Parrots share characteristics with certain dinosaurs that ruled the earth millions of years ago. They have similar biological features, such as short arms, beaks, and three-toed feet. This is because all birds evolved from dinosaurs.
Parrots are descended from a group of dinosaurs called theropods. Theropods were small, carnivorous dinosaurs that first appeared on earth over 200 million years ago. Over time, they grew smaller in size, lost their teeth, and their short arms evolved into wings.
Most paleontologists consider modern birds, including parrots, to be “living dinosaurs.” That’s because the first birds appeared on earth around 100 million years ago. Though they have changed considerably over time, their dinosaur-like features can still be identified.
How Are Birds Related to Dinosaurs?
It may be hard to look at a bird and imagine that it had a ferocious, scaly, reptilian beast as an ancestor. However, every bird that currently walks (or flies) on this earth is descended from dinosaurs.
This includes wild birds like crows, farmed birds like chickens, and pet birds like parrots. If it has feathers and two wings, there are dinosaurs in its family tree. Biologists often refer to birds as “avian dinosaurs” or “living dinosaurs.”
It’s thought that birds separated from dinosaurs around 100 million years ago. Before then, birds didn’t exist, but theropods did. These were the small, carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs that our feathered friends evolved from.
There’s evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Paleontologists have examined ancient fossils and found similarities between the skeletons of dinosaurs and modern birds.
They have also discovered a transitional fossil called Archaeopteryx. This species is thought to be the oldest bird and was very dinosaur-like in appearance. Upon its discovery, it was regarded as the missing link between birds and non-avian dinosaurs.
Do Birds and Dinosaurs Have a Common Ancestor?
Because birds evolved from dinosaurs, it would be incorrect to say that birds and dinosaurs share a common ancestor. Rather, dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern birds. Specifically, birds are descended from a clade of dinosaurs called theropods.
Theropods evolved during the late Triassic period, around 200-250 million years ago. There were many different species of theropods, but they all shared certain characteristics:
- Carnivorous. All theropods were originally meat-eaters, though some groups evolved to eat plants over time.
- Bipedal. All theropods walked on two legs, just like modern birds. Most theropods had shortened, clawed forelimbs that may have been used to hold fish or climb trees.
- Three-toed. Theropods had three functional, clawed, scaly toes (most modern birds eventually evolved a fourth).
- Feathered. Some theropods were fully feathered (only retaining scales on their feet). Others had a mixture of feathers and scales in varying proportions.
The best-known theropod is the Tyrannosaurus rex. This ferocious dinosaur did share a common ancestor with birds. Tyrannosaurus rex was still walking the earth 65 million years ago, long after birds had already begun to evolve.
All birds originally evolved from theropods, as did other carnivorous dinosaurs. Over the millennia, birds diversified into several distinct families, all with different evolutionary adaptations.
The remaining dinosaurs, of course, perished in a mass extinction.
What Are the Similarities between Birds and Dinosaurs?
At first glance, birds don’t look much like how we imagine dinosaurs. We picture dinosaurs as being gigantic, scaly, ferocious reptiles with huge teeth. However, the dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park” and similar recreations seem quite different from pet parrots and chickens.
Many dinosaurs may not have looked at all how we originally imagined them. Velociraptors, for example, have traditionally been depicted as having scaly skin. But more recent evidence suggests that they were feathered, like birds. Moreover, there are features that theropod dinosaurs shared with birds, including:
- Two-legged (bipedal)
- Scaly feet with claws
- Shortened forelimbs that may have made ‘flapping’ motions
- Warm-blooded (endothermic)
- Egg-laying (oviparous)
- At least partially feathered
- Hollow bones
- Wishbones (fused clavicles)
- Beak-like projections at the front of the skull (although theropods also had teeth)
- Some theropod species were carnivores, while others ate insects, seeds, or fruit – just like modern birds
Paleontologists believe that the later theropods had similar intelligence to birds, based on their skull shape and size. They may also have made similar sounds. According to Evolution, some dinosaurs may have produced low-pitched, closed-mouth vocalizations like pigeons and doves.
Theropods were much larger than modern birds, and they couldn’t fly. In this way, the ostrich is the most similar bird to ancient theropods.
How Did Birds Survive the Dinosaur Extinction?
At this point, you may be wondering: if birds evolved from dinosaurs, how did they survive the extinction?
Birds first made the transition from theropods to avian dinosaurs around 100 – 150 million years ago. By the time the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event occurred (66 million years ago), feathered and beaked birds already existed. According to Nature, the ancestors of modern birds such as ducks and chickens lived alongside the dinosaurs.
Paleontologists believe that the mass extinction was caused by a massive comet or asteroid colliding with Earth. As a result, almost all four-legged animals weighing over 55lbs perished (except turtles and crocodilians).
All non-avian dinosaurs and large mammals were wiped out. Many other species survived, such as some birds, fish, amphibians, small mammals and reptiles, and invertebrates.
Crucially, not all birds survived the extinction. Those that survived did so because of important evolutionary traits:
- Birds that could digest seeds and grains survived. When animal life was scarce, carnivorous species starved, but plant-eating species could still find food.
- Ground-dwelling birds survived. Tree-dwelling birds died because the extinction resulted in a loss of forests.
- Birds that could fly well survived as they could escape predators and fires.
- Fast-growing birds survived as they could reproduce at a younger age.
