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Agapornis lilianae - Lilian's lovebird (1) Agapornis roseicollis - Peach-faced lovebird (2) Alipiopsitta xanthops - Yellow-faced Parrot (1) Alisterus amboinensis - Moluccan King Parrot (1) Alisterus scapularis - Australian King Parrot (4) Amazona aestiva - Blue-fronted Amazon (12) Amazona agilis - Black-billed Parrot (5) Amazona albifrons - White-fronted Amazon (6) Amazona amazonica - Orange-winged Amazon (5) Amazona arausiaca - Red-necked Parrot (1) Amazona auropalliata - Yellow-naped amazon (3) Amazona autumnalis - Red-lored Amazon (8) Amazona barbadensis - Yellow-shouldered amazon (5) Amazona brasiliensis - Red-tailed Amazon (1) Amazona collaria - Yellow-billed Parrot (6) Amazona farinosa - Mealy Amazon (2) Amazona festiva - Festive Parrots (1) Amazona finschi - Lilac crowned Amazon (13) Amazona guildingii - St. Vincent Amazon (7) Amazona imperialis - Imperial Amazon (1) Amazona l. bahamensis - Bahama Parrot (5) Amazona l. caymanensis - Grand Cayman Parrot (5) Amazona l. hesterna - Cayman Brac Parrot (5) Amazona lilacina - Ecuador Amazon (4) Amazona ochrocephala - Yellow-crowned Amazon (3) Amazona oratrix - Yellow-headed Amazon (21) Amazona rhodocorytha - Red-browed Amazon (2) Amazona tucumana - Tucumán Amazon (2) Amazona ventralis - Hispaniola Parrots (3) Amazona versicolor - Saint Lucia Amazon (1) Amazona vinacea - Vinaceous-breasted Amazon (3) Amazona viridigenalis - Red-crowned Amazon (31) Amazona vittata - Puerto Rican Amazon (18) Amazona xantholora - Yellow-lored Amazon (1) Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus - Hyacinth Macaw (5) Anodorhynchus leari - Lear's Macaw (3) Ara ambiguus - Great Green Macaw (8) Ara ararauna - Blue-and-Gold Macaw (30) Ara ararauna - Blue-and-Gold Macaw (12) Ara chloropterus- Green-winged macaw (12) Ara glaucogularis - Blue-throated Macaw (9) Ara macao - Scarlet Macaw (40) Ara militaris - Military Macaw (7) Ara rubrogenys - Red-fronted macaw (1) Aratinga acuticaudata - Blue-crowned Parakeet (4) Aratinga auricapillus - Gold-capped conure (1) Aratinga canicularis - Orange-fronted Parakeet (7) Aratinga erythrogenys - Red-masked Parakeet (15) Aratinga holochlora - Green Parakeet (7) Aratinga jandaya - Jenday conure (3) Aratinga leucophthalma - White-eyed Parakeet (1) Aratinga mitrata -Mitred Parakeet (14) Aratinga nana - Olive-throated Parakeet (2) Aratinga pertinax - Brown-throated Parakeet (1) Aratinga solstitialis - Sun Conure (2) Aratinga strenua - Pacific Parakeet (1) Aratinga wagleri - Scarlet-fronted Parakeet (1) Barnardius zonarius - Australian Ringneck (1) Bolborhynchus lineola - Barred Parakeet (1) Brotogeris chiriri - Yellow-chevroned parakeet (3) Brotogeris jugularis - Orange-chinned Parakeet (2) Brotogeris pyrrhoptera - Grey-cheeked Parakeet (2) Brotogeris versicolurus - White-winged Parakeet (1) Cacatua alba - Umbrella Cockatoo (8) Cacatua ducorpsii - Solomons Cockatoo (1) Cacatua galerita - Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (50) Cacatua goffiniana - Tanimbar Corella (8) Cacatua haematuropygia - Philippine Cockatoo (8) Cacatua leadbeateri - Major Mitchell's Cockatoo (4) Cacatua moluccensis - 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Yellow-crowned Kakariki (4) Cyanoramphus cookii - Norfolk Parakeet (2) Cyanoramphus malherbi - Orange-fronted parakeet (13) Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae - Red-crowned Kakariki (17) Cyanoramphus ulietanus - Society parakeet (1) Cyanoramphus unicolor - Antipodes Island Parakeet (3) Cyanoramphus zealandicus - Black-fronted parakeets (1) Deroptyus accipitrinus - Hawk-headed parrot (1) Diopsittaca nobilis - Red-shouldered macaw (1) Eclectus roratus - Eclectus Parrot (10) Enicognathus leptorhynchus - Slender-billed parakeet (1) Eolophus roseicapilla - Galah (20) Eos squamata - Violet-necked Lory (2) Eunymphicus uvaeensis - Ouvea parakeet (1) Forpus