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Pondering the Plight of Parrots - World Parrot Day 31/5/2024

-Image is by Wildlife Photographer, David Cook
The Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximus) is one of Australia's best known birds thanks to it's appearance on well known products such as Rosella Tomato Sauce, the traditional accompaniment to the Aussie meat pie and Arnott's Biscuits, including our ever popular TimTams

Humans  have been in love with exotic parrots since the early explorers started bringing them home from the New World in the C16th. They love their bright colours, their sociability, their ability to be domesticated and the fact that many can imitate and even understand human speech. Since then we’ve also found out that parrots are hugely intelligent and properly cared for, they can also be very long –lived -up to 60 years for larger parrots and 12 years for small ones like budgerigars.

Parrots (Psittaciformes) are an ancient species believed to have evolved in Gondwana - the great South Land, 59 million years ago when all the continents were still joined together. This is borne out by both the fossil record and genetic studies and by their present distribution.

When it comes to parrots, South America is the clear winner with 57% of the world’s 402 species, followed by Australasia which, when you include Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, has 28% and then Africa with 11%. They are divided into four families. The Old World parrots ( Psittaculidae), African and New World parrots (Psitticidae) the Cockatoos (Cacatuoidea) and  New Zealand parrots (Strigopidae).  Most are found in tropical and sub- tropical regions, though some have adapted to grasslands of the Australian interior and other niche habitats, such as Eucalyptus forests and farmland.

If you have 31 minutes to spare, click here to see all 402 of the world’s parrots though the names may not be the same as you are used to. According to the ICUN Red List, 15 of these are extinct, 17 species are critically endangered, 38 are endangered, 54 are vulnerable and 59 are near threatened and all over the world they are in catastrophic decline.

Australia alone has one sixth of the world’s parrots, 56 -57 species depending on whom you ask. You can get to know them here. They belong to two families. Forty -two are true parrots - the Psittacidae which include the colourful Rosellas and Lorikeets, and fourteen Cockatoos  which include the familiar white Cocky with the sulphur crest, the Galahs, Corellas and Cockatiels. Here too, parrot numbers are shrinking rather than improving despite concerted efforts to halt their decline.

 Most parrots like fruit, nuts and seeds and their large curved beaks are specially designed to crack them. A few will eat carrion and those with long pointed beaks are designed to grub out insects from soil or tree bark. Others like lorikeets have feathery tongues designed to take pollen and nectar from flowers.   

The diet of some such as Western Australia’s Red -Tailed black Cockatoos, is so specialised - they only eat the tiny seeds of one particular tree so that that diminishing numbers of the trees are contributing to the parrot's decline. We have already seen the impact of habitat destruction in the previous post about Tasmania’s Orange Bellied Parrot, yet parrots face a number of other threats as well

Poaching and the illegal Wildlife Trade

Unfortunately, the very popularity of parrots makes them the most exploited wild bird species on earth and a prime target for poachers and the illegal wildlife trade. Half the world’s 50 million parrots were being held in captivity and in  2021 up to 75% of birds destined for the wildlife trade were dying of stress or in transit before they even got to their destination, the African Grey Parrot and Africa’s Timneh Parrot being cases in point and resulting in falling numbers (see the video below).

Poaching is also a major problem throughout the Americas with large numbers of illegally caught parrots ending up in the USA. Parrots are the third most popular pet in the USA after dogs and cats.

The World Parrot Society, established in 1989, was instrumental in having imported parrots permanently banned throughout the European Union. It is now hoping to do the same in Asia, South America and Africa. So far it has supported the conservation of 85 species of parrot in 54 countries.

Habitat Reduction and Introduced Species

Land clearing remains a major problem for parrots in many parts of the world, particularly in the Amazon, in Indonesia and Australia. Apart from loss of food sources, there is the loss of nesting hollows as previously noted in connection with Tasmania’s endangered Orange Bellied Parrot. Some nesting hollows are also being lost to introduced species such as Kookaburras and Sugar Gliders which are not native to Tasmania.

-Many thanks for this free image from Pexels
Interloper -Cheerful as they are, and common on the mainland, kookaburras are not native to Tasmania and wreak havoc on other bird species here

Even another parrot can cause problems. In Hobart for example, we now have a large flock of white Sulphur Crested Cockatoos presumably descended from a pair accidentally released many decades ago. While native to Australia, they too are not native to Tasmania. They devastate fruit and berry trees and with their loud raucous calls, they drive away many smaller species at unknown cost to our native birds, many of which aren’t found anywhere else, including our own parrots.

