Parrots are genetically programmed to take care of their offspring throughout their early developmental stages. Most parrots belong to the category of K-strategist species, just like humans and other large primates. Because of this, they have a low reproductive rate per year, only producing a clutch of 2-8 eggs. This means that it’s very important that they protect and rear their young so that they can reach adulthood safely.
At the first stage of development, parrots care for their young by incubating the eggs. The humidity is carefully monitored, and the eggs are slowly rotated. Once the eggs have hatched, the parents will get the chick to move around, defecate, and accept food. The adult parrots feed their chicks by regurgitating food that’s mashed and palatable for soft beaks. Once the chick has grown, the parents will teach it to fly so that it can leave the nest.
Even after this point, the parents will feed the chicks and supervise them. Older members of the flock will assist the parents in equipping the chicks with valuable skills. These include foraging, watching for predators, and avoiding dangerous plants. This stage can last several months, where baby parrots learn all of their social and survival skills. Once the young reach sexual maturity, they are full members of the flock.
Do Parrots Care For Their Babies?
Parrots care for their babies long-term. From the hatching stage to the point of weaning, one of the parents will be with the chicks constantly. That’s because the chicks are dependent on their parents for food and protection.
Until completely weaned, the baby parrots are likely to die without their parents’ intervention. Even once the fledglings eat on their own and learn how to fly, they’ll stay with the parents to learn skills. This ensures that the young parrots survive long-term in the wild. Depending on the species, the chicks may not become independent for several months.
How Do Parrots Protect Their Young?
According to the University of Queensland, nest predation is one of the greatest dangers to parrots. That’s because many creatures target eggs and chicks as their favorite meal, including:
Parrots don’t reproduce at a high rate, so they can’t afford to lose their offspring. Instead, they take the time to guard, teach, and nurture their chicks to independence. This is accomplished in several ways:
Adult parrots will even change their own behaviors to safeguard their nests from predators. That is true for all parrot species, large and small. According to Bird Talk Magazine, it’s common for loud species to become more docile and prioritize staying covert while they have chicks.
Parakeets, for example, chatter while on the ground and feeding. However, when they are about to return to the nest, they will go completely silent.
Checking For Danger Before Returning To The Nest
Likewise, a parent will perch on a tree 30-60 feet away when visiting the nest. Here, they will survey the area for several minutes. Once it’s deemed safe, they’ll descend slowly through tropical vegetation to reach the chicks. If a predator happens to be following or stalking them, this ensures it cannot be accidentally led back to the chicks.
Surveying The Area Before The Offspring
After the chicks have learned to fly, parents will still check for possible dangers. When teaching their chicks to forage, parents will often swoop down and check the area several times before landing.
This ensures they can spot any predators before their offspring come along and face the danger. Parrot flocks may do this even for fledglings that are not their own.
Warning Calls From The Flock
During the hatching season, an entire flock will remain on high alert to protect the new offspring. Should a raptor fly too close to a nest, all the parrots in the flock or near it will produce alarm calls to scare off the danger. This shows that parrots not only care about their own chicks but the safety of the entire flock.
Chicks are so valuable to parrots that other bonded pairs may adopt eggs or chicks. A female or two mated parrots will occasionally take over if the original parents have died or cannot care for the offspring. This is unique to parrots. Many other bird species would ignore the abandoned chicks or even attack them while they were vulnerable.
How Do Parrots Raise Their Young?
Once the eggs have been laid, the parrots will start tending to their young. It will take about 28 days for the eggs to hatch. During this time, both parents will remain dedicated to their care.
Usually, the female will stay in the nest to incubate the eggs and keep them warm. This allows the eggs to develop but also safeguards them against outside dangers or the elements. Predators will have to contend with an angry parent if they come near. Likewise, wind, rain, and temperature changes won’t affect the developing eggs.
The male will sometimes switch with the female, so they can each look for food. For example, cockatiels establish a schedule. The male stays on eggs in the day, from early morning until late afternoon. After this, the female incubates throughout the night.
If one partner sits on the eggs full-time, the other will often scavenge for both of them. It will return with food in its crop to regurgitate for the other.
Maintaining The Eggs
The parents won’t just sit on their nest for 4 weeks straight. They also work to maintain the eggs by:
- Turning them once an hour
- Checking for signs of bugs
- Removing any eggs that may have died and are rotting
In particular, turning the eggs is a crucial step. Not only does it help the egg maintain a uniform temperature, but it also prevents the baby inside from sticking with the membrane. Parrots will also use this as an opportunity to wet down their feathers and balance the humidity for their eggs.
Cleaning And Prodding The Chick
Once the baby hatches out of the shell, it is considered a nestling. At this stage, the chick is naked, blind, and (in most species) deaf. It will be unable to move, so the parents will:
- Prod the chick to move it around the nest
- Clean any extra debris from eggs or poop out of the way
- Rub its posterior to encourage defecation
Some types of parrots will immediately try to feed their hungry nestlings once they hatch. Others, like the cockatiel, will wait 8-12 hours. That’s because the chicks still rely on their yolk sac and will absorb it completely to build their immune system. If the parents begin feeding, they will regurgitate food out of their crops and into the chicks’ waiting mouths.
