Parrots are tropical and semitropical birds which belong to the Psittacidae bird family. Their physical characteristics are a short hooked bill and brightly colored plumage. In some species, the ability to mimic human speech and other sounds makes them popular as pets. There are over 300 species in the parrot family. Various species are known as keas, cockatoos, cockatiels, lories, lorikeets, parrotlets, parakeets, budgerigars, rosellas, conures, lovebirds, amazons, and macaws.

The mere mention of the word parrots brings visions of pirates and the Caribbean. How many times have we seen pictures of parrots perched on the shoulders of pirates with eye patches, beards and long swords? Don't fret, parrots actually have nothing to do with pirates, it's just that they share the same climate.

Parrots vary in total length from 3 inches, such as the Buff-faced pygmy parrot of New Guinea to nearly 40 inches hyacinth macaw of South America and palm cockatoo of New Guinea. Parrots have relatively few feathers. Many species are bright green with patches of red, orange, yellow, blue, or white. A few parrots are brown or all green. Most male and female parrots look alike, with a few exceptions. Parrots walk awkwardly but are excellent climbers, often using their bills to pull themselves up to a higher branch.

Gray Parrot
Gray Parrot

The unsurpassed talker among all parrots, is the African Gray parrot. The male is famous for echoing human speech to perfection. Equally good as mimics are the Amazon parrots. Amazon parrots live in rain forests of the West Indies and Mexico to northern South America. They are difficult to breed and may be aggressive. Captive Amazon Parrots are alert and relatively good-tempered. Individual parrots have been known to live as long as 80 years. Most parrots are tropical, with only a few species reaching northern and southern temperate areas. The areas of greatest diversity include South America, Australia, and New Guinea and adjacent islands. Relatively few species inhabit Africa or mainland Asia.

The most colorful parrots are the lories, in which reds and greens predominate, but blue, purple, brown, yellow, and black can also be seen.

The monk, or green parakeet, one of the hardiest parrot species, is native to South America. A few of these birds have escaped from captivity in the U.S. and attempted to nest in several states. They build a large stick nest which is unusual among parrots. Other parrots of interest include the caiques, Pionites species, which are small, short-tailed South American birds.

[Photo of Sulfur-crested Cockatoo]
Sulfur-crested Cockatoo

Another appealing attribute of parrots is their display of affection, not only to others of their own species but also to humans. Pairs of many species, especially the lovebirds are together almost constantly, picking each other's feathers with seeming affection. When one lovebird disappears, or dies, its mate sometimes dies, apparently of loneliness.

Many parrots seem to enjoy being stroked and scratched, which is rare among birds. But beware the parrots extremely powerful jaws because a surprise attempt to pet them can result in a severe bite. The use of toes for climbing and food handling, in much the same manner as humans use hands, also makes parrots attractive to watch. Their long life, bright colors, intent gaze, ability to learn human speech, and willingness to remain on a perch instead of flying free throughout the house contribute to the fondness people may feel for various kinds of parrots as pets.

Finally, most parrot species are vegetarians and thrive on a varied diet. Their diet and dry, firm droppings makes parrots easy to care for.

Thousands of parrots are brought into Europe and North America annually, both legally and illegally, and many do not survive the journey. In most countries the capture, export, and import of parrots are strictly regulated, but the laws are difficult to enforce. Ideally, only those parrots that have been bred in captivity should be kept as pets.

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