It seems that this is also a problem in Tokyo  and in French Polynesia.

-Image kindly provided by Nicole Griswold
Early arrivals of a large flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos which decimate Eucalyptus buds and flowers needed by native birds

Swiftly Disappearing - Tasmania's Swift Parrot, 2023 Bird of the Year

In addition to the Orange Bellied Parrot, mentioned in the previous post, Tasmania also has another beautiful endangered Parrot, The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) which, like the OBP and unlike other parrots, also migrates to the mainland for winter and suffers from the same problems. They absolutely need these trees and more nestboxes to replace sites lost, to ensure their survival. With only 300 of the latter left in the wild - far fewer than previously thought, heroic efforts are under way to save both birds. 

They include:

·         Environmental groups and bird lovers campaigning for the protection of bushland and ending logging of native forests. See for example, Save It's not just about saving the odd nest tree which is important too, but about saving their food sources and the entire ecosystems on which they depend. Birdlife Australia is also campaigning for stronger environmental protection laws.

·         Parks and Wildlife are removing predators and introduced flora and fauna, replanting natives and restoring degraded land as well as placing public lands under permanent protection. Occasionally where food species have become scarce, supplementary feeding has also become necessary.

·         In the school holidays there have been programs to teach children how to make nest boxes. Building nest boxes could be a good woodworking project for secondary schools, rehabilitation or occupational therapy centres, Men’s Sheds and even for people with disabilities. 

  •         Covenants over Private Lands are the latest initiative to ensure that our travel -happy parrots don’t starve along the way. This involves enlisting private landholders in placing sections of their land under voluntary covenants to protect vegetation on their flightpath and stopover places. Some 200 such covenants had been established by 2020 with more in the pipeline. Land owners are very often proud to be involved. Contact the Tasmanian Land Conservancy about this or the Bob Brown Foundation for more information

·         Australian researchers are also at the forefront of genetic research – starting in Indonesia, to identify the origins of parrots with a view  to returning them to their home ranges, particularly if trafficked or in severe decline. Captive breeding programs are also underway in a last ditch  attempt to halt decline of severely endangered parrots.

Introduced Predators

Other predators such as feral cats and dogs -and foxes on the Australian Mainland, are another great cause of species loss, especially for Ground Dwelling Parrots in Western Australia. The problem has been even more dire in New Zealand.

With no natural predators prior to the arrival of Europeans, their rats, cats, stoats, Australian possums and  foxes positively decimated its ground  -dwelling parrots. The few remaining Kakapo have now been simply packed off to remote islands where, with great difficulty, they are encouraging them to breed. In 1985 there were only 50 pairs. By 2005 after years of intensive management, their numbers have finally increased to 85. 

New Zealand’s other flightless parrot the Kea, which I had the pleasure of meeting at the retreating Franz Joseph Glacier, is not faring much better. Dear to the hearts of New Zealanders, they are very acrobatic and renowned for their intelligence and problem -solving ability. They have been seen turning on taps and setting off stoat traps and the ones I saw were busy undoing the safety ropes which stopped tourists from proceeding further up the glacier. The Kea are being managed by trapping and poisoning the various intruders and extensive research and education.  No matter how friendly they are, Kea should never be given human food because it could kill them. 

The Kea are real show -offs. They come out to play as soon as they see people


If you need another reason not to import parrots – or birds generally, then it’s bird flu which has caused widespread damage to commercial poultry farms in the USA and China and also puts wild populations at risk. More recently it has crossed to humans as well which has the potential to create a new pandemic. Other diseases which can cross from Parrots to humans, particularly if in close contact or in contact with droppings and litter, include Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)  which also results in flu like symptoms, respiratory difficulties and muscular aches pains. Learn about these and others here.

Climate Change

Already there are signs that Climate Change is having an impact with several Australian birds starting to to adapt their bodies for a warmer climate and more of them being sighted further South or at higher altitudes than their normal range. Higher temperatures can also alter migration patterns and breeding and egg laying times. Even worse, if birds migrate earlier, the foods they depend on may not yet be in fruit or flower, thereby hastening their decline.

A further concern is that if they move to a new environment, they may not only compete with existing species for food or nests, but bring hitherto unknown diseases for which they have no immunity. This is particularly the case with Antarctica.

Finally, increased and more intense weather- related events such as storms, bushfires and prolonged drought with attendant drying of water holes and the like, will also hasten extinction unless we take strong action now – habitat conservation, stronger border controls, more monitoring, stronger legislation, penalties and law enforcement and of course, reducing our climate impact as well.

