Budgie parakeets > Talking birds > Parrot description

Parrot description

In natural history parrots belong to the family of Psittacidae, or climbing birds. This is sub­divided into various sub-families, which include the parrot proper, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories, and Paroquets or Parrakeets as they are frequently called. French writers claim that the name parrot is derived from the French proper name Perrat or Pierrot.

The Tongue
Almost all the members of the extensive parrot family have a soft, thick, fleshy, round tongue, capable of great mobility, which, with their complicated larnyx, provided with three muscles, enables them to imitate ar­ticulate sounds. In some species it has a point somew'hat resembling an acorn, and the skin covering the tongue is frequently covered with small papillaee or little thread-like warts or flat­tened cylinders arranged longitudinally. In the macaws and some cockatoos the tongue ends in a horny point. The tongue is an organ of sense, having the properties of taste, touch, and prehen= sion, or holding for the purpose of swallowing. It is quite amusing to watch a parrot tasting some kind of food whic'h is new to it, and apparently trying to make up its mind as to whether it likes it and whether to swallow it or not.

The Beak
All members of the parrot family have a large, thick, hard and solid bill, which is inclined to be round in all its parts. It is de­cidedly peculiar in its formation, in that both the upper and lower mandibles or jaws are mov­able, while in most other birds the upper mandible is connected with and forms a part of the skull. While it is loosely hinged or articulated with the skull, still there is a strong membrane connected with the bones of the head on each side, so that it can lift and depress this upper mandibie at pleasure, and it enables the birds to open their bills wider and also assists them greatly in climbing. The macaws and to some extent individuals of various species of parrots, use this bill to assist them in walking, resting considerable of the weight of their body on it, especially when mov­ing about a smooth floor. The muscles of their jaws are much stronger than those of other birds, thus enabling them to crack hard nuts, etc.
The upper mandible usually arches, extending beyond and turning dawn over the lower, termi­nating in an acute paint. Its sides are frequently serrated or cut into teeth-like projections. At the base of the bill is frequently seen a peculiar wax-like patch (the cere) through which the nostrils open; this cere is always present, though sometimes concealed by the feathers.

The Eyes
The eyes of the parrot being placed laterally on either side of his head, be cannot distinguish a small object held close to him with­out turning his head to one side, which tends to give the bird a grotesquely critical air. The upper and lower lid is continuous, forming a rounded orifice. The upper part of the lid is mobile, and it is seldom that a parrot winks its eyes, a peculiarity of the eye being that they have the power of contracting the pupil at will, and this is not dependent on the action of light, but may be more particularly noticed when they are under the influence of anger, fear or any partic­ular emotion. The color of the iris usually deep­ens as they increase in years.

The Ears
A parrot's ears are small, oval openings, behind or above the eyes, and passing in an oblique direction forward. These aper­tures are usually covered by feathers, being placed beyond the border of cere or wrinkled skin, which in some species of parrots encom­passes the eye.

The Wings
Most varieties of parrots have rather short wings, though with some varieties of macaws they are long and the feathers are long, thus extending to a remarkable length. The body Of the bird is so bulky that they sometimes ex­perience considerahle diffictllty in rising from the ground, but having once gained the desired height they seem to fly easily. With many spe­cies, however, they simply use their wings in flying, from one branch to another and seldom take long flights.

The Tail
The number of feathers in the tail of parrots is usually twelve, but they differ great­ly in length, some being quite short, while others are usually long and graceful.

The Legs and Feet
Most members of the parrot family have short and clumsy legs, and. the feet are composed of two toes going forward and two backwards, thus enabling them to climb eas­ily. In fact they are classed as climbing birds, and the peculiar shape of their toes renders them quite awkward in walking and gives a peculiar vacillating swing to the body. Tn eating they make great use of their feet, which serve as hands, as they hold their food firmly with the claws of one foot, with which they put it to the mouth while supporting th:emselvea on the other. The legs and feet are covered with strongly formed scales. The musctllar arrangement of a parrot's legs enables it to grasn a perch and cling th,ereto without thought or effort by the weight of the body. The toes are armed with strong, hooked claws which assist them in sectlrely hold­ing theruselves to the bark of trees or other sub­stances in climbing.

The Brain
Scientists tell us that the brain of parrots is larger and more perfect than that of any other specie of birds. It seems to be better developed and more numerous in its convolutions, the anterior lobe being more prolongated than in most other birds. The old saying that it is "hard to teach an old dog new tricks," applies to parrots. It is extremely difficult to train a parrot more than a year old which has never had any previons instruction. But if their education has been started when they were small, they continue to learn the words, and sentences for many years and perhaps throughout life.

Some writers assert that the sagacity which parrots exhibit in the state of domestication is also natural to them in their native haunts, where they associate together in large flocks and mutually repel the assaults of such animals as attack any individual of their com­munity. It is truly surprising with what great facility they acquire the use of different words and sentences.

Most of the parrots are clothed in plumage of most brilliant colors; red, yellow, blue, green, etc., though there are some of so quiet a hue as to give no offense to any member of the "Society of Friends."

Parrots vary greatly in size from the Australian Paroquets, or lovebirds, which are so small that they go readily between the wires of an ordinary canary cage, to the great macaws. We have had in our possession for years a speci­men of the red macaw which was forty-two inches in length, and of most incredible spread of wing.

Food In their wild state, parrots subsist mainly on seeds, grain, berries and fruit, like those of the banana, coffee tree, and the lemon. Thev are also fond of almonds and various other kinds of nuts, and show great dexterity in open­ing the shell, which they do usually by placing the sharp or cutting edge of their upper mandible on the line of separation of the two valves, and by exerting a strong pressure it is soon separated and they remove the kernel from the shell. Some of the cockatoos feed on herbs and roots, and it is sqid that the Carolina parrots are very fond of the seeds of the cocklebur. All varieties of par­rots are very fond of corn, either when in the milk or roasting ear stage, or when dry.

While it is true that most varieties of parrots inhabit the woods in rather swampy places and they drink considerable water while in their native haunts, still it will not do to give them drinking water when they are first trans­ported to the North, as it is so different from the water to which they are accustomed as to be very liable to cause disease which is quite fatal. Notice what we say with directions for care of parrots in captivity.

Most varieties of parrots are gregar­ious, herding together in large flocks except dur­ing the breeding season, when they separate into pairs. They usually retire to rest at sunset and awake at the break of day, sleeping with the head turned toward the back, sometimes partially cov­ered with feathers. When kept in a state of domestication, however, they accommodate them­selves to the habits of the family with wham they reside, and continue their lively motions in the cage and talking until the family retire. In their native haunts parrots frequently spend the night hanging by the claws and upper mandible of the bill to the trunks of trees, seeming to prefer that position to roosting on a perch or branch, and we have noticed that in capitvitv some parrots. espe­cially among the Cubans, have the same habit, hanging all night by their beak to the wires of their cage.