Even in captivity, parrots are always on the lookout for danger. Your parrot may appear skittish and easily scared of sudden movements or noises, perceiving these as potential threats.
Parrots are prey animals that encounter predators that want to kill and eat adult parrots and their chicks.
Natural predators of parrots are hawks, owls, eagles, bats, snakes, big cats, and monkeys. Parrots are also hunted by introduced predators, such as feral cats, rats, and sugar gliders.
Humans kill parrots for food, capture them for the pet trade, and reduce their numbers for pest control.
To survive, parrots have developed ways to defend themselves. Their colorful plumage acts as camouflage, and they’re willing to bite predators with their sharp beaks.
Parrots can find safety in numbers with a flock’s assistance, appointing sentries to warn of danger. At the first sign of a threat, all parrots will be warned and immediately 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 are fearful of:
- Other birds: These include raptors and birds of prey.
- Big cats: They can climb trees and catch parrots with a well-timed jump.
- Primates: They share trees with parrots and may see them as a meal.
- Reptiles: They can scale trees or latch on to a parrot that lands on the ground.
- Rodents: These animals can harm chicks, eggs, and smaller adult parrots.
A parrot’s most dangerous predators are found in the sky. Parrots are exceptional fliers, able to soar over long distances. They can also take to the air with impressive speed. However, they don’t have the same maneuverability or speed as hawks and 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 parrots like macaws are less likely to be hunted.
Their 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:
- Climb up into trees and ambush them
- Snatch up parrots when they land for food or water
- Take parrots’ eggs or chicks from their nests
Predators That Eat Parrots
Predators that target adult parrots need size, speed, and 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 an impressive 16.7-inch wingspan. At top speed, certain parrots can even soar at 50 mph.
Any predator must be able to catch the parrot and fight it into submission. For this reason, adult parrots are less likely to fall victim to rats, bats, or snakes. Instead, they’re threatened by big cats, eagles or hawks, and monkeys.
What Eats Parrots’ Eggs?
Adult parrots not only have to protect themselves from predators but also their eggs. Many predators will target undefended nests or scare off the parents to gain access. Eggs will then be an easy source of protein and other nutrients. Even newly hatched chicks or juveniles will be a snack for smaller birds or mammals.
Parrots’ 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 get a meal.
However, parrots are protective of their young and monitor the nest almost 24/7. So, predators will do their utmost to scare off the parents through hissing, biting, or aggressive posture. If the adult parrot backs away, these smaller predators may eat parrots’ chicks and eggs.
What Predators Do Parrots Have?
All the above classes of predators pursue parrots. However, certain predators will hunt parrots more often, even making them a primary food source. Here are the main hunters of parrots in the wild:
Eagles are the most common bird of prey that kills parrots. Although many types of eagles have been documented to eat parrots, the primary hunters are:
- Black and white hawk eagles
- Harpy eagles
These hunters mainly seek out macaws. These eagles are fast, have powerful talons, and can strike with impressive force in the air.
The harpy eagle is one of the largest raptors, using its size to contend with any resistance its prey offers. According to Tropical Conservation Science, harpy eagles prey on 102 species, including hyacinth macaws.
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 the southwestern United States.
According to The Condor, the natural predators of thick-billed parrots are goshawks and red-tailed hawks. Despite being medium-sized, the thick-billed parrot can be taken down by their powerful talons.
Falcons are skilled at hunting small animals and birds. They possess intelligence, vision, and the ability to dive toward prey at break-neck speeds. This gives them a considerable 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 will avoid large parrots. However, they’ll 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 seeks out nests at night using its night vision to take away chicks and eggs.
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. The false vampire bat is nocturnal, whereas tropical parrots are diurnal. So, bats hunt parrots as they sleep and then carry their catch to their roost on their backs.
Big cats are good at hunting parrots due to their claws, ability to climb, and lightning-quick reflexes. While any big cat that shares a habitat with parrots may choose to eat them, the most common parrot hunters are:
They’ll eat small parrotlets or large macaws. Their superior bodyweight, dexterity, claws, and jaws make quick work of parrots. You may find them scaling trees to seek out parrots or catching parrots if they land on the ground.
However, even jaguars and ocelots can’t depend on macaws as a primary food source since they’re difficult to catch. Parrots will take to the air and get out of leaping range.
