Yellow-crowned Parrot

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Gary R. Graves, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Graves had an early childhood fascination with birds that eventually led him to his role as curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.

Photo by Don Hurlburt, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Gary Graves is a research zoologist and curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where his research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolution of birds. His early childhood fascination with birds led to graduate studies at Louisiana State University and Florida State University: "I am unapologetically curious about natural history and the ways that natural history observations catalyze important ecological and evolutionary discoveries." His dissertation work focused on speciation of birds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He has also conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Polynesia, Canada, and in more than half the states in the USA. His current research efforts are split between the analysis of complex data sets based on the collective resources of the World's great museums and conducting field research in Jamaica, the great forests of the eastern USA, and in the Sonoran Desert.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Nanday Parakeet (Nandayus nenday) feeding on fruits
Courtesy of Shanthanu Bhardwaj, via Wikimedia Commons,


About Parrots (Order Psittaciformes): Feeding

Parrots have strong, curved bills that they use for feeding on seeds. The top part of the bill (upper mandible) is broad with ridged edges and tapers to a sharp point. The lower mandible fits snuggly into it and has cutting edges. Because the upper mandible is loosely hinged (rather than fused) to the skull, it is highly moveable. Working together, the mandibles make a formidable tool for cracking hard nutshells and removing the seeds. Besides seeds, parrots may eat fruits, insects, nectar, leaves, or pollen. Their fleshy tongue loaded with touch receptors helps them move food into and around their mouths. Some parrots have touch receptors lining their bills as well, giving them an unusual ability, among birds, to manipulate their food. Both their bills and their grasping toes allow parrots to climb around in the treetops and hang onto branches while feeding.