tonga by Captain Cook in the 1770s.[26] Escapees first began breeding in cities in California, Texas and Florida in the 1950s (with unproven earlier claims dating back to the 1920s in Texas and Florida).[30] 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.[71]

Feral red-masked parakeets in San Francisco. The population is the subject of the book and film The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Feral populations

Sayings about parrots colour the modern English language. The verb "parroting" can be found in the dictionary, and means "to repeat by rote." There are also clichés such as the British expression "sick as a parrot"; although this refers to extreme disappointment rather than illness, it may originate from the disease of psittacosis which can be passed to humans.[68][69] The first occurrence of a related expression is in Aphra Behn's 1681 play The False Count.[70]

Parrots are popular in Buddhist scripture and there are many writings about them. For example, Amitābha once changed itself 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 and put out the flames. The ruler of heaven was so moved upon seeing the parrot's act, that 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. The St. Vincent parrot is the national bird of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean nation.

Parrots have also been considered sacred. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped birds and often depicted parrots in their art.[67]

Currently parrots feature in many media. There are magazines devoted to parrots as pets, and to the conservation of parrots.[66] Fictional films include Paulie and Rio, and documentaries include The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Macaws, like other parrots, mate for life

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 a hundred out 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.[63][64] By at least some versions, the feathers were plucked off living parrots without killing them.[65]

In ancient times and current, parrot feathers have been used in ceremonies, and for decoration. The "idea" of the parrot has been used to represent the human condition in medieval literature such as the bestiary. They also have a long history as pets.

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"(Latin), (English) to Monty Python's "Dead Parrot Sketch" millennia later, parrots have existed in the consciousness of many cultures. Recent books about parrots in human culture include Parrot Culture.[62]

Moche parrot. 200 A.D. Larco Museum Collection Lima, Peru


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.[61] (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 EU was importing approximately two million live birds a year, about 90% of the international market: hundreds of thousands of these were parrots. There are no national laws protecting feral parrot populations in the U.S. Mexico has a licensing system for capturing and selling native birds (though the laws are not well enforced).

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 Mexico stay in the country for the domestic trade. A small percentage of this capture, 4% to 14%, is smuggled into the USA."[60]

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.

Ten thousand hyacinth macaws were taken from the wild for the pet trade in the 1980s.[59] As a result Brazil now has only a very small number of breeding pairs left in the wild.


Parrot species are found in most zoos, and a few zoos participate in breeding and conservation programs. Some zoos have organized displays of trained parrots and other birds doing tricks.

Scarlet macaw riding a tricycle at a show in Spain


The popularity, longevity, and intelligence of many of the larger kinds of pet parrot and their wild traits such as screaming, has led to many birds needing to be re-homed during the course of their long lifespans. A common problem is that large parrots which are cuddly and gentle as juveniles mature into intelligent, complex, often demanding adults that can outlive their owners and can also become aggressive or even dangerous. Due to these problems, homeless parrots are being euthanised like dogs and cats, and parrot adoption centres and sanctuaries are becoming more common. Parrots don't often do well in captivity, causing some parrots to go insane and develop repetitive behaviors, such as swaying, screaming, or they become riddled with intense fear. Feather destruction and self-mutilation, although not commonly seen in the wild, occur frequently in captivity.

Some large parrot species, including large cockatoos, amazons, and macaws, have very long lifespans, with 80 years being reported and record ages of over one hundred. Small parrots, such as lovebirds, hanging parrots, and budgies have shorter life spans of 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.

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.[58] 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 will be 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 good health.

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 captive bred. Parrot species that are commonly kept as pets include conures, macaws, amazons, cockatoos, African greys, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgerigars, Eclectus, caiques, parakeets, Pionus and Poicephalus. Temperaments and personalities vary even within a species, just as dog breeds do. Even though African grey parrots are thought to be excellent talkers, not all African Grey parrots want to talk, therefore even 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.

Parrots do 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, once mature, they often become aggressive and may bite, causing serious injury, partly due to mishandling and poor training. For this reason, parrot rescue groups estimate that most parrots are surrendered and rehomed at least five homes before reaching their permanent destinations or before dying prematurely from unintentional or intentional neglect and abuse. Sadly, the parrot's ability to mimic human words and their bright colors and beauty prompt impulse buying from unsuspecting consumers. The domesticated Budgerigar, a small parrot, is the most popular of all pet bird species and the most discarded. In 1992 the newspaper USA Today published that there were 11 million pet birds in the United States alone,[56] 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.[57] 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 discusses in his 1987 book The Grey Parrot that some importers allowed parrots to drink only coffee while they were being shipped by boat considering pure water to be detrimental and believing that their actions would increase survival rates during shipping. (Nowadays it is commonly accepted that the caffeine in coffee is toxic to birds.)


Tens of millions of parrots have been removed from the wild, and parrots have been traded in greater numbers and for far longer than any other group of wild animals.[53] Many parrot species are still threatened by this trade as well as pests,[54] eating fruits, grains, and other crops, but parrots can also benefit economies through birdwatching based ecotourism.[55]

There exist a number of careers and professions devoted to parrots. Zoos and aquariums employ keepers to care for and shape the behaviour of parrots. Some veterinarians who specialise in avian medicine treat parrots exclusively. Biologists study parrot populations in the wild and help to conserve wild populations. Aviculturalists breed and sell parrots for the pet trade.