Monkeys are a less common predator. Even so, these primates will seek out and eat any parrots they can. As omnivores, they know that parrots are a good source of protein, fats, and other nutrients.
Monkeys have strong grips, are dexterous, and live in trees. This gives them better access to parrots. Their flexible nature also makes it easier for them to sneak up on parrots.
Snakes hunt parrots on occasion. Unlike birds of prey, snakes cannot attack parrots while they’re flying. Instead, they seek out parrots while they’re in trees.
Large snakes, such as pythons and boa constrictors, spend time above the ground. They can stealthily creep up behind a parrot while it’s resting on a branch. They’ll then strike with their powerful jaws, causing significant damage, and coil around the parrot. Once it’s captured, there’s no escape.
These powerful constrictors are large. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest snake exceeded 32 feet. This means that large parrots, like the macaw, are just as vulnerable as small parrotlets.
Humans are the main predators of parrots, even if we primarily capture them for trading. The pet trade, pest control, and poaching are the three biggest threats 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.
Humans kill parrots because they’re seen as pests, raiding crops in areas that rely on agriculture. For example, the burrowing parrot is classified as an agricultural pest in Argentina. Measures have been taken to cull their population:
- Shooting parrots
- Poisoning nests
- Setting out poisonous bait
- Destroying roosting trees
- Destroying nesting habitats
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. 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 brought 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
Feral cats and rats are a significant danger to the Puerto Rican parrot. It’s one of the ten most endangered birds in the world. According to Ecological Economics, the wild population consists of only 30-40 parrots.
They already have some natural predators, such as red-tailed hawks and pearly-eyed thrashers. However, they’re currently endangered due to the introduction of predators such as:
- Black rats (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 significant numbers. However, when ships from the Old World came to New Zealand, they brought cats with them. The adult kakapos were more susceptible to predation by feral cats because they weren’t well-adapted to dealing with cats.
Kakapos’ natural response to predators is to freeze when startled. This enables them to 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 easy to find when they freeze.
In 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 four islands off the coast of New Zealand that don’t have any cats. Here, the adults were surviving, but new chicks weren’t so lucky.
It’s suspected that the chicks were dying because of starvation or predation by Polynesian rats. Currently, Kakapos are monitored and protected by conservationists. The adult population increased to 209 in 2020.
The sugar glider 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 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 traits to enable them to survive, including:
- Primary Defenses: These are adaptations in an animal’s appearance or behavior that decrease the likelihood of a predator noticing the animal in the first place.
- Secondary Defenses: Should they be noticed, these mechanisms enable the parrot escape safely.
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, reflects the sun’s light on very sunny days. This can obscure the parrot from view while flying.
Homogeneity is when all the animals in a group look virtually the same. Parrots flock in groups of the same species, so they all have similar colors, plumage, size, and shape.
Homogeneity is a primary defense. While feeding on the ground or clay licks, parrots ensure that predators can’t see 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 large flock of parrots because it looks like foliage instead.
Perching in Treetops
Perching high up prevents them from falling prey to non-flying predators on the ground. Their high vantage point will keep them out of sight and less noticeable than other small prey.
By remaining in groups, parrots are 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’ll need to select another target. By that time, all of the parrots may have escaped.
Parrots have sentries with distinctive calls. So, they can alert the entire flock when a predator is spotted. The flock can then fly away. This confuses and startles predators, giving parrots more time to flee.
For parrots, flight is the best form of defense. They can quickly take off into the air, getting out of reach and escaping to safety. Parrots won’t hesitate to fly away at the earliest sign of danger.
Their tendency to stay in flocks is beneficial. The parrot sentinels will keep watch and alert the others whenever they spot a predator. This is a signal for the entire group to fly away.
Parrots are frightened easily. They’re hardwired to react to any sudden movement or noise because this could save their lives. After all, predators use ambush tactics since this is the best way to capture and eat parrots.
A parrot’s last line of defense is to bite. Parrots have powerful beaks, with macaws able to bite clean through bone. However, parrots only bite if they’re cornered and know their life is in grave danger.
Parrots aren’t designed to defend themselves by fighting. If the situation has gone that badly that parrots need to fight rather than fly away, 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 is reduced. Parrots are known to live up to 80 years in captivity. However, wild parrots will have shorter lives.
From the stress alone, parrots may have 10 or 20 years shaved off their lifespan. If they’re vulnerable to predators due to illness or injury, they may die within days following an incident.