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Different Types Of Parrots & How To Tell Them Apart

Red and green Macaw

Birds with bright colors, loud calls, and fantastic, exotic looks! How can you not love parrots?

In Costa Rica, I’m fortunate to see beautiful White-fronted Parrots, and Crimson-fronted Parakeets fly over my neighborhood. These wonderful birds flash red and green as they fill the air with shrieking calls.

Other types of parrots lend their colors to tropical forests from Australia to Africa, and the Amazon.

Which brings us to the main question – how many types of parrots are there, and where do most of them live?

 

The Parrot Family & Species

The parrot family is huge! There are close to 400 parrot species organized into four distinct families. The New Zealand Parrots are a family with four species, one of which is extinct. The other three species have big, sharp, hooked beaks, and one, the “Kakapo” is nocturnal.

The Cockatoo family has 22 species found in Australasia, and 202 species of Old World Parrots live in Eurasia, Africa, and Australasia. One of the Old World Parrots is even known as the Dracula Parrot!

New World and African Parrots are a family of 177 species with some medium-sized parrots in Africa, and the rest ranging from southern Texas to Chile.

Related: What sets tropical birds apart & brightest examples

Most parrots live in tropical forests but several have become adapted to living near people, and some species live in cool montane habitats. Sadly, of the 405 known parrot species, 16 are extinct, and several are seriously endangered. These fantastic and beautiful birds are threatened by deforestation, and capture for the pet bird trade.

 

Macaws

Scarlet Macaws

 

Macaws are huge parrots with long tails. With their bright colors and extra-loud voices, these spectacular birds can seem larger than life!

There are 16 Macaw species and all have beautiful plumage. For example, Scarlet Macaws highlight rainforest with bright red, yellow and blue, and Blue-and-Yellow Macaws are plumaged in stunning sapphire blue and gold.

The Hyacinth Macaw is cobalt blue and the largest macaw. It’s also the biggest parrot and uses its massive black beak to crack open palm nuts in Brazil and parts of Bolivia and Paraguay.

Macaws live in tropical forest habitats from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. In some parts of the Amazon, six macaw species can live in the same area!

These big parrots are long-lived birds that require large areas of forest or woodlands with lots of old growth trees for nesting and feeding. Sadly, deforestation has caused several macaw species to become threatened with extinction.

 

Cockatoos

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Cockatoos are medium to large, crested parrots that live in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Several species have white plumage with bits of color on their tail and head, and some cockatoos have mostly gray or black plumage.

While Cockatiels are small birds with long, pointed tails, other cockatoo species are fairly large and hefty parrots with rectangular tails. Some also have pink in their plumage and spectacular crests that they can raise to showcase bright pink, orange, or yellow plumes.

These special birds mostly live in forest and other wooded habitats. Although species like corellas and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are common in farming areas, and can even live in city parks, several other cockatoos aren’t doing so well.

Several species that are restricted to islands and small areas of habitat in Australia are seriously endangered. Like parrots in other places, they have become threatened by a combination of deforestation and capture for the cagebird trade.

 

Amazons

Red-Lored Amazon

Amazons are big, chunky parrots in the “Amazona” genus with green plumage and rectangular tails. They range from southern Texas to northern Argentina., and most have red, yellow, or blue on their heads, red on their wings, and some red or yellow on their tails.

Like other parrots, they usually occur in pairs and often call in flight. I typically hear Amazons long before seeing them, and when they fly into view, recognize these cool birds by their shallow wing beats.

Amazons live in various types of tropical forest and need lots of big, mature trees with cavities for nesting. They forage for fruit and seeds in a variety of trees.

These big parrots are intelligent birds and popular pets. Unfortunately, this has been the downfall of Yellow-naped Parrots, and Yellow-headed Parrots, and some other Amazon species. Capture for the pet trade has endangered some species, and deforestation has also had negative effects on most Amazon species.

 

Parrots

Red-Crowned Parrot

“Parrot” is a general name used for most members of the four families that make up the Psittaciformes. However, most birds with “parrot” in their name share some characteristics. They tend to be chunky, medium-sized birds with rounded heads, broad wings, and rectangular tails.

They can come in a variety of colors but, the parrots that range from Texas to South America tend to have green or blue and green plumage.

Parrots occur as pairs, but some species can also forage in flocks of one or a couple dozen individuals. They use their strong beaks to bite into fruit and crack open seeds, and also nest in tree cavities.

In Australia, we find a number of species with “parrot” in their name. However, most of these parrots are slender, have long tails, and have beautiful plumage with green, red, blue, or yellow colors.

A number of parrots are common but deforestation is a threat to several species.

