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Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)

Scarlet Macaw ( Ara macao )

Sub-stem : Vertebrates (vertebrata)
Superclass : Jaw mouths (Gnathostomata)
Row : Land vertebrates (Tetrapoda)
Class : Birds (aves)
Order : Parrots
Scientific name
Wagler , 1830

The parrots correspond in the system of birds to the order of the Psittaciformes (parrot birds ). The systematics of the parrots is changing rapidly due to new phylogenetic studies. Traditionally, however, parrots are divided into two families , namely the cockatoos and the real parrots .


Common to all parrots is their upright posture and powerful beak. They feed on seeds, berries, fruits, flowers and buds, as well as roots. Many species also eat insects and their larvae. Some species occur in large schools. Flocks of the naked-eyed cockatoo occasionally comprise more than 70,000 individuals. Parrots have been kept as pets for a long time. In some areas of the world they are considered pests. In Australia in particular, large flocks of pink , yellow-hooded and naked-eyed cockatoos cause sometimes considerable damage to agriculture. They are therefore persecuted as agricultural pests in some regions.

Origin of name

Two soldier macaws

The name Psittaciformes is derived from the ancient Psittacus or Sittacus, which in turn is a takeover from Old Indian. The name reached Europe together with the first imports of parrots under Alexander the Great. Other terms such as Kakadu or Ara are also adoptions from languages ​​of the respective regions of origin or have geographical references ( Amazons ). The origin of the word parrot , however, is not entirely clear.


The order of the parrot birds comprises around 350 species with around 850 subspecies. As with many other groups of birds, their internal system is controversial. Rowley distinguishes between two families, the real parrots (Psittacidae) and the cockatoos (Cacatuidae). The actual parrots are divided into two subfamilies at Rowley, the Loris (Loriinae) and the Psittacinae, whose 66 genera are in turn grouped into tribes .

A phylogenetic examination confirms the monophyly of the real parrots, but excluding the New Zealand genera Nestor and Strigops , which together form a clade of primitive parrots. Both genera form the new family Strigopidae , which is the sister group of all other parrots. The sister group of the actual parrots are the cockatoos. Basal in the authentics Parrots standing Vasa Parrots ( Coracopsis ) over all other authentics parrots. Sister species to the rest is the New Guinea bristle head ( Psittrichas fulgidus ). The remaining real parrots, the majority of the species, are divided into two large clades, the New World Parrots (Arini) and a large, previously unnamed clade of Old World Parrots, to which the Loris and the Flat-tailed Parakeets (Platycercini) and all the others belong.

 Parrots (Psittaciformes)  

 Cockatoos (Cacatuidae)


 True parrots (Psittacidae)




Common features of all parrots are a climbing foot with two toes set forward and two toes set back ( zygodactyly ), and the parrot's beak . The two short toes I and II are oriented towards the middle of the parrot's body, the two long toes III and IV outwards. With this foot, many species of parrots bring food to their beak, which only occurs in exceptional cases in other bird groups. The parrot's beak is used very variably for a variety of tasks (including holding, nibbling, cracking, slicing, absorbing nectar) and is especially an important climbing aid.

The two families of the order differ, in addition to their genetics, in certain physical characteristics: Cockatoos have an openable feather bonnet. On the other hand, they lack the so-called Dyck structure of the spring branches, on which the incident sunlight is refracted. Actual parrots do not have a feather bonnet, even if some species have neck feathers that can be set up in a frill. In contrast, they have the Dyck structure of the spring branches.

Nectar-eating parrots like Loris often have a brush tongue that is well suited for absorbing fluids. The parrot beak is a highly derived beak shape, i. that is, it differs greatly from the morphology of an average bird's beak.

