Around 300 species of the parrot family have been recorded throughout the world, extending from the tropics to the subtropical and colder parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Fifty-six species are found in Australia, and only five of these are found elsewhere in the world. The parrot family includes cockatoos, lorikeets, rosellas, ringnecks and budgerigars.
What do parrots look like?
Parrots are most striking for their range of brilliant colours. These colours include shades of green, red, pink, yellow, blue, purple, black and white. In some parrot species, male and female birds have the same colouring. In others, the female is the plainer of the pair. This has two advantages:
- it is the male who attracts the female to mate
- if the female is less obvious to predators, she has a better chance of surviving to breed and rear her young successfully.
Other features include:
- yoke-toed feet, with two toes facing directly forwards and the other two facing backwards, which helps parrots to hold food when eating
- a short, hooked bill with a bulging cere (the bare, wax-like structure at the base of the upper beak)
- a short neck and legs
- prominent eyes
- a large head with a compact, bulky body.
How do they communicate?
The loud, raucous noises that parrots make are a form of communication. The various calls indicate warnings of danger, locations of food, distress calls and food-begging (especially when young). These calls are sometimes accompanied by movement, so the flash of colours becomes part of the message as well.
Where do they live?
Most small parrots breed between August and January - the time of year when most food is available. However, some species living in dry areas will breed after rain in any season. Some cockatoos breed between March and October.
Parrots usually nest in tree hollows, though some rarer species will nest in termite mounds or on the ground. Smaller parrots lay up to eight eggs, and the young take around five weeks to fledge (i.e. to grow feathers and leave the nest). Cockatoos and lorikeets usually lay one to three eggs, and it may take three months before young cockatoos leave the nest.
Some parrot species have developed baby-minding 'creches'. As the young grow old enough to be left alone, they are put in these creches (or nurseries) while the parents gather food.
Threats to parrots
European agriculture has provided parrots with food (in planted crops) and water (in dams and bores) in areas where they did not previously live. This has led to the population expansion of some species. However, these changes may have resulted in a drop in the numbers of other species. For example, the clearing of native forests for farmland in some areas has reduced the number of living and breeding sites for the parrots which previously lived in those habitats.
Illegal trapping and smuggling operations of live birds may have contributed to the decrease in Australian parrot populations, but the removal of eggs from their nests poses a bigger threat. This is because nest-robbers will often destroy the birds' nesting hollow, making it unavailable for the next breeding season. It is easier to obtain and transport eggs than adult birds, and more eggs than adults can be smuggled from the country and distributed overseas.
All parrots are legally protected throughout NSW by the National Parks and Wildlife Act. More than 10 species have been listed as threatened in NSW.
More informationThe dangers of feeding lorikeets
Find out why garden food trays are killing lorikeets, and see how you can provide healthy food by growing native plants.More information about parrots
Get a list of parrot-related resources available on this website.
Page last updated: 15 April 2011