 

Parakeets

Male and female parakeet

Parakeets are small to medium-sized types of parrots. Most have slender bodies as well as medium to long, pointed tails. Rose-ringed Parakeets and other Asian parakeets tend to be green, have red beaks, and several have dark heads.

Many parakeet species also occur from southern Texas to Argentina and Chile. Several are green with some red on their heads and wings, while others are fancy, green birds with patches of red, maroon, and gray. There are also smaller parakeet species with short or medium-length. pointed tails, and small beaks.

Related: Female parakeets – are they any different?

I often see one such species in Costa Rica; the Orange-chinned Parakeet. This small parrot feeds at flowering trees, even in residential areas, and eats fruit at bird feeders!

The “Barred Parakeet” is another, less common parakeet species that wanders over tropical mountain areas in search of seeding bamboo, and other foraging opportunities. In a sense, they act like crossbills and other finches that migrate to food sources.

 

Conures

Sun Conures

“Conure” is a name often used by parrot lovers and pet bird enthusiasts for several species of parakeets.  This is why we might see a birding field guide use a name like Green Parakeet, but see Green Conure used for the same bird species in another situation.

Conures are usually parakeets that belong to the Aratinga, Pyrrhura, Psittacara, and Eupsittula genera.

In general, like other parakeets, Conures are slender parrots with long, pointed tails. They also have smaller beaks than big parrots like Amazons and Macaws.

These pretty parakeets usually occur in flocks, make loud screeching calls, and use their pointed wings for fast, direct flight. We can see Conures in a variety of tropical forest habitats including dry forest, rainforest, and cloud forest. Some Conure species are also restricted to small areas, especially in South America.

In general, most Conures are common but some species are threatened with deforestation, especially ones that have small ranges.

 

Parrotlets

Parrotlets are pretty much what their name says. These small birds are miniature parrots, around the same size as a House Sparrow!

They have rounded heads, pointed wings, and short, squared tails. For the most part, parrotlets also have green plumage with bits of red, blue, or yellow.

They live in tropical forests, especially rainforest and cloud forest, mostly in South America. However, one parrotlet species also lives in dry forests of western Mexico, and two other species live in the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama.

Parrotlets move around in small flocks in search of small fruiting and seeding plants, often in the canopy. On account of their small size, some parrotlet species can be tough to see. In fact, it’s so easy to overlook the Amazonian Parrotlet, this mysterious bird wasn’t officially described until the 1980s!

Parrotlets are a challenge to study but a few species are believed to be threatened by deforestation.

 

Lovebirds and Hanging-Parrots

Lovebirds are small parrots that are pretty well known as pets. These cute birds get their name from their tendency to stay close to their mates. Although many other parrot species do the same thing, “Lovebird” seems to be a fitting name for these sparrow-sized beauties.

In the wild, we find lovebirds in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and at least one species, the “Rosy-faced Lovebird” has become established in Arizona.

These pretty little birds are green with some color on their heads, and most have small red beaks. A few are threatened by deforestation in their small ranges.

Hanging-Parrots are similar, small parrots that live in southern Asia. These little green parrots have some bits of red on and near their head, and are named after their tendency to hang upside down while feeding. They can occur as pairs or small flocks that take nectar and forage for small fruits in tropical forest habitats.

 

Lorys and Lorikeets

Lorys and Lorikeets are smallish parrot species with colorful beaks, and vivid plumage. These incredibly beautiful birds usually have long tails, and pointed wings.

They can be deep red and blue with bits of black and green, green with crimson, blue, and yellow, or even blue with white on their throat. Oddly, one species, the Black Lory of western Papua, is black with dingy yellowish on its tail.

Lorys and Lorikeets live in Australasia and on many Pacific Islands. Several species are restricted to one or a few islands, and some are highly threatened by deforestation. Tragically, a few island species have also been driven to near extinction by introduced rats that prey on their nests!

These small, fantastic parrots forage for nectar and small fruits. One of the best known and most common species is the Rainbow Lorikeet of eastern Australia. In some places, this multicolored bird will even fly in and eat from your hands!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many parrot species are there?

There are thought to be 405 parrot species. However, at least 16 are extinct.

Do parrots only live in tropical climates?

Although most parrots live in tropical climates, a few species live in places that have winter, and several species live in cool, montane habitats.

Are all parrots tameable?

Most parrots are probably tameable. There are several rare parrots that have not been kept as pets, but all parrot species are social and intelligent birds.

How intelligent are parrots?

Parrots are very intelligent birds. Most can mimic human speech, learn various tricks, and some species may be as smart as a 5 or 6 year old child!

Are there parrots in Africa?

Yes, there are parrots in Africa. Several parrot species live in forests and woodland habitats in sub-Saharan Africa.

How many parrot species are there in Asia?

There are many parrot species in Asia. Dozens of parrot species live in southern Asia, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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