BOPS Birds Laugh & Learn
Puck, a budgerigar, or budgie (popularly known as a parakeet in America), was accepted into the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records as "the bird with the largest vocabulary in the world." He was acknowledged as having 1,728 words when the Guinness Book went to press. The documentation for his feat took place over a six-month period when 21 volunteer observers in 21 separate sessions took notes on what they heard Puck say. Several observers were members of the Redwood Empire Cage Bird Club (Sonoma County, California), and most were familiar with various species of parrots. Two of the volunteers were avian veterinarians.
In addition to the volunteer observations, tape recordings and a video were provided as documentation for Guinness. Puck's owner/caregiver, Camille Jordan, of Petaluma, California has about 30 hours of Puck tape recordings, videos and detailed records of every word she heard spoken! Puck appeared on several Bay Area newscasts in December 1991 after an article was written about him in American Cage-Bird Magazine. Another article about Puck appeared in Bird World (Vol. 15, No. 6, 1994).
A parrot’s brilliant plumage has a special defense against damage: Psittacofulvins, a bacteria-resistant pigment that only parrots are known to produce, give the birds’ feathers their red, yellow and green coloration.
In a 2011 study in Biology Letters, researchers exposed different colors of feathers to a feather-damaging bacteria strain and found that the pigments helped protect the glorious plumage from degradation.
Like most other birds, parrots have four toes per foot. But instead of the usual three-in-front-one-behind arrangement, parrot toes are configured for maximum grip: two in front and two behind, like two pairs of opposable thumbs. Combined with beaks that can crack even the world’s toughest nuts, their unique feet make them formidable eaters, not to mention dexterous climbers.
Parrots come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. There’s the teeny tiny buff-faced pygmy, who weighs just one ounce and is the size of an adult human finger.
At the other end of the spectrum is the gorgeous hyacinth macaw, which is the longest parrot on earth at nearly 3.5 feet from beak to tail.
And then there’s the large-and-in-charge kakapo, a flightless New Zealand parrot. Adult male kakapos can weight up to 9 pounds — the average weight of an adult cat.
Though parrots do have some taste glands at the backs of their throats, most of their 300 or so taste buds are located on the roofs of their mouths.
Compared with the 10,000 taste buds in a human mouth, the birds’ palate may not seem like much, but parrots do show definite preferences for certain foods.
Many parrots have near-human lifespans, a consideration many people don’t truly grasp when seeking a parrot as a companion. Larger species like macaws and cockatoos are known to live for between 35 and 50 years.
Tarbu, an African grey in England, lived to the ripe old age of 55. The oldest parrot known in the United States was an 83-year-old Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) that resided at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
Parrots, Robots and the Godfather of Biodiversity
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