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Addendum to Taxonomy Article

September 18, 2010 1 comment

Here’s an addendum to the article about The Taxonomy and Classification of Parrots . It’s about scientific vs. common names for birds.

What’s in a Name?

Every parrot species will have both a common name and a scientific name.  The common name is the name that will be generally be used in casual communications.  For example, “Blue-fronted Amazon” is the common name of a parrot species. The scientific name of a species will have two parts and will be referred to in formal publications.  “Amazona aestiva” is the scientific name for the Blue-fronted Amazon.  The first part of a scientific name will be the genus the animal is in, and the second part is called the “specific epithet.”

Blue-fronted Amazon, Amazona aestiva

Many parrots have multiple common names, sometimes even in a single language.  For example, in English, the Blue-fronted Amazon can also be called the Turquoise-fronted Amazon or the Blue-fronted Parrot.  Many conures have multiple common names, and they are referred to as “parakeets” in some publications.  For instance, the Cherry-headed Conure is sometimes called the Red-masked Parakeet.

Many parrot species have common names that are very similar sounding or even identical. For example, the Rose-fronted Conure can also be called the Rose-fronted Parakeet or the Red-crowned Parakeet.  The Red-fronted Kakariki is sometimes referred to as the Red-fronted Parakeet.  I think it would be easy to mix up “Red-fronted Parakeet” and “Red-crowned Parakeet.”  “Vulturine Parrot,” is an alternative name for the Pesquet’s Parrot but can also refer to a rare species of bald-headed parrot found in the Amazon.

However, each species of parrot (or of any organism) will have only one scientific name.  Thus, there is only one Amazona aestiva (Blue-fronted Amazon), Aratinga erythrogenys (Cherry-fronted Conure), Pyrrhura roseifrons (Rose-fronted Conure), Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae (Red-fronted Kakariki), Psittrichas fulgidus (Pesquet’s Parrot), and Pyrilia vulturine (Vulturine Parrot).  The scientific name of a species will be the same in all languages as well. The scientific name of a species is always referred to in scientific publications so that it will be very clear which species is being referred to.

Red-fronted Kakariki AKA Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae

The Taxonomy and Classification of Parrots

September 4, 2010 5 comments

Today’s topic is a bit of an esoteric one, but one I personally find interesting: taxonomy. The reason I find it interesting is that taxonomy is not just about assigning names to different species and groups, but is about grouping them in ways that reflects their evolutionary history.  So, not only does the below article discuss the way that parrots are classified but also incorporates information about their evolutionary history. At the end, I’ve included a list of all the different parrots species.

The photographs are ones I’ve taken, but the paintings are from an old book, “The Parrots of Australasia,” by Charles Barrett.  They were painted by C. W. Cayley. This book was published in 1949 and is out of print, but the paintings are so nice that I thought I’d share some of them here. Enjoy!

The Diversity and Classification of Parrots

By: Jessie Zgurski

jzgurski@ualberta.ca

A few times each year, I like to volunteer at the information tables my local parrot club sets up at pet expos and pet supply stores.  Members of the club will bring their birds and talk to the public about what it is like to keep a parrot as a companion.  I usually bring my Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy, my Jenday Conure, Peggy or my Red-lored Amazon, Ripley, since they are calm in public.  I generally give out literature on properly caring for parrots and I answer people’s questions about them.  One of the most common questions I am asked is, “Are all of these birds really parrots?”  This is because there are usually several species in attendance, including many small ones, and most people think of parrots as being large Amazon- or Macaw-type birds.  I’ve even had people who are unfamiliar with parrots ask me if Lucy is a baby, since parrots are commonly thought of as being large birds and Lucy is quite small.

Lucy, a Maroon-bellied Conure

The truth is that there are 359 parrot species alive today.[1] The parrots are an incredibly diverse group of birds that range in size from the tiny, finch-sized pygmy parrots of New Guinea to the grand, meter long Hyacinth Macaws of Brazil.  There are even three species of ground-dwelling parrots that rarely or never fly.  And, while most people think of parrots as being rainforest birds, they also occur in deserts, alpine regions, cities, and grasslands.  One species – the Antipodes Island Kakariki – even lives on a treeless, windswept subantarctic island.  There also used to be a parrot species native to the eastern United States (the Carolina Parakeet), but it is now extinct.

What is a Parrot?

So, if parrots are so diverse in their morphology and ecology, just what is it that makes a parrot a parrot?  There are actually only a couple of characteristics that all parrots share in common.  They all have hooked beaks and they all have zygodactyl feet, with two toes facing forward and two facing backward.  However, they aren’t the only birds with feet like this, as woodpeckers & their relatives, cuckoos, and some owls have them too.  They also aren’t the only birds with strong, hooked beaks, as raptors have hooked beaks, although their beaks are shaped a bit differently.  Parrots have heavy beaks with upper mandibles that curve sharply downward.

There are also several characteristics that are shared by the majority of parrots.  Parrots tend to make their nests in tree cavities, and most parrots have at least some green, red, blue, or yellow feathers.  The males and females of many parrot species also either look alike or have minimal differences.  However, there are exceptions to all of these.  For example, Quaker Parrots build elaborate nests out of sticks and Patagonian Conures, among a few others, will nest in the side of cliffs.  Some species, such as the Brown-throated Conure, will nest in old termite mounds.  And while parrots are usually very brightly colored birds, the Black and Vasa Parrots of Madagascar have no colored feathers at all, and the cockatoos do not have blue or green feathers.  Finally, male and female Eclectus parrots look very different, with the males being green and the females being red.  Males and females are also easy to distinguish in adult Ring-necked and Alexandrine Parakeets and African Red-bellied Parrots. In the two former species, the males (but not the females) have a ring around their necks and in the latter species, males have a bright red belly that the females lack.

