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 3 1⁄2-in. (8.7-cm) pygmy parrot of the South Pacific to the 40-in. (100-cm) hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) of South America, while in build they vary from the stocky lovebirds, e.g., the yellow-collared, or masked, lovebird (Agapornis personata), to the slender lories, e.g., the purple-naped lory (Lorius domicella) and the cockatoo. The flightless kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) of New Zealand is the heaviest, weighing up to 9 lb (4 kg), and one of the longest lived, with a lifespan of up to 120 years. The plumage is typically 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 cockatiels 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), blue-and-yellow (A. ararauna), and red-and-green, or green-winged, macaws (A. chloropterus). 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 lories and the smaller lorikeets feed on fruits and nectar.
Parrots are popular as cage birds, but they require intellectual stimulation, and many species can become aggressive as they mature if improperly raised. Care also should be exercised by selecting birds with known histories, since even apparently healthy birds may be carriers of infectious psittacosis, or parrot fever. Captive parrots that have been released or escaped have become established and even invasive in some areas, such as the monk parakeet in New York City, peach-faced lovebirds in Arizona, and a number of species in S California.
Parrots are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Psittaciformes, superfamilies Psittacoidea, Cacatuoidea, and Strigopoidea.
See study by J. M. Corshaw (1973).
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