Parrots have unique biological and behavioral traits, such as human-like vocal cords, which enable them to mimic human speech. Interestingly, some parrot species, such as the African Grey Macaw, can live up to 80 years. And parrots sleep in the dark as humans do.
Read on for our carefully curated parrot facts, covering more about this adaptation and other facts for a comprehensive understanding of these intelligent creatures.
Do you want more interesting facts about our feathered friends? Check out these general facts about birds!
Parrots are a diverse family of birds found in tropical and subtropical regions, such as rainforests in South America and savannas in Africa. There are over 300 different species of parrots, like the Golden Parakeet. Moreover, they come from three families; one contains true parrots2.
The Budgerigar is a small parrot from the Australian outback. Despite its size, it has gained global popularity for its flamboyant feathers and friendly behavior. On the other hand, the blue-colored and intelligent Hyacinth Macaw lives in South American forests and is the largest flying parrot species. Some parrots can fly; the Kakapo are the only flightless parrots in the world.
Parrot vocalizations come from the syrinx, a complex vocal organ at the base of the trachea. Compared to humans who speak with lips, teeth, and tongue, a parrot's syrinx produces a wide range of sounds1.
For example, the African Grey Parrot can mimic over a thousand words. Moreover, most parrot species strengthen their bonds with other parrots by repeating their peers' calls. They can also mimic predator sounds to help them escape.
Additionally, most parrots can mimic the sounds of telephones and car alarms. Despite mimicking human speech, parrots do not understand complex language, including the meaning behind words. They associate human voices with emotions, but they miss complete language comprehension.
Parrots use their zygodactylic feet (two toes facing forward and two backward) to grasp food and bring it to their curved beak. Intriguingly, these birds eat like humans, who use their hands to hold and bring food to their mouths.
Moreover, parrots have developed their impressive foot-beak coordination from navigating the wild. Their grip is similar to humans, holding their food steadily and with a firm and flexible grip. Likewise, their curved beaks can tear and nibble at the food on their feet.
Why do parrots eat with their feet? Their four toes help them judge the texture, size, and weight before eating. By feeling out their food, they can distinguish tasty food from less tasty ones; they also use their feet to play with toys and explore their environment.
A relatively well-known parrot fact relates to their curious behavior.
Most parrots are inherently curious, driving them to explore their environment. Moreover, parrots love toys and puzzles that test their problem-solving skills. For example, a parrot displays sharp cognitive abilities when solving puzzles. The African Grey uses sticks to get food or other objects.
Additionally, native parrots investigate every inch of their surroundings and experiment with every toy. Parrots are curious about other animals and humans, imitating their behavior and sounds. Their mimicry indicates that parrots want to understand the dynamics of their group.
Additionally, many parrot species are highly observant and never stop learning. Their complex social dynamics allow them to engage with their peers regularly. They may also challenge stronger birds while exploring the alpha dynamics within their groups. Finally, beyond mimicry, they can even join human activities.
Regarding intelligence, parrots are more similar to some primates than other birds. For instance, parrots can use human words in their proper contexts. Besides, they can understand concepts like color, number, and shape. For example, Kea Parrots in New Zealand can solve logical puzzles, indicating an understanding of fundamental cause and effect.
Some parrot species, like cockatoos and macaws, can live for over 80 years. For instance, the world's longest-living parrot is the cockatoo Cocky Bennett, a pet parrot who lived for 120 years in Australia.
How do parrots live so long? Besides genetics, their environment, diet, care, and mental stimulation influence their lifespan. Since parrots are social and intelligent animals, they must exercise their smarts through games and puzzles.
Moreover, pet parrots need a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and seeds to keep their feathers shiny and healthy. While parrots are omnivorous, you don't need to give your pet parrot meat.
Additionally, parrot owners must take them to the vet for regular check-ups to identify possible health issues early. Owners must also observe them closely and meet their needs, for they can also break open metal cages.
Unlike many birds, parrots practice monogamy. When male and female parrots unite during the breeding season, they remain so for the rest of their lives. Moreover, their relationship features mutual support, companionship, and togetherness; parrots don't get jealous of their partners, for instance.
A bonded male parrot forages with his mate, and they preen each other daily. At night, they snuggle and keep each other warm. However, they can separate and look for another mate if they fail to achieve breeding success. On the other hand, when a partner dies, the remaining male or female parrot might be alone for the rest of its life.
In 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson published his classic novel "Treasure Island," which started the connection between parrots and pirates. The cunning pirate Long John Silver often had a colorful parrot, specifically Captain Flint, on his shoulder.
The bird liked to mimic human speech, particularly the phrase "Pieces of eight!" reflecting the common currency during the Golden Age of Piracy. Thanks to the book, a loudmouthed parrot echoing pirate lingo has become part of popular culture.
The extremely rare Kakapo are New Zealand parrots and are the only ones that can't fly. Unlike other parrots, the Kakapo mothers build nests in the forest undergrowth. She leaves her chicks in their nest while foraging at night.
Eventually, the chicks become curious enough to explore their environment. They use their legs to climb trees and hop around the forest floor. Without the ability to fly, the Kakapo parrot navigates their world by hopping. Upon adulthood, the Kakapo parrot becomes one of the world's heaviest parrots.
Finally, in our list of parrot facts, we look at their conservation. Deforestation and urbanization threaten wild parrots everywhere. Human development has fragmented previously undisturbed habitats, cutting down trees and clearing forests, leaving birds like Amazon parrots without shelter and food.
Besides habitat destruction, climate change also affects the parrots' cycles and food sources.
Meanwhile, traders capture birds and sell them to the illegal pet trade, where many parrots die during transport. Then, these captive birds have to adapt to life away from their natural habitats.
Today, conservationists work hard to preserve wild populations by protecting forests and jungles. International conventions and national laws also aim to curb the illegal pet trade.
We hope you enjoyed this list of interesting facts about parrots!
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with P.
Pepperberg, I. M. (1999). The Alex studies: Cognitive and communicative abilities of grey parrots. Harvard University Press.
Forshaw, J. M., & Knight, F. (2010). Parrots of the world. Princeton University Press.