coelestis - Pacific Parrotlet (1) Forpus conspicillatus - Spectacled Parrotlet (1) Forpus cyanopygius - Mexican Parrotlet (1) Forpus passerinus - Green-rumped Parrotlet (2) Geoffroyus geoffroyi - Red-cheeked Parrot (1) Glossopsitta porphyrocephala - Purple-crowned Lorikeet (1) Graydidascalus brachyurus - Short-tailed Parrot (1) Guaruba guaruba - Golden conure (3) Hapalopsittaca fuertesi - Fuerte's parrot (2) Lathamus discolor - Swift Parrot (26) Leptosittaca branickii - Golden-plumed Parakeet (2) Lophopsittacus mauritianus - Raven parrot (1) Loriculus vernalis - Vernal Hanging Parrot (1) Lorius chlorocercus - Yellow-bibbed Lory (1) Lorius domicella - Black-capped Lory (1) Lorius domicella - Purple-naped Lory (2) Lorius garrulus - Chattering Lory (5) Lorius lorry - black-capped Lories (1) Melopsittacus undulatus - Budgerigar (25) Micropsitta keiensis - Yellow-capped pygmy parrot (1) Micropsitta pusio - Buff-faced pygmy parrot (1) Mopsitta tanta - Danish Blue Parrot (1) Myiopsitta monachus - Monk Parakeet (95) Nandayus nenday - Black-hooded Parakeet (4) Neophema chrysogaster - Orange-bellied Parrot (49) Neophema petrophila - Rock Parrot (1) Neophema pulchella - Turquoise parakeet (2) Nestor chathamensis - Chatham Islands parrot (1) Nestor meridionalis - Kaka (28) Nestor notabilis - Kea (51) Nestor productus - Norfolk Island Kaka (1) nNeophema chrysogaster - Orange-bellied Parrot (2) Northiella haematogaster - Blue bonnet Parrot (1) Nymphicus hollandicus - Cockatiel (7) Ognorhynchus icterotis - Yellow-eared Parrot (5) Orthopsittaca manilata - Red-bellied macaw (1) Pezoporus flaviventris - Western Ground Parrot (16) Pezoporus occidentalis - Night Parrot (11) Pezoporus wallicus - Eastern ground parrot (2) Pezoporus wallicus - Eastern ground parrot (1) Pionites melanocephalus - Black-headed Caique (1) Pionus menstruus - Blue-headed parrot (2) Pionus senilis - White-crowned Parrot (1) Platycercus elegans - Crimson Rosella (8) Platycercus eximius - Eastern Rosella (4) Poicephalus fuscicollis - Brown-necked Parrot (1) Poicephalus robustus - Cape Parrot (7) Poicephalus senegalus - Senegal Parrot (2) Polytelis alexandrae - Princess Parrot (4) Polytelis anthopeplus - Regent Parrot (8) Polytelis swainsonii- Superb Parrot (16) Primolius auricollis - Yellow-collared macaw (1) Probosciger aterrimus - Palm Cockatoo (4) Psephotus chrysopterygius - Golden-shouldered Parrot (3) psephotus haematonotus - Red-rumped parrot (1) psephotus varius - Mulga parrot (1) Psittacara chloroptera - Hispaniolan parakeet (1) Psittacella brehmii - Brehm's Tiger-parrot (1) Psittacula alexandri - Red-breasted Parakeet (1) Psittacula columboides - Malabar Parakeet (1) Psittacula cyanocephala - Plum-headed Parakeet (5) Psittacula derbiana - Derbyan Parakeet (5) Psittacula echo - Mauritius parakeet (3) Psittacula eupatria - Alexandrine Parakeet (18) Psittacula eupatria - Alexandrine Parakeet (5) Psittacula finschii - Grey-headed Parakeet (1) Psittacula himalayana - Slaty-headed Parakeet (1) Psittacula krameri - Ring-necked Parakeet (62) Psittacus erithacus - African Grey Parrot (45) Psittacus erithacus - African Grey Parrot (27) Psittrichas fulgidus - Pesquet's Parrot (1) Pyrrhura albipectus - White-breasted Parakeet (1) Pyrrhura caeruleiceps - Perijá Parakeet (2) Pyrrhura griseipectus - Grey-breasted Parakeet (2) Pyrrhura molinae - Green-cheeked Conure (1) Pyrrhura orcesi - El Oro Parakeet (3) Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha - Thick-billed Parrot (9) Strigops habroptilus - Kakapo (88) Tanygnathus lucionensis - Blue-naped Parrot (4) Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus - Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (1) Trichoglossus rubritorquis - Red-collared Lorikeet (2) Trichoglosus haematodus - Rainbow Lorikeets (18) Vini kuhlii - Kuhl's Lorikeet (1)
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Sunday
May062012