Eclectus Parrots

Of course, the characteristic that most people associate with parrots is their ability to copy sounds they hear, although this ability varies dramatically among both species and individuals within species.  African Grey Parrots, Amazons, and Eclectus parrots are generally among the best talking parrots. Male budgies are also often great talkers, although their fast voices make them difficult to understand at times.  However, even among the species renowned for being excellent talkers, there will be individuals who just don’t talk or mimic very many sounds.  And some individuals of species not known for their talking abilities (like caiques, Pionus parrots, and Sun or Jenday Conures) may learn to say several different words.

Parrots, however, are not unique in being able to copy sounds.  Corvids – the ravens, crows, jays and relatives – can mimic all sorts of sounds, as can starlings and their close relatives, the mynah birds.  A few other lesser known mimics in the bird world include the Tui[2] of New Zealand, which is a large species of honey eater, and the Australian Lyre Bird[3].  Song birds also display vocal learning, and usually have to learn their songs, in part, by listening to other members of their species.  Ultimately, there are few traits that are distinctively parrot.

The Scientific Classification of Parrots – Order Psittaciformes

The diverse group of birds colloquially referred to as “parrots” are members of the scientific order Psittaciformes.  This order includes all parrots, parakeets, parrotlets, lories, lorikeets, conures, macaws, and cockatoos.  It also includes the budgerigar (“budgie”) and the cockatiel.  I’ve noticed that a lot of “non-parrot” people don’t know that these two birds are actually types of parrots, but they are!  The cockatiel is actually more of a small cockatoo, as it is more closely related to cockatoos than it is to any other type of bird.

Budgies

At this point, I will take a step back for a moment to review how biologists classify living organisms so I can explain how and why the order Psittaciformes has been further subdivided into different groups.  The basic classification system used by most biologists is the one that was proposed by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s, although it has been somewhat modified.  All living organisms are classified into groups in a hierarchical scheme as follows:

Domain

Kingdom

Phylum

Class

Order

Family

Genus

Species

The groups at the top of the list are the most inclusive and the ones near the bottom are more exclusive.  At the top of the list are three domains, a relatively new hierarchy in the scheme, which groups all life according to the type of cell they are made of.  Down one level is the Kingdom, of which there are six: animals, plants, fungi, protists, and two types of bacteria.  The organisms in each kingdom are then grouped into several phyla (the plural for phylum) and each phyla is composed of several classes and so on.  Each of these basic groups may also be subdivided.  For example, an order may contain several suborders and a family may be divided into several subfamilies.  These too, may be subdivided.  A large subfamily, for example, may be divided into several “tribes.”

Parrots are, of course, placed in the Kingdom Animalia, the animals.  They are in the phylum Chordata, which includes the vertebrates, and they are in the class Aves, the birds.  Within Aves, they are in the subclass Neoornithes, the modern birds.  The modern birds are grouped into anywhere from 13 to 30 orders, depending on the source[4], and, as noted, parrots are all in the order Psittaciformes.  This is true for all classification schemes that I am aware of.  As it stands now, there are three families of parrots: Cacatuidae, Psittacidae, and Nestoridae.[5],[6] I will now introduce each of the major groupings of parrots.

Family Nestoridae – The Parrots of New Zealand

First, we have to head to New Zealand to meet one parrot family that diverged from the others very early in the group’s evolutionary history.  The family Nestoridae contains only three living species, all of which occur on New Zealand – the Kaka, the Kea, and the Kakapo.  Two extinct species of Kaka also occurred on the nearby Norfolk and Chatham Islands.  The Kea and Kaka are both large, earth-toned, flighted parrots.  The Kakapo, however, is a very unusual parrot, because it is flightless, nocturnal, and polygynous, meaning that a male may mate with multiple females.  It is not a close relative of the largely ground-dwelling Ground and Night Parrots of Australia, which indicates that the ground-dwelling habit has evolved twice within the Psittaciformes[7].  Note also that the Nestoridae does not contain the genus Cyanoramphus, the kakarikis, which is the other group of parrots that inhabit New Zealand and many of its surrounding islands.  Kakarikis are more closely related to the Horned Parakeet of New Caledonia, the Shining Parrots of Fiji and the rosellas of Australia.  The kakarikis are likely the descendents of parakeets that dispersed to New Zealand after it split off from Australia.

