When you hear the word “parrot,” you probably think of the classic green bird that sits on a pirate’s shoulder in the movies. Parrots are not a single species, nor a single genus, nor family, but an entire order of birds called Psittaciformes. There are around 372 species of parrot, and they vary greatly. Let’s take a look at some that you might not normally think of as parrots, and some that are just plain spectacular.
1. Senegal Parrot
You might think the Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is native to Senegal, and it is, but it ranges all over West Africa. They have gray heads and bills, with a vest ranging from yellow to deep orange among its three subspecies. Senegal parrots are popular pets, and are trapped for that purpose, despite the fact that it is illegal. They breed well in captivity, however, and hand-raised parrots make better petsthan those captured from the wild.
2. Orange-Bellied Parrot
The orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is a small bird native to Australia. It was once widespread, but is now only seen in a shrinking area in the southeast. The males are bright yellow, orange, green, and blue, while those colors in females are somewhat muted. The orange-bellied parrot is listed as “critically endangered” because it only breeds in one place—Melaleuca, in Tasmania. Numbers have declined in recent years, and there may be as few as 50 individuals remaining in the wild. However, there are over 200 in captivity [PDF].
3. Hyacinth Macaw
Macaws are parrots that have a bone in their tongues to facilitate eating hard seeds and nuts. The hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is notable for its lovely shade of blue. It lives in South America (mainly in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay) and is the largest of the macaws, and the largest parrot that flies. From beak to tail, it can grow to over three feet long! The hyacinth macaw is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. The main threat to these birds is poaching for the pet trade.
4. Major Mitchell's Cockatoo
Cockatoos are in the parrot family Cacatuidae, and there are 21 species. Major Mitchell's cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) is one of the showiest, with white and salmon-pink feathers. It lives in Australia. The name comes from Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell of the British Army who was instrumental in surveying southeastern Australia. This cockatoo is also sometimes called Leadbeater's Cockatoo, after naturalist Benjamin Leadbeater, after whom the species name was derived. Major Mitchell's cockatoo has a large range, and is listed as “least concern.”
5. Pesquet's Parrot
Pesquet's parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus) has its own genus and is also called the vulturine parrot because it looks more like a vulture than a parrot. However, it never eats carrion; it subsists mostly on figs from the New Guinea rainforest. This bird sports lovely black-to-gray and bright red feathers, which are prized by hunters to make ceremonial hats and items for tourists. That’s why Pesquet's parrot is listed as “vulnerable” at the IUCN Red List.
6. Rose-ringed Parakeet
A parakeet could be any of dozens of species of small parrot with long tail feathers. The rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) is sometimes called the ring-necked parakeet, named after the display of color around its neck found only in the males. These parrots are abundant in the wild, and are notable making a lot of noise. Still, they are popular as pets, and can easily learn to speak. The rose-ringed parakeet is found all over the Middle East and large parts of Africa and Asia, and is listed as “least concern” as a species.
7. Palm Cockatoo
Sometimes also called the Goliath cockatoo, the palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) is native to New Guinea and Queensland, Australia. The bird has a striking appearance with its gray to black feathers and two-foot length. But what really stands out is its bill, which is the second-largest of all parrots. The upper and lower bill work fairly independently, which, along with its size, allows the palm cockatoo to eat large hard-shelled nuts. The red patches on its cheeks will change color if it is startled. The palm cockatoo is listed as “least concern” along the endangered spectrum, but is threatened by loss of habitat and the demand for the unusual species as pets. They can live up to 90 years in captivity, but average about 50 years in the wild.
8. Papuan Lorikeet
Drägüs via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Lorikeets are a type of parrot that has a “brush” on the end of its tongue, in order to gather nectar and pollen from flowers. As the name suggests, the Papuan lorikeet (Charmosyna papou) lives in West Papua, Indonesia. Adult males are have red and black feathers with incongruously bright green tail feathers, although the birds are sometimes black when they go through a melanistic phase. Females are less brightly-colored, and juveniles are black and green. The three subspecies of Papuan lorikeet are classified as endangered.
The kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) might be the strangest parrot of all. It certainly is the largest, as it can grow up to two feet in length and weigh up to nine pounds. The kakapo does not fly, unlike all other parrots. It is native to New Zealand, where no terrestrial mammals lived to prey on the native fauna until the Maori arrived about 700 years ago. For a ground parrot, the kakapo is surprisingly good at climbing trees. As if that weren’t enough superlatives, the kakapo is also the longest-lived parrot, and can survive up to 120 years, with an averagelifespan of 90 years!
Kakapos are critically endangered, as their numbers have declined steadily ever since people and their dogs and cats arrived in New Zealand. They were thought to be doomed in the 1970s, until a breeding colony was found on Stewart Island. The Kakapo Recovery Project has been working since then to bring the numbers back.