Parrots’ tongues enable them to mimic words, manipulate and funnel food into the throat, handle objects, and taste items.
The design and placement of the tongue support the movement and function of the beak. The tongue also contains a bone connected to five dexterous parts.
The tongue is muscled and articulated, giving parrots control over it so they can grasp and manipulate objects or food.
It’s made up of cartilage, which creates a hyoid apparatus and holds the tongue in place. It gives the muscle prehensile ability and lets parrots replicate complicated sounds.
What Does A Parrot’s Tongue Look Like?
A parrot’s tongue looks similar to ours as it’s fleshy, small, and can be pink or lightly colored.
Parrots can extend their tongues, appearing to be playfully mocking others. However, all similarities end there in form and function.
Parrots’ tongues have the following characteristics:
- Long enough to extend out of the beak
Some species have tongues adapted for different feeding methods, such as lorikeets. They possess a brush or bristle-like appendage at the tip of the tongue.
This is used to collect pollen from flowers, a valuable source of nutrition in the wild. However, they can use this unique feature for many other purposes.
Parrots’ tongues are Y-shaped, long, and end in an indentation.
According to Acta Biomater, this bone is called the paraglossal, giving the tongue its prehensile abilities, enabling parrots to grasp and hold onto things.
The paraglossal bone is one of 5 different bones in the tongue. Together, they comprise the Hyoid apparatus. The main purpose of this is to:
- Anchor the tongue
- Allow the tongue to expand and contract
Why Do Some Parrots Have Black Tongues?
Parrots’ tongues can be of various colors, such as black (most common), pink, or grey.
Scientists have yet to figure out why different colors are necessary. Likewise, it’s unknown why the tongues are usually black. Even still, it’s believed there’s a correlation to beak color.
Some species have unique coloration, such as blue and gold hyacinths. So, it has a blue tongue with yellow spots. Likewise, the red and black palm cockatoo has a matching red and black tongue.
Once a parrot has a tongue color, it should maintain that color. If the tongue suddenly changes color, it may be infected. In particular, tongues that look white or yellow can be infected.
How Do Parrots’ Tongues Work?
These specialized muscular organs have evolved to complement and assist parrot physiology.
Why Do Parrots Move Their Tongue?
Parrots use their tongues to explore the world around them, using their tongues to:
They’ll also move the tongue to shape air and sound, enabling them to mimic speech and make other clicking sounds, especially those normally exclusive to mammals.
Why Are Parrots’ Tongues Dry?
You might notice that a parrot’s tongue is quite dry, especially near the tip. This allows parrots to hold small items or bits of food in place with their tongue.
As you inspect the tongue near the base and back of the throat, it might be slightly moist. However, it’s never glistening with saliva.
Parrots only produce saliva in limited quantities, so you shouldn’t find your parrot drooling. That’s because their salivary glands are located near the throat only.
After all, parrots swallow their food whole. They don’t chew, so it isn’t necessary to have saliva to moisten the inside of the beak.
The tongue itself pushes food back into the gullet. Here, a small amount of saliva lubricates the food and esophagus, enabling food to pass through the throat.
How Are Parrot Tongues Different?
Parrots’ tongues are connected by:
- Intrinsic muscles. These connect the multiple bones and cartilage within the hyoid, allowing the hyoid to move and shift to reshape the tongue.
- Extrinsic muscles. These connect the tongue to bones outside the hyoid, allowing it to move around.
Parrots are among a small number of creatures that possess these connectors. This combination of extrinsic and intrinsic muscles gives parrots control. They use them for the following:
- Move their tongues
- Hold onto food
- Move objects around
- Explore their environment
- Change tongue shapes to assist in mimicking speech
Parrots’ tongues are adapted to their feeding method. Since they don’t have teeth, they don’t chew. Once inside the mouth, the tongue acts as a manipulator arm.
It pushes food to the back of the throat, where some salivary glands are located. Since this food is always whole, the parrot needs extra dexterity to move the food around to fit properly.
Likewise, parrots don’t have lips, so they can only keep food in their mouths by positioning their heads and using their nimble tongues.
Do All Parrots Have Tongues?
All parrots have tongues, but their use of these body parts differs.
The larger the parrot, the more adept it is at using its tongue. Cockatoos, African greys, and macaws are particularly skilled. They can use their tongues perfectly with their beaks to:
- Break apart thick objects
- Maneuver pieces inside the mouth
- Dig out hidden food
- Pick up and move items
Meanwhile, you won’t see small parrots, such as budgies (parakeets), using their tongues so diversely. This body part is intended to guide food into the mouth rather than move around external objects.
Do All Parrots Have A Bone In Their Tongue?
All parrots have a bone in their tongue, connecting five other bones that assist the tongue. Together, they’re known as the hyoid apparatus.
