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Home > News & Events > MAARSianChronicles > Issue 11: February 2005 > Did You Know?: What Makes a Parrot a Parrot?

Did You Know?

What Makes a Parrot a Parrot?

by Krista Menzel and Alayne Rueber



Psittaciformes is a medium-sized order of birds comprised of several families, numerous genera, over 350 species, and hundreds of sub-species.




Parrots have large, broad heads with short necks, and stout bodies with a tail.




Parrots have thick, powerful beaks with the lower jaw mandible fitting up under the top one — thus the name "hookbill." They are distinctive in that their upper mandible is hinged at the joining to the skull, which gives it more maneuverability than in other birds. All parrots — from budgies to macaws — have strong bites and can be destructive chewers.




Most parrot species have thick muscular tongues that allow them to manipulate food items easily in their mouths. The exceptions are the lories and other nectar-feeding parrots, which have longer, thinner tongues adapted for collecting nectar and pollen from flowers.


Peach-faced Lovebirds are one of 360 species of parrots, all of which share some similar traits.

Peach-faced Lovebirds are one of over 350 species of parrots, all of which share some similar traits.



Parrots are "zygodactyl" — their feet have four toes, with two pointing forward and two pointing backward to facilitate climbing. Many parrot species pick up food and other objects with their feet.




Parrots are not domesticated animals. Only a few species (e.g., Budgerigars and Cockatiels) are more than a few generations removed from the wild.




Parrots are prey animals. Many of their behaviors are responses to their sense of danger, such as their frantic reaction to being grabbed from above with a towel or their fear of hoses and other snake-like objects.




Parrots have eyes on either side of their head, giving them almost 360-degree vision to watch for predators.




Parrots live socially in pairs and flocks.




Parrots are highly intelligent. They are busy for many hours each day in the wild, seeking food, socializing with flockmates, raising chicks, and avoiding predators. Captive parrots require lots of toys, activities, and interaction with people or other birds to maintain their mental health.




Parrots communicate through complex vocalizations that they learn from their family and flock. Some parrots learn to mimic non-parrot sounds, like the human voice.




Parrots are cavity nesters. Most excavate or take advantage of hollows in trees to raise their young. Quaker Parrots build large community nests from sticks. A few unusual species nest on the ground.




Parrots are "altricial" when they hatch, meaning that they are completely helpless and rely on many weeks or months of parental care before they can fend for themselves.




In most species, both parrot parents help feed, protect, and socialize their young.


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