There is a very simple rule for remembering the difference between parrots and parakeets:
All parakeets are parrots. But not all parrots are parakeets. Parakeets are just one species of parrot, popular because of their endearing mannerisms, their brilliant plumage, and their manageable size.
The parrot family comprises some of the most majestic, beautiful, and intelligent members of the bird kingdom.
There are several hundred species of parrots that come in an array of colors, sizes, and personality traits that make some of the favorites for keeping as pets and others of them formidable species that only flourish in the wild.
Get to Know the Parrots
Parrots are an order of birds believed to have originated in Australia that has spread throughout the tropics and subtropics around the world.
There are 398 species of parrots divided into three superfamilies:
“True” parrots (Psittacoidea)
New Zealand parrots (Strigopoidea)
Just about any part of the world that has a warm climate will have parrots. The greatest variety of native parrots is found in Australia, New Zealand, and South America. About a third of all species of parrots that still live in the wild are endangered.
The 398 species of parrots share some common characteristics. They all have strong, curved bills.
They stand upright. They have zygodactyl feet, that is, they have two toes that point forward and two toes that point backward. Almost all parrots lay white eggs and nest in the hollows of trees. It’s hard to tell male and female parrots apart.
There is considerable variation among parrots in other characteristics.
The buff-faced pygmy parrot weighs less than half an ounce (about 10 grams) and grows to be only about 3 inches (8 cm) long. The hyacinth macaw stretches 3.3 feet (1 meter) long, and a kakapo may weigh as much as 9 pounds (4.1 kg).
Most parrots eat seeds, nuts, fruit, and other plant materials, but there are parrots that feed on dead animals and there are parrots that live on flower nectar, with a diet similar to that of hummingbirds.
Although all parrots have curved bills, different parrots have greatly differing bite force. A large macaw has a bite force of 500 lb/sq in (35 kg/cm2), about the same as a Rottweiler.
Parrots have an upper bill that is not attached to their skulls. It can move independently of the lower bill and maneuver to positions that maximize bite strength.
Parrots have a shorter lower bill that has a cutting edge and can move to line up with the upper bill to place pressure on nuts and seeds to crack them open.
They have touch receptors that allow them to “feel with their beaks” to move food to just the right position in their beaks to apply pressure. They have strong tongues that also help them manipulate objects in their beaks.
All parrots have UV vision. They can see blue light that humans cannot. This gives them sharper vision at dawn and dusk.
The zygodactyl feet (two toes forward, two toes backward) of parrots enables them to cling to slippery perches and also to carry food with their feet.
Australian parrots may be left-footed or right-footed, using one foot almost exclusively for carrying food, the same way humans are usually left-handed or right-handed.
Get to Know the Parakeets
The parakeets are a group of 115 species of smaller parrots that eat seeds, have a slender build, and have long tapering tails.
The most familiar parakeet is the Australian budgerigar, better known as a budgie. Budgies are the third most popular pet in the world, after cats and dogs
Budgies are the most popular parakeets kept as pets. There are also “grass parakeets,” native to Australia. There are smaller, longer-tailed species of lories that are often referred to as “lorikeets”“.
Ring-necked parakeets have been known to escape captivity and become feral in North American cities as far north as San Antonio, Jacksonville, and Los Angeles.
Some larger species of parakeets are also identified in the bird trade as parrots. The terms “Alexandrine parakeet” and “Alexandrine parrot,” for example, are used interchangeably.
Parakeets are easily trained. They make great companions. But there are important differences between parakeets and other parrots.
Parrots vs Parakeets – Some Unexpected, Remarkable Differences
Biologists place parakeets in the order of parrots, but there are many reasons we don’t think of them as the same.
Parakeets take a lot less maintenance than parrots. Parakeets enjoy company, and it is easy to keep three or four in a small enclosed space if they have perches and toys o keep them busy.
Larger species of parrots need more elaborate habitats and prefer floor-to-ceiling cages. Parrots are better suited to living in aviaries attached to houses, but parakeets are happy with apartment life.