Keas

The three large New Zealand parrot species are placed in a separate family because evidence from the analysis of DNA sequences indicates that they are only distantly related to other parrot species and that they likely diverged from them about 80 million years ago – even before New Zealand split off from Australia.[8] The Psittaciformes as a whole are a very old group of birds and likely evolved on the supercontinent of Gondwana during the Cretaceous period.  Gondwana is the ancient supercontinent that consisted of Africa, Arabia, South America, Australia, India, Madagascar, and Antarctica before they drifted apart.  However, the parrots evolved after Africa and India/Madagascar (which were once one landmass) separated from Gondwana.[9]

Family Cacatuidae – the cockatoos

Members of the next family we meet – the Cacatuidae – occur naturally in the Papuo-Australasian region, which includes Australia, New Guinea, and the islands in the region that spans from the Solomon Islands in the east Pacific, to the southern Phillipines, and to the island of Sunda in southern Indonesia.  This family contains six genera with 21 species and includes all cockatoos and the cockatiel.  The most prominent characteristic of members of this family is a crest of feathers on the head, which can usually be raised and lowered at will by the bird.  My Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mitri, uses this ability to a dramatic effect and raises his huge, lemon-yellow crest up when he’s surprised or angry. He’ll also erect his crest and swing his head around to add flair to his daily loud vocal performances.

Aside from the crest, Cacatuidae also lack green or blue feathers, as their feathers lack the Dyck structure that produces these colours in other parrots.  Any colours on a cockatoo will be various hues of pink, yellow, red, or orange.  The other characteristics that unify this group are less obvious.  Cockatoos have a gallbladder (other parrots don’t), and the anatomy of their carotid arteries is different from other parrots.

White-tailed Black Cockatoo (Carnaby's Cockatoo)

The cockatoos likely split off as a separate lineage from the other parrots in Australia-New Guinea before the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago[10], which is when the massive extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs occurred.  The parrots, of course, made it through this catastrophe, and I find it quite wondrous that the parrots have persisted as a group for so long and have diverged into so many variable and beautiful species.  Since the parrots have such a deep evolutionary history, it’s quite likely that birds resembling our parrots and cockatoos co-existed with dinosaurs, although these ancestors probably looked a bit different from modern parrots.

Family Psittacidae – All parrots, excepting Cacatuidae and Nestoridae

The last family is the Psittacidae, which contains all other parrot species, including the lories.  The lories and lorikeets actually used to be classified in a separate family, the Loriidae.  However, it seems that the lories evolved from an ancestor within the Psittacidae, so they have been placed in that family so the classification reflects the evolutionary history of the group.  In fact, the lories are most closely related to the fig parrots of New Guinea.  The lories are, however, in their own subfamily, the Loriinae.

Since the Psittacidae is such a huge family, I will discuss how it has been subdivided into subfamilies.  First, I must note that is it important to understand that taxonomists (biologists who classify organisms) try to group organisms according to their evolutionary history, which is why I’m incorporating so much information on the evolutionary history of parrots into this article.  By grouping organisms this way, biological classifications serve not only to assemble organisms together into named groups to facilitate communication, but they also convey information about the evolutionary history of life on earth.  Ideally, organisms that have been grouped together in a named group should be more closely related to each other than they are to any organisms outside of the group.  For example, I can know from looking at how parrots have been classified that the Kea, Kaka and Kakapo are all more closely related to each other than they are to other parrots, and that kakarikis are more distantly related to them because the former three species are in their own family and the kakarikis are in a separate one.

Since classifications should convey information about the evolutionary relationships among all living organisms, the classification of parrots may change from time to time as we learn more about how they are all related to each other.  Many classification schemes have changed during the past couple of decades because advances in technology have made it easier and cheaper to sequence DNA.  Many biologists compare the DNA sequences of different organisms to determine their evolutionary (“phylogenetic”) relationships.  As our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among the various organisms becomes more accurate and refined, the classification schemes used to classify organisms may change as well.

Subfamily Loriinae: The Lories and Lorikeets

The family Psittacidae contains the four subfamilies Loriinae, Psittrichadinae, Micropsittinae, and Psittacinae.  The twelve genera and 52 species of lories and lorikeets[11] make up the Loriinae.  Like cockatoos, lories occur in the Papuo-Australasian region.  These colorful, active parrots have adaptations that allow them to efficiently feed on nectar.  Their tongues are flat and have elongated papillae (bristles) on the end that makes them resemble brushes.  This allows the lories to maximize the amount of nectar taken when they lick it up.  They also have long tongues so they can reach into the base of large flowers.  However, few lories subsist on only nectar, and wild lories will also feed on fruit and seeds.

Red Lory

Subfamily Psittrichadinae

The subfamily Psittrichadinae is a small one and contains only one very unusual species: the Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), a large red and black bird which inhabits the montane rainforests of New Guinea.  They are quite rare in captivity and are scarce in the wild.  I called them unusual because, unlike most other parrots, they have no feathers on their head.  This trait makes them look a bit like vultures; hence their alternative common name, “Vulturine Parrot.”  The bald face is presumably an adaptation to their diet of sticky fruit and nectar.  Any feathers on the faces of these parrots could wind up matted and sticky with nectar and fruit juice.

The evolutionary history of the Pesquet’s Parrot is a bit of a mystery, since it seems to be only distantly related to all other parrot species.  Recent studies that have looked at the evolutionary relationships among all parrot species by comparing their DNA sequences have failed to determine who this unusual species’ closest relatives are.  Since it’s so distinct from other parrot species, it has been placed in its own subfamily.