Tribal history

Fossils of parrot birds are mainly known from Europe , which is less due to their distribution in geological times than to the explored outcrops . The first known parrot-like bird is Mopsitta tanta from the Lower Eocene of Denmark, which was about the size of a crow. Other finds come from the Eocene of the Messel Pit . They were roughly the size of a budgie that already had a parrot's foot, but instead of a parrot's beak had a corn-eater's beak. Evidence for the first real parrots comes from the Miocene of France. Fossil parrots are also known from the Miocene of New Zealand, including Heracles inexpectatus, a giant form. The exact course of the evolution of the parrots is still unclear.

Social behavior

Many parrot species live in large flocks, especially outside the breeding season. These swarms can, especially if the natural habitats of the birds have been significantly changed, occur as crop pests, especially on fruit, grain or millet . Since parrots are usually very social animals, they should be kept in captivity at least in pairs, if not in small flocks. The monk parakeet ( Myiopsitta monachus ) is the only species to create community nests in the manner of weaver birds .


Parrots feed primarily on vegetable food such as fruits, seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, roots with different proportions of animal complementary food, especially insects and insect larvae, depending on the species. The plant poisons contained in food are apparently tolerated without any problems. The parrot species with a particularly unusual diet include the Loris , which mainly feed on pollen, nectar and soft fruits. Their beak is relatively long and compressed to the side. At the tip of the tongue there are elongated papillae. This brush tongue is used to harvest pollen and nectar from flowers. Pollen is the loris' main source of nitrogen, while nectar is an essential source of carbohydrates. Almost all parrot species breed in caves, especially in tree hollows, burrows in the ground, but also in termite burrows.


Almost 50 percent of all parrot species are threatened, almost 25 percent of the species are very endangered. The main reasons for this are the ongoing destruction of the habitat, for example through slash-and-burn operations or settlement on the one hand, but also the bird trade, which is still caught in the wild, as before. In addition to these two main reasons, there are of course a number of others such as B. Hunting and persecution as crop pests, the intrusion of other animal species into the habitat, the change of the habitat, the endangerment of breeding places and nesting trees, the overexploitation of food sources of the birds.


In the geological present, parrots live on all continents with the exception of Europe and Antarctica. The main distribution of the species is in the tropics and subtropics , with the southern end of the land masses being reached on the southern continents. The parrots living in these areas, especially in Australis and South America , are, like the northernmost forms or the species living at high altitudes, adapted to the cold.

Fossils of parrots from the Miocene and parrot-like birds from the Eocene as mopsitta show that parrots originally occurred in Europe and now are some species such as the Small Alexandrine Parakeet ( Rose-ringed Parakeet ) and the monk parakeet as invasive species in Europe has again become home. In the United States, 25 species of parrot that have escaped from human habitation are now breeding in 23 states, primarily in Florida, Texas and California.

Parrots have developed a wide range of different habitats. These include tropical rainforests, alpine mountain forests as well as arid habitats in the interior of Australia. One of the parrot species with a very unusual habitat is the cliff parakeet , whose habitat is the sea coast and rock islands.

History of the keeping of parrots in Germany, Europe & the world

Few species of parrots, such as the African gray parrot and the ring-necked parakeet, have been kept in Europe since ancient times . In the Middle Ages parrots were kept at court as luxury animals, with the Age of Discovery from 1492 more and more animals came to Europe as pets , where parrot keeping developed as a status symbol and hobby . The professionalization of parrot keeping and the expansion of the hobby in larger parts of the population, which initially slowly developed since the end of the 19th century, led to commercial mass breeding, to the mass production of feed, cages and other accessories as well as to a large range of books, magazines, but also special veterinary offers. Today around 50 million parrots are kept, although the quality of the keeping varies. The number of parrots in nature is also estimated at around 50 million.

The Psittacosis Ordinance was changed on October 1, 2012, and since then a license is no longer required for breeding parrots in Germany. Some species of parrots have already been exterminated for trade due to habitat loss and trapping, while this is imminent for other species. This makes this order the most threatened within the class of birds. The keeping and trade of parrots are accordingly subject to species protection regulations. Therefore, some private owners, zoos and aquariums have come together and cooperate in breeding programs to save species. Several species have already been saved. The largest genetic reserve for parrots in the world was created in Loro Parque on the Canary Island of Tenerife. Its president and founder, Wolfgang Kiessling , set up the Loro Parque Foundation in 1994 , which has saved the lives of 10 parrot species since it was founded.