Origin of the name
The term “parrot” probably is derived from the French term perrot.
In modern language, this term refers to mechanical repetition of a phrase.
The term “parakeet” probably is derived from the Italian term parrochetto, or “little wig.” This refers to the distinctive plumage on the head of the parakeet.
In modern French, a parrot is referred to as a perroquet, reflecting an appreciation for the bird’s many attractive qualities other than mimicry.
Parrots are often kept as a single pet, although they prefer to live with a companion parrot. It is unusual to have more than two parrots as pets.
Parakeets can also be kept as solitary animal companions for their owners, but they are happier in flocks.
Parrots usually lay one or two eggs at a time. Parakeets typically lay four to six eggs in a single clutch.
The hatchlings of both parrots and parakeets are helpless and need constant attention in the nest from their parents for several weeks.
Parrots sometimes outlive their humans. A hyacinth macaw may live to be 50 years old. A kakapo may live to be 95.
Budgies, the most common parakeets, live from five to 20 years in captivity.
The sounds made by parrots are often harsh, and not all parrots have the ability to talk. African parrots have the greatest ability to imitate human speech.
All parakeets have the ability to imitate human speech, and the sounds made by parakeets are often musical. Male budgerigars may have exceptional singing voices. Both male and female parakeets may learn as many as 100 words.
Parrots may have dull, gray plumage, but there are many species with brightly colored feathers. Parakeets are usually green.
Parrots with bright red, green, and yellow feathers usually have chicks that have red, green, and yellow feathers. With budgies, however, surprise coloration is possible.
The green feathers of a budgie result from the bird’s inheriting one gene for blue feathers and another gene for yellow feathers. Both genes program their pigments, so the resulting feather color is green.
However, if a baby budgie inherits two yellow feather genes or two blue feather genes, it will grow blue or yellow feathers instead of green. Two green budgies can have blue or yellow chicks.
Female budgies admire potential male mates for their intelligence, not their good looks
Scientists in China and the Netherlands working together have discovered that female budgie parakeets prefer intelligent males as mates.
When the scientists had female budgies watch male budgies figuring out how to get seeds out of a closed dish, the female budgies preferred the males who figured out how to open the dish to get the most seeds.
Parrots may have similar preferences, but scientists have not observed them.
Parakeets will fly over obstacles in their path.
Unlike parrots, parakeets are very stubborn about flying in the same direction to get to the desired location.
They won’t change their general flight plan just because something is put in their way. Parakeets will fly over an obstacle and then resume their intended flight path, while parrots will usually just find a different to fly where they want to go.
Odd Facts About Parrots and Parakeets
One of the odder facts about parakeets is speculation that the feral population of parakeets in London traces back to a pair released in the 1960s by singer Jimi Hendrix and parakeets that arrived in 1951 with movie stars Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, who had been filming The African Queen in East Africa.
For 70 years, the liberated descendants of these celebrities’ birds have found food and shelter to sustain them in London’s cool, damp, city setting.
It’s just natural to take care of parakeets, especially if they fly in unexpectedly. Not as many people are likely to give shelter to a feral parrot. In fact, in the 1930s, many Britons thought of parrots as dangerous.
About 90 years ago, the UK suffered an outbreak of psittacosis.
Despite the fact that psittacosis can also be transmitted by chickens, ducks, sparrows, seagulls, sparrows, and many other species of birds, this bacterial disease transmitted by mouth-to-beak contact came to be known as “parrot fever.”
In humans, psittacosis can cause pneumonia, and before the invention of antibiotics, was sometimes fatal.
From time to time, beginning in 1932 through 1974, British newspapers played up a need to “Stop the import of Danger Parrots,” blaming parrots and parakeets for the spread of the disease.
British bird owners got rid of their pets to protect themselves and their neighbors from the dreaded psittacosis.
But as a graduate student, Sarah Elizabeth Cox said in her report on the disease, “It is easy to imagine [these] headlines leading to a swift release of pets. If you were told you were at risk of being near one, it would be much easier to let it out the window than to destroy it.”
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