The hundreds of parrot species are vividcolored
members of the bird family Psittacidae.
They belong to five classes: macaws, cockatoos,
true parrots, parakeets, and lories. In parrot
plumage, reds and greens often predominate, but
blue, purple, yellow, and black also appear.
Parrots inhabitwarmSouth and Central America,
southern North America, Africa, Madagascar,
Indonesia, and southern and Southeast Asia.
They live in lowland tropical or subtropical and
mountain forests. Parrot sizes range from threeinch
New Guinea pigmy parrots to South American
macaws, over three feet long.
Macaws, the largest parrots, have long, pointy
tails. Cockatoos of Australia and Indonesia are
white, with colored crests and other touches of
yellow, red, or pink. True parrots are smaller,
square-tailed, and have many green feathers. Parakeets,
smaller than most true parrots, have long,
pointy tails. Lories have red or orange bills,
instead of gray bills like true parrots. In most species,
males and females look similar, but males are
more brightly colored.
Physical Characteristics of Parrots
The most noticeable features of parrots, beyond color, are their down-curved, hooked bills, thick, muscular tongues, and short legs. The bills have strong grasping ability that helps parrots to climb well. Parrot feet are zygodactyl, meaning that the two outer toes of the foot point backward and grip in the opposite direction to the two forwardpointing inner toes. Because of this, parrots walk awkwardly. However, zygodactyly makes them excellent climbers. Parrots eat seeds, fruits, and nuts. Australian lories also eat pollen and nectar. The thick, muscular tongues of most parrots manipulate nuts and seeds, breaking them open as needed. Longer lorie tongues have brushlike tips for eating pollen and nectar. Most parrots find their food in trees, using feet and bills to navigate search areas.
The Lives of Parrots
Parrots are social birds that often live in flocks. Their loud voices are harsh and used in constant communication. Parrot breeding seasons depend on the geographic location of their habitat and the food they eat. Species living outside the tropics, where food supply changes seasonally, have yearly mating seasons. Those in tropical regions breed at irregular intervalswhenfood is available. Most parrots pair for life. Males attract mates by hopping, bowing, wagging tails, and flapping wings. After mating, females lay two to eight small white eggs. Amated pair does not part after breeding. They eat together and groom each other year round. Most parrots nest in holes in trees, termite mounds, and rock or ground tunnels. Others lay eggs in large grass or twig nests. Females incubate eggs for eighteen to thirty-five days, while males supply mates with food. Parrots are born blind and dependent on their parents. Young leave the nest after 1 month in smaller species and after 3.5 months in larger species. Some parrots live for sixty to eighty years.
Some Representative Parrot Species
African gray parrots (Psittacus erithracus) of Central and Western Africa grow to one-foot lengths and one-pound weights. They have gray bodies, black wingtips, and red tail feathers. They eat fruit, seeds, nuts, and berries, nesting in holes in trees. Females lay about four eggs and incubate them for a month, while males feed them. Chicks are fed by both parents. They fly in 2.5 months and parents feed them for 5 more months. These birds form flocks of up to thirty-six individuals. In captivity they live for up to eighty years. Princess parrots (Polytelis alexandrae) live in the scrub land of central and western Australia. They nest in eucalyptus tree holes and eat acacia buds, seeds, berries, and fruit. They are high-altitude fliers, who travel widely seeking food. Their flocks contain up to twenty-four birds. Full-grown, they are fifteen inches long including the tail, and weigh around four ounces. Back, belly, and wing plumage is olive green and yellow; tail feathers are violet; throats are pink; bills are red-orange; and heads are light blue. Breeding occurs between September and December. Females lay four to six eggs and incubate them for three weeks. Young can fly at three months old. An endangered species, they are protected by law. Indonesian salmon-crested cockatoos (Cacatua moluccensis) have plentiful, pink-tinted white plumage. Atop their heads are crests of salmonred feathers, raised to show desire to mate. They eat berries, seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. Breeding season is in November, and after mating they pair for life. Nests are in tree hollows. Females lay four to seven white eggs. Both birds incubate them for a month. After hatching, young remain in the nest for three months, and then live on their own. Salmon-crested cockatoos live for sixty years in captivity. Wild parrots are pests. For example, farmers see cockatoos as nuisances because they eat crops. An interesting side note is that parrots are very ingenious. This is due to their great intelligence, estimated to equal that of porpoises and primates. Parrots are liked as pets, due to their attractive coloring and ability to learn to talk. The popularity of pet parrots has brought some species close to extinction. In most countries, laws regulate their capture, export, and import. However, the laws are difficult to enforce.
Subphylum: Vertebrata (have backbone)
Family: Psittacidae, with subfamilies Nestorinae (keas, one genus, 5 species); Psittrichasinae (vulturine parrots); Kakatoeinae (cockatoos, five genera, 14 species); Micropsittinae (pygmy parrots, one genus, 4 species); Trichoglossinae (lories, two tribes, fourteen genera, 21 species); Strigopinae (owl parrots); Psittacinae (true parrots, five tribes, fifty-four genera, 126 species)
Geographical location: South and Central America, southern North America, Africa, Madagascar, Indonesia, and southern and Southeast Asia
Habitat: Lowland tropical or subtropical and mountain forests
Gestational period: Eggs hatch in seventeen to thirty-five days
Life span: Forty to eighty years, in captivity Special anatomy: Down-curved bills, muscular tongues, zygodactyly
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