Last Updated on: 27th September 2023, 08:27 am
Parrots go through the same development stages regardless of their species and lifespan. The shorter the species’ average life, the faster it progresses through the phases.
As parrots hatch from eggs, their life cycle begins as an embryo. If the embryo survives, the eggs will hatch. Hatchlings have no feathers, can’t open their eyes, or eat solid food.
Hatchlings grow into chicks (nestlings) when they become slightly more independent. Nestlings mature into fledglings, meaning they grow feathers and learn to fly.
Following the fledgling stage, a parrot will become a juvenile. This eventually leads to the bluffing phase, where elevated hormone levels temporarily lead to aggressive and unpredictable behavior.
Most of a parrot’s life is spent as an adult. Older parrots don’t display signs of cognitive decline but will exercise less, sleep more, and recover from illnesses and injuries slower.
Critical Stages of Parrot Growth and Development
All parrots have species-specific average lifespans, reaching landmark development stages at different ages. For example, budgies develop faster than conures, which develop faster than macaws.
Once a bird has hatched, milestones in a parrot’s development include:
- Opening the eyes and gaining independence.
- Transitioning from soft to solid food.
- Growing feathers.
- Learning to fly.
- Sexual maturity.
Smaller parrots grow feathers within a month, while larger species take 3 to 4 months.
The age at which parrots start flying depends on the growth rate of their feathers. A bird requires primary and secondary feathers to take to the air and control the direction of travel.
The age of sexual maturity varies significantly. A lovebird, parakeet, or cockatiel enters adolescence within a year, while it could take up to 7 years for an African grey or macaw.
What Is The Life Cycle of a Parrot?
Here are the stages of growth and development in parrots:
Parrots don’t give birth to live young because they’re oviparous animals (lay eggs).
If a female parrot successfully breeds with a male, she’ll lay a clutch of fertile eggs. The eggs have embryos, which must survive the gestation period to hatch.
The eggs of a parrot could take anywhere from 18 to 28 days to hatch.
The larger the parrot, the longer the incubation period. Embryos are vulnerable during the different egg development stages, so not all eggs will survive and grow into hatchlings.
According to Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, parrots’ embryos need oxygen inside an egg. The shell contains thousands of microscopic spores that allow access to air.
Early in the embryo’s development, it grows an allantois, a sac that fuses to a membrane called the chorion. Together, these create the chorioallantoic membrane, which attaches to the rim of the inner shell.
This enables the embryo to breathe, taking in oxygen through the spores. As the embryos develop and the hatching date approaches, ensure the eggs receive sufficient oxygen.
Apply small quantities of heated water to the eggs, ideally using an atomizer, to maintain an appropriate humidity level (about 55%).
Once a parrot’s beak has developed inside the egg, it should be strong enough to peck its way out and hatch. It may take 24 hours or longer for a parrot to hatch.
Parrots are altricial, meaning they’re born blind, deaf, and bald.
Neonates are dependent on their mothers for survival. If a parrot doesn’t look after her young, you must fulfill this role. As they lack feathers, temperature regulation is essential.
Until hatchling parrots develop pin feathers, consider housing them in a nesting box and applying a heating lamp. A stable temperature of around 90OF will be required, dropping closer to 65–68OF as the hatchling grows and develops.
Humidity is also important, so keep this between 50–70%. Different hatchlings will need varying humidity – cockatoos prefer lower humidity, while macaws like the air to be moist.
Hatchlings can’t eat solid foods, meaning the mother will feed her young through regurgitation. If you’re responsible for feeding the hatchlings, use a syringe to provide moistened food every 2–3 hours.
The hatchling will gain weight daily, so you can steadily reduce the frequency of feeding sessions.
Once hatchlings are more independent, they’ll become nestlings (chicks). In the wild, parrots’ chicks remain with their parents in the nest because they can’t yet fly, hence the term “nestling.”
Nestlings haven’t yet grown feathers. They may have a few tufts covering different parts of the body, but they’ll still need help staying warm. The chick’s eyes will open after about 2 weeks, and the young parrot will become more explorative.
Over several weeks, parrots’ chicks will wean, growing less reliant on hand-feeding or regurgitation from their parents. While a chick won’t be ready to go out alone, it’s evolving into a young bird.
