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Parrots and Cocaktoos as Pets

Parrots are kept as pets, particularly conures, macaws, Amazons, cockatoos, African Greys, lovebirds, Cockatiels, Budgerigars, eclectus,and parakeets, because of their varied colouration or their ability to imitate human speech. Having a parrot or exotic bird as a pet can be challenging but rewarding. Sometimes the wings of such birds are clipped, but many people keep flighted pet parrots.

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Some parrot species, including large cockatoos, Amazon, and macaws, have very long life-spans of up to 80 years. King Tut, a salmon-crested (aka Moluccan) cockatoo, arrived at the San Diego Zoo on May 25, 1925, and served as the zoo's official greeter from 1951 until his retirement in 1989. 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 World War II; the aged parrot, called Charlie, was reputed to curse the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Subsequent research strongly suggested that the parrot had never belonged to Winston Churchill, although Charlie's great age was not in question.

The popularity of parrots as pets has led to a thriving - and often illegal - trade in the birds, and some species are now threatened with extinction. The scale of the problem can be seen in the Tony Silva case of 1996, in which a parrot expert and former director at Tenerife's Loro Parque (Europe's largest parrot park) was jailed in the United States for 82 months and fined $100,000 for smuggling Hyacinth Macaws. The case led to calls for greater protection and control over trade in the birds. Loro Parque has since become well known for parrot conservation work.

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Despite their popularity, parrots are difficult pets. While they can be emotionally rewarding, they are also emotionally demanding and many species can be quite loud (Peacocks are often considered loud. Parrots can be much louder, with some cockatoos purportedly peaking at 135 db). Parrots are described as "relentlessly social", and many people buy parrots without understanding them, resulting in many birds being abandoned.

Escaped parrots of several species have proved surprisingly hardy in adapting to conditions in Europe and North America. They sometimes even multiply to the point of becoming a nuisance, or a minor pest and a threat to local ecosystems.

Intelligence

Studies with captive birds have given us insight into which birds are the most intelligent. While parrots have the distinction of being able to mimic human speech, studies with the African Grey Parrot have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences (see Alex and N'kisi). Along with crows, ravens, and jays (family Corvidae), parrots are considered the most intelligent of birds. The brain-to body size ratio of psittacines and corvines is actually comparable to that of higher primates.

One argument against the supposed intelligent capabilities of bird species is that birds have a relatively small cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain considered to be the main area of intelligence in other animals. However, it seems that birds use a different part of their brain, the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale, as the seat of their intelligence.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that these species tend to have the largest hyperstriata, and Dr. Harvey J. Karten, a neuroscientist at UCSD who has studied the physiology of birds, discovered that the lower part of avian brains are similar to ours. In Animal Planet's program "Most Extreme Animals: Smartest", parrots were ranked #1 as the world's smartest animals. Not only have parrots demonstrated intelligence through scientific testing of their language using ability, but some species of parrot such as the Kea are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles.

Sound imitation and speech

Many species can imitate human speech or other sounds, and the results of a study by Irene Pepperberg suggest a high learning ability in an African Grey Parrot named Alex. 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 (which is more impressive than it sounds, considering that transcribers only need to be able to recognize Alex speaking a word with 90% accuracy before that word can be used in tests.

It's also interesting that he scores higher with unfamiliar objects). A second example is that of N'kisi, another African grey, which has been shown to have a vocabulary of approximately a thousand words and has displayed an ability to invent as well as use words in context and in the correct tense.

Parrots do not have vocal cords, so sound is accomplished by expelling air across the mouth of the bifurcated trachea. Different sounds are produced by changing the depth and shape of trachea. So, talking parrots are really whistling in different variations. Congo African Grey parrots (CAG) are well known for their ability to "talk", which may be caused by more control, or stronger trachea. But that dosen't mean that a cockatiel (cockatiels are not well known for talking ability), could have a greater vocabulary than an African Grey parrot.

Parrots as vulnerable or endangered species

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has made trade, import and export of all wild caught parrot and cockatoo species illegal; highly endangered species are protected on the CITES appendix 1 list, and all the other species are protected on the CITES appendix 2 list of vulnerable species. Habitat loss, enviromental changes and illegal trapping remain risks to wild populations.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrot


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