Parrot Oddballs part III: Pesquet’s and Vulturine Parrots
Today I’ll continue on with this discussion of the more unusual parrot species who have traits that are quite uncommon within the group. What I hope to do here is give readers an appreciation for the diversity and beauty found among the parrots.
Today, we’ll look at parrots who are a bit unusual in appearance due to having no or very few feathers on the head or face.
First, I’ll describe the Pesquet’s Parrot of New Guinea. At first glance, it’s obvious why this bird is different. Unlike most other parrots it has no feathers on the face. It’s beak is shaped a bit differently from those of most other parrots, as it’s quite long. Pesquet’s Parrots (Psittrichas fulgidus) are also predominantly black in color, although their bellies and parts of their wings are red and there’s some grey scaling on their chest feathers. Very few parrots are mainly black in color, though the Black Lory (Chalcopsitta atra) is and Black and Vasa Parrots (Coracopsis nigra and Coracopsis vasa) are mainly black/brown in colour.
Pesquet’s Parrots, due to their bare faces, do remind most people of vultures, and one of their other common names – the Vulturine Parrot – reflects this. However, there is another little-known South American parrot that is also known as the Vulturine Parrot (Pyrilia vulturina). For this reason I’ll use the name “Pesquet’s Parrot.”
The commonly-cited hypothesis regarding why the Pesquet’s Parrot has lost its facial feathers is that their diet of largely fruit (a few species of figs to be specific) would get their head feathers sticky and matted with fruit juice. Aside from figs, these parrots also feed on nectar. They live primarily in rainforests in hilly and montane regions of New Guinea and are somewhat nomadic, as they need to travel to stay in locations where plenty of fruit is available. Like some other frugivorous birds, they have rather low protein requirements (a minimum of only 3.3% mass crude protein).
Pesquet’s Parrots are quite rare in aviculture. A few zoos in the United States keep them, including the Cincinnati Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo. Since they are so rare, they can fetch a high price and are illegally captured for this reason. A bigger problem is that they are often hunted for their feathers (or their whole skins) which are used as ornaments in various articles of clothing among some New Guineans. Currently, they are listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and they are on Appendix II of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species), which means that they are not in immediate danger of extinction but trade in them must be regulated if they are to avoid becoming endangered.
Note in the above painting that the parrot has a red splotch by the eye. Only the male Pesquet’s Parrots have that mark.
The true Vulturine Parrot (Pyrilia vulturina) is a much more colorful creature. These denizens of the eastern Amazon are bright green, with a nice collar that’s saffron on top and black on the bottom. They have some red on the bend of the wings, yellow around the vent and greyish flight feathers. The head is black and featherless in adults. Juveniles have feathered, mostly green heads.
Not a lot is known about Vulturine Parrots. Very few have ever been kept in captivity and they tend not to last beyond a few months as captives. They are listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.
The last bald-headed parrot is known either as the Orange-headed Parrot or the Bald Parrot. It’s a close relative of the Vulturine Parrot and its scientific name is Pyrilia aurantiocephala. They look quite similar to Vulturine Parrots, but have bald brownish-orange heads instead of blackish ones. They have a small range in the central Amazon, in the Eastern Amazonas and western Para regions of Brazil.
The Bald Parrot was only recently (in 2002) recognized as a distinct species. Their existence was known for a long time, but they were initially thought to be juveniles of the Vulturine Parrot. However, the juveniles of both Vulturine and Bald Parrots have fully feathered heads.
Bald Parrots, like Vulturine Parrots, are medium parrots that measure about 23 cm long, which makes them about the same size as caiques. Both used to be in the genus Pionopsitta.
Bald Parrots are listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN, because logging in the small area they occur will reduce the amount of habitat available for them.
Forshaw, J. M. 2006. Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Pryor, G.S., Levey, D. J., and Dierenfeld, E. S. 2001. Protein requirements of a specialized frugivore, Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus). The Auk, 118, 1080-1088.