Parrots are a family of birds belonging to the order of Psittaciformes and consist of approximately 350 species. Also known as psittacines, they are usually grouped into two families: the Psittacidae (true parrots) and the Cacatuidae (cockatoos).
Parrots are found in most warm and tropical regions, and are grouped as either old or new world birds. Parrot distribution from Africa, Pacific regions and Southeast Asiaare known as Old World parrots and parrot distribution from South America, including caribbean Islands are known as New World parrots.
Psittaciformes are the most threatened group of birds in the world and the macaw family rank first on the list as the most threatened of the Psittaciformes.
Characteristic features of parrots include a strong curved bill, an upright stance, strong legs, and clawed zygodactyl feet. Most parrots are predominantly green, with other bright colors, and some species are multi-colored.
Cockatoo species range from mostly white to mostly black, and have a mobile crest of feathers on the top of their heads. Most parrots are monomorphic or minimally sexually dimorphic. This means that the genders of all parrots are either visually apparent or not by their difference in plumage. For example: There is no apparent difference between the male and female gender in the African grey parrot- this is known as sexually monomorphic – whereas there is apparent difference in the male and female gender in the Eclectus parrot, visually apparent by their pulumage. This is known as sexually dimorphic.
There are about 60 types of Amazon. There are also some very attractive hybrids and different subspecific varieties within the group.
In captivity one often sees the blue fronted and the orange winged or red-lored, though many other types are popular as pets. Amazons are basically mottled green in colour and have short stumpy tails and a robust body. Pionus parrots are related to the Amazons.
There are over 40 different types of cockatoo.
In captivity one most often sees the pinkish moluccan cockatoo, the white umbrella cockatoo or the sulphur crested cockatoo. The last-mentioned comes in three different sizes: Lesser, Mediumand Greater – these are all separate species but share in common a pronounced yellow crest and a delicate yellow blush to the white of the underside of the wings.
Cockatoos are strong flyers (the smaller ones can almost hover) and need plenty of exercise and supervised freedom, a large outside, stimulating play aviary for days of good weather. Cockatoos are highly intelligent, emotional, sensitive birds and will easily suffer neurotic behaviour, leading to self-mutilation under captive conditions. Their highly-strung nature makes themeasily susceptible to suffering claustrophobia when confined to cages for long periods. Males are highly aggressive during peak hormonal breeding periods.
Behaviourally they are perhaps the most difficult of all parrot to keep in the home and therefore should not be considered or termed as a pet to keep in the home. One should especially never keep a single pet cockatoo alone at home all day while out at work. Cockatoos are noisier than macaws – the larger cockatoos have a vocal range of one mile or more and are especially noisy when they want something (usually ones attention).
Cockatoos are very good at escaping from their cages and can even open locked padlocks (think about it!). Once out in the house, nothing is safe from a cockatoo’s urge to chew things up. If you are going to get angry about this, don’t get a cockatoo because it will happen!
The biggest cockatoo is the Palm cockatoo (60 cm). They are thankfully rare in captivity. An unusual feature is a patch of skin on the face, the colour of which the bird can change to signal its emotional state.
Umbrella cockatoos (also called the Greater White Crested) are just a tad smaller than moluccans and are white with a lemon yellow blush under their wings and tail. They are similar in personality to moluccans (this also means they are just as demanding and subject to the same emotional problems if you leave them alone all day). These parrots have a large white crest used for signalling and communication with you and its fellows. Pet umbrellas like to be cuddled and cossetted for hours, so do not buy one if you cannot provide this.
Leadbeater’s cockatoos (also called Major Mitchell) are about 45 cm long and have wonderful pink and white feathers on the body with a striped yellow and red crest, the ends of the feathers of which are tipped with white!
The smallest cockatoo is the Goffin (about 25 cm) followed by the Timor cockatoo (30 cm).
The Galah (also called the rose-breasted) is one of the gaudiest cockatoos: they have pink breast feathers with grey feathers on the wing and back. The crest is white and pink. Pretty they may be but in Australia where they come from, farmers regard them as vermin because huge flocks come down to the fields and destroy everything. Thousands are culled inhumanely every year by farmers.
There are many different types of macaw and unfortunately, some extinct ones. There are also some very attractive hybrids and different subspecific varieties within the group.
In captivity one most often sees the blue and yellow macaw, the green-winged or the scarlet. These are all large and powerful birds. The largest is the blue hyacinth macaw and the smallest, the diminutive Hahn’s macaw. All these birds share the same body plan with a more or less bare patch of skin around the eye and a long tail.
There are ten species of eclectus parrot.
They all show marked sexual dimorphism with the males being a solid bright green colour with varying amounts of red at the wing edges and undersides and the females red with purple or blue on the back. They are about the size of an Amazon.
They live in the islands of Indonesia, Australasia and parts of Northern Australia. Of the ten species it tends to be only the Grand, Red-sided, Solomon Island and Vosmaeri that are seen in captivity.
They do not make good pets since the male is very prone to self-plucking if distressed and the female extremely aggressive and domineering: she may keep the male away from any nestbox or food bowl and have been known to starve or bully him to death.
Female Eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus)Eclectus parrots need a relatively specialised diet of fruits: figs, pomegranate, mango etc. rather than seeds. All parrots need more than just seeds of course but this is especially true of the eclectus. They have a special need for vitamin A and calcium.
There are two main types of african grey parrot.
The two types are the Central African grey which has a red tail and both upper and lower mandible are black and the Timneh – which is smaller – has a marroon tail edged with brownish hue and the upper mandible is reddish tipped with black. The rest of the body is covered in mottled light and dark grey feathers.
There are about 120 types of lory or lorikeet if one includes the subspecies.
These birds are nearly all brightly and beautifully coloured with brilliant glossy plumage. They are smallish at mostly 20 to 30 cm and have a sharp long bill which is an adaptation to their diet of nectar, pollen and fruits. Their tongues are also adapted to this diet, having brush-like papillae (the latin name for the Rainbow lorikeet is Trichoglossus – ‘hairy tongued’).
In the wild they are to be found in Australasia and Indonesia. Like all parrots they are intelligent and entertaining but not really suitable as companion birds because of the complexity of their special diet – which also produces especially messy droppings.