Birds of the World






Totipalmate Swm



 NW Vultures







   NW Flycatchers


 Aust. Wrens
 Aust. Robins
 OW Orioles
 OW Flycatchers
 N Creepers
 OW Warblers
 OW Sparrows
 9-prim. Oscines

   Hawaiian Honycrp
   NW Sparrows
   NW Warblers
   NW Blackbirds


Psittaciformes - Parrots
Skip to:   
Psittaciformes - Parrots
King Parrot, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Scarlet Macaw,
Short-tailed Parrots and Blue-headed Parrots,
Long-tailed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Green-rumped Parrot
  Order Psittaciformes - Parrots
Wiki     ToL     EoL
  Family Psittacidae - Parrots
Wiki     ToL     EoL
  358 species, 80 genera (Sibley and Monroe, 1990). Dickinson (2003) and Harris (2009) list 364 species in 85 genera. Clements (2007) lists 347 species in the Family Psittacidae (parrots) and 21 species in the Family Cacatuidae (cockatoos).  Wiki lists 372 species, 86 genera and divides the group into 3 families (adding the Family Nestoridae 3 species, 2 genera) for the aberrant New Zealand parrots. The Nestoridae are a sister group to the other two families.
   Parrots are pan-tropical. The greatest diversity is found in South American and Australasia.

Family Nestoridae
- New Zealand parrots    Wiki
      Tribe Nestorini - Kea and Kaka (Owl-parrots) (Nestor, 2 species) [New Zealand]
          (bill long, compressed (grooved culmen); tongue fringed at tip; long tarsus; orbit incomplete)
      Tribe Strigopini - Kakapoo, Strigops habrptila [New Zealand, endangered]  
          (sternum with reduced keel, plumage soft, wings short, rounded; nocturnal; flightless)
Family Cacatuidae - Cockatoos (21 species, 7 genera) [Australasia - Philippines to Australia]    Wiki
       (mobile head crest, differing arrangement of carotids, gall bladder present; different skull bone arrangement)
   Subfamily Microglossinae - Palm Cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus [New Guinea, northern Queensland, Australia]    Wiki   
   Subfamily Calyptorhynchinae - Dark Cockatoos
   Subfamily Cacatuinae - White Cockatoos (Cacatua, 5 species)
      (tongue simple, orbital ring complete; head always crested)
Family Psittacidae -True Parrots (~330 species)    Wiki
           (orbital ring usually incomplete, no crest; small to large parrots with short square to long graduated tails and a robust bill - most species
            have a prominent bare cere and eye-ring. A few are sexually dimorphic. With one exception, neotropical parrots are largely arboreal) 
   Subfamily Arinae
- Neotropical Parrots (2 lineages - short-tailed and long-tailed, ~160 species, ~30 genera) Neotropics]   Wiki
   Subfamily Loriinae - Lorikeets and Loris (~50 species, ~12 genera) [Australoasia]
       (tongue brush-tipped; culmen not grooved; mostly small (<10"), long-winged, rapid flight)     Wiki
   Subfamily Micropsittinae - Pygmy Parrot (6 species, 1 genus, Micropsitta) [New Guinea and vicinity]
      (feed on fungus and lichen - never successfully kept in captivity; 3-4" long, tail feathers with stiff shafts; toes long and thin - the smallest
       parrots)    Wiki
   Subfamily Psittacinae
      Tribe Cyclopsittacini - Fig Parrots (6 species, 3 genera) [New Guinea and vicinity]    Wiki
      Tribe Polytelini - (3 genera including Polytelis) [Australia, Wallacea]    Wiki
      Tribe Psittrichadini - Pesquet's Parrot, Psittrichas fulgidus [New Guinea]    Wiki
      Tribe Psittacini - Afrotropical Parrots (~12 species, 3 genera) [Afrotropical]    Wiki
      Tribe Psittaculini - Paleotropical parrots (~70 species, 12 genera) [India to Australia)    Wiki
   Subfamily Platycercinae - Broad-tailed Parrots (~12 genera, ~30 species) [Australia]    Wiki
      Tribe Melopsittacini - Budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus    Wiki
      Tribe Neophemini - Neophema, Neopsephotus bourki (7-8 species - grass parrots, Bourke's Parrot)    Wiki     Wiki
      Tribe Pezoporini - Night Parrot, Ground Parrot (Pezoporus, 2 species)    Wiki
      Tribe Platycercini - Rosellas (20 species, 8 -9 genera)     Wiki

