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parrot skeleton anatomy

What Bones Do Parrots Have? (Skeletal System + Anatomy)

(Last Updated On: April 22, 2023)

Parrots’ skeletons are similar to our own, containing similar bones. However, parrots’ bones are shaped differently to humans to meet their day-to-day survival needs.

How many bones do parrots have? Parrots are vertebrates with 13-25 bones, depending on their species.

They have fewer bones than mammals because their bodies must be streamlined to lift off and take flight. Many of their bones are fused to keep them strong yet lightweight.

Parrot Skeleton System

Parrots’ skeletal systems have adaptations because they need a light musculoskeletal system to remain airborne for extended periods. The main bones in a parrot’s skeleton are as follows:


A parrot has a comparatively large skull that consists of these 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 body weight, as parrots don’t have heavy jaws, jaw muscles, or teeth like mammals.

While their beaks look heavy, they’re made from relatively lightweight keratin (a type of protein).

A ring of tiny bones surrounding the eyes is called the sclerotic eye ring.

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

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

how many bones do parrots have?


Parrots have 10 cervical vertebrae in their neck, allowing them to turn their heads almost 180 degrees, enabling them to check for predators and threats.

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.


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 for added strength.

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.


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

The vertebral column consists of 5 sections, including the following:

  • 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.

Parrots’ skeletons are lighter than their plumage to ensure they can remain airborne.


A parrot’s wing structure resembles 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.


Parrots have similar leg bones to humans. 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. The patella 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 higher on the leg.


Parrots have zygodactyl feet, so they have 4 toes (2 feet facing backward and 2 feet facing 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 2 phalanges. Phalanges are the parts between joints, much like toe segments. Also, the first digit has a metatarsal.

The second digit has 3 phalanges, while the third has 4 phalanges. Digit 4 has 5 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 among the strongest in their body, holding them upright when sleeping.

Do Parrots Have Strong Bones?

As described by Science Daily, parrots’ bones are hollow (pneumatized) and lightweight to offset the high energy expenditure needed for flying. 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 5 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 certain vitamins and minerals, they’re more prone to bone-related diseases.

Here are the common problems parrots have with their bones:


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

Parrots’ bones contain calcium, leading to multiple fractures in one area if a bone breaks. For more severe breaks, parrots need surgery or implanted supports.

do parrots have strong bones?


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, the bones have more difficulty healing when osteomyelitis is combined with a break or fracture.

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 picking.
  • Healthy and strong eggshells.
  • Muscle pain prevention.
  • Balance and coordination.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Lower cholesterol.

Parrots must get enough dietary calcium, especially when molting or it’s the breeding season.


Rickets occurs due to calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous deficiencies.

The signs of rickets in parrots 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.