It’s a safe bet that when you have over 350 species in one order, the Psittaciformes, that some things will stand out among this group. That is precisely the case with parrots. Much of it is a result of the broad range of ecosystems that they inhabit. We’re talking about the range of tropical rainforests to savannas to shrubland.
The 15 Parrot Facts
1. There Are a Lot of Birds in the World
There are over 18,000 species of birds in the world, of which 393 are parrots in the order Psittaciformes. That group includes three superfamilies, the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots), the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos), and the Psittacoidea (true parrots). That last one has the most at 333 species.
2. Parrots Are Incredibly Intelligent
You don’t have to be around a parrot long before you figure out it’s a smart animal. It turns out that its brain structure is similar to primates. That can explain some of the amazing things that they can do, such as use tools and learn to talk. Some birds, such as cockatoos, have even learned how to open garbage cans!
3. Many Parrot Species Mate for Life
Pairing up for the breeding season is the norm for birds. However, parrots are the exception to that rule. Many species, including the Scarlet Macaw and cockatoos, mate for life. Both sexes often take part in raising the young, too.
4. Parrots Have Different Feet Than Other Birds
Most birds have four toes per foot. However, parrots differ from most of their avian counterparts because they have two in the front and back. That allows them to grip things better, like their food. It also gives them a boost when it comes to climbing.
5. Not All Parrots Are Tropical Birds
While most species live in the Southern Hemisphere, that doesn’t mean they’re living where it’s warm. One exception is the Maroon-fronted Parrot. This endangered bird lives in the forested limestone cliffs of eastern Mexico at elevations of 6,500–11,500 feet.
6. An African Gray Parrot Holds the World Record for Learning the Most Words
Puck, an African Gray Parrot, had the largest vocabulary of any other bird at an astonishing 1,728 words. He also appeared to understand what he was saying and could count.
7. One Parrot Species Has Made a Nuisance of Itself—in the United States!
The United States didn’t have any known parrot species until the Quaker or Monk Parakeet escaped into the wild and made a home for itself in the southern United States in the 1960s. The bird has thrived to the point where it is considered nuisance wildlife.
8. One of the Most Endangered Birds Is Also the Most Long-Lived
The Kakapo of New Zealand is one of the most critically endangered birds on the planet. Only 116 individuals are known to exist, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Fortunately, its numbers are increasing due to swift conservation efforts. This nocturnal species can live up to 90 years in the wild.
9. Not All Parrots Eat Seeds or Nuts
Some parrot species might challenge what you think about these birds. The lorikeet is one example. This bird has a diet that is as colorful as its plumage, with fruits, leaves, and even nectar on the menu. Bristles on their tongues make it easier for them to enjoy these sweet treats.
10. Parrots Have Been Around a Long Time
Scientists estimate that parrots evolved about 82 million years ago (MYA) during the Late Cretaceous when New Zealand split from the supercontinent Gondwana. They later diversified into the vast array of species we know today.
11. The Hyacinth Macaw Is the Largest Parrot
The Hyacinth Macaw doesn’t need to be a large bird to get you to notice it. Its gorgeous plumage is enough to capture anyone’s attention. This species can get up to 39 inches long and weigh over 3 pounds!
12. There’s More to Parrot and Bird Bones Than You Think
Birds are unique because they have hollow bones, or do they? It turns out that they are filled with small pockets. They don’t necessarily weigh less than the bones of any other animal, either. They are relatively dense and strong enough to handle the challenges of flight.
13. Parrots Are Social Animals
Most species of parrots are very social and live in large flocks or pandemoniums. These birds live in groups of a few to a thousand! They are also very vocal. That’s often a necessity, considering the habitats of many birds. Dense rainforests make it hard to find one another. Their bright plumage helps, too.
14. Parrots Are a Frequent Target of the Illegal Pet Trade
All the things we love about parrots are the same ones that have fueled the illegal pet trade. The Senegal Parrot has the unfortunate distinction of being the one that’s been taken the most, with an estimated 735,775 birds trapped. And that’s probably a conservative number.
15. Parrots Are in Trouble
Birds are survivors. However, they still face threats that could jeopardize their future. About 40% of parrot species are classified as near-threatened or threatened. The factors putting them at the most risk are habitat loss, agriculture, and drought. The illegal pet trade has also taken a toll on wild populations.
Parrots are amazing animals. They fascinate us with their gorgeous colors, loud vocalizations, and keen intelligence. That such a seemingly small animal can live as long as humans is equally remarkable. Unfortunately, many species face threats that could lead some down the path of conservation. If our list of parrot facts taught us anything, it’s that these creatures are worth saving and understanding better.
- Related read: Pionus Parrot
Featured Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.