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What’s A Parrot

Parrots are birds of all colors that usually originate from a warm habitat — think rainforests, grasslands, savannas, semi-arid regions, and even islands. A few species buck this trend and prefer colder climates, such as the Kea parrot, which inhabits the alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. Parrots are so much more than the stereotypical pirate “accessory” often portrayed in movies, books and other media. Most parrots are wild, but people began keeping some species as companions long ago. In fact, the San Diego Zoo website states that the first written account of a captive parrot dates from 400 B.C. These amazing avian companions now span the globe, living in the hearts and homes of people everywhere.

Parrots are not mammals. Their scientific classification puts them in the class Aves, order Psittaciformes, and the family Psittacidae. Parrots are sometimes called Psittacines. More than 350 species of parrots exist today. Add in the different varieties/mutations among the species, and what you have is quite a lot of parrots!

To be classified as a parrot, a bird must have a curved beak. This is why they are sometimes called hookbills. They must also have zygodactyl feet, which means that each foot has four toes with two facing forward and two facing backward; a bit like the opposable thumb and fingers of humans. This gives parrots the ability to manipulate things so well with their feet.

Although canaries, finches, doves, toucans, chickens, and other birds are kept as companions, these species are not parrots. These species are classified in orders other than the Psittaciformes of parrots.

Companion parrots vary in size from some of the small 5-inch lovebirds to the large macaws, some of which can be 40 inches long, head to tail. Colors also vary by species. Some parrots sport numerous colors, such as the lories, while others wear two or only one color, such as Vasa parrots. And sometimes the male and female of a species look completely different, such as the Eclectus.

Pet birds are very different from pet dogs or pet cats. These special souls bring a new dynamic into the lives of those who share their homes with them. To live with a parrot is a journey of discovery about these feathered friends and yourself.

Personality & Behavior

Parrots can be loud or quiet, boisterous or reserved, problem-solvers or laid-back. Sound contradictory? That’s because parrots are individuals with individual personalities. Some generalities among species are recognized, but keep in mind that any bird can be the exception to a generalization.

Before jumping into species generalizations, differences also exist based on age. Young and immature birds that are cute and cuddly can become more demanding or even aggressive when they mature and breeding season arrives. And older birds might turn standoffish or needy, depending on the changes that occur as they age.

The Lafeber Pet Bird Selector classifies companion birds into four categories of interaction: Highly social, social, somewhat social, and hands off. The most species fall into the social category. Being social doesn’t necessarily mean a bird wants to cuddle, but your attention is a must. Highly social birds range from the intelligent and sensitive African greys to the almost needy cockatoos. The social species include cockatiels, budgies, several species of macaws, Amazons, lovebirds, parrotlets, and more. Let them know they’re part of your family/flock, and all is well. The bird species that are hands-off according to the bird selector are actually not parrots. They are finches, canaries, and doves. Set them up in a nice habitat and enjoy watching and listening to them. Finally, the category with the smallest number of birds is the one called somewhat social. Rosella parrots make up this category. Consistent interaction with them keeps them tame.

One thing that’s common for almost all parrots is that they’re messy. Eating for birds is an event, and they enjoy interacting with their food. That means food gets dropped, flung, squirted, and ricocheted. This is natural for parrots, and part of the reason that the nutritious foraging of Lafeber foods is such a bonus. It delivers excellent nutrition while encouraging interaction, and every bit is so tasty that parrots seek it out. In addition to food mess, bird droppings create debris. Some species, like cockatoos and cockatiels, emit a fine dust from their feathers. Put all of this into a cage where a bird moves around and flaps, and it’s a recipe for a mess. But numerous inventions help minimize this and today’s cleanup tools make keeping your parrot’s cage clean quick and easy.

Parrots are known to be intelligent, African grey parrots in particular, as documented by Dr. Irene Pepperberg. Never underestimate a parrot’s ability to understand you, escape from an enclosure, or reach something the parrot wants. Opportunities for play and interaction are important for all parrots, whether with you or with another of the parrot’s species. Toys are critical for parrots, especially puzzle toys, foot toys, destroy toys, mirrors, bells, and more.

Health & Common Conditions

Parrots that are fed healthy food in proper portions, live in a clean, safe environment with plenty of room for exercise, and get plenty of interaction with their owner or other birds of their species enjoy the best chance at a happy, healthy life. Of course, not everything in life can be controlled, and genetics can affect the potential for some ailments. For example, cockatiels might be more prone to chronic egg laying problems, lories more often suffer from hemochromatosis, and Eclectus can suffer from toe-tapping/wing-flapping spasms.

Following is a list of some of the health concerns that parrots face. Some are caused by nutrition issues, some by viruses or bacteria, others by parasites, some are injuries, etc. Consult with your avian veterinarian to learn which ailments might affect your feathered friend, signs to watch for, and whether you can do anything to minimize risks.

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