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Parrots, also known as psittacines /ˈsɪtəsaɪnz/,[1][2] are birds of the roughly 398 species[3] in 92 genera comprising the order Psittaciformes /ˈsɪtəsɪfɔːrmiːz/, found mostly in tropical and subtropical regions. The order is subdivided into three superfamilies: the Psittacoidea ("true" parrots), the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos), and the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots). One-third of all parrot species are threatened by extinction, with higher aggregate extinction risk (IUCN Red List Index) than any other comparable bird group.[4] Parrots have a generally pantropical distribution with several species inhabiting temperate regions in the Southern Hemisphere, as well. The greatest diversity of parrots is in South America and Australasia.

Characteristic features of parrots include a strong, curved bill, an upright stance, strong legs, and clawed zygodactyl feet. Many parrots are vividly coloured, and some are multi-coloured. Most parrots exhibit little or no sexual dimorphism in the visual spectrum. They form the most variably sized bird order in terms of length. The most important components of most parrots' diets are seeds, nuts, fruit, buds, and other plant material. A few species sometimes eat animals and carrion, while the lories and lorikeets are specialised for feeding on floral nectar and soft fruits. Almost all parrots nest in tree hollows (or nest boxes in captivity), and lay white eggs from which hatch altricial (helpless) young.

Parrots, along with ravens, crows, jays, and magpies, are among the most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate human speech enhances their popularity as pets. Trapping wild parrots for the pet trade, as well as hunting, habitat loss, and competition from invasive species, has diminished wild populations, with parrots being subjected to more exploitation than any other group of birds. Measures taken to conserve the habitats of some high-profile charismatic species have also protected many of the less charismatic species living in the same ecosystems.


Psittaciform diversity in South America and Australasia suggests that the order may have evolved in Gondwana, centred in Australasia.[5] The scarcity of parrots in the fossil record, however, presents difficulties in confirming the hypothesis. There is currently a higher amount of fossil remains from the northern hemisphere in the early Cenozoic.[6] Molecular studies suggest that parrots evolved approximately 59 million years ago (Mya) (range 66–51 Mya) in Gondwana. The three major clades of Neotropical parrots originated about 50 Mya (range 57–41 Mya).[7]

A single 15 mm (0.6 in) fragment from a large lower bill (UCMP 143274), found in deposits from the Lance Creek Formation in Niobrara County, Wyoming, had been thought to be the oldest parrot fossil and is presumed to have originated from the Late Cretaceous period, which makes it about 70 million years old.[8] However, other studies suggest that this fossil is not from a bird, but from a caenagnathid oviraptorosaur (a non-avian dinosaur with a birdlike beak), as several details of the fossil used to support its identity as a parrot are not actually exclusive to parrots, and it is dissimilar to the earliest-known unequivocal parrot fossils.[9][10]

It is generally assumed that the Psittaciformes were present during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (K-Pg extinction), 66 mya. They were probably generalised arboreal birds, and did not have the specialised crushing bills of modern species.[6][11] Genomic analysis provides stro

Fossil skull of a presumed parrot relative from the Eocene Green River Formation in Wyoming

Several fairly complete skeletons of parrot-like birds have been found in England and Germany.[14] These are probably not transitional fossils between ancestral and modern parrots, but rather lineages that evolved parallel to true parrots and cockatoos:[15]

The Psittaciformes comprise three main lineages: Strigopoidea, Psittacoidea and Cacatuoidea.[23] The Strigopoidea were considered part of the Psittacoidea, but the former is now placed at the base of the parrot tree next to the remaining members of the Psittacoidea, as well as all members of the Cacatuoidea.[5][21][22] The Cacatuoidea are quite distinct, having a movable head crest, a different arrangement of the carotid arteries, a gall bladder, differences in the skull bones, and lack the Dyck texture feathers that—in the Psittacidae—scatter light to produce the vibrant colours of so many parrots. Colourful feathers with high levels of psittacofulvin resist the feather-degrading bacterium Bacillus licheniformis better than white ones.[24] Lorikeets were previously regarded as a third family, Loriidae,[25]:45 but are now considered a tribe (Loriini) within the subfamily Loriinae, family Psittaculidae. The two other tribes in the subfamily are the closely related fig parrots (two genera in the tribe Cyclopsittini) and budgerigar (tribe Melopsittacini).
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