Published on May 16, 2020

Parrot Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

The parrots are a distinctive ancient group well warranting their ordinal rank. They show some affinities in anatomy and in habits to both the pigeons and to the cuckoos. Being essentially arboreal birds, their fossil record is poor. The earliest so far unearthed are of Miocene age, less than 15 million years ago. These show parrots were formerly more widespread in temperate latitude than they are today, spreading north almost to Canada in North America and to France and in Europe.

The parrots’ present distribution is pan-tropical. They occur on all lands in the Southern Hemisphere except the southern tip of Africa and the more remote Pacific islands. In the Northern Hemisphere they now reach northern Mexico (central United States, until recently) in the New World and southeastern Asia in the Old. Parrots fall into six major groups, which are sometimes given family rank, but the structural difference between them are so slight that most students today accord them subfamily rank at best.

While they have never been domesticated in the sense that chickens, ducks, and pigeons have, probably more species of parrots have been tamed and raised in captivity than any other group of birds. Primitive tribes have kept them as pets since time immemorial. The talking ability of the African grey Parrot is mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman writings. The parrot’s appeal is partly aesthetic, partly anthropomorphic. Coupled with their attractive hues and the ease with which they are tamed and maintained in captivity are their intensely human traits of imitating the human voice, of showing affection to each other, of reacting to flattery, and of using their feet almost as hands. No other bird holds food in one foot and bites pieces off, much as one eats a sandwich. Parrots are extremely long-lived. How long the birds live in the wild, where natural enemies take their toll, is unknown, but individuals have lived upwards of 50 years in captivity, and one is reported to have reached 80.


Parrot’s Attributes

Parrots develop their ability as mimics only in captivity. In the wild they are raucous-voiced birds that shriek or squawk or Twitter, depending on their size, and have a poor range of vocal expression. Yet in captivity they learn to imitate all sorts of sounds, some species better than others. The African Grey Parrot is considered one of the best mimics, closely followed by the green amazons of Central and South America. The larger and the smaller species do not do so well. Cockatoos and macaws can learn a phrase or two, and the little budgerigars and parakeets can be taught to whistle a tune if one has patience enough.

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