It’s likely that the remaining birds only barely survived and died long before their natural lifespan. But they lived long enough to reproduce, and they gradually evolved into the birds we know today.
Are Parrots Descendants of Dinosaurs?
All modern birds once evolved from dinosaurs. This includes wild birds, farmed birds, and pet birds alike. Though they diverged millions of years ago, all birds share dinosaurs as their common ancestors.
Parrots belong to an order of birds called Psittaciformes. There are around 400 species of parrot spanning 92 different genera (sub-groups). Some of the most well-known parrot species include macaws, parakeets, lovebirds, lorikeets, and cockatoos.
Being a type of bird, all parrots are descended from dinosaurs. Scientists believe that parrots first evolved in Australasia around 59 million years ago. Thus, the forbearers of parrots were already around during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which killed all non-avian dinosaurs.
Ancient parrots were probably a mixture of ground-dwelling and arboreal (tree-dwelling) species. Thus, the first parrots wouldn’t have had the specialized evolutionary adaptations that we see in modern birds.
For example, lorikeets have specialized beaks designed for eating nectar, pollen, and soft ripe fruits. On the other hand, Macaws’ beaks have been honed over the years into the perfect nut-crushing tool.
The oldest parrots were likely able to digest several different food sources. They may also have been a lot larger than modern parrots. According to Biology Letters, one ancient parrot that roamed New Zealand 19 million years ago was over 3ft 3inches tall.
What Was the Most Parrot-Like Dinosaur?
One of the most parrot-like dinosaurs that we know of was called Psittacosaurus. Its genus name translates to “parrot lizard” due to its bird-like appearance.
Like parrots, Psittacosaurus was bipedal (walked on two legs) and had shortened forelimbs. Its hind feet were clawed, each with four toes. It had a long tail, which was most likely covered in feathers. It had well-developed senses of smell and vision, and it was about as intelligent as a parrot.
The most parrot-like feature that this dinosaur had was a large, hooked beak. It used its beak for cropping and slicing plant material. However, analysis of its digestive system suggests it would also have eaten seeds and nuts, just like most parrots.
Psittacosaurus lived in Asia between 126 and 101 million years ago. This means that it emerged around the same time as the ancient bird species. Therefore, it’s unlikely that Psittacosaurus was an ancestor of modern parrots. However, it’s possible that it shared a common ancestor with the theropods that later evolved into birds.
Could Dinosaurs Talk Like Parrots?
One thing that we know for sure is that ancient dinosaurs did not talk like parrots. This is because all dinosaurs died off long before humans ever began to walk the earth.
If you’re a parrot owner, you’ll know that parrots don’t start speaking in a human-like voice unprompted. Instead, they mimic speech that they have heard. This is why a parrot’s “voice” will sound a lot like its owner’s.
Parrots can only repeat words, sounds, and phrases that they have heard a human speak. Usually, it takes multiple instances of repetition before a parrot will attempt to mimic you. This is because parrots don’t understand what they’re saying, but they can learn to repeat certain words when prompted. Usually, this is in response to a physical or vocal cue.
Although parrots did evolve from dinosaurs, dinosaurs wouldn’t have been able to speak like they could. While dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, humans only evolved around two million years ago. So, no dinosaur could ever have met a human or heard one speak.
That’s not to say, however, that dinosaurs couldn’t mimic anything at all. Dinosaurs may have been able to imitate other dinosaurs or noises in their environment. Unfortunately, though, we’ll never really know for sure.
If birds are descended from dinosaurs, you’d expect them to share a significant portion of DNA. However, this is something that we can only guess at. Scientists don’t have access to DNA from any dinosaurs because it degrades over time.
As biological structures go, DNA is extremely stable. Paleontologists have extracted DNA from the remains of extinct animals, such as mammoths, that died over 10,000 years ago.
But according to Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the half-life of DNA is 521 years. This means that 521 years after the animal’s death, half of the DNA bonds have broken down. And after around one million years, there are no longer any readable fragments of DNA left.
The last dinosaur died 65 million years ago. Unfortunately, this means that all dinosaur DNA has been destroyed with time. But although scientists haven’t been studied dinosaur DNA directly, they can guess what it might have looked like. They can do this by analyzing the DNA of dinosaurs’ direct descendants.
According to the journal Nature, scientists have pieced together dinosaur DNA using genome structures from chickens, zebra finches, and budgerigars. They also used DNA from modern reptiles, such as turtles. It is now believed that dinosaurs had 80 chromosomes – just like modern birds, including parrots.
Are Birds the Only Descendants of Dinosaurs?
DNA analysis suggests that parrots and other birds aren’t the only descendants of ancient dinosaurs. According to BMC Biology, birds share much of their DNA with crocodiles, and to a lesser extent, with turtles, snakes, and lizards. Birds, therefore, share common ancestors with all modern reptiles.
Turtles diverged from birds and crocodiles around 255 million years ago, whereas birds and crocodiles separated around 240 million years ago. As a result, modern reptiles retained the scales, whereas birds evolved to be fully feathered.
Although paleontologists refer to birds as “living dinosaurs,” there are no true dinosaurs (belonging to the clade Dinosauria) alive today. However, plenty of living animals have been roaming Earth since before the dinosaurs even existed. Elephant sharks, for example, have been around for 400 million years – 160 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared.