At first glance, it doesn’t look like parrots have ears. But upon closer inspection, you’ll see that they do have them, although they look much different to ours.
Parrots have relatively good hearing, although they can’t hear really high or low frequencies. On average, parrots have a frequency ranging from 200 Hz to 8.5 kHz. Parrots are sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm. This means they can identify parrots from their singing voice and call. Parrots can’t hear very quiet sounds.
While hearing isn’t quite as crucial to parrots as their eyesight, they need to detect sound to survive in the wild. In captivity, parrots are sensitive to certain noises, so owners must be careful to provide a comfortable environment that’s not too loud for their parrots.
Do Parrots Have Ears?
Parrots don’t have ears on the sides of their heads like most mammals. This is why many people mistakenly believe that parrots don’t have ears. Instead, they have ear holes that are hidden by auricular feathers slightly behind the eyes. When the feathers part, they expose two small holes. However, in most cases, they remain hidden.
Parrots don’t have external ears because they would make them less streamlined for flight. This adaptation makes them fast and effective fliers. The feathers covering the ears also keep the wind out while flying, reducing unnecessary noise that could distract or confuse the parrot. They also protect them from air turbulence and dirt, dust, debris, and water.
Parrots’ ears consist of the meatus, which is a short external passage. The surrounding skin has a muscle that allows the bird to open and close the opening. They also 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 help the parrot balance.
- Utriculus, which is another parrot balancing aid.
- The cochlea, a hollow, fluid-filled bone containing a basilar membrane.
- Lagena, which detects low-frequency sounds.
- Sacculus, which helps to detect high-frequency sounds.
Further to this, 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 the ear passage that transmit sounds vibrations, turning them into an electrical signal that the brain processes.
Hearing takes place in the cochlea. Unlike mammals, who have a coiled cochlea, parrots have one that is flat and slightly curved. This is where the hair cells are located.
As explained, hearing is vital for a parrot’s survival in the wild. Without the three primary senses (hearing, sight, and smell), they’d be vulnerable to predators. They’d also struggle to find their flock. As a result, 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 depending 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 individual birds, and enables them to identify them.
That being said, parrots can’t hear quiet sounds – 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. That’s because they’re not loud enough for parrots to hear them.
Similarly, parrots can hear voices, but they struggle to hear deep bass notes or high-pitched cymbal crashes, for example. That’s 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. If you played the same song in a higher or lower octave, it would not.
Also, while we can only perceive one note at a time, parrots can hear around ten separate notes. That’s because birds process sounds in bytes up to 1/200 of a sound. In comparison, we process sound in bytes of around 1/20 of a second long.
There have been no reports that parrots are sensitive to either 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 actually hear, they can locate where sounds originate.
According to PLOS One, it’s not the ears but the simple shape of their heads that can help parrots determine the sound’s location. Their heads seem to 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. The eardrum on the other side registered the sound at a different frequency.
Therefore, 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. That’s because, as explained by Stanford Medicine, the hair cells inside the ear canal that are responsible for a parrot’s hearing abilities regenerate, returning the ear to full hearing capacity. Even if your parrot suffers a 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. However, birds and amphibians can, making deafness almost impossible.
This is also one reason why parrots can scream and loudly vocalize all day without it affecting their hearing. Because of a parrot’s inability to go deaf, training it using positive reinforcement techniques is the best way to prevent your bird from making ear-piercing noises. Otherwise, your own hearing can become impacted. However, as described by the University of California, continued exposure to loud noises can prevent a parrot’s hearing recovery.
Also, because of these abilities, scientists are attempting to figure out why humans can’t regenerate their hair cells like parrots and other birds can in the attempt to cure permanent deafness.
Why Do Parrots Need To Hear?
Parrots have specific hearing requirements, as they need their ears to survive.
In the wild, parrots must be careful of predators, especially if they’re injured or sick. The most common parrot predators include:
- Large birds of prey
- Big cats
Listening out for threatening sounds can help parrots flee predatory danger by flying away or hiding in hard-to-reach nest cavities. Similarly, as parrots can localize the source of sounds, they can determine where predators are likely to be hiding or attempting to pounce from, giving them a greater chance of survival.
This also allows parrots to alert their flock of imminent dangers to their life. As a result, good hearing is an essential survival tool in the first instance.
Communicate with Flock
Parrots don’t just communicate with their flock to warn them about predators. They forage together and live in small groups. This provides them with greater protection than if they were to live alone.
As a result, hearing is essential to parrots. Every flock has its own call, which new parrots imitate in order to join. Doing so enables them to gain the protection of the large parrot numbers. Parrots also use this technique to negotiate their authority. This works so effectively because parrots can detect shorter and lower sounds than we can.
Similarly, flock calls are a way for parrots to check in with one another. Parrots are highly 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 their away from the rest of the flock.
While making these sounds is vital, hearing them from other parrots is just as important. In fact, not hearing them is a matter of life and death. That’s because lone parrots are vulnerable parrots.
Parrots get some of the water they need from food, but they also drink from rivers, ponds, and small lakes in their native habitats. Seed and nut-eating birds, such as Amazon parrots and macaws, need more water, as their diet is dry.
Therefore, hearing plays a vital role in guiding parrots towards water sources. For example, free-flowing rivers and fast-moving waters tend to make louder gushing sounds, indicating to the parrot that valuable water’s nearby.
When parrots use their flock call, the other parrots in the group can locate the parrot’s whereabouts too, joining the bird for a hydrating drink.
Parrots can only go around three days without water before they become unwell. This is why sound communication is essential between flock mates.
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 remains a large part in enabling parrots to return to their flock.
Similarly, if your pet 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. As mentioned, parrots can localize sounds, so they may be able to use their hearing abilities to fly home if they’re close enough to hear your voice.
Find A Mate
Alongside their colorful plumage and regurgitation tactics, parrots sing and use other sounds to find a mate.
For example, in New Zealand, male kakapo parrots gather on a prominent location, such as a hillside, and call out to the females with a low, booming sound. This can be heard for several miles. Meanwhile, the females listen to this mating call and follow the sound in order to choose a mate.
Similarly, budgerigars use their beautiful singing voices to find a mate. That’s because a strong singing voice indicates that the bird is healthy and likely to produce strong young. However, female budgies prefer parrots that sound like them, so they use this as their primary mating criteria.
These are some of the reasons why hearing is so important during the mating and breeding seasons.
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 their dominance. This is usually because of a rival parrot who’s attempting to win the title of top dog.
Once the rival parrot hears these sounds, it will either back off or fight the parrot for dominance. Captive parrots sometimes make these sounds to their flock mates and humans. In this instance, hearing is a powerful tool to dispel rivalries.
Parrots have good hearing capabilities. While their ears aren’t as advanced as ours and other mammals, they must be able to fly effectively, which is one adaption that outer ears wouldn’t benefit from. Ensure your parrot isn’t housed anywhere with loud noises within the parrot’s hearing frequency. While they can’t go deaf, they’re at risk of suffering long-term damage.