Monday, October 4, 2010

Orange-chinned Parakeets

Today a closer look at a small tropical psittacid, the personable, cheerful, yes downright boisterous Orange-chinned Parakeet. This bird is common in tropical dry forest and heavily degraded habitats - towns, cities - from western Mexico all the way through Pacific Slope Central America to Colombia and Venezuela. It's certainly common throughout the city of San Salvador, and I often see them in the yard outside my building.

And that's where these photos were taken today.

Like many other species in the genus Brotogeris, Orange-chinned Parakeets (Brotogeris jugularis) are popular in the pet trade. Researching them a little, I came across an internet site on which captive-bred individuals of this species were offered for $350 a piece, and were recommended for making excellent companion birds.

Sadly, down here in El Salvador, where most people see wild parrots fly around every day, the general public also think of them primarily as cage birds. Two species are very common and easily seen, at least in San Salvador: this one, and the Pacific (or Green) Parakeet, which is considerably larger. I wrote about a Pacific Parakeet roost in Antiguo Cuscatlán, one of the larger neighborhoods here in San Salvador, back in June. I've been thinking to revisit that roost, because lately I've noticed much higher numbers of Pacific Parakeets flying toward it at dusk than in June. Sometimes one can find a few similar-sized Red-throated Parakeets among the thousands of Pacific Parakeets visiting that roost. These small Orange-chinned Parakeets do not sleep there; they have smaller roosts all over town.

All ages and sexes look similar, so there's no way of knowing if this particular bird is a male or female, young bird or adult.

Only from certain angles is the orange chin visible.

Since they have been popular as pets for such a long time, their behavior has been relatively well studied. For example, an utterly charming science paper from 1938 describes "left-handedness in parrots" (Friedmann & Davis 1938). Yes, parrots apparently are - like me - for the most part 'left-handed'; that is, they tend to pick up food items with their left foot. The two authors tested twenty individuals representing fifteen different species, and studied how these twenty birds grabbed food items presented to them in a zoo - for each individual twenty times! For the group as a whole, they found a 72.2% score of 'left-handedness'. However, all three participant Orange-chinned Parakeets had a score of 100% - that is, twenty out of twenty times that each of them picked up a food item, they used their left foot!

The two birds in the photos here did not need to pick up anything with their feet. They fed by just bending over and cracking seed after seed with their powerful bills. However, knowing about this 'left-handedness' thing now, I'll definitely look at psittacids differently from now on.

Cited literature:
Friedmann, H. and Davis, M. 1938 "Left-handedness" in Parrots. The Auk, Vol 55: 478-480.

No comments: