Class: Aves (Birds)
Body length: longest—hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, 40 inches (100 centimeters); shortest—buff-faced pygmy-parrot Micropsitta pusio, 3.1 inches (8 centimeters)
Weight: heaviest—kakapo Strigops habroptilus, 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms); lightest—buff-faced pygmy-parrot, 0.3 ounces (10 grams)
Life span: 10 to 60 years, depending on species
Incubation: 18 to 30 days, depending on species
Number of eggs: 2 to 8, depending on species
Age of maturity: 1 to 2 years for smaller species, 3 to 4 years for larger species
Conservation status: 10 species are at critical risk, including the night parrot Pezoporus occidentalis, kakapo, and Puerto Rican Amazon parrot Amazona vittata.
The heaviest parrot is the kakapo of New Zealand: it is nocturnal and cannot fly. The kakapo chews on stems and leaves, swallowing the juices for food.
The first written account of a parrot in captivity was recorded in 400 B.C.
Parrots tend to favor using one foot more than the other, like people are right- or left-handed.
A flock of parrots can also be called a "company" or a "pandemonium."
Listen to a parrot say "hello"
All parrots have strong jaws to help the bird crack open hard nuts and seeds.
In the story Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, there was a parrot accompanying pirate Long John Silver at every moment. Were parrots really associated with pirates? Maybe not, but they are fascinating birds, so it is no wonder parrots appeared in children’s stories.
Parrots come in a variety of bright colors, mostly made up of greens, reds, blues, and yellows. There are 279 species of parrots in the world, including macaws, keas, lovebirds, parakeets, and kakapos. Although quite different from each other in many ways, these birds all have a curved beak, zygodactyl feet, and generally eat nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects. Parrots have thick, strong beaks that are perfect for breaking open nuts and seeds with tough coverings. Macaws have such strong beaks that they have been reported to snap through broomstick handles! The zygodactyl feet are also very strong and helpful in holding slippery nuts and fruit.
This Pesquet's parrot proves that not all parrots are green!
Living large (and small)
The world’s largest parrot is the hyacinth macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, found in South America, at about 40 inches (100 centimeters) long. But it's not the heaviest bird in the parrot family: that honor belongs to the kakapo Strigops habroptilus, which can weigh up to 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms), too heavy for its size to fly. The smallest parrots are the pygmy-parrots Micropsitta sp., which are less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long and weigh just 0.3 ounces (10 grams) and are found mostly in New Guinea and on nearby islands.
All parrots are very social and live in large groups called flocks. Living in a flock helps parrots watch out for predatory birds, but it’s also fun to have someone else to talk to! Parrots are known for being very vocal: squawks, screams, and screeches can be heard from faraway n the forests.
Keas have a long, narrow bill that is used to dig up insects from the ground, pry bark from trees, and scrape meat from bones.
Not always in the rain forest
Most parrots live in warm climates, although not all: the thick-billed parrot Rhynchopsitta pachrhyncha and the kea Nestor notabilis live in snowy alpine areas and are even referred to as "snow birds." Thick-billed parrots are one of the few parrots that once lived in the United States; now they are found only in northern Mexico. The Carolina parakeet Conuropsis carolinensis was another; sadly, by the 1920s this species was extinct.
Chicks and more!
Numerous parrot species are monogamous. They usually woo their mates with vocalizations and tail displays. For a nest, parrots generally find a hole in a tree and lay the eggs on the hard wood surface of the hole. Parrots that don't live in areas with trees use cacti, termite mounds, or rocky outcrops to make their home. The eggs resemble chicken eggs and the parents take turns sitting on the eggs, although the mother spends more time doing this.
It's hard to believe this hyacinth macaw chick will turn into one beautiful bird!
Chicks are almost completely naked when they hatch, except for a thin layer of down feathers on the back. Their eyes are closed until they are about two weeks old, and at three weeks the chicks' adult feathers start to appear. The feathers are so thin and pointy that they are called pinfeathers. The mother is the one that stays with the babies while the father goes off to get food for the family for the next month or so.
In just 4 weeks in 1929, 16,000 black-cheeked lovebirds were caught and sold to the pet trade. Today, the little bird is found only in southern Zambia.
Parrots are popular as pets because they are so outgoing, social, intelligent, and have the ability to “talk.” Although they can make a good pet, some people who buy them may not know where their bird really hatched. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) discourages the pet trade, which often takes wild parrots out of their natural habitat to sell them as pets. This is dangerous for the birds, as many do not survive the journey from their home to a pet store. It is also dangerous for the owner, who can be badly bitten or have a hard time training the bird. Fortunately, the trade in wild parrots is slowing down, and some parrot populations are starting to recover.
People who want to have a parrot for a pet need to know that these birds require lots of attention from their owners, they are messy eaters and poopers, and they can be very noisy—especially early in the morning. Your neighbors may not like that! This is a bird that will be around for almost your entire life, living up to 60 years in captivity. That's a long commitment for a pet owner.
A parrot is a smart animal that can become easily bored in a cage, so make sure, if you are thinking about getting one, that you really have the time and patience for one. If the bird does not receive enough affection, enrichment, and exercise, it will become aggressive and destructive, even plucking its own feathers if it is bored or unhappy.
Known for its skill at mimicking sounds, some African gray parrots can "speak" over 700 words!
A chatty talker
African gray parrots Psittacus erithacus are popular because they are the parrot known to "talk." Although they do not know what they are saying most of the time, they are excellent at mimicking hundreds of sounds in their surroundings. In the wild, however, these parrots, like most others, do not imitate noises around them. African gray parrots live in tropical and subtropical forests and woodlands in Africa. Like many of their relatives, they are frequently found in flocks of 20 to 30 birds. They are not yet endangered, although habitat destruction and the illegal sale of birds as pets are starting to take a toll on the wild population.
Parrots depend on trees for their food and nesting needs.
A face at the Zoo
If you cruise around the Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo, attend our Frequent Flyers bird show at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or watch the news on TV, you can often see some of our parrots. They can imitate a few noises like squeaky doors and dishes clanking, whistle, whinny like a horse, cluck like a chicken, and say "hello." Parrots are wonderful animal ambassadors for our Zoo and Park with their beautiful colors and personalities. They help get the message out to the public about the high maintenance of parrots as pets and the concerns for wild parrots due to deforestation and the illegal pet trade. Look for them on your next visit!