Subfamily Micropsittinae

The subfamily Micropsittinae is another small and unusual one and it contains only one genus, Micropsitta, which contains six species.  Together they are referred to as “pygmy parrots.”[12] These are the smallest of all parrot species and are even smaller than the parrotlets.  Unlike the parrotlets, these parrots are not available as pets.  They have never really been kept successfully in captivity, because they die very soon – often, mere hours – after being captured.  I don’t know exactly why they die so quickly in captivity and other parrots don’t, but they could have nutritional requirements that could be difficult to meet in captivity.  For instance, unlike most other parrot species, pygmy parrots will nibble on and eat lichen and fungi.  Captured pygmy parrots will also often refuse to eat fruits, seeds, or insects offered by their captors.  Such tiny animals tend to have very fast metabolisms for their size, and so can die of starvation very quickly if they do not eat.

The smallest of the pygmy parrots, the Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot (M. pusio) is only a mere eight centimeters (3.1 inches) long.  Other species may be up to 9.5 centimeters (3.7 inches) long.  Pygmy Parrots have a few traits that make them quite easy to identify in the wild.  They often climb along the sides of tree trunks, much like woodpeckers and creepers do.  In addition to their woodpecker-ish habits, the morphology of the tails of pygmy parrots can help birdwatchers identify them, as their shafts extend a bit beyond the webbing, so it looks like there’s a little needle stuck on the tips of their tail feathers.

Pygmy parrots occur on the island of New Guinea and some of its surrounding islands.  They are reportedly quite easy to approach, and none are considered to be endangered or threatened.  They nest in tree cavities or in arboreal termite mounds.  They are quite social and one species – the Yellow-capped Pygmy Parrot – roosts communally in nests.  In one case, six adults and two nestlings of this species were found in one nest[13].  This is astonishing because usually only one pair of adult parrots (plus their young) will use a nest cavity.  However, there are a few more social nesters among the parrots.  For example, one Quaker Parakeet nest may house several families.

Subfamily Psittacinae

The last subfamily I have to cover is very large and includes most of the parrots commonly kept as pets, including various parakeets, all parrots from mainland Asia and Africa (including Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands), and all New World parrots.  Because of its size, it has been subdivided into several tribes, which I will briefly describe.

Tribe Cyclopsittacini

The Cyclopsittacini is a very small group of parrots from northern Australia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Indonesia.  They are the fig parrots, of which there are three genera: Cyclopsitta, Psittaculirostris, and Bolbopsittacus. These guys do look a bit like small lories and are, in fact, the closest living relatives to the lories.  However, unlike lories, fig parrots have smooth tongues.  As is easy to infer from their name, these birds rely a great deal on figs (Ficus fruits) for sustenance.

Fig parrots are small birds and range in size from 13 to 19 cm (5 – 7.4 inches) long.  They are rarely kept in captivity and reportedly make better aviary than pet birds due to their nervousness, fast movements and willingness to bite[14].  Most fig parrots kept in the United States are Salvadori’s Fig Parrots (Psittaculirostris salvadorii), which are very attractive, brilliant green birds with a red or blue band on the chest (depending on whether the bird is male or female, respectively), a blue “mask” around the eyes and long yellow feathers that extend from the ear coverts to the chin that give them their alternate name, “Whiskered Fig Parrot.”

Tribe Psittaculini

Here we have a group of parrots (53 of them) primarily from Asia, with one surprise in the mix.  The Psittaculini includes the genus Psittacula, which includes the Ring-necked, Moustached, Alexandrine, Derbyan, and Plum-headed Parakeets, along with eight other less common species.  It also contains the Eclectus, the two genera that contain its closest relatives (Tanygnathus and Geoffroyus) and the Blue-rumped Parrot, Psittinus cyanurus.

This tribe also contains the genus Prioniturus (the Racquet-tailed Parrots), which contains nine species from the Phillipines and Indonesia.   These parrots are easy to distinguish from all others, because, in addition to a short wedge-shaped tail, they have two very long tail feathers that have bare shafts and an oval on the end.  These feathers are shaped a bit like a tennis racket; hence, the birds’ names.  They are unheard of to very rare in avicultural collections.

The “surprise” in this tribe is the presence of a completely African genus, the lovebirds (genus Agapornis).  A recent, thorough study of the evolutionary relationships among parrots indicates that the most closely related genus of parrots to the lovebirds is Loriculus, a group in the Psittaculini that occurs in tropical, southern Asia.[15] Lovebirds are more closely related to the Loriculus parrots than they are to the other African species.  Since the Psittaciformes likely originated in Australasia after Africa had separated from Gondwana, parrots must have spread to Africa three times: once by the ancestor of the lovebirds, once by the ancestor of African Grey Parrots and Poicephalus (Senegal Parrots and their relatives) and again by ringnecked parrots, which have a distribution that spans both Africa and Asia.

Loriculus – the hanging parrots – are uncommon in aviculture.  However, I have seen them in zoos (including the National Zoo in Washington, D. C.) and a handful aviculturalists do breed them.  I tried getting a picture of the pair at the National Zoo, but while I was there, they were either hidden in the trees in their enormous walk-in aviary, or they were flying extremely fast in circles.  Hanging parrots are named for their habit of sleeping upside down.

Tribe Polytelini

This group of primarily Australian birds contains three genera: Alisterus (Red-winged Parrots), Aprosmictus (King Parrots), and Polytelis (Princess of Wales Parakeets, Superb Parakeets, and Regent Parakeets).  These birds are uncommon in American aviculture, although some breeders do work with these very elegant, long-tailed birds.  They are most commonly kept as aviary birds, though they can make good companion birds as well.

