I got the idea for this article after reading an interesting note in George Sommers’ wonderful Boston Bird and Fish Examiner column. I’ve covered, in other blog articles, many of the birds he mentions, and thought I’d take the opportunity to expand a bit on “Christmassy” parrot themes here.
Parrots in the Snow?
Although parrots reach their greatest diversity in warm and tropical locales, a surprising number deal with snow and sub-freezing temperatures in their native habitats. Best known among these is New Zealand’s odd (make that “bizarre”!) Kea. Keas are quite at home at high altitudes, and have been seen to roll about in the snow like sawed-off little tykes on a school “snow day” (please see video below).
The Quaker or Monk Parrot ranges into southern Argentina, where cold winters are typical. This, and its communal nesting/roosting behavior, has enabled introduced populations to thrive year-round in NYC, Chicago and cities that experience frigid winters. Ringneck Parakeets, which hail from South Asia, fare less well in NYC but still manage to hold on in small numbers.
Thick-Billed Parrots once foraged on snow-capped mountains in Arizona and elsewhere in the American Southwest, shocking early explorers with their “tropical plumage”. The species is now following in the footsteps of the US mainland’s only other native parrot, the extinct Carolina Parakeet, but rescue efforts are in progress.
Tasmania’s Green Rosella, the world’s largest, is sturdy enough to forage while being buffeted by the snowstorms that often sweep across the island’s southwestern corner. Bright colors lend it a “tropical air”, but aviculturists find it the perfect choice for outdoor aviaries in temperate regions.
You can read more about each of these parrots in the articles linked below.
Clad in Christmas Colors
If red and green are Christmas’ colors, then the Eclectus Parrot is the holiday’s flagship bird. Males are what can only be described as “neon green”, while the females are brilliant red. Pairs I cared for at the Bronx Zoo were always thought by visitors to be of different species from one-another Unlike many of the opinions I was privy to over the years – i.e., said of a Malayan Tapir: “Son, that’s a Giant Ground Sloth” – this one was reasonable!
Some very interesting theories have been put forth to explain the Eclectus Parrot’s extreme sexual dimorphism…please see the article below for details.
Christmas Island’s Parrot
To those who associate Christmas with snow and cold weather, there is nothing “Christmassy” about the island which bears the holiday’s name. Nestled in the Indian Ocean between Australia’s west coast and Indonesia, Christmas Island is a tropical haven with quite a unique natural history.
Although not well-known to other than dedicated parrot enthusiasts, the island’s sole parrot, the Kuhl’s or Ramitara Lorikeet, is critically endangered and in need of more attention from the conservation community.
Better known are the Christmas Island land crabs, which, much like Darwin’s finches, have evolved to fill niches left open by the absence of competitors. The annual breeding migration of millions of scarlet crabs, one of the invertebrate world’s most amazing spectacles, is sometimes featured on nature-oriented TV shows.
Amazing Kea video – extreme intelligence in an extreme habitat.
More Christmas Parrot fun facts from the Boston Bird and Fish Examiner.
Eclectus male and female image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doug Jansen
Green Rosella image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Sammy Sam
Kea image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Michael Harsch