Home » What Bones Do Parrots Have? [Skeletal System Explained]
parrot skeleton anatomy

What Bones Do Parrots Have? [Skeletal System Explained]

(Last Updated On: October 19, 2022)

Evolution has meant that the parrots’ skeletal systems have adapted to allow them to survive.

Parrots are vertebrates with 13 to 25 bones, depending on their species. They have fewer bones than mammals because their bodies need to be sufficiently streamlined to lift off and take flight. Many of their bones are fused to ensure they’re strong, robust, and lightweight.

Parrots’ bones are similar to ours in many ways, but they have additional adaptations that suit their specific requirements, allowing them to thrive as a species.

Parrot Skeleton System

A parrot’s skeleton is similar to ours, as it contains similar bones. However, parrots’ bones are shaped differently to meet their day-to-day survival needs.

Parrots need a light musculoskeletal system to stay in the air for long periods.

The main components of a parrot’s skeleton are as follows:

Skull

A parrot has a large skull that consists of the following four bones:

  • Frontal: Top of the head.
  • Parietal: Back of the head.
  • Premaxillary and nasal: Upper beak.
  • Mandible: Lower beak.

The skull usually weighs just 1% of a parrot’s total body weight, as parrots don’t have heavy jaws, jaw muscles, or teeth like mammals..

While their beaks look heavy, they’re made from keratin, a relatively lightweight material.

A ring of tiny bones surrounding the eyes is called the sclerotic eye-ring, which is a characteristic that parrots share with reptiles.

Parrots can move their upper beaks independently of their skull. This is known as cranial kinesis, allowing them to crack open and eat awkwardly-shaped items like shelled nuts.

However, this is thought to be due to the skull’s design rather than an adaptive evolutionary feature.

how many bones do parrots have?

Neck

Parrots have ten cervical vertebrae in their neck, allowing them to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. They have more neck bones than most animals, keeping them stable while taking off, flying, and landing.

Compared to the rigidness of the body, parrots’ necks are mobile because they must be able to see dangers from all angles. Parrots also use their flexible necks to preen hard-to-reach feathers.

Unlike other vertebrates, parrots have fused collarbones and keeled breastbones. The breastbone is the primary attachment site for the flight muscles, providing strength and allowing flight.

Ribs

The rib bones connect the parrot’s back via the sternum. Each rib is connected to the adjoining rib by a smaller bone, which acts as a hooked extension, overlapping the ribs to strengthen the entire system.

Together, this is called the uncinate process, which is exclusive to birds and provides additional support. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology explain that this is integral to the mechanics of ventilation.

Backbone

Parrots are vertebrates. Similar to the neck, parrots have more bones in their spine than other animals, and many of them are fused so that they can’t bend. The skeletal system also protects vital organs.

The vertebral column consists of five sections, including:

  • Cervical. The neck.
  • Trunk. This is usually fused to the notarium on the shoulder, which braces the chest against any force the wings generate.
  • Synsacrum. This vertebra is located on the back and is fused to the pelvis.
  • Caudal. This enables parrots to control the movement of their feathers while flying.
  • Pygostyle. This is the short tail section that supports the tail feathers.

Their skeletons are lighter than their plumage to ensure parrots remain in the air while flying.

Wings

A parrot’s wing structure is similar to a human’s arm and hand. The wings allow parrots to fly, giving them lift. The forelimbs consist of the following:

  • Shoulder, including the humerus.
  • Forearm, including the ulna and radius.
  • Hand, including the finger bones.

When it comes to fingers, the first and fifth are missing, while the second finger is fused to the third. Similarly, the phalanges of the third and fourth digits are connected to the primary flight feathers.

Legs

Parrots have similar leg bones to us. The main bones consist of the following:

  • Femur. This is the thigh bone.
  • Fibula. This is a long, thin bone in the lower leg.
  • Tibiotarsus (tibia). This is a large bone between the femur and the tibiotarsus.
  • Tarsometatarsus (tarsus). This bone is found exclusively in the lower legs of birds and is formed due to the fusion of several other bones. 

The knee bone is called the patella, sitting above the cnemial crest, which is a crest-like ridge at the front of the head of the tibia.

The ankle bone is often mistaken for the knee as it sits relatively high on the leg.

Feet

Parrots have zygodactyl feet, meaning that they have four toes. Two toes face backward, and two toes face forward.

The Royal Society Publishing explains how parrots have relative phalanx lengths. A single, distally inserted tendon operates them on each toe.

