I would love to introduce you to some of our biggest characters on team Bird, and they live in our parrot flight aviary. Parrots are sometimes a challenge to work with because they are a raucous group of birds with strong attitudes, a strong bite and a loud, no extremely loud voice! I wouldn’t change them for the world though.
When working in their exhibit I often get asked what’s the difference between parrots and cockatoos? To be fair it can definitely get a bit confusing, for example all cockatoos are parrots, but not all parrots are cockatoos!
Birds in the order Psittaciformes are considered Parrots, and this is split into three superfamilies: the Psittacoidea (the “true” parrots), the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos) and the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots). Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents with most species coming from Australasia and South America. Psittacines have a powerful, curved beak and clawed zygodactyl feet with two toes facing forward and two facing backwards. Most species are brightly coloured, usually with little difference between males and females. The majority of parrots eat seeds, nuts, fruit and plants and nest in tree hollows.
The Cacatuidae family consists of 21 parrot species and they are mainly Australasian in distribution. Cockatoos have an erectile crest which can be used for display and to show emotion. Generally they are larger but less colourful than other parrots. We have five Cockatoo species in our main flight aviary.
In our parrot flight aviary, we have a Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) called Sharon. When you first meet her, she can be quite shy, but once she gets to know you she is quite an inquisitive parrot, always coming to investigate anything we are doing in the aviary.
She really likes our Galah cockatoo Pinkie but he is definitely oblivious to her affections. The oldest recorded Major Mitchell’s cockatoo was Cookie at Brookfield Zoo who sadly died in 2016 at 82 years old. Major Mitchell’s are also known as Leadbeater’s cockatoo or the pink cockatoo and are classed as least concern on the IUCN red list with a stable but unknown population size. Found throughout the shrubland and forests of Australia their main threats are habitat clearance and nest robbing/trapping for aviculture. They are one of the most attractive cockatoos with vibrant colours in their crests. Females are usually slightly smaller than males with more yellow in their crest feathers and tend to develop a red iris when they mature.
We also have seven Galah Cockatoos (Eolophus roseicapilla) Natasha, Clint, Steve, Tony, Peter, Loki and Pinkie. The last two in that list are more recent arrivals and are ex-pets. They are both similar in nature being quite naughty characters as they both enjoy trying to get the attention of the female keepers here at the park, but don’t seem to like the male keepers very much at all! The rest of the group act very wild and don’t often seek out human contact.
Galahs inhabit the tropical and subtropical shrubland and grasslands of almost all parts of mainland Australia making them one of the most widespread cockatoos. They have also adapted well to urban areas and are even found in some of the larger cities; a rare case in nature where a species has actually benefited from European settlement and associated forest clearance. Whilst they are a common bird, their population size is unknown but thought to be increasing. They are classed as Least Concern on the IUCN red list with few threats except for human use as food, the pet trade and persecution in some agricultural areas as pests. Galahs can reach an age of between 40 and 50 years old and their name derives from Aboriginal languages. Adult males and females can be distinguished by different iris colouration.
Popular with visitors are our two Medium Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua Galerita Eleonora) Daphne and Fred. I think Fred is hilarious because his most used catchphrase is “hello Fred” in a very creepy voice. He can be quite difficult to work with in the breeding season as he becomes very aggressive and isn’t afraid to show us how unimpressed he is with us being anywhere near Daphne.
Medium Sulphur-crested cockatoos, also known as the Eleonor Cockatoo, and are a subspecies of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and native to the Aru Islands in Indonesia. These cockatoos are quite common as pets and are famous for their dance moves! Their average lifespan is 50 to 60 years. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are classed as Least Concern on the IUCN red list and again we are unsure exactly how many of them there actually are, but their population is thought to be in decline. They are trapped for food and the pet trade and their feathers are also popular in jewellery and other handicrafts.
Our next two birds are probably the ones you will remember the most from your visits to the park.
Chico our Moluccan Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) really lives up to his name. Whilst he can be naughty he adores human attention. Like a lot of pet parrots Chico gets a kick out of getting a reaction from people whether it be praise or even better in his opinion if he can give you a fright and make you scream! His favourite thing to do when we are cleaning the exhibit is to throw all of the dirty woodchip out of the crate into which his keepers have tidied it away.
He also performs a rather skilled flyby where he whips off the keepers’ bobble hats from their heads when their backs are turned… the little terror.
A long-lived species that often reaches 50 to 70 years old, but it has been reported that they can live for up to 100 years. Moluccans are also called Salmon-crested Cockatoos and are native to the forests of Indonesia with a population of between 6,600 and 67,000. They face a whole range of threats from loss of habitat due to human development such as urbanisation, agriculture, energy production, logging and mining to capture for consumption and the pet trade. As a consequence they are classed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN red list .
Parrots, along with the corvids (crows, magpies, jays, etc) are considered the most intelligent birds and their brain-to-body size ratio is comparable to some of the higher primates. Not only are parrots great at mimicking sounds, some are also pretty skilled at using tools and solving puzzles. Chico is very food motivated and hasn’t been stumped by a challenge yet! If you would like to donate some fun toys to our parrots see our amazon wish list HERE.
