Even in captivity, parrots are always on the lookout for danger. Your parrot may appear skittish and easily scared of sudden movement or noises. That’s because parrots are prey animals. In the wild, many animals are prepared to eat both them and their young.
Predators that eat parrots include hawks, owls, eagles, bats, snakes, big cats, and monkeys. Raptors are the most common predator, followed by monkeys and big cats. Along with all of these natural predators, parrots have become endangered due to introduced predators. These include feral cats, rats, and sugar gliders. In some areas, humans are predators as well, killing them for food or pest control reasons.
To survive, parrots have developed very intelligent ways to defend themselves. Their colorful plumage works as camouflage, and they’re willing to bite, if necessary. With a flock’s help, parrots can find safety in numbers and appoint sentries to warn of danger. At the first sign of a threat, all parrots will take to the air.
What Type Of Animal Eats Parrots?
Since parrots are prey animals, they have many natural predators in the wild. When it comes to the animal kingdom, parrots need to fear:
- Other birds: These include raptors and birds of prey
- Big cats: These can climb trees or catch parrots with a well-timed jump
- Primates: These share the trees with parrots and may turn them into an opportunistic meal
- Reptiles: These can scale certain trees or prowl for any parrot that lands on the ground
- Rodents: Be they bats or the traditional rat, these animals can harm chicks, eggs, or even some adult parrots
A parrot’s most dangerous predator will always be in the sky. No matter what jungle they call home in the wild, they can fall victim to birds of prey and raptors of all kinds. Parrots are exceptional fliers, able to soar over long distances. They can also take to the air with impressive speed. However, they do not have the same maneuverability or speed as hawks or eagles.
The type of raptor that hunts parrots will depend on the size of the parrot. Smaller ones like parakeets and parrotlets are the most likely to fall prey to raptors. Meanwhile, larger ones like macaws are less likely to be hunted.
The ability to fly does give parrots an advantage over non-flying mammals. However, some still manage to catch them. Big cats, snakes, and monkeys can still:
- Catch parrots by surprise
- Climb up into trees and ambush them
- Snatch up parrots whenever they land for food or water
- Take parrot eggs or chicken from their nests
Predators That Eat Parrots
Predators that target adult parrots need to have the advantage of size, speed, or strength. After all, a macaw has a bite force of over 500-700 psi. Large parrots may be over 3 feet in length and boast of an impressive 16.7-inch wingspan. At top speed, certain parrots can even soar at 50 mph.
Any predator must be able to not only catch an adult parrot. It then needs to fight it into submission. Because of that, adult parrots are less likely to fall victim to rats, bats, or snakes, except on a rare occasion. Instead, they are threatened by big cats, eagles or hawks, and monkeys.
What Eats Parrots’ Eggs?
Adults not only have to protect themselves from predators, but also their eggs. Many predators will target undefended nests or try to scare off the parents to gain access. Once they have, the eggs will be an easy source of protein and other nutrients. Even newly hatched chicks or juveniles will be a snack that smaller birds or mammals can handle.
Because of that, parrot eggs and chicks are at greater risk from animals like snakes and rats. These nimble little creatures can sneak in undetected. If they’re lucky, the eggs will not be as closely guarded, and they can enjoy a quick meal.
However, parrots are highly protective of their young and spend time monitoring the nest almost 24/7. Because of that, a sneaky meal isn’t always possible. Instead, predators will work to scare off the parents through hissing, biting, or aggressive posture. If the adult parrot backs away, these smaller predators may snatch an egg or chick and be on their way.
What Predators Do Parrots Have?
All the above classes of predators will seek out a parrot for a meal. However, certain members will hunt parrots more often, even making them a primary food source. Let’s check out the hunters that keep parrot populations down in the wild:
Eagles are the most common bird of prey that hunts parrots. Although many types of eagles have been documented to eat them, the primary hunters are:
- Black-and-white hawk-eagles
- Harpy eagles
These hunters mainly seek out macaws. Both types of eagles are fast, have powerful talons, and can strike with impressive force in the air. They make quick work of parrots.
In fact, the harpy eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. It uses its impressive size to contend with any resistance its prey offers. According to Tropical Conservation Science, harpy eagles prey on 102 species, including hyacinth macaws and parakeets.
Hawks are another bird of prey that eats parrots. However, unlike eagles, they are more prone to hunting smaller parrots, like parakeets and parrotlets. They also favor the thick-billed parrot, which is green and red in coloring, found in Mexico and previously the southwestern United States.
According to The Condor, the natural predators of thick-billed parrots are goshawks and red-tailed hawks. Despite being medium in size, the thick-billed parrot can be taken down by their powerful talons.
Falcons are excellent at hunting small animals and birds in general. They possess great intelligence, incredible vision, and the ability to dive toward prey at break-neck speeds. This gives them an advantage against parrots.
According to Ecology, aplomado falcons are known to kill green-rumped parrotlets, as well as other parrots of a similar size. They can attack them in trees, or slam into them with deadly speed mid-air.
