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Nature: Our talkative friend

January 12, 2013

One of the most popular household pets around today is the parrot, whose origins can be found in subtropical and tropical parts of the world.

Even though there are so many different looking parrots, they actually only consist of two major groups. These two groups are psittacidae family and cacatuidae family.

The cacatuidae family has a movable head crest while the psittacidae are distinguished by their many vibrant colours. There is also a difference between these two groups in their skeletal structure and some of their biological makeup.

Even though parrots largely eat fruit, seeds, buds, nectar and pollen; in the wild, they are somewhat omnivorous. Sometimes they will eat insects. The “gourmets” of the parrot world, the golden-winged parakeets, like to eat water snails and the New Zealand keas scavenge abandoned sheep carcasses. They possess a strong, hooked beak that helps them crack nuts and have a thick muscular tongue. They feed their young by regurgitation to help them with digestion.

For the most part, parrots nest in holes. While there are a few exceptions that build regular nests, most build their homes in holes in trees, rock cavities, ground tunnels and even occasionally in termite mounds.

Wild parrots can mostly be found in the tropical areas in South America, Australia, and New Guinea. Some species come from Africa and the Asian mainland.

Parrots come in many shapes and sizes. The pygmy parrot of New Guinea is three and a half inches long while the hyacinth macaw is closer to 40 inches long. Some macaws can grow up to five feet in length (including their tail feathers). Parrots can weigh anywhere from just a few ounces to three and a half pounds.

Another unique and interesting parrot trait is their zygodactyl feet. This means that parrots have two toes that point backwards and two toes that point forward.

This trait makes them extremely agile. They are excellent climbers and excellent at coordinating their beaks and feet to accomplish many interesting feats.

Probably the thing that parrots are most famous for is their ability to talk. What they are actually doing is mimicry or imitation.

Oddly enough one of the more curious parrots’ facts is that they don’t have vocal cords. They produce sound by pushing air out of their trachea and control their pitch by changing the shape and depth of the trachea. Their ‘talking’ is actually more comparable to human whistling.

With their impressive range of vocalisations parrots mimic bells, buzzers and many other sounds in addition to human speech.

African grey parrots are said to be the best mimics of the parrot family. They are also highly intelligent and don’t just mimic, but learn associations for the words they say. Many can associate colours, shapes, numbers, sizes and more!

Future parrot owners beware… parrots in the wild and as flocks are some of the noisiest birds there are. It is said that some parrot vocalisations can be heard from as far as a mile away.— Compiled by The Surfer