Rosie our Umbrella Cockatoo (Cacatua alba) is also an interesting personality and loves interacting with the public, especially if there’s a gentleman for her to woo. She’s definitely a man’s bird and seriously dislikes the female Keepers, yet with the male keepers she often tries to sneak a cuddle or two.
Rosie seems to have three boyfriends in the flight aviary, our two Yellow-headed Amazons follow her everywhere and in the evening she usually settles down to roost snuggled up next to Chico. Umbrella Cockatoos are also known as White Cockatoos and are endemic to the islands of Indonesia and can live up to 80 years old in captivity. They are classed as endangered on the IUCN red list due to a rapid decline caused by unsustainable levels of exploitation, with predictions of numbers falling even faster at the current rates of forest clearance and continued pressure from the illegal bird trade.
There are around 350 parrot species in the superfamily Psittacoidea and we have three species in our flight aviary. True parrots are widespread ranging from the Americas to Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and as far as east Polynesia.
Scooby and Scrappy are our two Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrots (Amazona oratrix). Scooby is a bit shyer than Scrappy who can be quite aggressive if you are near Rosie or interacting with her. I think he gets a bit jealous! They are both very vocal but I get the feeling that their loud “elloooo” isn’t always a friendly greeting. Another endangered species, these striking birds are indigenous to the forests of Mexico and northern Central America with around 4,700 remaining in the wild. Main pressures are again from Human activity (urbanisation and agriculture), sport hunting and their popularity as a pet continues to fuel their capture from the wild. This species lifespan in the wild is around 27 years old, and in captivity around 35 years.
We also have a Yellow-crowned Amazon called Shaggy who is even shyer than the group of Galah Cockatoos and quite camera shy. He tends to keep himself to himself and like all of our parrots enjoys stripping branches that we hang up for them to chew. If you do have parrots at home this is one of the best things you can do to keep them occupied besides having a companion, but make sure you research which browse is safe as some of our native trees can be poisonous to our feathered friends.
Yellow-crowned Amazons are from the tropical forests of South America and Panama, but despite human use for food and the pet trade they are classed as Least Concern on the IUCN because of their large range. One to watch in the future as their population is thought to be in decline.
Our newest members of the parrot flight aviary are our two African Grey Parrots JoJo and Treasure. Sometimes just called Grey Parrots, they are an Old-World species from equatorial Africa. Habitat loss and intense harvesting for the pet trade are driving this species to extinction and consequently they are currently classified as endangered on the IUCN red list African Greys are a popular choice of pet as they are highly intelligent and masters of mimicry. Some have been known to have a vocabulary of around 1000 words and they can even use words to identify objects, describe and count them and even accurately answer complex questions. They live on average to around 50 years old in captivity, however they have been known to live as long as 80 years.
Jo-jo and Treasure are ex-pets and unfortunately Treasure is a serial feather-plucker. You may have noticed that she is missing feathers on her chest and back, but her condition is slowly starting to improve since moving to the park. Sometimes pet parrots develop abnormal or even harmful behaviours if they have been deprived of stimuli. Anxiety can also arise if their housing isn’t suitable or if their dietary requirements are not being met. We are always coming up with ways to work our parrot’s brains and encourage them to show natural behaviours through environmental enrichment. I think the best thing we do for our parrots is give them opportunity to interact socially with other parrots.
But do parrots make good pets?
It’s unknown exactly when humans first started caging birds for their beauty rather than for consumption, but Egyptian hieroglyphs illustrate doves and parrots presumably being kept as pets. The popularity of keeping parrots as pets has led to a lucrative, often illegal trade in these animals of which many are now threatened with extinction. In 1992 it became illegal to import wild caught parrot species throughout Europe and the US.
Whilst most parrot species are able to imitate sounds, Amazon Parrots and African Grey Parrots are considered the best talkers. This has got to be one of the main reasons why people are drawn to keeping parrots as pets. But they are not low-maintenance and taking on a parrot should never ever be an impulse buy. It is important to do lots of research before considering sharing your home with these beautiful birds.
Keeping parrots as pets can be very challenging mainly because of their natural instincts to scream and chew. Whilst they can be very cute and affectionate when they’re young, more often than not they become aggressive when they reach maturity. These are some of the reasons why so many parrots are rehomed or neglected.
It’s thought that Parrots are similar in intellect to a three-year old child, and similarly they always need a huge amount of attention and stimulation to thrive. As with any pet, veterinary care can be expensive and finding a vet that specialises in avian treatment can be difficult. It’s also worth considering the lifespan of each species as you have read earlier on they can live a very long time.
If all of their needs are not met in captivity individuals can start to develop repetitive behaviours, become intensely fearful or start damaging themselves. All of these behaviours are common in pet parrots and once they start these behaviours it is extremely difficult to persuade them to stop completely.
In the past we have been involved with a lot of parrot rescues at Wingham Wildlife Park. Learning is very important to all parrots, and a lot of that learning is social, so sometimes just providing the company of the same species helps their stereotypic behaviours massively. Along with the correct diet and lots of enrichment hopefully our rescues have found their parrot-dise here with us at WWP.
So, in short, if you are considering getting a parrot as a pet make sure you can provide for all of their needs, and why not consider adopting one of the many unwanted parrots that end up in rehabilitation centres? If you’d like experience looking after parrots we always welcome new volunteers.