The hallux, or big toe, has two phalanges. Phalanges are the parts between joints, much like toe segments. Also, the first digit has a metatarsal.

The second digit has three phalanges, while the third has four phalanges. Digit four has five phalanges. Then, each digit has a further phalange consisting of the claw.

Parrots’ unique feet allow them to:

  • Clamp their toes around branches and perches, holding them in place.
  • Use their feet like hands, holding onto things.
  • Climb trees vertically, anchoring them onto surfaces to prevent falls.
  • Remain in place for long periods without tiring.

Parrots’ feet bones are some of the strongest in their body as they hold them upright when sleeping.

Do Parrots Have Strong Bones?

As described by Science Daily, parrots’ bones are hollow and lightweight to offset the high energy expenditure needed for flying.

However, while they look delicate, parrots’ bones weigh just as much as mammals’ bones because their bones are dense, making them strong.

Parrots’ bones have undergone several evolutionary weight-saving adaptations, making them better suited for flying. Adaptations include:

  • High bone density.
  • A reduction in the number of bones.
  • The fusion of certain bones.
  • Changes in bone shape.

Bone tissue also contributes to bone strength and stiffness, which is supported by large muscles that can handle the heavy weight of the bones.

Parrots’ bones have internal struts that crisscross, adding strength while allowing parrots to absorb more oxygen in the air through their highly efficient respiratory system.

However, their bones shatter and splinter when they break. This usually results in death in the wild because the parrot can’t flee from larger predators.

Do Parrots Have A Bone In Their Tongue?

A parrot’s tongue is thick, fleshy, and lightly colored.

While some species have different tongues suited to their feeding methods, all tongues are similar in that they have five bones, collectively known as the hyoid apparatus. These bones are as follows:

  • Basihyal
  • Ceratobranchial
  • Epibranchial
  • Paraglossal
  • Urohyal

The hyoid apparatus is responsible for the following tongue functions:

  • Grasping and holding onto things.
  • Keeping the tongue anchored in place.
  • Expanding and contracting the tongue.
  • Making the tongue rigid and flexible.

According to Acta Biomater, the paraglossal is a forked bone, which causes the tongue to be Y-shaped, long, and indented at the end.

More specifically, the bone enables parrots to anchor their tongue and keep food in position.

Parrots use their tongues to manipulate their food, putting it into the right position for swallowing. So, the tongue has similar functionality to a human finger.

What Are Common Parrot Bone Problems?

Because parrots’ bones are strong and hollow, they cause problems when they break or fracture. Also, if parrots lack vitamins and minerals, they’re more prone to bone-related diseases.

Here are the common problems parrots have with their bones:

Fractures

MSD Veterinary Manual explains that birds experience fractures and are prone to joint dislocations. Some bones are part of the bird’s respiratory system, so they carry air, making fractures difficult to treat.

Parrots’ bones contain calcium, which can lead to multiple fractures in one area if a bone breaks.

Fractures are becoming easier to treat due to medical advancements. Parrots’ bones heal quickly, so sometimes stabilization is all that’s needed for healing.

For more severe breaks, parrots need surgery or implanted supports.

do parrots have strong bones?

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a painful inflammatory condition likened to arthritis.

A primary or secondary bacterial infection commonly causes osteomyelitis due to issues elsewhere. Similarly, bacteria can get in through open wounds.

The symptoms of osteomyelitis include the following:

  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Localized bone pain
  • Anorexia because of the pain
  • Hot, swollen skin
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Reduced movement of the affected body part

Parrots need antibiotics to prevent bacteria from entering the bloodstream.

If it does, osteomyelitis becomes life-threatening. Unfortunately, when osteomyelitis is coupled with bone breaks or fractures, the bones have more difficulty healing.

Calcium Deficiency

While not a bone disorder, calcium deficiencies adversely affect the bones, causing them to become brittle. Parrots are prone to calcium deficiencies, which they lack in their diet.

Parrots need calcium for the following reasons:

  • Hypocalcemia (calcium deficiency disease)
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as feather mutilation
  • Healthy and strong eggshells
  • Muscle pain prevention
  • Balance and coordination
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Lower cholesterol

African grey parrots are most likely to have a calcium deficiency.

Rickets

Rickets occurs due to a calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous deficiency.

The signs of rickets include the following:

  • Resting while squatting
  • Lameness
  • Poor growth
  • Soft bones and beak
  • Weight loss

Parrots can’t walk and stand once the condition advances.

Calcium-rich foods and exposure to sunshine for vitamin D3 synthesis are essential.