parrot, common name for members of the order Psittaciformes, comprising 315 species of colorful birds, pantropical in distribution, including the parakeet. Parrots have large heads and short necks, strong feet with two toes in front and two in back (facilitating climbing and grasping), and strong, thick bills, with the larger hooked upper mandible hinged to the bones of the head. They are arboreal, feeding on seeds and fruits—except the kea ( Nestor notabilis ) of New Zealand, which is a scavenger in winter. Although they belong to a different order, parrots have certain affinities to pigeons and cuckoos; like them, they feed their young by regurgitation, and they have swellings (ceres) at the base of the nostrils. Usually their voices are harsh, but the thick, fleshy tongue and special voice apparatus permit a wide range of articulations, and some species can be taught to imitate the human voice. The best mimics are the African gray parrots, Psittacus erithacus, and the Amazons, genus Amazona. In size parrots range from the 31/2-in. (8.7-cm) pygmy parrot of the South Pacific to the 40-in. (100-cm) Amazon of South America, while in build they vary from the stocky lovebirds, e.g., the masked lovebird ( Agapornis personata ), to the slender lories, e.g., the black-capped lory ( Lorius domicella ) and the cockatoo. Their plumage is brilliant, the bodies solid green, yellow, red, white, or black with contrasting red, yellow, or blue on the head, wings, and tail. The cockatoos, crested parrots native to the Australian region, may be pink, white with yellow or scarlet crests, or dark-plumaged, like the great black, or palm, cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus. They eat insects and are also able to crack extremely hard nuts. The smaller cockateels are gray with yellow heads. The large, long-tailed macaws are found in the rain forests of Central and South America. The species are named for their gaudy colors, e.g., the scarlet ( Ara macao ), gold-and-blue ( A. ararauna ), and red-and-green macaws. In captivity adult macaws may be vicious. In the wild they travel in pairs. The small Old World parrots known as lovebirds are so named for the apparent fondness of the mates for one another. The Australasian lory and smaller lorikeet ( Trichoglossus haematodus ) feed on fruits and nectar. Parrots are long-lived, and many are popular as cage birds. Care should be exercised, however, by selecting birds with known histories, since even apparently healthy birds may be carriers of infectious psittacosis, or parrot fever. Parrots are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Psittaciformes, family Psittacidae.
See study by J. M. Corshaw (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.