The hyoid is what:
- Holds the tongue in place
- Gives it maneuverability
- Provides control
The five bones are called the following:
This last one is split into a Y-shape. It allows parrots to grasp things with the tip of their tongue. This hyoid apparatus will adapt to each parrot’s specific environment and feeding method.
Therefore, they’re structurally the same across all bird species but have different aspects that custom-tune it to each species. Likewise, each tongue will vary in size and shape based on the kind of beak.
Parrot Tongue Hole
If you look inside your parrot’s beak, you’ll see an opening at the back near the base of the tongue. It looks like a hole, but it isn’t an injury. It connects to several other pieces, but from the inside, you’re looking at the glottis.
The glottis is a cavity located at the base of the tongue. It sits just at the top of the larynx (not to be confused with the syrinx, which allows a parrot to speak). The glottis forms part of the respiratory system.
In humans, the glottis is covered by the epiglottis, a leaf-shaped flap covering the windpipe. This covering opens when we take a breath and closes when we make a swallowing motion. That, of course, prevents food from entering our airways while also protecting us from accidental aspiration.
Parrots don’t have an epiglottis, so the glottis is always open. Therefore, it’ll look like an orifice. Parrots may accidentally choke while drinking water when startled or trying to talk while eating.
The glottis is meant to be open at all times for parrots, even during sleep.
Why Is My Parrot Clicking Its Tongue?
Parrots are expressive animals, and their behavior usually reflects how they feel. When parrots feel happy, content, or excited, they commonly make clicking sounds, which is a random, fun noise.
In the wild, parrots adapt to sounds they enjoy. They may pick up songs from other parrots or mimic calls from flock members. Parrots learn different words and sounds to fit in and entertain, which is why a parrot may suddenly mimic an alarm clock, coughing sound, or laugh.
While those sounds require time to learn, clicking doesn’t. Even young chicks might begin clicking. This exercises their tongues, distracts them, and enables them to play with others.
It does vary from parrot to parrot. Depending on the species, the sounds can be intended as threatening, so check their body language. If it doesn’t seem scared or aggressive, it’s just bored or passing time.
Can A Parrot Injure Its Tongue?
The beak may guard a parrot’s tongue, but it can still get injured.
This is liable to happen in everyday activities or from unforeseen accidents. Care must be taken in any case. Tongues are exceedingly vascular, so they’ll bleed profusely following any laceration.
Parrots use their sense of taste and touch to navigate the world around them. Unfortunately, this means a parrot may cut itself during these mundane activities.
That might include chewing on something sharp, like:
- A broken toy
- A button
- Metal, such as with a zipper lining
Cuts may occur from territorial bouts with other flock members, especially among larger, more aggressive birds, like cockatoos.
Cockatoos have been known to cause injuries to other parrots while biting. Wounds may permanently maim smaller parrots, rendering them unable to feed themselves.
Can A Parrot Get A Tongue Infection?
Tongues are vulnerable to infection, and even problems that appear insignificant can escalate. A small abrasion or laceration on the tongue can become infected.
Foreign bodies account for many tongue infections. A dirty, rusty cage is a serious hazard if the parrot passes its tongue over the bars. Even a splinter of wood broken off a toy can become embedded in the tongue.
According to the University Clinic for Companion Animals, hypovitaminosis (a vitamin A deficiency) can increase mucous build-up. It may also cause white plaque to appear around the base of the tongue.
This, in turn, will become infected and could cause severe irritation and swelling of the tongue. That can be averted by providing a balanced diet.
Infections may also result from exposure to bacteria and parasites.
The most common infections are:
This disease comes from the parasite trichomonas gallinae and is caused by drinking water from infected sources. It results in a severe build-up of white plaque on or around the base of the tongue (canker).
Canker build-up can escalate into severe respiratory complications. This illness has a high infection and mortality rate. Flocks infected with canker need to be inspected closely. If the infection is rampant, culling may be necessary.
This disease can affect a wide range of organs, including the tongue. The diphtheritic form targets the oral cavity, and symptoms show as plaque on the tongue.
Companion parrots are unlikely to contract poxvirus, but all birds are at risk. This virus is insect-borne, with mosquitoes being a common carrier of poxvirus.
Swollen Tongue Due To Infection
A swollen tongue is likely a painful health risk to parrots as there’s a high risk of blocking the airways, leading to respiratory complications. A swollen tongue leads to:
- Behavioral changes, such as hostility and irritation
- An inability to feed or preen feathers
A bite from another parrot could tear the tongue or break one of its internal bones, leading to inflammation. A broken paraglossal limits the range of motion of the tongue.
It inhibits the parrot’s ability to grasp food or drink water. If the bone isn’t broken, a hard bite may still cause osteomyelitis (a severe bone infection.)
Parrots have tongues that enable them to speak like humans, navigate their world, and remain in good health. While they vary between species, each is uniquely suited to enable them to thrive.