Parrots (Psittaciformes) are a group of birds that includes lorikeets, cockatiels, cockatoos, parakeets, budgerigars, macaws, broad-tailed parrots and others. There are 353 species of parrots alive today.
Parrots are colorful, sociable birds that in the wild often form large, noisy flocks. Parrots have a large head, curved bill, short neck and narrow, pointed wings. Parrots occur mainly in tropical and subtropical regions although a few species inhabit temperate regions in the Southern Hemisphere. They are most diverse in tropical regions throughout South America, Australia and Asia.
Parrots, like woodpeckers and their relatives, have zygodactyl feet, which means that two of their four toes point forwards and two point backwards. This arrangement is most common in tree-dwelling birds that climb branches and trunks or maneuver through dense foliage.
Most parrots are brightly colored and many have more than one color. Their bright colors, although appearing conspicuous, can serve as camouflage against the bright green, high-contrast backdrop of a tropical forest. Cockatoos, a crested group of parrots, are less colorful but nonetheless striking when compared to other parrots. Cockatoos range in plumage color from white to grey to black.
Parrots are intelligent birds and are capable of imitating a variety of sounds including the human voice.
Parrots, thanks to their gregarious nature, striking plumage and considerable intelligence, are popular as pets around the world. Trapping for the pet trade has become a significant threat to wild parrots. Additionally, habitat destruction and hunting pressure many populations. As a result, nearly one in four species of parrots are threatened in the wild.
Parrots are monogamous and form strong pair bonds that are often sustained even during the non-breeding season. Parrots perform simple courtship displays and will preen each other to maintain the pair bond. Most species nest in cavities such as holes in trees or crevices in rocks and cliffs. Some species (such as the New Zealand ground parrots) nest on the ground while a few species (such as the monk parakeet and some species of lovebirds) nest in trees.
The smallest living parrot is the buff-faced pygmy parrot (which weighs less than half an ounce and measures under 4 inches long). The largest living parrots include the hyacinth macaw (measuring close to 3½feet long) and the kakapo (which weighs almost 9 pounds).
Parrots feed almost exclusively on fruit, seeds, nuts, flowers and nectar. Some species occasionally feed on arthropods (such as the larvae of invertebrates) and other small animals (such as snails). Lories, lorikeets, swift parrots and hanging parrots are specialized nectar feeders—their tongues have brush-like tips that enable them to take up nectar easily. The large bill of most parrots enables them to effectively crack open seeds. Many species also use their feet to hold the seed while eating it.
The Carolina Parakeet once inhabited the temperate forests of North America but was hunted to extinction during the early 1900s.