Parrots: imitators or imposters – Erakina 

A company of parrots lazing in the sun.
Parrots are the naughty talkers and imitators of human speech.

Parrots or psittacines are the most commonly known birds. You can spot them anywhere. They are mostly known for their specialization in imitating human voices and speech. 

Parrots are a species that is majorly found in the wild but kept as pets too. 

They are mostly found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. The greatest diversity of parrots exists in South America and Australasia.

In India, they are commonly named ‘Mithoo’ and are quite popular for eating hot, red chillies. But these might just be the myths, so let’s confirm them…

Historical discoveries of parrots

Psittaciformes diversity in South America and Australasia proposes that parrots might have evolved in Gondwana, centered in Australasia. A higher amount of fossil remains are excavated in the northern hemisphere. 

Molecular studies suggest that the evolution of parrots occurred approximately 59 million years ago in Gondwana. 

Several fairly complete skeletons of parrot-like birds were found in England and Germany. These are not transitional fossils but rather the ancestries that evolved parallel to true parrots and cockatoos. 

 Earliest found fossils of a parrot.
Parrots have rare fossils to be found.

The earliest found evidence of modern parrots dates back to around 20-23 million years ago.

Types and distribution of parrots

Parrots are birds of roughly 389 species in 92 genera. Though they are found commonly among the wild or forests they too are facing the aftermath of constant hunting for pet-keeping, habitat loss and climatic changes. 

Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents and areas like Australia and Oceania, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa. Some Caribbean and Pacific islands are home to endemic varieties. 

The superfamily of parrots consists of these:

  • Cockatoos– These are mostly found in Australia and New Guinea, though some are also spotted in the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Wallacea and the Philippines.
 A white cockatoo spotted perching on a branch.
Cockatoos are as notorious birds as beautiful.
  • True Parrots- These range from Australia and New Guinea to Africa and South Asia.
    True parrots enjoying each other's company.
    True Parrots are quite commonly found and spotted.
  • New Zealand parrots- This species of parrots restrict their existence to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands up to Fiji Island. 
 Kea, a New Zealand parrot perching in snow.
Parrots in New Zealand are extraordinary hunters.

There are numerous exceptions to their common existence in the tropical and subtropical due to the following reasons:

  • Many parrots are found in the cool,  temperate zones of New Zealand and South America.
  • Some species are found to have lived in the southern United States too.
  • Many parrots have established their colonies in countries like the UK, Belgium, Spain and Greece.

The only parrot to have existed in the alpine climates is the Kea, endemic to the mountain ranges of the Southern Alps in South Island, New Zealand.

Characteristics of Parrots


  • It’s very rare to see parrots building nests in trees, instead, they are monogamous breeders, nesting in tree cavities. 
    • Only the Monk Parakeet and five species of love birds live in nests, built in trees.
    • Some parrots nest on the ground in New Zealand and Australia. 
      A monk parakeet sitting in its best.
      Monk parakeets build nests in trees to dwell.
  • Pair Bonds are strong in parrots and cockatoo and remain close even in non-breeding seasons.
    • Allopreening is used for bond maintenance.
  • Male birds use the unique color of their iris to woo the female birds.
    • The technique used for female attention includes slow, deliberate steps taken to constrict the eye for revealing the iris.
    • It is known as ‘Eye Blaze’ or parade.
  • El pro Parakeet and Golden Parakeet have shown the existence of Cooperative Breeding also.
    • Here, the birds other than the breeding pair help to raise the young one.
    • Though it’s rare to see this in parrots.


The diet of parrots consists mostly of seeds, fruit, nectar, pollen, buds, and sometimes arthropods and other animal prey.

Parrots are granivorous rather than seed dispersers, and in many cases where they are seen devouring a fruit, they are only eating the fruit to get at the seed. 

 A parrot eating nuts.
Parrots use their claws to grip their eatables and their sharp beaks to break them.

As seeds often have poisons to safeguard themselves, parrots carefully remove seed coats and other chemically endorsed fruit parts before ingestion. 

Many species in the Americas, Africa, and Papua New Guinea consume clay, which releases minerals and absorbs toxic compounds from the abdomen. 

Lories, lorikeets, hanging parrots, and swift parrots are primarily nectar and pollen consumers and have tongues with brush tips to collect them. 