Owls are nocturnal and hunt small rodents, so they steer away from large parrots. However, they’re happy to eat parrot eggs and chicks.
The Puerto Rican screech-owl is a raptor found in the same forests as the Puerto Rican parrot. Since this owl is half its size, it’s not a major threat to adult parrots or the nests during the day. Instead, it takes advantage of nests at night, using its night vision to steal away chicks and eggs while the adults are at a disadvantage.
Some large bats hunt parrots, especially the false vampire bat. As the largest bat in the New World, it’s able to snatch up small parrots for a meal. The false vampire bat is nocturnal, whereas tropical parrots are diurnal. Because of that, the bat hunts parrots as they sleep and then carries its catch to its roost on its back.
Cats and birds don’t mix well, especially in the wild. Big cats make excellent hunters against parrots, thanks to their claws, ability to climb, and lightning-quick reflexes. While any big cat that shares a habitat with parrots may choose them as a meal, the most common hunters are:
They’re happy to snatch up small parrotlets or even giant macaws. Their superior bodyweight, dexterity, claws, and powerful jaws make quick work of the birds. You may even find them scaling trees to seek out a bird, or snatching up parrots if they land on the ground.
However, parrots are very cautious and know well to keep an eye out for big cats. Even jaguars and ocelots can’t depend on macaws as a primary food source, since they’re difficult to catch. Parrots will quickly take to the air and get out of leaping range. That makes any parrot meals opportunistic for big cats.
Like big cats, monkeys are a less common predator for parrots. Even still, these primates will seek out and eat any parrots they can. As omnivores, they use these birds as a great source of protein, fats, and other nutrients.
Monkeys have powerful grips, are very dexterous, and also call the trees their home. This gives them better access to parrots. Their limber nature also makes it easier for them to sneak up on parrots, without the limitations of big cats.
Nonetheless, most species of monkeys will prefer to seek out parrot nests. They can easily gain access, snatch up eggs and chicks, and be on their way. If they encounter resistance from the adults, the monkeys may scare off the defensive parents, depending on their size.
Snakes also hunt parrots, but only on occasion. Unlike birds of prey, snakes cannot attack parrots while they’re flying. Instead, they seek out the birds while they’re resting peacefully in the trees.
Large snakes, such as pythons and boa constrictors, spend time above the jungle floor. They can stealthily creep up behind a parrot while it’s resting on a branch. It will then strike with its powerful jaws, doing significant damage, and coil around the parrot. Once it’s captured, there’s no escape. The snake can then eat the bird at its leisure.
These powerful constrictors are large in size, able to stretch as long as 25 feet. This means that large parrots, like the macaw, are just as vulnerable as small parrotlets.
For a parrot, humans are the greatest predators, even if we primarily capture them for trading. The pet trade, pest control, and poaching are the three biggest threats that humans pose to this species. However, some people hunt them for food, such as the Machiguenga tribespeople at Rio Manu in Peru.
According to Acta Ethologica, the parrots of Rio Manu are well aware of the local residents as predators. During the study, researchers were more likely to be ignored by the parrots than the Machiguenga tribespeople. The locals hunt parrots for food, feathers, and the pet trade. This shows the parrots’ intelligence in their predator response. They can distinguish between humans who are likely a threat and those who may be harmless.
Aside from that, humans kill parrots because they are seen as pests, raiding crops in areas that rely on agriculture. For example, the burrowing parrot is officially classified as an agricultural pest in Argentina. Because of this, measures have been taken to cull their population, such as:
- Shooting them
- Poisoning their nests
- Setting out poisonous bait
- Destroying their roosting trees
- Destroying their nesting habitat
What New Predators Prey On Parrots?
Over time, parrots have adapted and evolved to avoid their natural predators. This has allowed them to sustain their species and continue to thrive. However, many types of parrots remain on the endangered species list. In fact, almost 50% of parrot species are endangered.
That’s because new predatory mammals have been introduced to their environment by humans. Parrots lack adaptations to deal with these new predators. As a result, they face extinction.
Feral Cats and Rats
Feral cats and rats are responsible for driving many parrot species to the brink of extinction. When ships from the Old World sailed to the native habitat of parrots in the New World, they carried cats and rats with them. This introduced invasive species into new environments.
Stealthy and dexterous, feral cats are better able to hunt down adult parrots. In contrast, intelligent and nimble, rats can snatch up eggs and chicks.
Puerto Rican Parrots
In particular, feral cats and rats are an incredible danger to the Puerto Rican parrot. It is now one of the 10 most endangered birds in the world. The wild population consists of only 30-40 parrots, according to Ecological Economics.
They already have some natural predators, such as red-tailed hawks and pearly-eyed thrashers. However, they are currently endangered due to the introduction of predators such as:
- Black rats (also known as ship rats)
- Feral cats
- Indian mongooses
Another parrot species devastated by feral cats is the kakapo. The kakapo is a unique, flightless, nocturnal parrot native to New Zealand. It is quite large and heavy, even bigger than a macaw, despite the latter being known as the world’s largest parrot. Instead, the kakapo is hailed as the world’s heaviest parrot.
