What’s So Special About Parrots? (Answered!)

Maybe you’ve just finished reading an exciting chapter from the novel Treasure Island, or perhaps you recently met your best friend’s budgie. Whatever the case may be, you want to find out what makes parrots special.

What is special about parrots?

It is their remarkable complexity and intrigue: the capability of communicating with intention; the only bird to eat with their feet; and rainbow-like colors that make them the most colorful birds.

Why Parrots Are Special

Parrots can proudly take the title of being the most diverse group of birds on the planet. It’s their complexity that makes them so special. There are over 350 parrot species ranging from the tiny pygmy parrots to the giant hyacinth macaws.

With the exception of Antarctica, these large and diverse group of birds live on every continent in the world.

The speech ability of parrots is used in more ways than mimicry—songs and squawks are among the many vocal sounds they can produce.

Most are generalist herbivores and eat a wide group of foods including seeds, fruit, nectar, insects and even flesh. It is believed parrots choose their food based on its nutritional benefits.

Pet bird owners enjoy spending time with their pet parrots because they can talk and sing and feel and exhibit emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger.

There are many stories of humans being saved from depression through the relationship with their bird.

Parrots are affectionate and like to be petted. And you can usually count on them to be a long-term companion because some species can live up to 60 years.

It is little wonder that they are the world’s most popular undomesticated pet.

How Smart Are Parrots?

Cognitive abilities in parrots can vary between species, but overall, they are highly intelligent.

The Corvid family (crows, ravens, jays, etc.) and the Parrot family are often equally cited at the top of the “smart bird” list, but this is highly debated among scientists.

The question that is debated upon is: on which scale do you measure intelligence?

Some birds are more intelligent in certain areas—for example, homing pigeons are exceptional navigators.

They can be transported to an unknown location hundreds of miles away from their home and still manage to find their way back.

The circuitry in a parrot’s brain is similar to the circuitry in the brains of primates, including humans.

Although the parrot brain is small, it is incredibly efficient, and scientists have determined that a parrot’s logic is equivalent to the average 4-year-old human child.

Speech

Most people familiar with parrots know that these birds can mimic human speech.

Studies suggest that some not only mimic but also understand up to 100 human words and can master more than one language. Others can also sing the words to songs.

Talking doesn’t come naturally to a parrot—it is something that requires extensive training with highly variable results.

Math

Some parrots have exhibited the ability to add, subtract, and grasp the meaning of “zero.” Others have demonstrated the ability to count as high as six.

The most well-known example of a parrot’s math skills was found in the famous grey parrot named Alex who was featured in Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s book Alex & Me.

During experiments, they found he was capable of both Arabic numeral addition and multiple objects set equation. The results revealed strong behavior previously thought only performed by humans.

Use Tools

Parrots can use tools to solve problems. They’ve been seen using sticks, but their favorite tool is their beak. This colorful bird’s beak can delicately peel grapes or powerfully crack open nuts.

Molted feathers and other objects have also been observed used by parrots as a body scratcher.

Are Parrots Unique In Other Ways?

Here are four other ways that make parrots special:

  • It is believed they may be capable of having a “theory of mind”—the ability to understand what other birds and humans are thinking.
  • Their toes are zygodactyl (zy-ga-dac-tyl). They have four toes like most birds, but they have two in front and two in the back, like two opposable thumbs.
  • Ability to taste with the tops of their beaks. Most of their taste buds are on the roof of their mouth.
  • They eat with their feet—the only bird that can bring food to their mouths with their feet.

Why Are Parrots So Colorful?

Researchers point to the following clues for why parrots are so colorful: resource competition, mutual mate choice, social selection, predation risk, sexual selection, and sexual promiscuity.

While no one knows for sure why parrots have the most vibrant colors of all bird species, what we do know is that it’s more common in larger types.

A few that are bound to make your eyes light up are the sun conure, scarlet and blue-and-gold macaws, and the lilac-crowned Amazon.  

Colorful smaller species of parrots include fig parrots, lories, and lorikeets. The rainbow lorikeet in particular is spectacularly alive in technicolor.

How Do Parrots Raise Their Young?

Here are some fun facts about parrot family life:

  • Parrots mate for life, and usually stay together even outside of mating season.
  • A pregnant parrot lays 2-8 eggs after 10-14 days, and the white eggs usually hatch 2-3 weeks later.
  • A baby parrot is called a chick.
  • Chicks get their feathers around 3 weeks and reach adulthood in 1-4 years.
  • The parents take turns sitting on the eggs until they hatch.
  • A few species of parrots make nests but most nest or make homes cavities in cliffs, in banks, in hollowed-out trees, or on the ground. 

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