Parrots and colours

Spreads for web 4

By Sally Blanchard

I have previously mentioned parrots and colour in articles, but wanted to write an article that goes more into how important colour is to them. I studied ornithology in college and was an avid student of birds long before I got my first ‘real’ parrot, but I had lived with several smaller parrot-family birds. I can remember with my first Budgie when I was about eight years old, I wondered why Mickie had those polka dots on his face, but anyone I asked had no idea. I asked a lot of questions all the time and still do. I think my mother just told me, “to make him pretty.” I learned much later that her guess was at least partly true. They were to make him pretty, but was it for us or for wild Budgies?

When I first started helping people with their parrots, I was often asked if they see colours. Having studied wild birds for so long, there was no doubt that colourful birds see colour or they wouldn’t be that colourful. They definitely see the colours of other birds and their food sources.

Colour patterns on a parrot are distinctive to a specie, but also identify individual parrots of the same species from a distance. Parrots notice the subtle differences in each individual parrot's body shape, feather colours and patterns in their species. We humans may not notice these differences unless we have two parrots of the same species next to each other. Then we can usually notice what makes them individuals physically. While it could be something about body or beak shape, it is most likely to have to do with feather colour and pattern. For example if you look at a dozen Congo African Greys, you are likely to see a different width in the feathers at the top of the head. Some of the Greys will have different shades of grey from lighter to darker. The differences in the colouration of most individuals in a species of Amazons can have much variation in the pattern and colour of their feathers. If you look closely at ‘cookie cutter’ parrots like Black-headed Caiques, they have different colour patterns when you look at a few of them together closely. I could have picked out my Caique, Spikey Le Bec, in a line up any day even if they all stood still. There is no doubt that they can tell the differences among the other parrots in their flock.

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