With their captivating colors, acrobatic antics and often sɪʟʟy personalities, these avian characters are hard to resist.
Pet parrots can be incredible if demanding friends, but for people more accustomed to fluffy mammalian companions, they can present some unexpected challenges. The long-lived, intelligent and highly social birds need especially high amounts of attention and enrichment, or else they can pick up bad habits and find themselves bored and stressed to the point where they pluck out their own feathers.
While some pet parrots come from breeders, trade in exotic parrots is big business around the globe, and it contributes significantly to their decline in the wild. Thankfully trafficking in wild birds has been less of a problem in the U.S. since the passage of the 1992 Wild Bird Conservation Act and CITES restrictions on importing exotic species.
And now, get a little bird-brained with these 14 facts about parrots:
1. Not All Parrots Are Tropical
Of the roughly 350 known species of parrots, most live in the tropical and subtropical regions of Australia, Asia, Central and South America and Africa. But some parrots break that geographic mold. Keas live in alpine regions of New Zealand and nest in ground burrows, while the enᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed maroon-fronted parrot (Rhynchopsitta terrisi) dwells at 6,000 feet in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of Mexico.
2. Some Parrots Grind Their Own Calcium Supplements
As a famous research subject, the African grey parrot Alex was said to have the intelligence of a human 5-year-old. Now the psittacine tribe can claim another brainy feat: tool use. Researchers at the University of York and the University of St. Andrews observed captive greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa) using date pits and pebbles to pulverize cockle shells. Male vasas ate the powder and then offered a regurgitated calcium-rich snack to females before mating.
3. Your Pet Parrot May Outlive You
Many parrots have near-human lifespans, a consideration many people don’t truly grasp when seeking a parrot as a companion. Larger species like macaws and cockatoos are known to live for between 35 and 50 years. Tarbu, an African grey in England, lived to the ripe old age of 55. The current oldest parrot is 82-year-old Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) that resides at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
4. The Heftiest Parrot Weighs as Much as a Cat
Parrots cover an incredible range of shapes and sizes. The tiny buff-faced pygmy (Micropsitta pusio) weighs a mere ounce and is about the size of an adult human’s finger. The world’s longest parrot is the brɪʟʟiant hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), checking in at nearly 3.5 feet from tip to tail. But New Zealand’s flightless, nocturnal kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) wins for weight: A fully grown male can register as much as nine pounds—the average weight of an adult housecat.
5. The World Record Holder Knew More Than 1,700 Words
Though parrots are generally famous for being chatty, Puck, a cheery blue parakeet, landed in the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records for his vocabulary sᴋɪʟʟs, with a recognized set of 1,728 words. In addition to speaking, Amazon parrots are renowned singers, including Groucho, who entertained TV auᴅɪᴇnces with a rendition of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” in 2010.
6. Are Zygodactyl
Like most other birds, parrots have four toes per foot. But instead of the usual three-in-front-one-behind arrangement, parrot toes are configured for maximum grip: two in front and two behind, like two pairs of opposable thumbs. Combined with beaks that can crack even the world’s toughest nuts, their unique feet make them formidable eaters, not to mention dexterous climbers.