Wild parrots are expert fliers. They fly up to several miles a day, foraging for food, seeking shelter, and looking for warmer climates.
Parrots have large flight feathers and smaller secondary feathers. Parrots can only fly if the primary flight feathers are intact. As well as the feathers, their bones, respiratory system, and four-chambered heart are designed to offer parrots maximum flight efficiency. All parrot species can fly. In contrast, many captive parrots have clipped wings, which prevents them from flying away.
Many parrots live and fly in large flocks, seeking safety and protection from predators in bigger numbers. However, they rarely fly at night, leaving predators with a short period to attack if they can reach them when they’re resting high up in trees.
How Does A Parrot Fly?
As previously described, parrots can fly because of their complex set of feathers, which include the primaries and the secondaries.
The primary feathers are large and located on the outer side of the parrot’s wings. They move forward and backward in a figure of eight pattern, acting as a propellor to thrust the parrot along.
Parrots have around 10 primary feathers on each wing. If they’re damaged or plucked from the body, the bird can’t fly.
The secondaries are the wing’s inner feathers. As the parrot’s body is pulled through the air, these feathers produce lift.
As described by Science Learn, even if some of the secondary feathers are removed, birds can still fly. However, they’ll lose an element of coordination and control.
A parrot’s tail feathers steer and balance the parrot while it’s in flight. They also allow the bird to twist and turn and act as a brake when the parrot’s ready to stop.
The Royal Society explains that birds can use various flight modes, from a passive flight without wing strokes (such as gliding) to active flight, which involves the flapping of wings. As well as their tough, flexible feathers, parrots have:
- Light, hollow bones to minimize the energy required for flight
- Strong legs to withstand the stresses of flying
- Lightweight beaks that won’t weight parrots down
- Supple muscles that support the parrot’s body weight in the air
- High metabolic rate
- Four-chambered heart to pump oxygenated blood to the heart and muscles
- Air sacs to store inhaled air, keeping the lungs supplied with oxygen
- Light and compact digestive system, allowing parrots to remain in the air
Can All Parrots Fly?
All parrot species can fly, regardless of their size. In the wild, parrots fly to:
- Escape predators
- Find food
- Mate and breed
- Seek shelter
- Migrate to warmer areas
- Get closer to water sources
In captivity, parrots don’t need to fly for the same reasons, but they must be able to stretch their wings and stimulate their flight senses. If they can’t, they’re at risk of stress and boredom.
Larger parrot species, such as macaws and African greys, create more lift during take-off because they’re heavier.
Parrot species with smaller wings, like budgies and parrotlets, need to fly faster to maintain the same amount of lift as parrots with bigger wings.
How Fast Do Parrots Fly?
Most parrots fly at a cruising speed of between 20-30 mph. However, flight speeds vary significantly between the different parrot species. For example, some smaller parrots can reach speeds of up to 40 mph.
Like other bird species, parrots adopt a “low and slow” flying stance. However, if a predatory bird is chasing them, these speeds will significantly increase to allow them a chance to get away.
According to the Public Library of Science, flight speed isn’t dependant on the parrot’s size. Functional constraints and evolutionary lineage are also responsible for how fast a parrot can fly.
As a result, this area is mostly misunderstood by scientists and researchers, who cannot accurately determine why some parrots are faster than others.
How Far Do Parrots Fly?
How far a parrot flies comes down to the species. Larger parrots who are at less risk of predation tend to stick to a flying radius of 1,500-3,000 acres. This allows them to forage for food and water while remaining in the vicinity of their territory.
That being said, parrots like macaws can easily travel up to 50-100 miles a day looking for food and shelter, especially during dry seasons in the rainforest when food isn’t so readily available.
On the other hand, smaller parrots travel in large flocks, forming search parties that span a vast radius looking for food and water.
It’s thought that parrots who live for at least 15 years can fly up to 2 million miles in their lifetime. This is the equivalent of flying four times around the moon and back.
Generally speaking, it’s thought that parrot species below can travel the following distances at a time:
- Orange-bellied parrots: 150 km without stopping
- Cockatoos, macaws, and Amazon parrots: 10 km a day
- Cape parrots: 10-20 km a day
- Thick-billed parrots: 100 km without stopping
Migrating birds will naturally fly longer distances, as they need to travel a greater distance to find warmth.
Can Parrots Fly with Clipped Wings?
Owners have the option to clip a parrot’s wings to prevent them from flying away. When wing clipping is performed correctly by an avian vet, the bird will be able to control its downward flight, but it won’t be able to lift.
While wing clipping isn’t painful or uncomfortable, some owners choose to leave their bird’s wings unclipped as they believe it to be cruel.
There are also some physical drawbacks to wing clipping. Not only does it take away a parrot’s natural ability to fly, but it also prevents a parrot from exercising its muscles efficiently, as it’ll only manage a few flutters in the air before it falls to the ground. As a result, some birds suffer from severe muscle weakness.
Also, clipping isn’t permanent. Once the parrot loses the cut feathers and grows new ones, it will be able to fly again. As a result, the procedure must be carried out after the molting process has taken place to reduce the risk of your bird escaping.
Do Parrots Fly Away from Home?
Unfortunately, if an unclipped parrot escapes its cage or has access to the outdoors, it can fly away from home.
Parrots have an ingrained instinct to fly – it’s entirely natural for them, and it’s almost impossible to prevent these instincts.
Not all parrots enjoy being cooped up in small cages. If they have the opportunity to stretch their wings and fly, they’ll do so, regardless of how well you treat your bird.
Parrots tend to stay within one mile of their home, but captive birds can fly up to 30 miles in a day. If they don’t know their way home, they’ll get lost, and you’ll need to rely on the local community to keep a look out for your escaped parrot.