Tribe Platycerini

Here is another primarily Australian group of birds (37 species), although some members of this group are found in New Guinea, New Zealand or New Caledonia.  All of the Australian grass parakeets (Bourke’s, Turquoisine, Scarlet-chested, Orange-bellied, Rock, and Blue-winged Parakeets) are in this group, along with the Rosellas, the budgerigar, the Bluebonnet Parakeet, the genus Psephotus (which includes the Mulga, Red-rumped, Hooded and Golden-shouldered Parrots, along with the extinct Paradise Parrot), the Swift Parakeet, the Port Lincoln Parakeet, the Mallee Ringnecked Parakeet and the Red-capped Parrot.  Two of the grass parakeets (the Blue-wing Parrot and the Orange-bellied Parrot) share a trait that is uncommon among parrots – they must undergo an annual migration across an oceanic strait.  Both species winter on the mainland of Australia and fly to Tasmania to breed.  The Blue-wing Parrot is not endangered, although the same cannot be said of the Orange-winged Parrot, of which there are only about 180 birds left.  The critically endangered Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) and the more common Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus), two species of cryptic, ground-dwelling birds, have also been placed within this group.

The final four genera of this tribe are not Australian, but occur on the Pacific Islands north of Australia.  The Tiger Parrots (genus Psittacella) are a group of four species found on New Guinea and Indonesia.  Their name refers to the black barring these birds have on their feathers, which makes them look like they have black stripes.  These stripes make them blend in well with their surroundings in the wild, which makes them difficult to see. As a result, very little is known about their habits and they have only very rarely been kept in captivity.

The Kakarikis (Cyanoramphus) are in this tribe, and two species – the Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakariki – are commonly bred in the United States and are most usually kept as aviary birds, although some people keep these elegant, fast-moving birds as companions.  Aside from the three species from New Zealand, there are a few on some surrounding  islands, and one – the solid green Antipodes Island Kakariki – occurs on a subantarctic island and can often be found living alongside penguins.  Two species in this genus from Tahiti and the Society Islands are extinct.  Since the Kakarikis are not close relatives of the other New Zealand parrots, and likely evolved well after New Zealand split from Australia, the ancestor of the New Zealand kakarikis likely dispersed to New Zealand from elsewhere.

Kakarikis are closely related to the Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus), which occurs on the island of New Caledonia.  This species is named after the two black, red-tipped, horn-like feathers that stick out of its head.  Kakariki and Horned Parakeets are both close relatives of the Shining Parrots (Prosopeia) of Fiji, which are also in the tribe Platycerini.

Clockwise starting at top: Mulga Parakeet, Rainbow Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella, Blue Bonnet Parakeet, Cockatiel

Tribe Psittacini

The tribe Psittacini contains only parrots from Africa and Madagascar and includes the African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus), the genus Poicephalus (which includes the Senegal, Myer’s, Red-bellied, Jardine’s and Brown-headed Parrots, among a few others), and the Black and Vasa Parrots (Coracopsis vasa and C. nigra).  The genera Psittacus and Poicephalus are clearly very closely related to each other, but how the Coracopsis parrots are related to the other parrots is unclear.  The Black and Vasa Parrots (also referred to as Lesser and Greater Vasa Parrots, respectively) are certainly a very unusual duo.  They have black to grey feathers (with no colour) and their skin turns yellow during the breeding season.  Not only that, but the female’s heads go completely bald during the breeding season.  Females also change colour slightly (from black/grey to brown) during the breeding season and they do not need to moult for this to happen.

Tribe Arini

The last tribe is the biggest and contains all of the New World parrot species, which include the parrotlets, conures, macaws, Amazon parrots, caiques, Pionus parrots, Hawkheaded Parrots, Quaker Parakeets, Lineolated Parakeets, Brotogeris parakeets and many others.  Rather than listing them all, I will refer the reader to the list of all parrot species that follows this article.

Recent analyses of DNA sequences from New World parrots have revealed how they are all related to one another.[16] I’ve often described my conures as being similar to macaws scrunched down into a handful to bird, and it turns out that this really isn’t too far off, as the conures and macaws are more closely related to each other than they are to any other type of bird.  Additionally, some conure species are more closely related to some macaw species than they are to other conures.  For example, the Aratinga conures are more closely related to the Ara genus of macaws than they are to the Pyrrhura conures.  This is reflected in their names – “Aratinga” means “little macaw.”

Scarlet Macaw

Other relationships that have been confirmed by the analysis of DNA sequences are the close evolutionary relationship between Caiques and Hawkheaded Parrots, between Brotogeris parakeets and Quaker Parrots, and between Pionus parrots and Amazon parrots.

Conclusion

“Parrot” generally refers to any of the 359 members of the order Psittaciformes.  The order is incredibly diverse, although it has been divided into only three families: Nestoridae, Cacatudiae, and Psittacidae.  The Nestoridae and Cacatuidae are rather small families, although the Psittacidae is a very large one and has been divided into four subfamilies: Loriinae, Psittrichadinae, Micropsittinae, and Psittacinae.  The large subfamily Psittacinae has also been split into several tribes: Cyclopsittacini, Psittaculini, Polytelini, Platycercini, Psittacini, and Arini.  The arrangements of the Psittaciformes into different groups may change as more is discovered about the evolutionary relationships among parrots.

