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How Well Do Parrots Hear? (Hearing Frequency Range)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Parrots have relatively good hearing. That said, parrots can’t hear very high or low frequencies.

The hearing frequency of parrots is 200 Hz to 8.5 kHz. They’re sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm. Consequently, they can identify other parrots based on their singing voice and call.

While hearing isn’t as crucial to parrots as their eyesight, they must still detect certain sounds to survive. Parrots are sensitive to noise, especially if it happens unexpectedly.

Parrot Ear Position

Parrots have ear holes on either side of the head, hidden by auricular feathers just behind and below the eyes. They expose two small holes when the feathers part but usually remain hidden.

They don’t have external ears because this would make them less streamlined for flight. This is one of several adaptations that make them fast and effective fliers.

The feathers covering the ears keep the wind out while flying, reducing noise that could distract or confuse them. Also, this protects parrots from air turbulence, debris, bugs, and rain.

Parrots’ ears consist of the meatus, 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 contains fluid, while the outer and middle ear contain air.

The inner ear consists of five parts, which are as follows:

  • Semi-circular canals: Enable the parrot to balance.
  • Utriculus: Another balancing aid.
  • Cochlea: A hollow, fluid-filled bone containing a basilar membrane.
  • Lagena: Detects low-frequency sounds.
  • Sacculus: Detects high-frequency sounds.

Parrots have a three-boned ear structure comprising the malleus, mancus, and stapes.

parrot hearing range

Parrots Can Hear

Despite not having prominent ears, parrots can hear relatively well. They have hair cells inside their ear passages that transmit sound vibrations, turning them into electrical signals the brain processes.

Parrots hear in the cochlea. Unlike mammals, which have a coiled cochlea, parrots have a flat and slightly curved cochlea. The cochlea is where the hair cells are located.  

Parrots are vulnerable to predators and struggle to find their flock without hearing, sight, and smell.

Good vs. Bad Hearing

A parrot’s hearing range is most sensitive to 200 Hz to 8.5 kHz, but this varies based on the species. In comparison, humans can hear between 31 Hz to 19 kHz.

While their frequency range isn’t as broad as humans, parrots are more sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm. This allows parrots to hear their flock and identify individual birds.

Parrots can’t hear quiet sounds because they need some volume to detect noise. For example, parrots can’t hear the soft tick of a clock or a faint pin drop.

Similarly, parrots can hear voices but struggle to hear deep bass notes or high-pitched cymbal crashes because they’re at the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum.

If you repeatedly played a song in the same pitch, a parrot would recognize it. However, it wouldn’t have 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 10 separate notes. Birds process sounds in bytes up to 1/200 of a sound, while we process sounds in bytes that are 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, like owls, have a greater sound frequency.

Distance Parrots Can 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 toward the eardrums at several angles.

The noise 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 parrot by analyzing the eardrum differences.

Impact of Loud Noises

The sound frequency dictates what a parrot can hear, but the volume is what affects their health.

The table (below) contains decibel levels parrots may encounter in the home:

Whispered human conversation30 dB
Wild bird calls40 dB
Standard human conversation60 dB
Hairdryer or washing machine78 dB
Blender85 dB
Car horn125 dB
Smoke alarm140 dB

You may assume that parrots don’t mind loud noises because they can also be noisy.

Some parrots’ vocalizations can exceed 100 dB. However, sudden loud noises can harm parrots. Also, prolonged exposure to excess decibels can cause permanent damage.

Frequency Parrots Hate

Birds’ sensitivity to high frequencies means high-pitched noises inaudible to human ears are often marketed to the agricultural sector to scare birds away.

However, the University of Nebraska believes that high-pitched noises are ineffective.

Parrots are likelier to be upset by constant low-frequency sounds, like repetitive dance music. While this frequency encourages humans to dance, many parrots find it distressing.

The likeliest explanation is that parrots can’t determine the sound they’re hearing.

The auditory receptors pick up on a constant, droning sound, but the brain doesn’t understand what this noise means, considering it a threat.

Parrots Can’t Go Deaf

Stanford Medicine explains that the hair cells inside the ear canal responsible for a parrot’s hearing abilities regenerate, returning the ear to normal capacity.

Even if a 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, hence why they go deaf.

Birds and amphibians can regrow these hair cells, so deafness is impossible. According to the University of California, continued exposure to loud noises can prevent hearing recovery.

Parrots can scream and vocalize loudly throughout the day without affecting their hearing.

Why Parrots Need To Hear

Parrots have specific hearing requirements because they need to identify sound to:

Detect Predators

Parrots need to be aware of predators, especially when vulnerable. Common threats include:

  • Large birds of prey.
  • Bats.
  • Big cats.
  • Monkeys.
  • Snakes.
  • Humans.

Investigating 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 hiding or the point of attack, giving them a better chance of survival.

Also, this allows parrots to alert their flock of imminent dangers to their life.

Communicate with Flock

Parrots forage together and live in groups. Each flock has its call, which new parrots imitate to join because doing so provides more protection.

Parrots also use this technique to negotiate their authority, which works well because they can detect shorter and lower sounds than humans.

Flock calls are a way for parrots to check in with each other. Because parrots are aware of predators, flock calls enable them to remain close to each other when foraging.

While making these sounds is vital, hearing them from other parrots is just as important.

do parrots have ears?

Find Water

Parrots get some of the water they need from food but drink from rainfall, rivers, and lakes.

Hearing plays a vital role in guiding parrots toward water sources. For example, free-flowing rivers and fast-moving waters make gushing sounds, indicating that water is nearby.

When parrots use their flock call, others can locate their whereabouts and join them.

Navigation

Parrots use their hearing to find their flock after foraging for food or searching for nest cavities. While other instincts are utilized, like their vision and navigational instincts, sound plays a vital role.

Finding Mates

Alongside their colorful plumage, parrots sing and use other sounds to find mates.

Male kakapo parrots gather in a prominent location and call out to females with a low, booming sound. Females listen attentively for mating calls and follow the sound.

Budgerigars sing to find mates because a strong voice shows they’re healthy and likely to produce robust offspring. Female budgies are drawn to parrots that sound like them.

Warn Off Rivals

Parrots use various sounds to warn off rivals, including beak clicking, hissing, and growling. Parrots make these sounds when they feel threatened or vulnerable.