(TMU) — New Guinea’s cloud forests in the lower mountains and foothills is the natural habitat of Pesquet’s parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), also known as the vulturine parrot because its head and beak are similar to those of a vulture.
Unfortunately, the decline of the Pesquet’s parrot is mainly due to poaching for its beautiful bright red and dark grey feathers which are traditionally used for ceremonial dress. The bird is also killed for meat and captured for the cage bird trade. And habitat loss now has the species listed as vulnerable.
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Parrot or vulture? It’s the Vulturine Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), or Pesquet’s Parrot, whose featherless face is reminiscent of a vulture’s. What’s different, though, is that the parrot mainly eats figs, not carrion. Like in vultures, scientists think its bare face might be an adaptation to prevent bits from sticking to it when diving into a meal. This bird is native to forests in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Peter Tan
Called the Dracula parrot by some because its plumage resemble that of Count Dracula’s black attire and red silk lined cloak, although its call, described as a harsh and ‘’rasping growl’’ in flight, and a “drawn-out scream” mostly at night, may have added to the Dracula reference.
The vulturine parrot is large and heavy, measuring around 20 inches (49 cm) and weighing between of 21-28 oz (600-800 g). It has a short black tail, brown- black breast with grey scalloped feathers, bright red lower underparts and under-wing coverts, and greater and median wing coverts red. The black bill has a vulture’s shape and they eyes are a dark reddish brown. While the forepart of the head, around the eyes and beak, have no feathers, the neck feathers are bristled. Males have a red patch behind the eyes which appear to be the only distinction between the male and the female. A pair usually hatch two eggs per breading season.
They travel in pairs or small groups and glide more often than most parrots. Another difference from most other parrots who climb from branch to branch, the vulturine parrot jump instead and feed almost exclusively on pulped figs and mangoes. Researchers surmise their sticky, syrupy diet may be the reason for the loss of feathers around its eyes and beak which led to the Pesquet’s parrot to adapt to prevent feathers matting together, much as the as the vulture did by losing its head feathers from feeding on bloody carcasses.
Matt Cameron, an Australian parrot expert, seems to think it’s the perfect solution:
“If avoiding soiled and matted head feathers is a significant advantage to individuals, it is surprising that bald-headedness is not more widespread among the other fruit-eating parrots.”
Pesquet’s parrot is the only member of the Psittrichasinae subfamily of Indian Ocean island parrots and is only found in New Guinea, making it a unique “one of a kind” among the parrot species of the world.
There are three families in the true parrot superfamily Psittacoidea:
- The Psittacinae family of African parrots includes 11 known species, the most well know being the African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) found in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula.
- The Psittaculidae family of Asian and Australasian parrots and lovebirds has hundreds of members which includes lorikeets, budgerigars, and fig parrots.
- The Psittrichasiidae family is split into two subfamilies: the vasa parrots (Coracopsis), common to Madagascar and other islands in the western Indian Ocean and Psittrichasinae, of which Pesquet’s parrot is the only genus.
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