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Modern forms

Many families have expanded from the original order over the millions of years but modern parrots, can be divided into three families; Cacatuidae, Loriidae and Psittacidae. Due to the age of this order and the expansive geological processes that have separated the lineages, there are considerable genetic differences between the three families of birds. The modern living families are speculated to have separated during the later stages of Gondwanaland division from the after the Late Cretaceous 65 to 50 million years ago. Previous studies using mitochondrial DNA agrees with this hypothesis and have especially highlighted the large span of time that separates Australian birds from African and South American parrots. However the true placement of parrot groups such as Cacatuidae and Loriidae within Psittacidae is still controversial and requires much further research.



Native to only Australasia (located behind the Wallace line) and consisting of 22 species. There are major differences between Cacatuidae and other species of parrot, for example lack dyck texture in their feathers which in other parrots provides blue and green colours. Feather produced dusting also occurs in this family but is unknown as present the purpose for this. and the possession of a gall bladder. Use a crest for communicative purposes. Much of the avian fossil remains in Australia are to say at the very least, sketchy, the oldest known fossil of this family is Early to Middle Miocene.  However there is strong evidence of this family originating within Australia from biogeographical evidence. The cockatoo family has the longest known period for raising young, sometimes it takes over 4-9 years for a cockatoo to leave its parents, which corresponds with sexual maturity.


Black winged lorikeetThese birds have a wide dispersal encompassing all tropical and subtropical regions and comprise of over 10 genera and over  60 separate species. The lorikeets family Loriidae shall be classified as a separate group from Psittacidae, purely for a easier grouping system, although it is acknowledged the speculation behind such classification. Mainly fruit and nector eaters, these birds are thought to have diverged extensively over the Holocene epoch. 


Image of Amazona farinosa/ Mealy AmazonThe largest of the parrot families, often referred to as true parrots. Comprising of over 60 genera and at least 300 species. Inhabiting vast spans of area including the Southern Europe, North and South America, Australia, Asia and the Caribbean. African Greys, Macaws and Rosellas are in this family but the main diversity occurs within the Amazona Genus, with over 35 species. Charateristics include multi coloured plumage and vocal talents. Very little scientific research  has been explored in this family regarding their evolutionary relationships.

Image- Terri Brittin

Author: Terri Brittin
Last updated 17/11/2006
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Website produced by students on the MSc Palaeobiology programme in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol for the academic year 2006 -7