Parrots are among the most well-known birds living today and come in a variety of kinds, from charismatic macaws to ecstatic cockatoos. These colorful birds are commonly associated with pirates, jungles, and Margaritaville. However, the parrot order, Psittaciformes, hosts a variety of strange species that not many people know about. Read on to discover five fascinating birds in this group!
1. The Kakapo
The Kakapo is the world’s largest and heaviest parrot living today. This bird, once found throughout New Zealand, can only be found in a few predator-free reserves today. It can reach up to two feet in length, and adults can weigh up to ten pounds. Due to its peculiar appearance, it is also known as the owl parrot.
Kakapos are flightless birds; in fact, they are the only known parrots who cannot fly. Instead, it evolved stronger legs to run through the forest floor. Despite being unable to fly, this bird is adept at climbing and uses its wings to “parachute” to the ground without injury. To evade predators, the kakapo remains motionless and uses its green plumage as a form of camouflage.
Kakapos are herbivorous and prefer berries of the Rimu tree; in fact, Rimu berries are all they eat during the fruiting season. Some scientists hypothesize that the berries can even trigger breeding in this species. Unlike most other parrots, Kakapos are also solitary and dim-witted animals. Being territorial, this bird only interacts with others during the breeding season, in which the male produces a booming call to attract nearby females.
Unfortunately, the Kakapo is a critically endangered species. Once found in a variety of habitats throughout New Zealand, these parrots were mainly wiped out by invasive species such as feral cats, stoats, and rats. Their habitat has also been cleared out for farming, and they were also overhunted for their meat and feathers. Though now only found in a few protected reserves, the Kakapo’s future seems to be promising. Thanks to conservation programs, the population is slowly increasing.
2. The Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
The Blue-crowned hanging parrot is perhaps the most well-known species of its kind. Hanging parrots are named for their unique way of sleeping which they do by hanging upside-down by their feet. This odd position evolved as camouflage; when resting, these birds mimic leaves on a tree branch, hiding from potential predators. No other birds are known to sleep like this.
Despite this bizarre behavior, the Blue-crowned hanging parrot otherwise behaves like many other parrot species. It can be found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, from Thailand to parts of Indonesia. These small birds can be found alone or in large flocks of up to around a hundred individuals. Their diet consists mainly of fruits, but will also snack on nuts, seeds, and nectar.
The Blue-crowned hanging parrot can be distinguished by the blue marking found on the males’ heads. Other species of hanging parrots appear similar, but sport different markings and patterns on their faces. This species, like many others throughout its range, is often trapped for the illegal pet trade and is also losing its habitat. Despite this, hanging parrots are currently not considered threatened.
3. The Pesquet’s Parrot
This next species appears rather intimidating, but the Pesquet’s parrot has a reason for its peculiar appearance. Also known as the Dracula or vulturine parrot, this bird is known for its unusually bare face and tube-like bill. Both traits are unique adaptations, due to its highly specialized diet composed almost exclusively of figs. Its bare face allows this parrot to keep itself clean from the stickiness of fruits, while the beak allows it to “scoop” out pulp.
The Pesquet’s Parrot is only found in the cool, humid montane forests of New Guinea. It is rarely seen but can be found either in pairs or small flocks. This species’ closest living relative is the Vasa Parrot, which can only be found in Madagascar an entire ocean away. Not much is known of its wild behavior. Pesquet’s parrots are threatened mainly by overhunting for their feathers and meat, and hatchlings are sometimes captured as pets.
4. The Kea
When one thinks of “parrot”, people often envision a colorful bird from the tropics. The Kea, however, breaks these norms. This unusual parrot can be found in colder alpine regions of New Zealand’s South Island (though fossils found indicate that kea once also lived in lowland forests). It is also rather drab in appearance compared to its relatives.
Keas are among the most intelligent parrot species, and studies conducted on zoo animals have shown that this species can solve highly complex problems. The Kea is also known for its rather playful, mischievous antics, showing immense curiosity to tourists and farmers alike. This has given them the nickname “clowns of the mountains”.
Unfortunately, the kea’s antics aren’t appreciated by everyone. Keas became labeled as a nuisance pest by some due to their tendency to steal belongings and destroy equipment (such as cars and trash cans). They also were recorded to prey on sheep, and in turn, farmers persecuted Kea by the thousands. Today, keas are listed as an endangered species. Though keas became fully protected in the 1980s, they still clash with people due to property damage and theft. Invasive species, such as stoats and possums, also threaten their survival.
5. The Night Parrot
The Night Parrot of Australia is probably the world’s rarest parrot; for 67 years, nobody has seen one alive and many believed this species to have become extinct. In 1979, one researcher reported seeing a flock, and just eleven years later a road-killed animal was found. Sightings have been sporadic throughout the country, though some have been dismissed as false or staged evidence. In 2015, a live night parrot was spotted and briefly captured for research. The bird, nicknamed “Pedro” by its researchers, was recorded and radio-tagged in hopes of studying its biology.
Very little is known about the night parrot due to its shyness and nocturnal behavior. Individuals have been sighted throughout arid and semi-arid grasslands of Australia. Due to its nighttime habits and green coloration, it was once thought to be a close relative of the kakapo. However, it is now known to be closely related to ground parrots. Due to its rarity and extremely low population, the night parrot is considered critically endangered.