I’m sure that many readers have noticed that not all parrots described or listed here have been kept in captivity and only a fraction of them are actually common as pets.  To come to really come to appreciate the beauty and diversity of parrots, I suggest having a look at either of the parrot guides written by Joseph Forshaw.  His older work, “Parrots of the World,” was illustrated by William T. Cooper and contains very detailed and beautiful paintings of each parrot species.  It is out of print, but I really recommend searching it out in library or used book source. He has also written a more recent parrot guide, “Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide,” (2006), which was illustrated by Frank Knight.  This book also has fantastic illustrations of each parrot species and most subspecies.  At the parrot club information tables I help out with, I always bring one of these two books to demonstrate to people just how beautiful and variable parrots are.


[1]According to: Forshaw, J and Knight, F. 2006.  Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.

[2] To see an example of a talking Tui, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqF33vc_q68

[3] For an amazing example of a talented Lyrebird mimic, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjE0Kdfos4Y

[4] These are reviewed in Hackett, J. et al. 2008. A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science, 320, 1763-1768

[5] Livezey, B., and Zusi, R.  2007. Higher-order phylogeny of modern birds (Theropoda, Aves: Neoornithes), based on comparative anatomy. II. Analysis and Discussion. Zoologial Journal of the Linnean Society, 149, 1-95.

[6] Some authors place Nestoridae within the family Psittacidae. However, I will treat it as a separate family in this article because doing so is consistent with the evidence presented in reference eight which indicates that the genera in Nestoridae diverged from all other parrot species anywhere from sixty to eighty million years ago.

[7] Christidis, L, et al. 1991. Relationships among the Australo-Papuan Parrots, Lorikeets, and Cockatoos (Aves: Psittaciformes): Protein Evidence. The Condor, 93, 302-317.

[8] Wright, T. et al. 2008.  A multilocus molecular phylogeny of the parrots (Psittaciformes): Support for a Gondwanan origin during the Cretaceous.  Molecular Biology and Evolution, 25, 2141-2156.

[9] Wright et al., 2008.

[10] Wright et al., 2008

[11] “Lories” have short tails and “lorikeets” have longer, tapering tails.

[12] These little parrots got some press recently when the BBC new services announced that one pygmy parrot species had been filmed for the first time. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8236000/8236410.stm

[13] Forshaw, J., and Knight, F. 2006.

[14] Kasper, R. 2002. Fig Parrots: The Hookbills that won’t be tamed. Parrot Chronicles, Summer, 2002.

Online at: http://www.parrotchronicles.com/summer2002/speciesspotlight.htm

[15] Wright et al., 2008

[16] Wright et al., 2008

Appendix: A list of parrot species.

Order: Psittaciformes

Family: Nestoridae

Tribe: Strigopini

Genus: Strigops

One species: S. habroptilus (Kakapo)

Tribe: Nestorini

Genus: Nestor

Two species: N. notabilis, N. meridionalis (Kea and Kaka)

Family: Cacatuidae

Subfamily: Cacatuinae

Tribe: Proboscigerini

Genus: Probosciger

One species: P. aterrimus (Black Palm Cockatoo)

Tribe: Calyptorhynchini

Genus: Calyptorhynchus (Black cockatoos)

Five species: C. funereus, latirostris, baudinii, banksii, lathami

Tribe: Cacatuini

Genus: Callocephalon

One species: C. fimbriatum (Gang Gang Cockatoo)

Genus: Eolophus

One species: E. roseicapilla (Rose-breasted Cockatoo)

Genus: Cacatua (White cockatoos)

Twelve species: C. galerita (Greater Sulphur-crested), sulphurea (Lesser Sulphur-crested), ophthalmica (Blue-eyed),alba (Umbrella), moluccensis (Moluccan), ,leadbeateri (Major Mitchell’s), tenuirostris (Slender-billed), pastinator (Western Corella), sanguinea (Bare-eyed Cockatoo), ducorpsii (Ducorp’s), goffini (Goffin’s), haematuropygia (Phillipine Red-vented)

Subfamily: Nymphicinae

Tribe: Nymphicinae

Genus: Nymphicus

One species: N. hollandicus (Cockatiel)

Family: Psittacidae

Subfamily: Loriinae (Lories and Lorikeets)

Genus: Chalcopsitta

Four species: C. atra, C. scintillata, duivenbodei, cardinalis

Genus: Pseudeos

One species: P. fuscata (Dusky Lory)

Genus: Eos

Six species: E. cyanogenia, squamata, reticulata, histrio, bornea, semilarvata

Genus: Trichoglossus

Seven species: T. ornatus, haematodus, rubiginosus, chlorolepidotus, euteles, flavoviridis, johnstoniae

Genus: Psitteuteles

Three species: P. versicolor, iris, goldiei

Genus: Glossopsitta

Three species: G. concinna, pusilla, porphyrocephala

Genus: Vini

Five species: V. australis, kuhlii, stepheni, peruviana, ultramarina

Genus: Phigys

One species: P. solitarius

Genus: Lorius

Six species: hypoinochrous, lory, domicella, chlorocercus, albidinucha, garrulous.

Genus: Charmosyna

Fourteen species: palmarum, rubrigularis, meeki, toxopei, diadema, wilhelminae, amabilis, multistriata, rubronotata, placentis, pulchella, margarethae, josefinae, papou.

