Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Update on My New Roommate

Adult red fan (hawk-headed) parrot, Deroptyus a. accipitrinus.

(Adults of both sexes are distinguished from juveniles
by the creamy white spot on the forehead
and the orange ring around the pupil of the eye.
The skin around the eye darkens in adults if
the birds are exposed to sunlight).

Image: Dale R. Thompson.

Several people have asked me how my new bird is doing now that (s)he has been living with me for five days.

The bird is doing well: (s)he openly solicits attention from me and is eating on her (his?) own, although (s)he still wants to be handfed in the mornings and evenings. (S)he makes some of the cutest little trilling or “purring” sounds while nibbling on my fingers and while eating — my yellow-bibbed lories enjoy these sounds, too, and imitate them often.

Hawk-headed parrots have a loud shriek that they rely upon to maintain contact with their family group in the dense neotropical jungles where they originated. This loud, high-pitched call vaguely resembles the call of a glaucous-winged gull, or one of the other large gulls; KEEya KEEya KEEya! Needless to say, this call could be rather annoying to the neighbors if you happen to live in an apartment with paper-thin walls, as was typical of the apartments where I lived in Seattle. However, my NYC apartment has thick walls that do not permit sound to pass, although the upstairs and downstairs neighbors can probably hear my birds at times. Fortunately, even though my birds are frequently chatty, they almost never shriek (except when I trim their toenails), and they always quiet down at night — just when my neighbors are revving up their noise-making machinery.

As I’ve already mentioned, Elektra, my Solomon Islands Eclectus parrot, is fascinated by this new addition. But Elektra, being queen of the roost, also makes sure to claim her accustomed perch on my left shoulder, watching me write and read books and watching DVDs with me on my computer (her favorite DVD is The Parrots of Telegraph Hill, although she is fascinated by the Harry Potter DVDs .. possibly because she has seen them so many times. Ahem).

One reader wanted to know how big hawk-headed parrots are. Even though the pictures of them make them seem large, they actually are surprisingly small; they are approximately 35 centimeters long and weigh approximately 225 grams — in-hand, this bird is approximately the same length as a mourning dove or perhaps slightly larger than an American robin. Certainly, this bird is not much larger than my yellow-bibbed lories, and is noticeably smaller than Elektra (and Solomon Islands Eclectus parrots are the smallest subspecies), in fact.

Something that you may not be aware of is that, unlike mammals, which continue to grow after weaning until they reach their full size approximately when they reach sexual maturity, birds are nearly adult-sized when they fledge, so this bird will not get much larger than his current size.

Another reader wanted to know if this species are very good “talkers”. I don’t think so; I’ve never heard of any hawk-headed parrots being particularly talented human voice mimics, but I suppose there are exceptions to every rule. But talking ability is not the reason I chose this species as a pet, and in fact, even though a talking parrot is fun to be around (Elektra is quite a talented talker, for example), I love them for their personality, regardless of their talking ability.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about hawk-headed parrots is their special color of green. Unlike Amazon parrots, which have a flat, dusty green color, these little parrots have a rich, bright, electric, almost iridescent quality to their green plumage that I’ve never seen on any other species of parrot. Even male Eclectus parrots, which are primarily a lovely green color, are different from these parrots; Eclectus have a slightly more yellowish hue to their green plumage.

Comments

  1. #1 Holly
    November 3, 2007

    pretty baby. good luck with the clicker training, my ‘keets loved it. I’d think a bigger parrot would also enjoy the interaction.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    November 3, 2007

    That bird is downright iridescent. Wow.

    I remember thinking that snowbirds (juncos) were baby mockingbirds when I was a child, not knowing that birds are as big as they’ll get by the time we see them out on the grass. It’s still odd to me to see parents feeding fledglings who are the same size as them!

  3. #3 Anne-Marie
    November 3, 2007

    Just out of curiosity, what all is included in Elektra’s vocabulary? If left to their own devices (ie not specifically trained to talk), are they more likely to imitate household noises than words/phrases you use frequently, or vice-versa?

  4. #4 "GrrlScientist"
    November 3, 2007

    elektra has a variety of words and phrases that she uses irregularly — just to keep me on my toes, i think. but this morning, for example, she was practicing saying her name (of course!) as well as “good morning”, “hello”, come here”, “what are you doing?” she also makes a variety of noises that i make for her, such as a purrrrring sound and a kissy sound (silly, i know). she also imitates my laughter.

    as far as i can tell, and despite numerous repetitions, she will not say “here’s your breakfast” “hello sweetie” or “bye bye, see you later”.

  5. #5 katchaya
    November 3, 2007

    Just an anecdotal tale about talking parrots. I was fostering a mealy Amazon parrot that had been surrendered to the local animal shelter where I worked. This bird was great with me, and spoke quite a few phrases, all pleasant and not offensive. During the summer I have the birds outside during the good weather. My tenant fell in love with the bird and wanted to try keeping her so in the fall she went upstairs to live with her. It lasted about 4 months. One day she starts complaining to me that the bird is always telling her “you suck”. She does not want to care for the bird anymore so I had her bring it back downstairs. The bird was back with me for a few more months, during which time I heard lots of vocalization but NEVER any offensive phrases.
    I finally found what I hoped was going to be this poor birds forever home with an experienced keeper who had another mealy Amazon, and a pionus.
    I told her the bird’s history, as I knew it, including her aborted adoption upstairs and the alleged reason for it not working out.
    A couple of weeks later, checking on how the bird was adjusting to its new home, I was told that the bird did in fact do alot of yelling in which it was telling the new custodian “you suck”…..
    thank goodness she didn’t find it offensive and loves the bird.
    Katie

  6. #6 sky
    November 5, 2007

    what a pretty new baby you have! we want a conure in our home, but i worry about the house feeling drafty in winter even though there is no sign of air seeping in and insulation is appropriate. i have had parakeets all my life (in GA), but have never lived in a house with such a drafty feeling. the winter rains and dampness of the pacific nw in addition to the hardwood floors and cathedral ceilings contribute to this periodic chill, i am sure.

  7. #7 Natasha
    November 5, 2007

    Hi, Please don’t take this badly, I really don’t mean to troll. But I’ve noticed that a few Science bloggers, Jonah, Shelley and you, have parrots. I was wondering where you get them from, what their provenance is? Are they bred in the US? Or are they from the fairly huge amount of wildlife trade? If it is the second, does it make you in the least uncomfortable? Most of you are fairly intelligent left liberal types with I think a fair amount of sensitivity to issue like this, which is why I ask. It’s been bothering me for sometime…

  8. #8 "GrrlScientist"
    November 5, 2007

    natasha; excellent question! you aren’t the only one who wants to know more about this, so i answered you in a separate blog entry.

  9. #9 Tlazolteotl
    November 5, 2007

    Pionus parrots also have beautiful iridescent greens, and each species has it’s own particular shades. Some are deep, dark greens, others more turquoise or aqua, and some are even olive. I think some of the Australian ‘keets have some interesting greens too.

  10. #10 JPS
    November 7, 2007

    “Something that you may not be aware of is that, unlike mammals, which continue to grow after weaning until they reach their full size approximately when they reach sexual maturity, birds are nearly adult-sized when they fledge”

    I was not aware of that. It explains to me why you never see any baby pigeons. I have been told by people who grow up in Manhattan they think sparrows are baby pigeons when they are kids. That explains a lot of it!

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