Forming A Bond
A baby parrot will open its eyes after a few days. At this point, the chick will imprint on its mother or father and begin recognizing them. This action develops a bond of trust between the offspring and parent. It’s crucial to the nestling’s social development.
That’s true for humans as well. According to The Italian Journal of Animal Science, unweaned or hand-reared African Gray Parrots can imprint on their owners. However, this can have negative side effects later on, such as sexual frustration, jealousy, and feather plucking. The study determined that 70% of the male chicks struggled with this.
Monitoring, Feeding, And More Cleaning
For the next several weeks, the parents will stay with the nest constantly to supervise. They will clean out the space (though it will still look dirty to a human) and watch for predators. If any dangers are found, the parents may scream, attack, claw and bite to drive off the threats.
By 5 weeks old, most baby parrots can break down their own food. However, parents will still offer meals, as the chicks will be unable to fly.
Teaching Chicks to Fly
A chick becomes a fledgling at 10-12 weeks of age. At this stage, the chicks will be moving around freely. Since they have a full set of feathers, the parents will encourage them to leave the nest. Here’s how:
- This may involve the parents flying out and returning as a demonstration.
- They will nudge each chick toward the edge and encourage them to flap.
- If the parents need to be heavy-handed, they may forcibly push the chick out.
Even after the first week of flying, parents won’t abandon their chicks to their fates. Instead, they will continue to provide food until the fledglings can pick up foraging skills. For example, partially weaned cockatiels can eat independently, but they still rely on supplements from their parents. This strengthens their immune system and balances their digestive system.
According to Texas A&M University, most of the knowledge for survival, socialization, and reproduction is learned during the weaning period and before sexual maturity.
Because of this, the parrots will care for their young for several weeks. During this time, the chicks will be monitored and protected by their parents and the flock until they reach the reproduction stage.
Learning Survival Skills
Once the offspring are skilled at flying, the parents will begin teaching more complex skills. The babies will come along to forage and explore their area with the flock.
Aside from the parents, older members of the group will also play a significant role in the development process. Over the next few weeks, the offspring will learn how to:
- Differentiate desirable food from toxic food
- Locate water
- Defend territories
- Recognize and avoid predators
- Make warning calls and homing calls, so they can return if they get lost
Once they’re educated and have reached sexual maturity, the training is over. They become independent flock members and can work toward finding mates. A nest can be made, eggs can be laid, and it can start all over again.
How Do Parrots Feed Their Babies?
The crop plays an important role in a baby parrot’s growth. Before distributing food among their chicks, parrots will first break it apart into pieces. Food is then swallowed and travels down the throat, where it’s stored in the crop. The crop will partially digest the food, turning hard seeds or bugs into a mushy collection suitable for chicks. This mixture is regurgitated and fed from the parent’s beak.
As a plus, it will be coated in a healthy layer of crop milk. This is a secretion from the parent’s crop lining and is packed with antibodies and antioxidants. This helps to fortify the chick’s immune system, balance its digestion, and provide extra nutrients.
In most parrot species, females and males produce crop milk. However, some do not, leaving only the female to provide this early-stage supplement. After the initial few days of this diet, parents start mixing it with the adult food to draw chicks away from crop milk feeding.
What Do Parrots Feed Their Babies?
Newly hatched chicks have underdeveloped beaks. The mother or father will only feed them a mushy collection of ground-up food that’s been stored in its crop. The baby diet will include all of a parrot’s normal food, such as:
How Often Do Parrots Feed Their Babies?
Baby parrots have massive appetites and fast-paced metabolisms. As such, they are fed day and night for the first week. Both the parents share equal duties in each stage. One will tend to the chick while the other forages. One may also keep watch at night while the other handles the daylight hours.
How Long Do Baby Parrots Stay With Their Mother?
A baby parrot will stay with its mother until it’s fully-fledged and weaned to leave the nest. The timeline for this can vary, depending on the species. Macaws and cockatoos, for example, will tend to their babies for 11-14 months.
In contrast, smaller parrot species have usually fledged, weaned, and left the nest within 2 months or less. Similarly, an Amazon parrot begins to show its independent nature after 4 months. No matter the case, it’s important not to rush the development. This early period plays a significant role in the development of:
- The digestive system
- The immune systems
- Motor skills
Forced weaning by breeders or owners can have a negative impact, creating a multitude of behavioral problems. For instance, according to Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice, macaws develop incessant begging. This has also led to phobic behavior and prolapse syndrome in African grey parrots and cockatoos.
Parrots care for their young by constantly feeding, supervising, and protecting the chicks. This can last for over a year until the chick is ready to be a full member of the flock.