Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Polly Wants A Cracker - Maybe A Big Mac, Too

A parrot is a bird belonging to the family Psittacidae.

Parrots have a characteristic curved beak shape with the upper mandible having slight mobility in the joint with the skull and a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back. Along with the cockatoo family Cacatuidae, the parrot family makes up the order Psittaciformes. The term "parrot" can be used in either the narrow sense of the parrot family Psittacidae or the broad sense of the order Psittaciformes.

Birds of the parrot family can be found in most of the warm parts of the world, including India, southeast Asia and west Africa, with one species, now extinct, in the United States (the Carolina Parakeet). By far the greatest number of parrot species, however, come from Australasia, South America and Central America.

Many species can imitate human speech or other sounds, and at least one researcher, Irene Pepperberg, has made controversial claims for the learning ability of one species; an African Grey Parrot named Alex has been trained to use words to identify objects, describe them, count them, and even answer complex questions such as "How many red squares?" (with over 80% accuracy). Other scholars claim that parrots are only repeating words with no idea of their meanings and point to Pepperberg's results as being nothing but an expression of operant conditioning.

Parrots are kept as pets, particularly conures, macaws, amazons, cockatoos, cockatiels, and budgerigars (also known as parakeets). Often the wings of such birds are clipped, but many people keep flighted pet parrots. Some parrots species have very long life-spans of up to 80 years. In 2004, Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper carried the story of a female macaw supposedly born in 1899, and subsequently a pet of Winston Churchill during the World War; the aged parrot, called Charlie, was reputed to curse the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. [1] Subsequent research strongly suggested that the parrot had never belonged to Winston Churchill, [2] [3] although Charlie's great age was not in question.
The attractiveness of parrots as pets has led to a thriving - often illegal - trade in the birds, and some species are now threatened with extinction. The scale of the problem can be appreciated in the Tony Silva case of 1996, in which a world-renowned parrot expert and former director at Tenerife's Loro Parque (Europe's largest parrot park) was jailed in the US for 82 months and fined 0,000 for smuggling the birds 1. The case rocked conservationist and ornithological circles, leading to calls for greater protection and control over trade in the birds.

Escaped parrots can represent a threat to local ecosystems if they become established in the wild. This is now occurring in Spain, in Barcelona and Tenerife. Several species, including Red-lored Parrots (Amazona autumnalis), Lilac-crowned Parrots (Amazona finschi), and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri), have become well established in Southern California. A sizeable population of feral Indian Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) exists in and around London, England, thought to have descended from escaped or released pets. The largest roost of these is thought to be in Esher, Surrey, numbering several thousand. There are also feral Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park, on the south side of Chicago, USA. [4]

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