Range:

Mexico, Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australasia

Habitat:

Mainly tropical and subtropical rain forests or woodlands, some in alpine forests

Parrot lore

In the story Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, a parrot accompanied pirate Long John Silver at every moment. Were parrots really associated with pirates? Maybe not, but they are fascinating birds, so it is no wonder parrots appear in children’s stories.

Colorful creatures

Parrots come in a variety of bright colors, mostly made up of greens, reds, blues, and yellows. There are exceptions, though: the Pesquet’s parrot is black with red trim, and you can probably guess what color the African gray parrot is! There are 279 parrot species in the world that include macaws, keas, lovebirds, parakeets, lorikeets, and kakapos. Although quite different from each other in many ways, these birds all have a curved beak, zygodactyl feet, and generally eat nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects.

Parrots have thick, strong beaks that are perfect for breaking open nuts and seeds with tough coverings. Macaws have such strong beaks that they have been reported to snap through broomstick handles! Zygodactyl feet are also very strong and helpful in holding slippery nuts and fruit.

The kakapo of New Zealand is a nocturnal parrot that cannot fly.
The first written account of a parrot in captivity was recorded in 400 B.C.
Parrots tend to favor using one foot more than the other, just like people are right- or left-handed.
A flock of parrots can also be called a company or a pandemonium.
Known for its skill at mimicking sounds, some African gray parrots can "speak" over 700 words.
Lories and lorikeets have a body part that is unique among parrots: a brushlike tongue that allows them to sip nectar.

Both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have a variety of parrot species. The San Diego Zoo has the only breeding pair of keas in the U.S; four chicks were hatched in 2011. The Safari Park welcomed two endangered thick-billed parrot chicks.

At the Safari Park, you can experience a rainbow on your shoulder in the Lorikeet Landing aviary. Walk inside, and you are transported to the rain forests of Australia and New Guinea, the natural habitat of the green-naped lorikeet. These beautiful, colorful birds are also known as brush-tongued parrots, because their tongues are specially adapted to extract nectar and pollen from flowers.

In Lorikeet Landing, the birds don’t have to put in as much effort because you lend a hand—literally—and feed the lorikeets! Purchase a small cup of special nectar and hold it out, and lorikeets will land on your arms and hands to eat from the cup. The birds have been specially trained to overcome their natural fear of humans, and they aren’t shy when it comes to feeding—several birds at one time may even sit on your arm, or even your head and shoulders. Have your camera ready!

If you cruise around the Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo, attend our Frequent Flyers Bird Show at the Safari Park, or watch the news on TV, you can often see some of our parrot ambassadors. Parrots are wonderful animal ambassadors for our Zoo and Park with their beautiful colors and personalities. They help get the message out to the public about the high maintenance of parrots as pets and the concerns for wild parrots due to deforestation and the illegal pet trade. Look for them on your next visit!

One quarter of the world’s parrots are threatened with extinction, due to a combination of habitat destruction and trapping for the pet trade.

The pinecone-eating thick-billed parrot is a prime example. San Diego Zoo Global participates in the Species Survival Plan for this bird and collaborates in the field with local scientists in Mexico, where we are conducting a population census, monitoring disease, collecting data on chicks, and analyzing food sources. We also contributed funds for the acquisition of 555 hectares of mountainous habitat in Mexico to create a reserve crucial for the welfare of the maroon-fronted parrot, another pinecone-dependent parrot.