The keeping of these also resulted in the emergence of wild populations of the exotic birds, because birds were flown away from their keepers or exposed. Few species, however, are able to build stable populations as neozoa in a new environment that is initially foreign to them, mostly in urban areas. The most important species of parrots that occur in Europe as neozoa are ring-necked parakeet , yellow-headed parrot , monk parakeet and great alexander parakeet . Rose-ringed parakeets and yellow-headed amazons have already produced more than three generations and could therefore almost be described as native.

Speech and intelligence

Psittaciformes include not only the crows to the birds with the highest intelligence. Parrots are primarily known in Europe as pets that teach languages , but many parrot experts consider parrots' speaking to be a behavioral disorder. Recent research such as that of the scientist Irene Pepperberg shows that parrots can not only parrot but also speak meaningfully. The most talented are the Amazons, the macaws from South America, Australian cockatoos and the African gray parrot. Their intelligence is compared to that of monkeys, but this remains questionable. Irene Pepperberg trained their gray parrot Alex initially by vorsagte example, the words for certain colors, shapes and materials of objects until he dominated. After a certain time, the parrot brought the words into connection with the respective objects. He could often reproduce the number of things up to a number of six without difficulty. When asked what characteristics different existing objects had in common, Alex often answered correctly by describing colors and material properties. The memory performance of this parrot was also astonishing; in Pepperberg's opinion it was also roughly that of chimpanzees. As in humans, the parrots' ability to speak is based on tongue movements, so the sounds are not formed in the vocal organ.


On the coat of arms of Zwönitz a parakeet is depicted, on that of Dominica an imperial parrot .

See also: Parrot (heraldic animal)


Introductory Works

Complete art lexicons

  • Arndt, Thomas : Lexicon of Parrots Arndt-Verlag, Bretten. (Four-volume encyclopedia about the parrots of the world.) As CD-ROM: IDN 980519543
  • Franz Robiller : Parrots . 3 vols. Hohenheim, Stuttgart. (Three volume dictionary on the parrots of the world.)


Online reference works

  • Search index for parrot-specific literature, especially species (APN)
  • Species descriptions Profiles and pictures of all parrot species and subspecies (in English)

Web links

Commons : Parrots  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Parrot  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Forshaw, p. 204
  2. ^ Rowley, Ian (1997), Family Psittacidae , in Josep, del Hoyo; Andrew, Elliott; Jordi, Sargatal, Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4, Sandgrouse to Cuckoos , Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 246-269, ISBN 978-84-87334-22-1
  3. TF Wright, EE Schirtzinger, T. Matsumoto, JR Eberhard, GR Graves, JJ Sanchez, S. Capelli, H. Müller, J. Scharpegge, GK Chambers & RC Fleischer: A Multilocus Molecular Phylogeny of the Parrots (Psittaciformes): Support for a Gondwanan Origin during the Cretaceous. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2008, doi: 10.1093 / molbev / msn160 .
  4. ^ Forshaw, p. 248
  5. Jennifer J. Uehling, Jason Tallant, Stephen Pruett-Jones. Status of naturalized parrots in the United States. Journal of Ornithology, 2019; DOI: 10.1007 / s10336-019-01658-7
  6. ^ Forshaw, p. 592
  7. Federal Association for Professional Species and Nature Conservation ( Memento of the original from December 12, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 2.5 MB) / @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Natalya Romashko: The Loro Parque Foundation saves 10 species of parrots from extinction. In: Morgenpost. Retrieved June 8, 2020 .
  9. Kerstin Eva Zeter & Tobias Aufmkolk: Parrots in Germany. In: ARD. April 23, 2020, accessed June 8, 2020 .
  10. Immanuel Birmelin: Wildly intelligent . Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co.KG, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-440-12195-5 , p. 169 ff .