Musk Lorikeet -Glossop Concinna  This is as good as my bird photography gets, which is why you are seeing everyone else's


Stop the poachers by not buying exotic birds. The era of humans being able to exploit and use animals for their amusement is rapidly coming to an end because too many species are too close to extinction and we are slowly recognising that animals have a right – not always recognised in law, to live their own lives as they wish. We should take pleasure in watching them do so – how they move, their song and mating displays, and how they build nests and raise their young.  

To facilitate this and to help future – proof them against climate change, make your yard or surroundings attractive to them by planting their favourite food  and they will reward you in their own way. Increasingly they will also need water as temperatures climb. 

Just by way of example, here’s a plant list to help Western Australia’s endangered Black Cockatoos. How to Plant Black-Cockatoo Friendly Gardens - BirdLife Australia Find out from your local nursery, Parrot Society or Bird Organisation (some are listed below) what your native species need – cover? Nest boxes? Protection from predators? An outdoor cat ban?  The Audubon Society also has more tips. 


If you must have a feathered friend as a close companion, aim for small birds such as budgerigars which are not endangered and are able to live in a small enclosure inside a house or flat. Buy only from a reputable breeder, to reduce the risk of disease and the possibility that they may be taken illegally. 

Give them a partner, some seed and water, a few toys such as a mirror – all parrot species need stimulation and enrichment, and make their confinement as natural as possible – branches to climb on and peck, bits of shell -grit with which to sharpen their beaks and you will all live happily ever after. Get guidance on keeping your birds healthy from bird lovers groups or the World Parrot Trust which has some excellent podcasts on this.

If the bigger parrots make your heart beat faster, perhaps you should apply to be a wildlife carer and help rehabilitate those which have been injured – by cars, fires, cats or other hazards of modern life. Queensland’s Parrot Rescue Centre, for example, allows suitable applicants to care for parrots at home. See more on this topic here. There is immense satisfaction in helping an animal to recover and being able to return it to the wild. I still remember a seasoned ranger in Queensland getting all misty -eyed recalling Ruby, a Flying Fox he once rescued, treated for many months and then released. He still looks for her when he takes tour groups out.

You too can lobby your politicians for the protection of bushland, report sightings and nest hollows and do not allow these trees to be logged. Join or support those groups which do, or which work towards reclamation and replanting.

Report any signs of illegal activity to the relevant authorities and please, please RESPECT our quarantine laws – this includes celebrities - NB Johnny Depp, and others who come by yacht or private plane. This means not only not bringing in animals, but also keeping out food and plant material too. With the first cases of human bird flu being reported in Victoria, the life you save might not just be that of our unique species, but your own.

For more on the ethical aspects of parrot ownership and their care click here. The RSPCA has a checklist of questions to ask yourself before acquiring a feathered companion and tips about their care. 

Zoos and refuges have a place in terms of maintaining genetic diversity, replacing populations lost from the wild or through captive breeding programs, providing shelter for abused, abandoned or injured birds and in educating the public. Because of their longevity, some parrots outlive their owners. Some bred or raised in captivity cannot survive in the wild. Some such as the World Parrot Society and many Zoos and Rescue Centres allow for virtual adoption for a more personal connection than simply donation, though I’m sure they would be grateful for those too. See for example Australia Zoo, The International Bird Sanctuary in Adelaide, South Australia, The Parrot Rescue Centre or the World Parrot Trust.

Other Groups and Resources which may be of interest:

The World Parrot Trust has branches in Canada, The USA, Brazil, Australia, The UK, Spain, Italy and Germany, Sweden and the Benelux Countries - find them here along with many useful tips for protecting or keeping parrots

Parrots International runs a variety of projects to protect parrots in the wild as well as improving the lives of those at home. See for example its efforts to change cultural practices in Bolivia which involve the destruction of hundreds of Blue Throated Macaws and others for the production of headdresses worn for traditional dances.

 Birdlife Australia is the leading authority on bird conservation in Australia. 

Australia/The World Parrot Trust  

The Australian Parrot Society - for information on keeping, breeding and taking care of parrots in captivity

UK Parrot Care Group does rescue and rehoming

USA Parrot Partners seeks to improve the lives of wild and pet parrots through rehabilitation and education. It also offers boarding and adoption.

 Canada | World Parrot Trust (

The Canadian Parrot Trust works to protect parrots in the Amazon and Central America as well as giving advice to parrot owners in Canada

The Parrot Sanctuary Toronto, Canada - Rescue, adoption and education

Microsoft Bing AI has supplied helpful information and references.