If your parrot has a good home life, there’s every chance it’ll come back. There’s little chance for parrots to forage in urban areas, so they’ll soon get hungry and thirsty and come home as a result.
Similarly, being outside in a new environment is likely to be frightening, especially when the bird realizes that predators are lurking. Cats, in particular, pose a problem for naïve escaped birds.
However, if your parrot’s environment causes it stress or fear, it might choose not to return. It could also be found by a new family, who’s willing to adopt it. As already mentioned, the only way to stop your parrot from flying away is to clip its wings.
What To Do If Your Parrot Flies Away
If your parrot does fly away, it’s understandable that you’d want to do all you can to get it back. While getting an escaped parrot to return is difficult, it’s not impossible.
As well as handing out flyers and leaflets to the local community so that they can keep an eye out for the parrot, try the following:
Search The Local Area
Before you do anything else, do a quick scan of the area closest to your home, remembering to look up at all trees and rooves. If you can, ask friends and neighbors to help you search, making sure to tell them to check everything at a 360-degree angle.
This period of searching will be frantic, but try not to panic or make any loud noises that could scare the bird off.
Call Your Parrot
Your parrot likely recognizes the sound of your voice. Therefore, try calling it using familiar commands and the tone you would typically use to communicate with your bird. Keep repeating these sounds, words, and phrases to encourage your parrot to fly down to you.
Similarly, find a phone recording of interesting bird calls, which might entice your parrot to come back. If your parrot enjoys a particular type of music, play it. It might be the spur it needs to come back home.
Place The Cage Outdoors
If you can, take your bird cage outdoors and place it as near to your parrot as possible. If you can’t see your parrot, place the cage in the most likely spot your bird escaped from. As soon as your bird gets cold, tired, and hungry, it’s more likely to find shelter in a familiar place.
Leave it outside all day and night with the door open. You could also rig the door with a quick-release trap door latch, which will lock the bird in, preventing it from flying away again.
Leave Out Meaty Treats
The reason for leaving out meaty treats is that they have a more pungent smell that is more likely to entice your parrot back home.
Similarly, tropical fruits or tasty vegetables might also work if your parrot loves them. However, you’ll need to replace them before they go moldy or your parrot won’t touch them.
Try throwing some seeds and nuts down by your front or back door, too, especially if your parrot is a fan of them.
The only problem with this method is you may have to keep a constant eye on the food in case your parrot comes back to eat it.
Use A Bird Net
Chasing your parrot is likely to make it fly away – possibly for good. As a result, have a bird net nearby in case your parrot gets close enough for you to catch it. By day three, your parrot will be tired and hungry, making it easier to catch.
You must be very careful when using a net not to hurt the bird, especially its delicate wings and legs. Wait until the bird is tired enough not to put up a fight.
Do Parrots Fly At Night?
Parrots tend to sleep between sunset and dawn, resting for 12 hours each day. As a result, they don’t commonly fly at night unless they’re in danger and need to flee.
Otherwise, parrots will use darkness to sleep and recoup their energy, puffing up their feathers to trap in the heat to stay warm.
At night, wild parrots perch in tree holes and cavities to keep themselves safe. Similarly, escaped parrots will find somewhere to sleep at night. Once the sun goes down, you’re unlikely to get your escaped pet back until the morning.
Do Parrots Fly In Flocks?
In the wild, parrots live in large flocks. Together, they:
- Forage for food
- Search for territory
- Defend it
- Raise their young
They also fly many miles each day in groups. Some parrots remain at home to defend the territory and look after their young, while the rest forage for food in new territories.
Not all flocks fly together in the same species. For example, macaws, Amazons, and conures are known to live with each other in multi-species communities. This provides additional safety and protection from predators.
Similarly, African grey parrots only live and fly together and don’t allow other parrot species to join them. 20 to 30 birds typically live in one flock.
Some parrot groups migrate to warmer climates. When they do, they fly in a V-shaped formation to reduce fatigue. This also ensures all birds have protection against predators because they all have eyes on each other.
Why Do Parrots Fly In Pairs?
Wild parrots are often found flying in pairs. According to the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, researchers found that in captive groups, parrots have a preference for an individual parrot and are usually found near their mate.
Similarly, mated parrots are most loyal to each other, not their entire flock. When flying, paired parrots use less effort to fly, flapping their wings less frequently. That’s because they conserve energy by only keeping an eye on their mate when they’re in the air.
Monk parakeets are most likely to fly in pairs. This behavior is a significant part of their social structure.
What Age Do Parrots Fly?
Most parrots start fledging between 3-4 months of age. However, the exact age depends on the parrot’s development. When chicks are ready to fly, you’ll notice the following signs:
- Feathers on 95% of their body
- An adult bird appearance
- A firm crop
- Hardened commissures on the beak
- Ungroomed nails
- Increased mobility
- Improved climbing ability
Many hand-fed parrots fledge prematurely. This is because owners unknowingly speed up their development process before nature intends it.
Similarly, if baby parrots seem to develop well for their age, owners encourage them to do things earlier than they should. As a result, baby parrots attempt to fly too early and develop stress fractures in their bones from the excess pressure applied to their skeletons.
To encourage baby parrots to fledge safely, keep them in a dark nursery box for several weeks until they start flapping their wings and attempting to get out into the light by themselves.
When they’re ready to venture out on their own, their limbs and muscles will be strong enough to attempt to fly.
Because flying is such a vital part of a parrot’s survival, their bodies are optimized to allow them to get away quickly and fly for long periods. The result is that they can find essential food, water, and shelter to ensure the flock’s longevity.