This means the fledgling has grown feathers and is ready to learn how to fly. This usually occurs after 3 weeks for a small parrot and 3 months for a large bird.
Parrots’ feathers start as pin feathers (blood feathers). These resemble thin tubes that protrude from a parrot’s skin. Pin feathers are pink, containing blood, with a white keratin coating for protection.
Avoid touching pin feathers as they’re tender and easily broken.
Young parrots can be moody and nippy, while the pin feathers grow as they cause discomfort. Think of the process as being akin to teething in a mammal.
After a few days, the keratin casing on the pin feathers will break away, with primary and secondary feathers sprouting in their place. These are the feathers a parrot needs for flight.
A fledgling parrot will also have more leg strength, displaying independence and curiosity. A parrot may start climbing the bars of its cage, utilizing its beak (called beaking).
Wildlife Management monitored the behavior of 68 wild lilac-crowned parrots over 7 years, discovering that 73% of these birds survived to juvenile status.
Wild parrots are most at risk of death and serious injury within the first 5 weeks of fledgling.
If you’re considering clipping a parrot’s wings, the fledgling stage is the right time. Let the bird learn to fly, then undertake the clipping. If you clip the wings too soon, it may never discover how to fly.
A bird’s primary and secondary feathers will regrow, and if a parrot fails to master flight at an early age, it may be clumsy and uncoordinated as an adult.
The juvenile stage of parrots’ development arrives when the bird has fledged and learned how to fly but has yet to enter adolescence. Many owners consider this a fun time in the parrot’s life.
Juvenile parrots have feathers that may not be the same colors as in adulthood. Often, a juvenile parrot’s feathers will be duller than an adult’s.
How long the juvenile stage lasts depends upon the bird. Small parrots won’t be juveniles for longer than a few months. A larger parrot may remain a juvenile for several years.
The juvenile stage is the ideal time to embrace education and training in parrots.
The bird may be excitable and easily distracted, but its brain will be more receptive to new information. This is the right time to teach a parrot how to talk and new tricks.
Adolescence is among the most challenging periods in a parrot’s development.
This is often called the “bluffing phase” in a bird’s life and should be considered avian puberty. A parrot will experience a hormonal surge affecting its behavior and demeanor.
When a parrot is bluffing, it’ll likely act with hostility when you approach.
You’ll likely be left wondering what happened to your sweet and affectionate bird, while the parrot will also be dealing with a range of hormones it can’t control.
The bluffing stage commences in the first 12 months of the parrot’s life and will pass within months.
The majority of a parrot’s life will be spent as an adult. Parrots are considered adults upon reaching sexual maturity. Expect a parrot to reach adulthood around 10% into its life.
This table outlines the average lifespan of popular captive parrots:
|Budgies and lovebirds||10 – 15 years|
|Cockatiels||15 – 25 years|
|Conures and parrotlets||20 – 30 years|
|Pionus and Eclectus parrots||20 – 50 years|
|Cockatoos||40 – 70 years|
|Macaws, African grays, and Senegal parrots||Over 50 years|
Using this logic, a budgie or lovebird will be an adult within a year of hatching, while a macaw, Amazon, or African grey may take several years to reach adulthood.
Adult parrots can be trained, but you should have mastered the basics while the bird is still young. Habits developed while a parrot is a juvenile will be carried into adulthood.
Adult parrots relish routine, attention, and interaction with their owners. A bird should be established as part of the family by this point and must exercise for several hours outside the cage.
As the Journal of Evolutionary Biology explains, parrots age slower than mammals due to their accelerated metabolic rate. The opinion is divided on when a parrot is considered senior or geriatric.
No evidence has been recorded on parrots developing diseases like Alzheimer’s, so a bird’s cognitive faculties should remain consistent into the parrot’s twilight years.
You may find that a parrot becomes less active as it ages, exercising less and sleeping longer.
As organic keratin production slows, it’ll also take a parrot longer to replace lost feathers as it ages. Parrots are fertile and capable of reproduction throughout their lives, but continuing beyond a certain point can have health consequences.
Parrots develop at different rates, depending on the species, but they all have the same life phases.