   The AOU Checklist divides our North American parrots into three subfamilies: the Platycercinae (Australian Parakeets and Rosellas); the Psittacinae (Typical Parrots); and the Arinae (New World Parakeeets, Macaws, and Parrots). Our only representative of the first subfamily is the Budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus, an introduced species breeding in west-central Florida. Our only representative of the second subfamily is the Rose-ringed Parakeet, Psitacula krameri, introduced locally in southern Florida and on Kauai. It may also be breeding in Virginia. Other exotic parrots included in the checklist belong to the Arinae (Arini).
   See Forshaw, J. M. 2006. Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press. Princeton and Oxford. Forshaw considers the Cockatoos and Typical Parrots to be sister groups (Families - the Cacatuidae and Psittacidae)... The book contains excellent illustrations and range maps for all parrots.    Parrots are a large and diverse group with many colorful representatives. Their plumage is sparse, hard, and bright. They vary greatly in size - ranging from 10 g (Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot, Micropsitta pusio) to the Hyacinth Macaw, Anodorhynchus hyacinthus, at 2 kg. The flightless Kakapo, Strigops habroptila, weighs 3 kg. Many species have been kept in captivity and are treasured for their ability to "talk." Many feed on fruit, form species-specific flocks, and pair for life. They are gregarious and usually inhabit forests. On the ground, they walk with a rolling gait. They are mainly tropical but a few occur in temperate regions (the extinct Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, was once abundant in eastern North America, living in old forests along streams and rivers). Today, parrots are found on all continents (few in North America) and many islands.
  Parrots are large headed with a relative short neck and an upright stance. They are defined by their distinctive, stout, curved and hooked bill. The upper mandible not fused to the skull but is movable - it has a hinge-like articulation with the skull. The lower mandible is shorter with sharp cutting tomia (edges) that move against the upper mandible like an anvil. They use their bill in climbing. Their tongue is thick and fleshy (some have brushlike structures on the tongue used for feeding on nectar). They have a prominent cere (often colored - its color may be dichromatic). The palate is desmognathous, the nostrils are holorhinal and impervious. Their eyes are directed to the side, reducing binocular vision but giving good peripheral vision. They have a very short neck. They have stocky legs with 4 toes. Tarsi have granular scales or papillae. Their fourth toe is reversed so they have two toes pointing forward and two backward ("zygodactyl") feet. The tarsometatarsus is short. Their feet are adapted for grasping and climbing (they are "prehensile"). They often hold their food as the eat. Their plumage is often green with a variety of bright colors in different species. However, cockatoos have lost the green and blue colors and are now predominately black or white (with red, pink, or yellow). Cockatoos have a crest on the head. Most species are monomorphic. They are primarily arboreal. They have 10 primaries, 10-14 secondaries, and usually 12 tail feathers (most). An aftershaft is present. They have 13-15 cervical vertebrae. Parrots usually have 2 carotid arteries and their flexor tendons are Type 1. Pelvic muscles are AXY+. They are diastataxic with no caeca. The oil gland is tufted or absent. Furcula are weak and absent in some. The syrinx has three pairs of intrinsic muscles. The orbital ring is usually incomplete. A crop is present.
   They are highly social - often foraging in species-specific groups or flocks. They may have communal roosts at night. Hanging parrots, Loriculus, may feed while hanging upside down on branches.
