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    Overview

    Parrots are tropical and semitropical birds which belong to the Psittacidae bird family. This huge family is broken down into 6 subfamilies, of which 3 are relatively important from the avicultural standpoint.

    Taxonomy

    Subfamilies are divided into genera, the singular form for which is a genus. Each genus has certain clearly defined characteristics which separate it from other genera. The members of each genus show a close relationship to each other. In some cases, the genus is subdivided into a further category called subgenus. Although the subgenus is given a definite name, it is not included in the specific name of the bird. Members of the subgenus have further peculiar characteristics which separate them from other members of the genus.

    The next subdivision is the species. In many birds, the species name is the end of the complicated structure of nomenclature, but there are several divisions in some species which are called subspecies. The differences that divide species into subspecies can be geographical habitat, size, or pattern and color variations. In some instances, there is a wide variation in color among subspecies, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

    All scientific names are in Latin, are written in italics, and are of universal usage. Popular names often lead to confusion. Many birds may have the same popular name, but the full scientific name is never duplicate. Genera names can refer to characteristics of the genus. The names of species and subspecies frequently denote characteristics, habitat, or person for whom named. In many works, the name of the ornithologist who first discovered and named the species follows the scientific name.

    A frequent practice in aviculture literature is to eliminate the second or species name if the bird is a subspecies. For example, Swainson’s Blue Mountain Lorikeet is most frequently listed as Trichoglossus moluccanus rather than Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus. Confusion often arises due to indiscriminate usage of the words “parrot” and “parakeet” or “lory” or “lorikeet.”

    The terms “parakeet” and “lorikeet” generally apply to slender long-tailed birds; “parrot” and “lory” apply to short-tailed birds. Size has very little to do with these categories. There are many parakeets larger than some parrots and many lorikeets larger than some lories. The practice of calling parakeets by the designation parrots and lorikeets by the term lories is mainly a holdover from early ornithological practices.

    Distribution

    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.

    South and Central America are particularly rich in parrot life. Africa and India contribute some very popular members of this family. China and other Oriental countries have many varieties. The Philippine Islands have some very choice parrots which are seldom seen in this country. Many of the South Pacific Islands boast a wide range of parrot types.

    However, it is Australia that provides the largest selection of the world’s really exotic parrots. From Australia come the Budgerigar and Cockatiel, the world’s most popular and easily bred parrot-like birds. Most of the world’s family of Cockatoos and a majority of the species of large parakeets are native to Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand.

    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.

    Appearance

    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.

    Variation

    Every conceivable color combination has been tried by Mother Nature in adorning the parrot family. The most colorful parrots are the lories, in which reds and greens predominate, but blue, purple, brown, yellow, and black can also be seen. A variation in shape is also characteristic of the parrot family.

    Technically speaking, any member of the Parrot family is a parrot. Speaking less broadly, but more correctly, the Order of parrots is divided into many different categories and many different kinds of birds. The Order of parrots is called Psittaciformes, and all members have certain general characteristics. 

    Their physical characteristics are a short hooked bill and brightly colored plumage. Most hooked bills can exert great force, useful in ontaining food or as a weapon against enemies. Most parrots have strong, heavy legs and feet, useful in climbing through trees in search of food. In this respect, the bill also aids in climbing.

    Family

    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:

    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.

    African Grey Parrot
    Image Credits: DickDaniels, WikiMedia

    Vocal Abilities

    The unsurpassed talker among all parrots is the African Gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus). 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.

    Health

    The monk, or green parakeet, one of the hardiest parrot species, is native to South America.

    Sulfur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)
    Image Credits: Nel_Botha-NZ

    Companionship

    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.

    As Pets

    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.

    Captive Amazon Parrots are alert and relatively good-tempered. Individual parrots have been known to live as long as 80 years. 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 make 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.

    Video Credits: Animal Planet
    Image Credits: edmondlafoto

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