Wild parrots are expert fliers. They fly up to several miles a day, foraging for food, seeking shelter, and looking for warmer climates. Of course, parrots are ideally equipped for flying.
Parrots have large flight feathers and smaller secondary feathers but can only fly if their primary flight feathers are intact. Their feathers, light bones, complex respiratory system, and four-chambered heart give parrots maximum flight efficiency. All species of parrots can become airborne.
Many parrots live and fly in large flocks, seeking safety and protection from predators in larger numbers. However, parrots rarely fly at night, leaving predators with a small amount of time to attack if they can reach them when resting high up in trees.
How Does A Parrot Fly?
Parrots can fly because of their complex feathers, including primaries and the secondaries.
The primary feathers are large and located on the outer side of the 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, parrots 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. Also, they allow parrots to twist, turn, and act as a brake when it’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 flapping 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 weigh them down
- Supple muscles that support body weight in the air
- High metabolic rate for rapid energy generation
- 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.
Parrots fly for the following reasons:
- Escaping predators
- Finding food
- Mating and breeding
- Seeking shelter
- Migrating to warmer areas
- Getting closer to water sources
In captivity, parrots don’t need to fly for the same reasons, but they need to be able to stretch their wings and stimulate their flight senses. If they can’t do so, they’re at risk of stress and boredom.
Larger parrot species, such as macaws, 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 lift as parrots with much bigger wings.
How Fast Do Parrots Fly?
Most parrots fly at a cruising speed of 20-30 mph. However, flight speeds vary significantly between the different species. For example, some smaller parrots can reach speeds of up to 40 mph.
Parrots adopt a low and slow flying stance. However, if a predatory bird is chasing them, these speeds will significantly increase to allow them to get away.
According to the Public Library of Science, flight speed isn’t dependent 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 that are at less risk of predation tend to maintain 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.
Conversely, 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, which is the equivalent of flying four times around the moon and back.
It’s thought that these parrot species 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 can clip a parrot’s wings to prevent them from flying away. When wing clipping is performed correctly by an avian vet, the bird can 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 parrot’s wings unclipped as they believe it to be cruel.
Also, there are some physical drawbacks to wing clipping. Not only does it take away a parrot’s natural ability to fly, but it 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. So, some parrots experience muscle weakness.
Also, clipping isn’t permanent. Once the parrot loses the cut feathers and grows new ones, it’ll be able to fly again. As a result, the procedure must be carried out after the molting process.
Do Parrots Fly At Night?
Parrots tend to sleep between sunset and dawn, resting for 12 hours per day. As a result, they don’t commonly fly at night unless they’re in danger and need to flee quickly.
Otherwise, parrots will use darkness to sleep and recoup their energy, puffing up their feathers to trap in the heat to stay warm.
Wild parrots perch in tree cavities at night to keep themselves safe.
Do Parrots Fly In Flocks?
Wild parrots live in large flocks. Together, they:
- Forage for food
- Search for territory
- Defend it
- Raise their young
They 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, providing additional protection from predators.
However, African grey parrots only live and fly together and don’t allow other parrot species to join them. 20 to 30 African greys usually 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 ensures that they have protection from predators because they can see 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 prefer 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 as this behavior is a significant part of their social structure.
What Age Do Parrots Fly?
Most parrots start fledging at 3-4 months of age, but the 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 because owners unknowingly speed up their development process before nature intends it.
If baby parrots attempt to fly too early and develop stress fractures in their bones from the excess pressure applied to their skeletons.
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 extended periods.