Genus: Oreopsittacus

One species: O. arfaki, Whiskered Lorikeet

Genus: Neopsittacus

One species: N. musschenbroekii

Subfamily: Psittrichadinae

Genus: Psittrichas

One species: P. fulgidus (Pesquet’s Parrot)

Subfamily: Micropsittinae

Genus: Micropsitta (Pygmy parrots)

Six species: M. pusio, keiensis, geelvinkiana, meeki, finschii, bruijnii

Subfamily: Psittacinae

Tribe: Cyclopsittacini (Fig Parrots)

Genus: Cyclopsitta

Two species: C. gulielmitertii, diophthalma

Genus: Psittaculirostris

Three species: P. desmarestii, edwardsii, salvadorii

Genus: Bolbopsittacus

One species: B. lunulatus

Tribe: Psittaculini

Genus: Psittinus

One species: P. cyanurus (Blue-rumped Parrot)

Genus: Geoffroyus

Three species: G. geoffroyi, simplex, heteroclitus

Genus: Prioniturus (Racquet-tailed Parrots)

Nine species: P. luconensis, montanus, verticalis, waterstradti, platenae, discurus, flavicans, platurus, mada.

Genus: Eclectus

One species: E. roratus (Eclectus Parrot)

Genus: Tanygnathus

Four species: T. megalorynchnos (Great-billed Parrot), lucionensis (Blue-naped Parrot), sumatranus, gramineus

Genus: Psittacula

Thirteen species: P. eupatria (Alexandrine Parakeet), krameri (Indian and African Ring-necked Parakeets), echo, columboides, calthorpae, cyanocephala (Plum-headed Parakeet), roseata, himalayana, finschii, derbiana (Derbyan Parakeet), caniceps, alexandri, longicaudata.

Genus: Agapornis (Lovebirds)

Nine species: A. canus, pullarius, taranta, swindernianus, roseicollis (Peach-faced Lovebird), personatus (Masked Lovebird), fischeri (Fischer’s Lovebird), lilianae (Nyasa Lovebird), nigrigensis

Genus: Loriculus (Hanging parrots)

Thirteen species: L. vernalis, beryllinus, philippensis, galgulus, stigmatus, amabilis, sclateri, catamene, flosculus, exilis, pusillus, aurantiifrons, tener.

Tribe: Polytelini

Genus: Alisterus (King Parrots)

Three species: A. amboinensis, chloropterus, scapularis

Genus: Aprosmictus

Two species: A. jonquillaceus, erythropterus (Red-winged Parrot)

Genus: Polytelis

Three species: P. swainsonii (Superb Parrot), anthopeplus (Regent Parrot), alexandrae (Princess Parrot)

Tribe: Platycercini

Genus: Purpureicephalus

One species: P. spurious (Red-capped Parrot)

Genus Barnardius

Two species: B. barnardi (Mallee Ring-necked Parrot), B. zonarius (Port Lincoln Parrot)

Genus Platycercus (Rosellas)

Six species: P. caldedonicus, elegans (Crimson and Yellow Rosellas), eximius (Eastern Rosella), P. adscitus (Pale-headed Rosella), venustus (Northern Rosella), icterotis (Western Rosella)

Genus: Northiella

One species: N. haematogaster (Bluebonnet)

Genus: Psephotus

Five species: P. haematonotus, varius (Mulga Parakeet), chrysopterygius, dissimilis, pulcherrimus

Genus: Lathamus

One species: L. discolor, Swift Parakeet

Genus: Cyanoramphus (Kakarikis)

Four species: C. unicolor, C. novaezelandiae (Red-fronted Kakariki), C. auriceps (Yellow-fronted Kakariki), C. malherbi

Genus: Eunymphicus

One species: E. cornutus (Horned Parakeet)

Genus: Prosopeia (Shining Parrots)

Two species: P. personata, tabuensis

Genus: Neophema

Six species: N. chrysostoma, elegans, petrophila, chrysogaster, pulchella (Turquoise Parakeet), splendida (Scarlet-chested Parakeet).

Genus: Neopsephotus

One species: N. bourkii (Bourke’s Parakeet)

Genus: Melopsittacus

One species: M. undulatus, Budgerigar, “Budgie”

Genus: Pezoporus

Two species: P. wallicus (Ground Parrot), P. occidentalis (Night Parrot)

Genus Psittacella (Tiger Parrots)

Four species: P. brehmii, picta, modesta, madaraszi

Tribe: Psittacini

Genus: Coracopsis

Two species: C. vasa (Vasa Parrot), C. nigra (Black Parrot or Lesser Vasa Parrot)

Genus: Psittacus

One species: P. erithacus (African Grey Parrot)

Genus: Poicephalus

Nine species: P. robustus (Brown-necked Parrot, Cape Parrot), gulielmi (Jardine’s Parrot), flavifrons, cryptoxanthus (Brown-headed Parrot), crassus, meyeri (Meyer’s Parrot), rueppelli (Rüppell’s Parrot), rufiventris (Red-bellied Parrot), senegalus (Senegal Parrot)

Tribe: Arini

Genus: Anodorhynchus

Three species: A. hyacinthinus (Hyacinth Macaw), leari (Lear’s Macaw), glaucus (Glaucus Macaw)

Genus: Cyanopsitta

One species: C. spixii (Spix’s Macaw)

Genus: Ara (Large macaws)

Eight species: A. ararauna (Blue and Gold Macaw), glaucogularis (Blue-throated Macaw), macao (Scarlet Macaw), chloroptera (Green-winged Macaw), militaris (Military Macaw), ambigua (Great Green Macaw), rubrogenys (Red-fronted Macaw), severus (Chestnut-fronted or Severe Macaw).

