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NOTE: This page considers South American parrots (subfamily Arinae) other than macaws. Learn about macaws.

The 150 species of short-tailed parrots (i.e., excepting macaws) share a similar morphology: stocky bodies with short grasping claws, short tail, and most notably a short blunt down curved bill. Many of these species are not spectacularly colored, although some bear bright features on the head or wings. Most variation among these species is on size and shape.

The sexes are usually alike, whereas many other birds are sexually dimorphic. Also setting parrots apart is their complex social behavior.

Parrots are social and squawk loudly, communicating primarily by sound, which carries great distances through the thick jungle vegetation.

Significant taxonomic groups include parakeets (Aratinga, Pyrrhura and Brotogeris), parrotlets (Forpus, Touit) and Amazon parrots (Amazona).

Among the most striking parrots of Amazonia is the hawk-headed parrot (Deroptyus accipitrinus). It has a ring of feathers around its neck. During displays, when excited or angry, it raises the feathers to present a ruff of feathers that increases the apparent size of the head.

Parrots are distributed worldwide, primarily in the Southern hemisphere and throughout tropical and subtropical regions. They reach their greatest species diversity in South America, followed by Oceania (Australia and Indonesia) and Africa. Species vary widely in distribution. The rarest tend to have very limited distribution, restricted to a few known locations.

The short-tailed parrots of the Americas are mostly restricted to the Neotropics. Diversity is highest in lowland regions but some species' habitat extends to high mountain areas, as far as the tree line.

The parrot's bill is its key to unlocking food sources inaccessible to other animals. The upper mandible is hinged, allowing a greater range of motion than the bills of other birds. This additional motion allows the bird to climb with its bill by grasping branches, as well as using its claws. Such skill enables them to perform acrobatic feats that endear them to those that love these birds. (Photo of macaw skull.)

The lower jaw is heavily muscled, unlike mammals whose jaw muscles extend down from the skull. The powerful muscles provide the nut crunching power needed to break open hard nuts and seeds.

Most parrots also eat fruit. In captivity, parrots are fed a variety of seeds such as sunflowers, millet and buckwheat. However, these do not provide enough calcium, so the diet is supplemented with cuttlebone or oyster shell.

In Amazonia, wild parrots congregate on exposed riverbanks to consume clay. Perhaps this provides them "natural" vitamins. Another idea is that the clay helps detoxify harmful substances ingested in the diet.

While a number of parrot species mate for life, others are a bit more flexible in their marital habits. Pairing may take place for just a few years, or even a season. Nests are usually in treeholes, while some species prefer to hollow out a termite nest. Only a handful of species build nests of twigs.

The clutch is usually one or two eggs, up to four in smaller species such as parakeets. Eggs incubate for three or more weeks. Parrot parents invariably dote on their young, carefully tending the hatchlings. However, in the wild, it is usually the first to hatch that gets most attention, and food, so only rarely do all the hatchlings fledge.

Fledging is an occasion of great importance to parents and babies. It is their first step (or flight) into the wide world, like your first day in school or a teenager going to college for the first time. However, for the parrot family it is a matter of life and death. For the adults, it is a culmination of their hard work building the nest, fending off predators and constantly feeding the young. For the fledging, it is do or die, literally. As they launch themselves forth, they risk falling to the forest floor where snakes and cats lie in wait.

If the young bird makes it back to the nest, they will hang around as they slowly learn the skills needed to survive in the forest. The parent will continue to feed its offspring for up to a year. Age to maturity varies among species. Smaller species mature more quickly, within two or three years. Older species may take five years or more.

On the roll call of endangered species, parrots are among the best represented. Parrots are intelligent, long-lived, playful and loyal creatures, making them a delight to bird lovers. Although most pet animals are captive-bred, thousands of parrots are still wild-caught, perpetuating the trade.

Just as serious a threat is habitat destruction. Some parrots adapt well to human settlement, even cities and suburbs. However, to preserve the diversity of parrots, conservationists and resource managers must focus on habitat conservation as the bottom line.


Wikipedia: Parrots Everything About Parrots and Hookbills
Arthur Grosset: List of South American parrots (scroll down page) parrot parrot
PBS Nature: Parrots
The Parrot Society UK
Monterey Bay: PARROTS Psittacidae
World Almanac: Parrot
California Parrot Project
Animal Diversity Web: Family Psittacidae (parrots)
Astor, M. (2002) Amazon yields new parrot species. Chicago Sun-Times, June 2.
BBC: Parrots return after nine decades
BBC: Parrot's oratory stuns scientists
Bird Life International (Parrot species)
Infonatura Species Index: family Psittacidae
Miyaki, C. et al (1997). Sex identification of South American parrots (Psittacidae, aves) using the human minisatellite probe 33.15 The Auk 114: 516-520
Tavares, E.S. et al. (2004) Phylogenetic relationships among some neotropical Parrot genera (Psittacidae) based on mitochondrial sequences. The Auk 121: 230-242
Tavares, E.S. et al. (2006) Phylogenetic Relationships and Historical Biogeography of Neotropical Parrots (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae: Arini) Inferred from Mitochondrial and Nuclear DNA Sequences. Systematic Biology 55: 454-470

Care and breeding
Talking Green Parrot
Parrot Parrot
UK Parrot Cages
The Pet Bird Page
All About Parrots
Up At Six: Hawkheaded Parrots
Quaker Parrots

Mainly photos
Birdway: South American Parrots and Macaws
Animal World: Parakeets Family Psittacidae
Exotic Birds of South and Central America
Parrot Parrot: Species Photo Gallery
Pet Station: Birdstation Photo Gallery
Skulls Unlimited: Macaw Skull
Petrobras: Posters and leaflets, Psittacidae of South America

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