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Long John's Bird

Updated on April 19, 2014
The Great Black Cockatoo
The Great Black Cockatoo

Parrots are a family of highly specialized tropical and sub-tropical birds, Psittaciformes, which family includes such birds as the macaws of South America, the cockatoos of Australasia, the lories of Australia and New Guinea, and the parakeets.

An outstanding feature of these birds is the manner in which the skull and beak is conformed. Hard nuts and fruits form a major portion of the diets of these birds and the bones of the palate are extremely well adapted to enable the beak to shear such nuts and/or fruits, taking the form of laterally compressed beams. Further, the upper jawbone is hinged to the frontal bones at the base, a most useful adaptation for birds that utilize their beaks when they are climbing or moving about from one branch to another.

The great black cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus, of New Guinea is an excellent example of how far adaptation can go to suit the environment in which a species dwells. Its enormous bill is perfectly adapted to shelling the extremely hard nuts of Canarium commune. First, using the chisel tip of its lower jaw, the bird cuts a notch in the shell. Transferring the hut to a foot and holding it in place with a leaf so that the nut’s smooth surface does not slip, the bird works on the fracture until it nips off a piece of the hard shell. Once this is done, the edible nut encased in the shell is removed by using its long protusible tongue.

Parrots display a hooked bill covered in a stout horny case the upper part of which is strongly curved and hooked with a striated underside that gives it a file-like nature whilst the lower part of the bill ends in a truncated chisel-like cutting plate, the combination of which (file and cutting plate) aid the birds no end when it comes to dealing with their nutty and fruity diet. The birds are all zygodactyl, that is to say their feet have two toes in front and two behind, a very useful adaptation for birds most of whom lead an arboreal existence although even the few ground dwelling species such as the Kakapo of New Zealand, Strigops habroptilus, also display this feature.

Most parrots display very brilliant plumage and have long been kept as pets by humans, their value as pets being greatly enhanced by the ease with which most members of the parrot family can be taught to imitate human speech, a facility which more than makes up some of the shortcomings, looked at strictly as pets, which some species display, e.g. The searing screams of the macaws. The best talker is the African Gray Parrot, Psittacus erithacus, a highly intelligent species which can live for as long as a half century or more. Other popular (with humans, that is) species include the large long-tailed macaws from the forests of the Americas stretching from Mexico to Paraguay such as the blue and yellow, Ara araruana, and the red and blue, Ara macao, macaws. The cockatoos are also very popular with parrot fanciers. Most cockatoos sport a white plumage along with splendidly formed crests that come in a variety of colors and shapes. Some of them, though, have a poor reputation in their homeland; the sulfur crested cockatoo, Kakatoe galerita, is disliked on account of the damage it inflicts upon crops.

In New Zealand, the flightless Kakapo is also a nocturnal creature which is protected from predators during the day by its sap green and yellow coloration which blends well with the surrounding vegetation and by its habit of spending much of the daylight hours hidden away in holes in trees. When we combine its nocturnal lifestyle with the disk-like arrangement of its facial feathers, it is no surprise that another name by which the Kakapo is commonly known is the owl-parrot.

The lories, residents of Australia and New Guinea are particularly partial to the sweet nectar produced by flowers and the dietary requirement of the birds has resulted, as with other nectar-eating birds, a specially structured tongue whose tip is drawn into a long brush-like fringe that enables it to get at the nectar with relative ease. Unlike other parrots, the upper jaw of the birds that make up this group, is longitudinally, rather than laterally, striated.

Parakeets are found in Africa, South America and, mostly, in Australia; indeed, the Australian budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus, is the most popular of all the parrots that man keeps as pets.

Some parrots exhibit some quite interesting habits. The South African parrot, Agapornis pullaria, for instance, is noted for its habit of appropriating the nests of weaver birds whilst the monk parakeet, Myopsitta monachus, of South America build what can only be described as giant condominiums! These enormous nests are subdivided into individual chambers each inhabited by a single nesting pair during the breeding season and is used as a roosting place outside of the breeding season. The smallest known species of parrots are the pigmy parrots, Micropsitla, of New Guinea, members of which, on average, measure no more than 8¾ centimeters (3½ inches) in length.


The Kakapo, aka The Owl Parrot
The Kakapo, aka The Owl Parrot
A Budgerigar
A Budgerigar

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