At first glance, it looks like parrots don’t have ears. However, upon closer inspection, you’ll see that parrots do have ears, although they look distinctly different from ours.
Parrots have relatively good hearing, although they can’t hear very high or low frequencies. On average, parrots have a hearing frequency of 200 Hz to 8.5 kHz. Parrots are sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm, and this means that they can identify parrots from their singing voice and call.
While hearing isn’t as crucial to parrots as their eyesight, they still need to detect sound to survive in the wild. In captivity, parrots are sensitive to certain sounds, especially sudden noises, so owners must take care to provide a living environment that’s not too loud.
Do Parrots Have Ears?
Parrots don’t have ears on the sides of their heads. Instead, they have ear holes hidden by auricular feathers slightly behind the eyes. They expose two small holes when the feathers part, but they usually remain hidden.
Parrots don’t have external ears because this would make them less streamlined for flight, and this adaptation makes them fast and effective fliers.
The feathers covering the ears keep the wind out while flying, reducing unnecessary noise that could distract or confuse the parrot. They also protect them from air turbulence, dust, debris, and rain.
Parrots’ ears consist of the meatus, which is a short external passage. The surrounding skin has a muscle that enables them to open and close the opening.
They have an inner ear bone called the columella, which connects to the eardrum. The inner ear is bathed in fluid, while the outer and middle ears are filled with air.
Similarly, the inner ear consists of five parts:
- Semi-circular canals, which enable the parrot to balance.
- Utriculus, which is another balancing aid.
- Cochlea, which is a hollow, fluid-filled bone containing a basilar membrane.
- Lagena, which detects low-frequency sounds.
- Sacculus, which detects high-frequency sounds.
Also, parrots have a three-boned ear structure consisting of the malleus, mancus, and stapes. This gives parrots slightly more sensitive hearing.
Can Parrots Hear?
Despite not having prominent ears, parrots can hear relatively well.
That’s because they have hair cells inside their ear passages that transmit sound vibrations, turning them into an electrical signal that the brain processes.
The hearing takes place in the cochlea. Unlike mammals with a coiled cochlea, parrots have a cochlea that’s flat and slightly curved. This is where the hair cells are located.
Without the three primary senses (hearing, sight, and smell), they’d be vulnerable to predators and struggle to find their flock. Evolution has given parrots a good sense of hearing because they need it to survive.
Do Parrots Have Good Hearing?
A parrot’s hearing range is most sensitive to sounds between 200 Hz to 8.5 kHz, but this varies based on the species. In comparison, humans can hear between 31 Hz to 19 kHz.
However, while their frequency range isn’t as wide as ours, parrots are far more sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm. This allows them to hear their flock and identify individual birds.
Parrots can’t hear quiet sounds as they need some level of volume to detect noise. For example, parrots can’t hear the soft tick of a clock or a faint pin drop because they’re not loud enough for parrots to hear.
Similarly, parrots can hear voices, but they struggle to hear deep bass notes or high-pitched cymbal crashes because these sounds are at the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum.
Delving into this further, if you played a song in the same pitch over and over, your parrot would recognize it. It wouldn’t if you played the same song in a higher or lower octave.
While we can only perceive one note at a time, parrots can hear up to ten separate notes. That’s because birds process sounds in bytes up to 1/200 of a sound, while we process sound in bytes of around 1/20 of a second long.
There have been no reports that parrots are sensitive to ultrasonic frequencies or frequencies below 20 Hz (infrasound), even though some other bird species, such as owls, have a greater sound frequency.
How Far Away Can Parrots Hear?
While it’s difficult to determine how far away parrots can hear, they can locate where sounds originate.
According to PLOS One, it’s not the ears but the shape of their heads that enables parrots to determine the sound’s location. Their heads contain acoustic cues for sound localization.
Researchers measured the volume of sound traveling towards the eardrums at several different angles. The noise coming from one side hit the eardrum at a particular frequency, while the eardrum on the other side registered the sound at a different frequency.
The brain can determine whether the sound comes from above, below, or at the same level as the bird by analyzing the eardrum differences.
Can Parrots Go Deaf?
Parrots can’t go deaf. As explained by Stanford Medicine, the hair cells inside the ear canal responsible for a parrot’s hearing abilities regenerate, returning the ear to full hearing capacity.
Even if your parrot experiences temporary sound loss, it should return once these cells grow back.
According to the National Institute on Deafness, most hearing issues are caused by damage to these cells. In many cases, the damage leads to the hair’s eventual death. Humans can’t grow these hairs back, which is why we go deaf.
Birds and amphibians can, so deafness is almost impossible. However, as described by the University of California, continued exposure to loud noises can prevent a parrot’s hearing recovery.
This is why parrots can scream and loudly vocalize all day without it affecting their hearing.
Why Do Parrots Need To Hear?
Parrots have specific hearing requirements as they need some level of hearing to survive. They need to:
Parrots need to be aware of predators, especially when injured or sick.
The most common threats include:
- Large birds of prey
- Big cats
Listening out for threatening sounds gives parrots time to flee predators by flying away or hiding in nest cavities.
As parrots can localize the source of sounds, they can determine where predators are likely to be hiding or attempting to attack from, giving them a higher chance of survival.
This also allows parrots to alert their flock of imminent dangers to their life.
Communicate with Flock
Parrots don’t just communicate with their flock to warn them about predators. They forage together and live in small groups, which gives them greater protection than if they were living alone.
Every flock has its own call, which new parrots imitate to join. Doing so enables them to gain protection in numbers. Parrots also use this technique to negotiate their authority. This works effectively because parrots can detect shorter and lower sounds than humans.
Flock calls are a way for parrots to check in with one another. Parrots are aware of predators in the wild, so flock calls are a way for them to remain close to each other when they’re foraging. This increases their chances of survival, particularly when they’re away from the rest of their flock.
While making these sounds is vital, hearing them from other parrots is just as important.
Parrots get some of the water they need from food, but they also drink from rivers, ponds, and small lakes in their native habitats.
Hearing plays a vital role in guiding parrots toward water sources. For example, free-flowing rivers and fast-moving waters tend to make louder gushing sounds, indicating that water’s nearby.
When parrots use their flock call, the other parrots in the group can locate the parrot’s whereabouts, joining them for a hydrating drink.
Parrots can only go around 24 hours without water before becoming unwell.
When foraging for food or searching for nest cavities, parrots find their way back to their flock using their hearing. While other instincts come into play, such as their vision and navigational instincts, sound plays a significant role.
If your parrot flies off, it may be able to make its way back to you if you call it using the sounds you usually use to communicate with it.
Finding A Mate
In New Zealand, male kakapo parrots gather in a prominent location, such as a hillside, and call out to females with a low, booming sound, which can be heard for several miles. Females listen out for this mating call and follow the sound to choose a mate.
Budgerigars use their beautiful singing voices to find mates because a strong singing voice indicates they’re healthy and likely to produce strong, robust young. However, female budgies prefer parrots that sound like them.
Warn Off Rivals
Parrots use a range of aggressive sounds to warn off their rivals, including beak clicking and growling. Parrots make these sounds when they feel threatened and need to assert dominance.
Once the rival parrot hears these sounds, it’ll either back off or fight for dominance. Captive parrots sometimes make these sounds to flock mates and humans.