Hawk-headed parrots are a part of the Psittacidae family, which includes about 350 living and extinct birds, such as macaws, budgies, cockatoos and parakeets. Members of the Psittacidae family have zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes point forward and two toes point back, giving them greater dexterity to move and hold food items. They also have tough, hooked bills, with the upper mandible attached to the skull and the lower mandible resting below. Extremely strong tongue muscles allow them to manipulate food in their mouths.
The hawk-headed parrot is a colorful bird. Its back, wings and tail are green, and its breast, belly, vent and base of its neck are covered with gray and red feathers, edged in blue. The underside of the tail feathers is black. The bird's forehead is a creamy white mixed with brown. When scared or excited, hawk-headed parrots can erect their nape feathers, forming a fan above their heads. This display plumage is unique among New World parrots.
Adults have yellow eyes, a gray bill and black feet, while juveniles have brown eyes and a light-colored bill. Hawk-headed parrots can most frequently be seen perching on high, bare branches displaying their long tails and colorful plumage. Males and females lack sexual dimorphism, meaning they appear identical.
Hawk-headed parrots are much smaller than other common Amazonian parrots. Birds in the Psittacidae family range in length from 4-40 inches (10-100 centimeters). The hawk-headed parrot is 12-14 inches (30-35 centimeters) long and weighs up to 10.5 ounces (300 grams).
Hawk-headed parrots produce a unique range of vocalizations.
These parrots are intelligent and creative, with the ability to solve puzzles when foraging for their food. They eat guavas, Inga fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, buds and leaves.
At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, they eat pellets and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Keepers train the birds using small pieces of fruit and peanuts.
Hawk-headed parrots begin their mating season in December. From December to January, larger foraging flocks separate into nesting pairs. They are monogamous and often select life-long mating partners before they reach sexually maturity. In courtship, male hawk-headed parrots produce musical whistles and bugle-like sounds while flashing their head feathers and bobbing their heads. The female also raises her crest feathers, and both males and females weave their heads from side to side.
The nesting season takes place between January and March but varies by region and in some places extends to June. The female lays one to three medium-sized, white eggs in the nest cavity. Hawk-headed parrot parents often use the same nest cavity in an abandoned tree hole for years and may be seen resting in their nest hollow year-round.
The female rarely leaves the nest while incubating her eggs for about 26 days. During this time, the male cares for her. Chicks hatch blind and featherless with pink skin. At first, chicks are helpless. Both parents help feed and raise the young. Wild chicks fledge at 10-12 weeks old.
In human care, these birds have been known to live into their early 30s.
Hawk-headed parrots inhabit a huge range of the rainforest and can thrive in a variety of habitats. Projections show that these parrots and other birds in the Amazon region will lose about 24-31 percent of their current habitat to deforestation by 2040.
Hawk-headed parrots are also intelligent, highly-trainable and prized for their rare beauty, making them targets of the international exotic pet trade. However, they are aggressive, solitary and nervous birds. This makes them difficult to bond with, making them an unpopular bird with many amateur hobbyists. In Brazil, they are protected by law and cannot be caught or traded.
- Choose your pets wisely, and do your research before bringing an animal home. Exotic animals don’t always make great pets. Many require special care and live for a long time. Tropical reptiles and small mammals are often traded internationally and may be victims of the illegal pet trade. Never release animals that have been kept as pets into the wild.
- Support organizations like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute that research better ways to protect and care for this animal and other endangered species. Consider donating your time, money or goods.
- Share the story of this animal with others. Simply raising awareness about this species can contribute to its overall protection.