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Parrot Oddities – Three Unusual Species from Australia and New Guinea

Rock ParrotAustralia and many nearby South Pacific islands are well known for mammalian oddities such as the Platypus, Tree Kangaroo and Echidna.  But Psittacine enthusiasts have much to look for here as well, as the region is also home to some of the world’s most unusual and little-studied parrots.  Today I’ll cover a few of the more striking of these – the Pygmy Parrots, Rock Parrot and Green Rosella.

Pygmy Parrots, Micropsitta spp.

Sufficiently unique to have been classified into their own subfamily, the 6-8 species of Pygmy Parrot are found on New Guinea and several nearby islands.  They truly live up to their name…the largest barely tops 4 inches in length while the smallest, the Buff Faced Pygmy Parrot (M. pusio), is a mere 3 inches long and weighs but 0.41 ounces! 

While parrot keepers may dream of tiny parrots that need little space, it will be quite some time before Pygmy Parrots enter the trade.  As of now, they fail to thrive even in the best zoos.  Stress and a lack of information concerning their diet are at the root of the problem.  The scant field research that has been done indicates that lichen, tree-dwelling fungi, moss, insects and berries may be important food items to some species, but beyond that we know very little.

Pygmy Parrots are specifically adapted to a foraging strategy largely unknown in the parrot world.  They spend a great deal of time on the vertical surfaces of tree trunks.  There, much like woodpeckers, the short, stiffened shafts of the tail feathers support the minute Psittacines as they search for food (what food, we don’t really know!).

Rock Parrot, Neophema petrophila

True to its name, the Rock Parrot exploits a habitat shunned by its relatives – the bare, rocky coastlines and sand dunes of South Australia, southern West Australia and several offshore islands.  This 8.5-inch-long, olive green parrot forages for seeds among beach grasses and the low bushes of tidal flats, often enduring the spray from ocean waves in the process.

Rarely observed inland, Rock Parrots nest in crevices among seaside rocks, often near ground level.  When choosing a nest site they must consider a factor that does not trouble other parrots – the high tide mark!

Green Rosella, Platycercus caledonicus

Green RosellaLargest of the rosellas, this 14.5-inch-long parrot is endemic to Tasmania and several nearby islands.  Although it occurs over most of Tasmania (and even enters cities), the Green Rosella is particularly well-suited to the cold, damp habitats of the southwest.  Here it thrives under conditions that would kill most parrots, even foraging while being pelted by snow!

Dark green with a yellow breast and red forehead, the Green Rosella is, unlike the 2 species discussed earlier, fairly well-established in private aviculture.  A hardy constitution now doubt contributes to its success as a captive, with outdoor maintenance being possible in many areas.

Further Reading

A BBC video of Pygmy Parrots in the wild is posted here.

Read more about Tasmania’s unique habitats and endemic birds here.

The nocturnal, flightless Kakapo breaks every known “parrot rule”…please see my article Kakapo Habits and Conservation for some surprising info.


Green Rosella image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Sammy Sam and Snowmanradio

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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