Humans and parrots have a complicated relationship. Economically they can be beneficial to communities as sources of income from the pet trade and are highly marketable tourism draws and symbols. But some species are also economically important pests, particularly some cockatoo species in Australia. Some parrots have also benefited from human changes to the environment in some instances, and have expanded their ranges alongside agricultural activity, but many species have declined as well.

Video of a blue-fronted amazon mimicking a human laughing

Relationship with humans

The journal 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 the task.[52]


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.[51] Most other wild parrots have not been observed imitating other species.

Parrots do not have vocal cords, so sound is accomplished by expelling air across the mouth of the bifurcated trachea. 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 Persia in 1250, the author describes an ancient method for training parrots to speak.

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 of approximately a thousand words, and has displayed an ability to invent as well as use words in context and in the correct tense.

Video of an orange-winged amazon saying "Hello" having been prompted by some people

Sound imitation and speech

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 as well are important for learning social skills. Foraging behaviour is generally learnt from parents, and can be a very protracted affair. Supra-generalists and specialists are generally independent of their parents much quicker than partly specialised species which may have to learn skills over a long period of time 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 retard 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.[34] 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.

[50] are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles.Kea, 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 some species of parrot such as the University of California, San Diego, as the seat of their intelligence. Research has shown that these species tend to have the largest hyperstriata, and Harvey J. Karten, a neuroscientist at the HVC, which is the part of the brain considered to be the main area of intelligence in other animals. However, birds use a different part of the brain, the medio-rostral cerebral cortex One argument against the supposed intelligent capabilities of bird species is that birds have a relatively small [49]), parrots are considered the most intelligent of birds. The brain-to body size ratio of psittacines and corvines is actually comparable to that of higher primates.Corvidae (family jays, and ravens, crows). Along with N'kisi and Alex have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences (see African grey parrotStudies with captive birds have given insight into which birds are the most intelligent. While parrots are able to mimic human speech, studies with the
Sun conure demonstrating parrots' puzzle-solving skills

Intelligence and learning

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.

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 anything from three weeks to four months in the nest, depending on species, and may receive parental care for several months thereafter.[48]

Only the monk parakeet and five species of Agapornis lovebird build nests in trees,[42] 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.[43] In most cases both parents participate in the nest excavation. The length of the burrow varies with species, but is usually between 0.5–2 m (1.6–6.6 ft) in length. The nests of cockatoos are often lined with sticks, wood chips and other plant material. In the larger species of parrot and cockatoo 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.[44][45] Some species are colonial, with the burrowing parrot nesting in colonies up to 70,000 strong.[46] Coloniality is not as common in parrots as might be expected, possibly because most species adopt old cavities rather than excavate their own.[47]

The vast majority of parrots are, like this feral rose-ringed parakeet, cavity nesters.

Although there are a few exceptions, parrots are monogamous breeders which nest in cavities and hold no territories other than their nesting sites.[34][40] The pair bonds of the parrots and cockatoos are strong and a pair remains close even during the non-breeding 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.[34] Allopreening is used by the pair to help maintain the bond. Cooperative breeding, where birds other than the breeding pair help the pair 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 polyamorous, or group breeding, behaviour with multiple females contributing to the clutch).[41]


In addition to feeding on seeds and flowers, some parrot species prey on animals, especially invertebrate larvae. Golden-winged parakeets prey on water snails, and the kea of New Zealand kill juvenile petrels and adult sheep.[37] Another New Zealand parrot, the Antipodes parakeet, enters the burrows of nesting grey-backed storm petrels and kills the incubating adults.[38] 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.[39]

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.[36] Many other species also consume nectar as well when it becomes available.

Parrots at a clay lick in Ecuador.

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.[34] A foot is sometimes used to help holding 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 to protect them, parrots are careful to remove seed coats and other fruit parts which are chemically well defended, prior to ingestion. Many species in the Americas, Africa, and Papua New Guinea consume clay which both releases minerals and absorbs toxic compounds from the gut.[35]

A white-eyed parakeet couple eating queen palm seeds. Parrots have curved and strong beaks that can break very hard seeds.
A yellow-tailed black cockatoo using its strong bill to search for grubs


There are numerous challenges 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.[34] Parrots also tend to range widely and consequently there are many gaps 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.


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.[34]

Several parrots inhabit the cool, temperate regions of South America and 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 (including New York City),[27] the United Kingdom,[28] Belgium[29] and Spain,[30][31] as well as in Greece.[32][33]

Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents and regions including Australia and Oceania, 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 north to Australia and across the Pacific as far as French Polynesia, with the greatest diversity being found in and around New Guinea. The subfamily Arinae encompasses all the Neotropical parrots, including the amazons, macaws and conures, and ranges from northern Mexico and the Bahamas to Tierra del Fuego in the southern tip of South America. The pygmy parrots, tribe Micropsittini, form a small genus restricted to New Guinea. The superfamily 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 and New Guinea to South Asia and Africa. The centre of cockatoo biodiversity is Australia and New Guinea, although some species reach the Solomon Islands (and one formerly occurred in New Caledonia),[26] Wallacea and the Philippines.

Most parrot species are tropical but a few species, like this austral parakeet, range deeply into temperate zones

Distribution and habitat

Cockatoo species have a mobile crest of feathers on the top of their heads which can be raised for display, and retracted. No other parrots can do so, but the Pacific lorikeets in the genera Vini and Phigys are able to ruffle the feathers of the crown and nape and the red-fan parrot (or hawk-headed parrot) has a prominent feather neck frill which can be raised and lowered 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.

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 his hands. A study conducted with Australian parrots has demonstrated that they exhibit "handedness"—that is 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 from species to species.[25]


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