Parrots are fantastic creatures – aside from their vividly colored plumage, these birds are also known for their intelligence, trainability, acrobatics, and silly personality. Little wonder that parrots are one of the most popular pets in the US.
If keeping parrots as pets would be the same as keeping other pet birds, you will be in for a challenge. Parrots are intelligent and social creatures that demand constant attention and high amounts of stimulation. Else, they can develop bad habits and may end up bored or stressed to the point where they start to pluck their own feathers!
The exotic parrot trade is a lucrative business worldwide, contributing to their falling numbers in the wild. But thankfully, the passage of the 1992 Wild Bird Conservation Act and other official restrictions have helped stem the importation of exotic birds.
Here are some of the other fascinating and colorful facts about parrots:
1) The kakapo – the flightless parrot
The kakapo parrot deserves mention here because it is currently one of the world’s rarest and strangest birds. It is the only parrot that cannot fly. It is also the heaviest and fattest parrot – a full-grown male can weigh as much as nine pounds, the average weight of an adult domesticated cat. It can also grow up to two feet long.
Kakapo parrots are native to New Zealand. While all other parrots are diurnal and omnivore, the kakapo parrot is the only nocturnal and herbivore parrot. It shares similar characteristics more with owls than with other parrots. Kakapos and owls look similar to each other, and both are active at night.
There are stranger and more interesting facts about the kakapo parrots. They are known for their sweet odor, which will remind you of honey. However, that sweet smell can make them vulnerable to hungry predators. They also have a well-developed sense of smell, which serves them well as they forage during the night.
Kakapo is listed as “critically endangered” species by the IUCN, with only 142 of them remaining.
2) Not all parrots are tropical
Currently, there are roughly 440 species of parrots, and a majority of them live in the tropical regions of Asia, Australia, South and Central America, and Africa. But not all parrots like to live in tropical locales. The endangered kea, endemic to the Southern Alps in New Zealand’s South Island, is the only alpine parrot. The austral parakeet dwells in the temperate ranges at the southern tip of South America. The maroon-fronted parrot, another endangered species, is endemic to the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains in Mexico.
3) A third of the world’s parrot population is endangered
Habitat destruction and poaching for the pet trade have contributed to the parrot’s dwindling numbers in the wild. Several species of parrots have been placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A recent study reveals that the grey parrot’s population in Ghana has reduced by 99% as a result of persistent logging.
4) Many parrots have long lives
In fact, some parrots can outlive humans! Their lifespan may depend on the species. Larger parrots, such as cockatoos and macaws, usually live from 35 to 50 years. An African grey parrot named Tarbu lived to the ripe old age of 55. But a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo named Cookie became the longest-living parrot at 83 years old. Cookie, who resided in Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, was born in 1933 and died in 2016.
5) Parrot feathers have antimicrobial properties
The brilliant colors of parrot feathers serve a useful purpose. They are products of psittacofulvins, a synthetic pigment that only parrots are known to produce. Psittacofulvins have anti-bacterial agents that help protect the parrots’ vivid plumage from degrading.
6) A few species of parrots migrate
Though most parrot species would prefer to remain in their home range throughout the year, there are at least two species of migratory parrots – the swift parrot and the orange-bellied parrot. Both species of parrots migrate each year across the Bass Strait between Tasmania and Australia. Unfortunately, both parrots are also on the critically endangered list.
7) The enigmatic Solomon Island eclectus parrots
For most of the parrot species, males and females look exactly alike each other. An exception to this rule is the Solomon Island eclecuts parrots. The males and females look so different from each other that for many years they were thought to be two different parrot species!
The Solomon Island eclectus parrot has an extreme case of sexual dimorphism, which means that males and females look distinctly different from each other, aside from the differences between their sexual organs themselves. The males usually have a bright emerald green plumage and flame-colored beaks, while the females have a crimson and royal blue plumage, scarlet heads, and black beaks.
8) Parrots don’t have vocal cords
Contrary to popular belief, parrots do not have vocal cords to talk and imitate sounds. Instead, they control the muscles in their throats to direct the airflow in a certain way, which allows them to mimic different sounds and tones that they happen to hear.
9) Parrots mate for life
Who says there’s no forever? Humans should perhaps take a cue from the parrots. Once the male and female parrot get together, then they stay together for most of their lives, even after the breeding season is over. Parrots only go their separate ways when one of them dies, or they fail to produce young. Like many animals (and also humans), it’s the male parrots who usually do the wooing. He begins by a courtship display where he dances, parades, and makes a variety of sounds and expressions to impress the female. Once they are a couple, they forage and groom together, and then sleep next to each other.
10) Parrots eat with their feet
Parrots are the only birds who eat with their feet. They use their toes to hold food up to their beaks while eating, just as we humans eat by using our fingers to hold food up to our mouths. The parrot’s feet are called “zygodactyl,” which means they have four toes on each foot – two toes that face forward and another two that face backward. Their feet also make these birds great grippers and awesome climbers!