   Parrots are vocal, with a variety of social calls and contact notes. Macaws are particularly vocal when flying. Some are excellent mimics  some parrots even mimic human words (and other sounds in their close environment). African Gray Parrots, Psittacus erithacus, are prized for their ability to talk. They are intelligent and can clearly associate meanings with words - Bob Barth (University of Texas) had a parakeet that he raised and kept in his apartment. When it was late, the bird clearly said "time to go to bed now," asking for his cage to be covered so he could sleep. The body-brain size ratio of parrots (and the intelligent corvids) is comparable with that of higher primates although birds have a small cerebral cortex - their intelligence seems to reside in the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale. In addition to their language ability, some parrots (Kea) are skilled at using tools and solving puzzles - they are naturally inquisitive and may get into trouble. On the road crossing the Southern Alps in New Zealand, Keas have been known to remove the wiper blades and seals from car windows. Social learning is probably very important to the success of parrots. Young parrots can be seen to "play" as they develop. Captive parrots need a rich environment to remain healthy.
   Parrots fill a variety of niches, ranging from deserts to rain forest and sea level to mountain peaks. They feed on fruit, grains, nuts, buds,and nectar. True parrots hold a seed between the mandibles and crush the husk with the powerful lower mandible. The tongue rotates the seed and the remaining husk is removed (many of the protective poisons found in seeds are in the husk so its removal makes the seed palatible (also see Geophagy). When parrots eat fruit, they are often after the seeds rather than the flesh. Loris and lorikeets also feed on pollen, nectar, and soft fruits. The pygmy parrots, which forage on tree trunks like woodpeckers, may include small fungi in their diet. The large Australian cockatoos also eat insect larvae. Other species may also eat insects, snails or other invertebrates. One species specializes on seedling bamboo. The Kea, Nestor nobalis, will eat carrion (or kill juvenile birds - they even attack live animals like sheep for their flesh - kidneys are favorites). One species specializes on palm fruits. Some are considered agricultural pests (one concern with introduced parrots in our country).
   Parrots are monogamous - many pair for life.. Some bred in isolated pairs but most inhabit small to large colonies (Budgerigars form colonies with thousands of birds). Cooperative breeding, however, is rare. Most parrots nest in holes - most in tree cavities or holes in banks. Some may excavate nests in termitaria (pygmy parrots). A few excavate holes in trees. Monk Parrots build a huge colonial nest of twigs and branches with many individual nest chambers. The eggs are white. Clutches vary from 2-5 (8) eggs. Their eggs are white. Incubation begins with the first or second egg so hatching is asynchronous. The male feeds the incubating female; in some species males also incubate. Incubation lasts 20 - 30 (17-35) days. Young are altricial - they are blind and naked or with sparse dorsal down over the entire body and they remain in the nest (nidicolous) for a month or more; powder downs are present. Their eyes open 1-2 weeks after hatching and the white down is replaced by a dense gray down followed by juvenile feathers. Hatchlings are brooded by the female at first. She is fed by the male. After several days, the male may feed the young directly. They are fed pre-digested food by regurgitation from the parent's crop. Young remain in the nest 3-4 weeks in small species and 3-4 months in large macaws. Hatchlings may be fed for some time by parents after leaving the nest.
   Small parrots may breed when one year old (or sooner). Larger parrots are slow to mature - taking several yeas before breeding. They produce only 1-2 young per year and may skip a year.
   Parrots live up to 20 years in the wild. An African Grey Parrot lived to about 100 in the London Zoo.
   Parrots are familiar cage birds and their trade has adversely affected some species. The Budgerigar is the most popular pet species. They are now protected in our country and parrots displayed in our pet shops should all be products of captive breeding. 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 and regulates the international trade of all endangered wild caught animal and plant species. However, trade continues in some countries and a significant number of parrots are imported illegally from Mexico each year.
  Feeding on clay probably detoxifies natural alkaloids found in the diet of these parrots and provides cytoprotection to cells in the gut. In Amazoni., Many species congregate on exposed banks of clay and swallow a variety of minerals found in the exposed earth. (See Short-tailed and Blue-headed Parrots feeding on clay).
    Banner - King Parrot, Lamington National Park. Australia.