Genus: Primolius

Three species: P. auricollis (Yellow-collared Macaw), couloni (Blue-headed Macaw), maracana (Blue-winged or Illiger’s Macaw)

Genus: Orthopsittaca

One species: O. manilata (Red-bellied Macaw)

Genus: Diopsittaca

One species: D. nobilis (Hahn’s, Red-shouldered or Noble Macaw)

Genus: Rhynchopsitta

Two species: R. pachyrhyncha (Thick-billed Parrot), terrisi

Genus: Ognorhynchus

One species: O. icterotis (Yellow-eared Conure)

Genus: Guaruba

One species: G. guaruba (Golden or Queen of Bavaria’s Conure)

Genus Aratinga

Twenty-one species: A. acuticaudata (Blue-crowned or Sharp-tailed Conure), leucophthalmus (White-eyed Conure), holochlora, strenua, brevipes, rubritorquis (Red-throated Conure), chloroptera, euops (Cuban Conure), finschi (Finsch’s Conure), wagleri (Wagler’s Conure), mitrata (Mitred Conure), erythrogenys (Cherry-headed Conure), auricapillus (Golden-capped Conure), jandaya (Jenday Conure), solstitalis (Sun Conure), weddellii (Dusky-headed Conure), pertinax (Brown-throated Conure), nana, canicularis (Orange-fronted Conure), aurea (Peach-fronted Conure), cactorum (Cactus Conure).

Genus Leptosittaca

One species: L. branickii (Golden-plumed Conure)

Genus Nandayus

One species: N. nenday (Nanday Conure)

Genus Cyanoliseus

One species: C. patagonus (Patagonian Conure)

Genus Myiopsitta

One species: M. monachus (Quaker or Monk Parakeet)

Genus Enicognathus

Two species: E. ferrugineus (Austral Conure), leptorhynchus (Slender-billed Conure)

Genus: Pyrrhura

Twenty-nine species: P. frontalis (Maroon-bellied Conure), devillei (Blaze-winged Conure), molinae (Green-cheeked Conure), melanura, perlata (Crimson-bellied Conure), lepida (Pearly Conure), calliptera, egregia (Fiery-shouldered Conure), hoematotis, leucotis (White-eared Conure), griseipectus, pfrimeri, emma, picta (Painted Conure), amazonum, lucianii, roseifrons (Rose-fronted Conure), snethlageae, peruviana, subandina, caeruleiceps, eisenmanni, rupicola (Black-capped Conure), orcesi, albipectus, viridicata, rhodocephala (Rose-crowned Conure), hoffmanni, cruentata.

Genus: Bolborhynchus

Five species: B. aymara, aurifrons, lineola (Lineolated Parakeet), orbygnesius, ferrugineifrons

Genus: Forpus (Parrotlets)

Seven species: F. cyanopygius (Mexican Parrotlet), passerinus (Green-rumped Parrotlet), sclateri, xanthopterygius (Blue-winged Parrotlet), conspicillatus (Spectacled Parrotlet), coelestis (Pacific Parrotlet), xanthops (Yellow-faced Parrotlet)

Genus: Nannopsittaca

Two species: N. panychlora, N. dachilleae

Genus: Brotogeris

Eight species: B. tirica, versicolorus, chiriri, pyrrhopterus, jugularis, cyanoptera, chrysopterus, sanctithomae.

Genus: Touit

Seven species: T. batavica, huetii, dilectissima, costaricensis, purpurata, melanonotus, stictoptera

Genus: Pionities (Caiques)

Two species: P. melanocephala (Black-capped Caique), P. leucogaster (White-bellied Caique)

Genus: Pionopsitta

Eight species: P. pileata, haematotis, pulchra, pyrilia, barrabandi, caica, vulturina, aurantiocephala.

Genus: Hapalopsittaca

Four species: H. melanotis, amazonina, fuertesi, pyrrhops

Genus: Graydidascalus

One species: G. brachyurus

Genus: Pionus

Eight species: P. menstruus (Blue-headed Pionus), sordidus, maximiliani (Maximilian’s Pionus), tumultuosus, seniloides (White-capped Pionus), senilis, chalcopterus (Bronze-winged Pionus), fuscus (Dusky-winged Pionus).

Genus: Amazona (Amazon Parrots)

Twenty-nine species: A. collaria, leucocephala (Cuban Amazon), ventralis, agilis, vittata, tucumana, pretrei, albifrons (White-fronted Amazon), xantholora, viridigenalis (Green-cheeked Amazon), finschi (Lilac-crowned Amazon), autumnalis (Red-lored Amazon), festiva, brasiliensis, rhodocorytha, dufresniana, barbadensis, xanthops, aestiva (Blue-fronted Amazon), ochrocephala (Yellow-naped, Double Yellow-headed and Yellow-fronted Amazons), amazonica (Orange-winged Amazon), mercenaria, kawalli, farinosa, vinacea, versicolor, guildingii, arausiaca, imperialis.

Genus: Deroptyus

One species: D. accipitrinus (Hawk-headed Parrot)

Genus: Triclaria

One species: T. malachitacea (Purple-bellied Parrot)

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