What s the difference between parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, macaws, lories & lorikeets

01:00 Mon 21st May 2001 |

Thanks to Ginbottle for this question.

A. 'Parrot' is the commonly used generic name for a group of over 300 species of bird that belong to the order Psittaciformes. Confusingly it is also the name for individual species of bird within the order Psittaciformes.

Actually there are three main groups, known as families, within this order: the parrots, parakeets and macaws, which form the family Psittacidae; the lories and lorikeets, which form the family Loridae and the cockatoos which belong to the Cacatuidae family. For an in-depth explanation of how living things are classified click here.

So to answer Ginbottle's question parakeets, cockatoos, macaws, lories and lorikeets are all types of parrot, but a parrot is a type of parrot too!

For the rest of this in-depth question and answer session, we'll stick to using 'parrot' as it is more commonly used, representing all birds the Psittaciformes order.

Q. What defines a parrot

A. Parrots are easily recognised by their short, curved beaks; large heads; short necks. But their most distinguishing feature is their feet, known as zygodactylus feet: parrots are the only birds with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards on each foot. All other birds have four toes, with three pointing forward and one pointing backward.

Q. How do parrots use their special feet

A. The configuration of their toes gives them very strong feet that are perfect for climbing trees, hanging upside down and bringing food to their beaks.

Q. Is there any difference in the appearance of the different families of parrots

A. Yes, other than sharing some common features of the bill, beak and feet, parrots vary greatly in appearance. The biggest parrots are the macaws, growing up to one metre long. The pygmy parrots are the smallest and they may be as small as 10 centimetres long.

Many parrots are brightly coloured in reds, yellows, and blues, but the most common colour is green, which serves as camouflage. Some species are dull in appearance or even black.

Q. Can you tell the difference between male and female parrots

A. Very often not. Unlike most other bird species, where the male is the most colourful, the male and female parrots are equally as colourful.

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by Lisa Cardy

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