Never knew that parrots were also hunters, but some of them are as follows:

  1. Golden-winged parakeets hunt water snails 
  2. Kea can prey on adult sheep
  3. Antipodes parakeet kills the incubating adults of nesting grey-backed storm petrels.

How smart are parrots?

Parrots have proved themselves as one of the most intelligent birds in the Bird Kingdom. The ability of their imitation makes them stand out from the entire bird population. Parrots can imitate human speech and other sounds.

A study by scientist Irene Pepperberg suggested a high learning ability in a grey parrot named Alex. Alex was trained to use words to identify objects, describe them, count them, and even answer complex questions such as “How many red squares?” with over 80% accuracy.

N’kisi, another grey parrot, has been shown to have a vocabulary of around a thousand words and has exhibited a proficiency to fabricate and using words in context in appropriate tenses.

 An African grey parrot.
Grey parrot is known for its speech skills.

This forces everyone to think that parrots have a vocal cord….but that’s false because parrots don’t have a vocal cord..!!.. 

They produce sounds by evicting air across the mouth of the trachea in an organ named, the syrinx. 

Grey parrots are known for their exceptional ability to imitate sounds and human speech, which has made them distinguished pets since ancient times. Amazon parrots are also good sound imitators. 

Parrots share a trait with hummingbirds and songbirds which allows them to even sing.

Indeed parrots are talented enough..!!!

Parrots as pets…

The beauty and the mimicry of parrots have always attracted humans to pet them. The inclusion of parrots in movies, depicting them as interesting birds, amassed a great liking for this bird.

Young parrots can be quite cute and affectionate to be kept but as they mature, they tend to become aggressive. They might bite you and cause serious injury. 

To resolve this purpose, they need to be trained well enough. Parrots like Budgerigars are widely adopted as pet birds in many homes. 

Budgerigars or Budgies in different colors.
Budgies are small-sized parrots, quite common in the USA.

Ring-neck parrots also known as Rose-ringed parakeets are the most commonly kept pets in people’s wired cages. 

 A Ring-necked parrot eating nectar.
Rose-ringed parrots are quite commonly spotted.

Parrot species that are commonly kept as pets include conures, macaws, amazon parrots, cockatoos, greys, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgerigars, caiques, parakeets, and Eclectus, Pionus, and Poicephalus species.

Parrots may not make good pets for most people because of their natural wild instincts such as screaming and munching. Feather destruction and self-mutilation, although not commonly seen in the wild, occur frequently in captivity.

Threats faced by parrots

The primary reasons for the extinction of parrots are:

  • Loss of habitat due to deforestation 
  • Competition with introduced species 
  • Hunting
  • Captivation
  • Climate change 
  • Illegal wild-bird trading 

Steps towards protection

  • World Parrot Trust– an international organisation for parrot conservation has been established. 
  • The group assists with worthwhile projects, as well as producing a magazine (PsittaScene) and raising funds through donations and memberships, often from pet parrot owners. 
  • Zoological parks and wildlife centres also work for parrot conservation, spread awareness and public education.
    Parakeets residing on branches in the zoo.
    Zoos are the best places to watch different parrots.
  • Birdwatching-based ecotourism can be beneficial.
  • Trade, export, and import of all wild-caught parrots is regulated and only permitted under special licensing conditions in countries party to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • World Parrot Day is celebrated every year’s 31 May to spread public awareness about parrots.

So are all notions confirmed or not?

I’m pretty sure that now most of us are well aware of a parrot. So now don’t call out every parrot to get mimicked or hear a song(wink). Movies have raised the interest in keeping parrots as pets by putting goggles on them, showing their smart antiques etc.  

Most of the parrots are often found chirping in wire enclosures. 

Birds are as living as we human beings. Every animal needs freedom in its intrinsic environment. The animals bred in captivity are also sent back to the forests or their intrinsic place of living. 

We need to sympathize with them and understand their plight too.

The beautiful feathers of parrots, a rainbow of colors seen on their feathers, the long tails of some species, their chattering, the way they eat chillies or nuts, are all very adorable. But, no one wants to be confined.

Imagine yourself living in a cage…!!.

by Sambhavi Yadav

Content Writer (Erakina By RTMN)


Tags: Imitators, Imposters, lifestyle, Parrots

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