The Behavior of Parakeets

Sensory Capacities:
Organisms use their senses to perceive their environment and react to its conditions in a way that is most beneficial to the members of their species. But not all sense organs are equally developed in all creatures. Dogs, for instance, have much better noses than humans and hear sounds that are inaudible to us. Up to now, hardly any systematic research has been done on the sensory capacities of parakeets. However, just observing the behavior of parakeets gives us a good indication of which senses are most crucial to dealing with life in the wild.

Like most birds, parakeets see very well but differently from us. Some English scientists demonstrated as early as 1931 that birds see the world in colors. This is not surprising. Birds that are active during the day often have conspicuously colored plumage, and the colors can play an active role in social behavior only if they can be seen. Parakeets--again like many other birds-- have a much larger field of vision than humans. Since their eyes are on the sides of the head and register images independently of each other, birds see not only what is going on in front and on the sides but to a considerable extent also what is approaching from behind. This adaptation is important for creatures with little ability to defend themselves. It gives them a constant panoramic view of their surroundings without their having to turn their heads, and it helps them spot a potential enemy and escape.

But because its eyes are placed on the sides of the head a parakeet has a considerably smaller range of spatial vision--the area that both eyes take in at once--than humans do. On the other hand, a bird's eye can register up to 150 images per second compared to the human eye's limit of about sixteen. Instantaneous recognition of details is extremely important for fast-flying birds. Most birds have a very acute sense of hearing because calls and songs are a major form of avian communication. Parakeets hear sounds from 400 to probably about 20,000 Hz, although their hearing is best in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 Hz. Within this optimal range parakeets can distinguish minute differences in pitch. The human ear hears sounds from 16 to 20,000 Hz. Parakeets have a better memory for specific frequencies than we do. This is an important talent because certain calls, especially the shrill alarm cries, have to be sounded spontaneously and accurately if they are to be effective signals. Parakeets are also better than we are at analyzing acoustic signals. What sounds to us like amorphous shrieking is a clearly recognizable sequence of sounds that a bird can reproduce exactly.

Only in the case of a few species, we have some detailed knowledge of how well birds can smell and taste. As a general rule we assume that these senses are of minor importance to birds. Thus far there have been no conclusive studies about the parakeet's ability to smell and taste. All we have to go on is reports of individual parakeet keepers. Many bird owners let their pets taste human food, completely ignoring the warning that this habit is detrimental to the birds' health. These people like to tell stories of their pets' special preferences that would seem to indicate that parakeets do respond to taste. Perhaps the birds can tell the differences between bitter and salty and sweet and sour. We assume that almost all birds, including parakeets, lack a differentiated sense of smell. We know that many mammals define the borders of their territory by leaving scent marks and that they attract sexual partners with olfactory substances. Birds do neither.

Little is known about the sense of touch in parakeets. But it seems almost certain that this sense plays a central role in the female's brooding. With her "brood patches'' she can sense both embryonic movements and hatching activity. One sense that we are barely conscious of but that is of importance to birds is the sense of vibration. By means of specialized cells in the legs, the so-called Herbst corpusles or touch receptors, birds are able to perceive even the most minute vibrations of their perches. This is very important to survival because the ability to sense vibrations gives them warning of impending natural events or of an enemy's approach and serves as a cue for flight. Sensitive as all birds, including parakeets, are to vibrations, they can learn that not all vibrations signal danger. If, for instance, a branch is vibrating because of a light breeze, no bird will fly off. Wind, rain, and storms are familiar natural phenomena. Nevertheless vibration always creates some tension. Parakeets are especially sensitive to vibrations, responding with flight whenever possible. Make sure, therefore, that the permanent location of the cage be absolutely free of vibration. Never put the cage down thoughtlessly on a refrigerator, for instance, even for a few minutes. In its flight reaction the bird might seriously hurt itself.

Other behaviour & social apsects.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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