There are thousands of species of birds in the world, yet parrots are by far the favorite birds kept as pets. Why are parrots so valued and desired? And what makes them different from other birds? There are lots of reasons as you shall see below.
All parrots belong to a family called Psittacines and are often referred to by that name. They are also commonly called hookbills, which refers to the unique shape of their bills. Parrots make wonderful pets, come in a variety of brilliant colors and sizes, and are known for their intelligence and talking ability. These birds will bond to humans and often love to cuddle with their owners. They are quite playful and their crazy antics can bring joy into your life.
Parrots are found around the world, in the sub tropical and tropical climates. There are over 350 species of parrots arranged in groups or families. Some of the most familiar are the budgies, cockatiels, loris, cockatoos, and rosellas from Australia and the South Pacific; conures, amazons and macaws from the New World, African greys, lovebirds, senegals and jardines from Africa and ringnecks from Asia.
Parrots are mainly seed, nut and fruit eaters, augmenting their diets with a few insects for protein. They are usually found in flocks, which accounts for their sociability and need for human contact in captivity. They mate for life and are capable of bonding strongly with their owners.
No other group of birds has the wide range of colors and color combinations that parrots possess. Although many are basically green, most such as the amazons and conures, have additional colors to enhance their beauty. Others have different basic colors. Macaws and lorikeets sport vibrant reds, blues and yellows such as the scarlet macaws in the accompanying picture. African greys, as their name suggests, are a pearly grey. Cockatoos are the soft colored birds of the parrot world, coming in shades of white, pink and black – often enhanced with yellow or grey features. The eclectus is even more surprising. The female is red while the male is green.
Mutations in parrots such as cockatiels, budgies and ringnecks, have produced a wide variety of new colors and patterns including albino, silver, cinnamon, lavender and blue.
Even if we did not love our parrots for their personalities, intelligence and affection, we would be in awe of their striking beauty.
Hookbills also come in a wide range of sizes – tiny parrotlets (pictured) and budgies; small cockatiels, lovebirds, loris, conures, quakers, senegals and jardines; medium sized African greys, amazons, mini-macaws, pionus and ringnecks; and large sized cockatoos, eclectus and macaws. There is a parrot of the right size for each bird lover.
Parrots can be identified by their specialized hook shaped bills (as can be seen on these lovebirds) and blunt tongues . These are uniquely designed for holding, positioning and cracking seeds and nuts and for eating fruits, as well as for splitting branches and wood for making nests and nesting materials. Beaks can be very powerful. The hyacinth macaw has a beak which can break the toughest nuts. There are many bird owners who can attest to this fact, remembering a painful bite or the destruction of a piece of wooden furniture.
Hookbills also have a crop which is an enlarged portion of the esophagus. It is a large sac, located at the front, below the beak, where food is stored when eaten and where digestion begins. Since the crop is hidden by the feathers, many people do not know it exists and there are tales of new bird owners who believed their bird had a tumor the first time they felt their bird’s full crop.
Parrot feet are also unique. Like other birds, they have four toes. But unlike their relatives, which have three toes pointing forward and one backwards, parrots have two forward pointing toes and two backward pointing toes. This gives them a better ability to grasp items. It is fascinating to watch a parrot eat. It grasps a piece of food in its foot using the two front and one of the back toes to hold it and bites off pieces of food with its beak. The back toe acts similar to the opposing thumb in humans.
Parrots are among the most intelligent of animals. Alex, the famous African grey, can grasp concepts such as size, color and numbers. His intelligence level has been compared to that of a four to five year old child. Most parrot owners think of their birds as permanent two year old children.
Their intelligence allows them to understand much about their owners and to get into a lot of trouble exploring things. Parrots can be taught to talk ( and even understand), sing, play games and do tricks (pictured is Siva, an umbrella cockatoo, who has learned to skate). Many parrots enjoy puzzles and mechanical toys. They are also great lock pickers and escape artists.
Since parrots usually live in flocks, they are very social animals and have well developed communication skills. These may be the reasons why they interact so well with humans, need attention and affection, want to cuddle and become part of the family. The humans in the home become its flock which is very necessary for the bird’s well being. Parrots which are ignored and left alone in their cages can begin plucking out their feathers, mutilating themselves and even go insane.
Learning to talk may be a substitute for the natural vocal interactions with the other members of the flock in the wild. Whatever the reasons, parrots can learn to talk, although some species, such as greys, budgies and amazons are better at it than others. The ability to talk has made the hookbills one of the most endearing pets in the world. On the down side is the fact that parrots can be very loud and noisy. Being flock animals they tend to vocalize a lot, apparently calling to and communicating with the rest of the flock and/or their mates. Although this varies by species and by individual bird, it is a serious consideration when contemplating purchasing a parrot as a pet.
If you are interesting in learning more about the various species of parrots, read the article Selecting A Companion Bird – Pet Bird Species Profiles or the many species articles in Winged Wisdom.