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what does a parrot’s tongue look like?

Parrot Tongue Anatomy And Function Explained!

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

The design and placement of the tongue support the movement and function of the beak.

The tongue contains a bone connected to 5 dexterous parts. The tongue is muscled and articulated, allowing parrots to 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 allows parrots to replicate complicated sounds.

What Parrots’ Tongues Look Like

A parrot’s tongue looks similar to ours because it’s fleshy, small, and can be pink or light-colored.

Parrots can extend their tongues, appearing to be playfully mocking others. However, all similarities end there in form and function.

General Appearance

Parrots’ tongues have the following characteristics:

  • Thick.
  • Fleshy.
  • Y-shaped.
  • Long enough to extend from the beak.

Some species, like lorikeets, have tongues adapted for different feeding methods. 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 other purposes.

Shape

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 1 of 5 different bones in the tongue. Together, they comprise the Hyoid apparatus. The primary purpose of this is to:

  • Anchor the tongue.
  • Allow the tongue to expand and contract.
what color are parrots’ tongues?

Why Some Parrots Have Black Tongues

Parrots’ tongues can have various colors, like black (most common), pink, or grey.

Scientists have yet to figure out why different colors are necessary. Likewise, it’s unknown why tongues are usually black. Even still, it’s believed there’s a correlation with beak color.

Some species have unique colors, like blue and gold hyacinths. They have blue tongues 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 shouldn’t change unless it has a health problem. If it suddenly changes color to white or yellow, the tongue could be infected.

How Parrots’ Tongues Work

These specialized muscular organs have evolved to complement and assist parrot physiology.

Why Parrots Move Their Tongues

Parrots use their tongues to explore the world around them, using their tongues to:

  • Lick.
  • Touch.
  • Test.
  • Taste.
  • Manipulate.

They’ll also move the tongue to shape air and sound, enabling them to mimic human speech and make other clicking sounds, especially those ordinarily exclusive to mammals.

Why Parrots’ Tongues Are Dry

You may 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 the parrot drooling. That’s because their salivary glands are located near the throat only.

Parrots swallow food whole. They don’t chew, so saliva isn’t needed to moisten the inside of the beak.

The tongue pushes food back into the gullet, and saliva lubricates the food and esophagus, allowing it to pass through the throat.

How Parrots’ Tongues Differ

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 animals that possess these connectors. This combination of extrinsic and intrinsic muscles gives parrots control. They use them for:

  • Moving their tongues.
  • Holding onto food.
  • Moving objects around.
  • Exploring their environment.
  • Changing the tongue’s shape assists in mimicking human language.

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 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.

All Parrots Have Tongues

The larger the parrot, the more adept it is at using its tongue. Cockatoos, African grays, and macaws are exceptionally skilled, using their tongues with their beaks to:

  • Break apart thick objects.
  • Maneuver pieces inside the mouth.
  • Dig out hidden food.
  • Pick up and move items.

Meanwhile, small parrots, like budgies, don’t use their tongues so diversely. This body part is intended to guide food into the mouth rather than move around external objects.

Parrots Have A Bone In Their Tongues

All parrots have a bone in their tongue, connecting 5 others 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 5 bones are called the following:

  • Epibranchial.
  • Ceratobranchial.
  • Urohyal.
  • Basihyal.
  • Paraglossal.

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 birds but have different features for each species. Also, each tongue will vary in size and shape based on the kind of beak.

Parrot Tongue Hole

Inside the 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 is 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 swallow. 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 looks like an orifice. Parrots may accidentally choke while drinking water when startled or trying to talk while eating.

The glottis is meant to always be open, even during sleep.

Why Parrots Click Their Tongues

Parrots are expressive animals, and their behavior usually reflects how they feel. When parrots feel happy, content, or excited, they make a clicking sound, which is a random and fun sound.

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 noises to fit in and entertain, so they may suddenly mimic an alarm clock, cough, or make a laughing sound.

While those sounds require time to learn, clicking doesn’t. Even young chicks might begin clicking, which exercises their tongues, distracts them, and enables them to play with others.

It varies from parrot to parrot. Depending on the species, the sounds can be intended as threatening, so check their body language. If it isn’t feeling scared or annoyed, it’s just bored or passing time.

Tongue Injuries

The beak may guard a parrot’s tongue but can still get injured.

This can happen in everyday activities or from unforeseen accidents. Care must be taken in any case. Tongues are vascular, so if there’s a laceration, they’ll bleed profusely.

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, like a zipper lining.

Cuts may occur from territorial conflicts with flock members, especially among larger, more aggressive birds like cockatoos.

Cockatoos can cause injuries to other parrots while biting. Wounds may permanently maim smaller parrots, rendering them unable to feed themselves.

parrot keeps sticking tongue out

Tongue Infections

Tongues are vulnerable to infection, and even insignificant problems can escalate. A small abrasion or laceration on the tongue can become infected.

Foreign bodies cause many tongue infections. A dirty, rusty cage is a hazard if the parrot passes its tongue over the bars. Even a splinter of wood broken off a toy can become embedded.

According to the University Clinic for Companion Animals, hypovitaminosis A (a vitamin A deficiency) can increase mucous buildup and cause white plaque around the base of the tongue.

This, in turn, will become infected and could cause severe irritation and swelling of the tongue. A balanced diet can prevent this problem.

Infections may also result from exposure to bacteria and parasites. The most common infections are:

Trichomoniasis

This disease comes from the parasite Trichomonas gallinae and is caused by drinking water from infected sources. It results in a severe buildup of white plaque on or around the base of the tongue (canker).

Canker buildup can escalate into severe respiratory complications. This illness has a high infection and mortality rate. Flocks infected with canker need to be inspected closely.

Poxvirus

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, and mosquitoes are a common carrier.

Swollen Tongue

A swollen tongue is a painful health risk to parrots because there’s a high risk of blocking the airways, leading to respiratory complications. A swollen tongue leads to:

  • Behavioral changes, like 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 bone limits the tongue’s range of motion.

It inhibits the parrot’s ability to grasp food or drink water. A hard bite may cause osteomyelitis (a severe bone infection) even if the bone isn’t broken.

Parrots have tongues that enable them to speak like humans, navigate their world, and remain healthy. While they vary between species, each is uniquely suited to allow them to thrive.