The kakapo used to roam all over New Zealand in large numbers. However, when ships from the Old World came to New Zealand, they brought cats with them. The adult kakapos were especially susceptible to predation by feral cats, as they were not well-adapted to dealing with cats of any kind.
Kakapos’ natural response against predators is to freeze when startled. This helps them blend in with their environment, since their main predators are eagles, who hunt by sight. However, cats hunt by smell and kakapos have a natural musty-sweet odor. This makes them even easier to find when they freeze.
As of 2010, there were only 54 Kakapos left in the wild. According to Bird Conservation International, because they were severely hunted by feral cats, all the survivors were moved. They now live on 4 islands off the coast of New Zealand that don’t have any cats. Here, the adults were surviving, but new chicks were not so lucky.
It’s suspected that the chicks were dying because of either starvation or predation by Polynesian rats. Currently, Kakapos are monitored and protected by conservationists. The adult population has increased to 209 in 2020.
Aside from rats and feral cats, a new predator for these colorful birds is the sugar glider. This is a small possum native to mainland Australia. The sugar glider was introduced to Tasmania, an island south of mainland Australia. It was thought to be benign, but scientists have observed otherwise.
Sugar gliders have been hunting the swift parrot. This is an endangered Australian parrot that breeds in Tasmania in the summer. It then migrates to the Australian mainland to forage.
According to Biological Conservations, sugar gliders killed 50.9% of nesting female swift parrots while they were incubating eggs. Because of this, the swift parrot population is estimated to decline rapidly.
How Do Parrots Protect Themselves from Predators?
Since parrots are prey animals, they have developed many traits to help them survive. These are broken down into two categories:
- Primary Defenses: These are adaptations in an animal’s appearance and/or behavior that decrease the likelihood of a predator noticing the animal in the first place.
- Secondary Defenses: Should they be noticed, these mechanisms help the parrot escape safely and avoid a full fight with the predator.
Bright Colorful Plumage
Colorful plumage is used as camouflage, even when the colors are very bright. Green is one of the best colors for hiding in a forest. That’s why many parrots are green or have green highlights.
Other common colors, such as orange, yellow, and red, blend well in tropical forests. After all, plants, leaves, and fruit often brandish these colors themselves. Parrots native to rainforests, like macaws, cockatoos, and parakeets, are the most colorful birds to fit in with their environments.
The plumage of gray parrots, like African grays and rosy cockatoos, reflect the light of the sun on very sunny days. This can obscure the parrot from view while flying.
Homogeneity is when all the animals in a group look almost the same. Parrots flock in groups of the same species, so they all have similar:
Homogeneity is a primary defense. While feeding on the ground or on clay licks, parrots ensure that predators can’t spot and focus on one individual in a mass of uniform color.
This is especially effective against birds of prey. Raptors will fly overhead, looking down on the forest for prey. As they do, they may fail to notice the huge flock of parrots because it looks like foliage instead.
Perching High in the Treetops
Another primary defense is a parrot’s tendency to perch high up. This prevents them from falling prey to non-flying predators that hunt on the jungle floor. Their high vantage point will keep them out of sight and less noticeable than other small prey.
Compared to other animals and birds, parrots are very social. By remaining in groups, they’re better defended against predators.
Most predators choose only one creature to prey on before attacking, so they won’t lose any time. However, if the one they choose gets lost in the flock, they will have to choose another target. By that time, all of the parrots may have escaped.
Likewise, parrots have sentries who make distinctive calls. They can alert the entire flock when a predator is spotted. The flock can then fly away in droves, which serves as a means of escape. It confuses and even startles the predator, giving the birds more time to flee.
For a parrot, flight is the best defense there is. They can quickly bolt into the air, getting out of reach and escaping to safety. Parrots will not hesitate to fly at the nearest sign of danger. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Their tendency to stay in flocks can help with this. The parrot sentinels will keep watch and alert the others whenever they spot a predator. This is a signal for the entire group to quickly fly away.
Parrots, even those kept as pets, are frightened easily. They are wired to react to any sudden movement or noise, because this could save their lives. After all, predators are very fond of ambush tactics, since this is the best way to capture and eat parrots. Being overly cautious has helped the birds survive as a species.
A parrot’s last line of defense is to bite. Parrots have powerful beaks, with some types able to bite clean through bone. However, parrots only bite if they’re cornered and know their life is in danger.
Parrots aren’t built to defend themselves by fighting. If the situation has gone so badly that parrots need to ‘fight’ instead of ‘flight,’ their chances of survival are low.
How Long Do Parrots Live In The Wild?
When faced with so many predators, the lifespan of a parrot does get shorter. These birds are known to live up to 80 years in captivity. However, most wild parrots will only live for a couple of decades.
From the stress alone, parrots may have 10 or 20 years shaved off their ultimate lifespan. If they are vulnerable to predators because of illness or injury, they may die within a couple of days after any incident.