Why Parrots Parrot

Do parakeets understand language, or are they just all talk? Photo: Duncan Smith/PhotodiscA lost parakeet in Japan was returned safely to its owner last week after it told police its home address. Why do captive birds mimic human speech, and how do they decide what to say?

They’re trying to fit in with the flock, and they’ll say whatever it takes. Parrots are among a handful of animal families that possess an aptitude for vocal learning, meaning that they can form new sounds based on experience. Most types of birds, and many other animals, are hard-wired to make a few specific calls, perhaps with slight variations. A mourning dove, for example, pretty much always sings like a mourning dove. But parrots and mockingbirds, among others, can tailor their utterances to their audience.

In the wild, flocks of parrots don’t talk like people, but they do seem to develop distinct local dialects, and mated pairs may even sing unique duets. It’s unclear exactly why they evolved this capability, but research suggests they use it to tell members of their group apart from members of rival groups. Birds seem more likely to respond to calls that are familiar to their own, and they ostracize individuals that don’t speak their language, so to speak. This may allow them to keep untrustworthy newcomers from joining their clan. But if the dialects do serve as a form of immigration control, learning the language seems to be a path to citizenship. In one experiment, a group of parrots from one Costa Rican flock was transplanted to a more northerly flock that showed different vocalization patterns. About half flew right back home, but the rest stayed and formed a sort of immigrant enclave with its own dialect. One even learned the northern tongue and ingratiated itself with locals.

According to this theory, birds that are raised in captivity might mimic their human owners as a way of gaining acceptance as a member of the family. If they hear “pretty bird” a lot, they’ll interpret that as a call distinct to their flock, and try making it themselves. If the parrot gets no response when she squawks, but gets lots of attention or treats when she makes humanlike noises, she has an extra incentive to practice forming words and phrases.

Whether parrots can ever understand what they’re saying is a matter of debate. Researcher Irene Pepperberg trained an African Grey Parrot named Alex to speak with a vocabulary of some 100 human words. Over time, he learned numbers and phrases as well, and when shown a toy, he could correctly identify its name, color, and shape. Skeptics have suggested that Alex’s abilities might have been a product of the “Clever Hans” effect, in which an animal gives correct responses based on its trainer’s body language, as opposed to genuinely understanding the question. Others wonder whether Alex happened to possess a unique language capacity.

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