Hundreds of birds are chirping at Umgeni River Bird Park in Durban, South Africa. Listen. A blue‑fronted Amazon parrot is singing scales. That’s a skill it learned from its prior owner.

Many of the parrots in this zoo and breeding center are rescues. They were given up by people unprepared to take care of them. Parrots are needy birds. They are also long living. Some parrots can live to be 80 years old.

Parrots are social and intelligent. They can mimic human voices. They can create deep bonds with their owners. It’s no wonder that parrots are among the most popular pet birds on Earth.

Major Mitchell's cockatoo

Parrots at Risk

Parrots may be popular, but they face a lot of dangers. Deforestation and habitat loss are major threats. The human population takes up space and needs resources. Rain forest lands are cleared for building materials.

Warming trends can also change habitats. A changing climate can affect food sources. It can also disrupt breeding cycles. Also, pollution from acid rain can kill parrots and put their future at risk.

But the greatest risk of all is the demand for parrots as pets. Breeding programs raise parrots in captivity to sell as pets. But, many parrots are still taken illegally from the wild.

“In the U.S., if you go buy a parrot, the odds of it being captive bred are 99 percent,” says zoologist Donald Brightman. In Latin America, parrots are more likely taken from the wild.

This blue‑throated macaw is critically endangered.

Parrot Diversity

Parrot species live in ranges on five continents. The Amazon, New Guinea, andAustralia have the greatest variety.

North America

South America





Amazon Basin

New ​​​​​​​Guinea​​​​​​​

African gray parrot range

number of parrot species



Palm cockatoos, such as this one, only lay one egg every two years.

Parrot Popularity

One reason wild parrots end up as pets is the illegal wildlife trade. Crime groups have made billions of dollars trafficking animal parts. These include elephant tusks and rhino horns. Now they have added parrots to their list. Australian palm cockatoos have been known to fetch $30,000 each on the black market.

Today, all but three of the 350 parrot species qualify for protection. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, fights illegal wildlife trade. CITES is made up of 179 nations—all with the same goal in mind.

The illegal parrot trade is at its worst in Latin America and the Caribbean. Here, the laws can be difficult to enforce.

However, the most desirable species comes from Africa. It is called the African gray. This parrot is the best talker of them all. Over a million have been exported legally from the 18 countries where they live. Yet, hundreds of thousands more have been taken illegally from the rain forests of West and Central Africa.

African grayparrots

Laws banning bird trade have closed many markets, including the United States and Europe. Still, thousands of grays are exported to other regions.

In 2016, CITES made a controversial decision. It added the African gray to a special list of other animals threatened with extinction. To sell this bird abroad, breeders must prove to CITES that the bird was raised in captivity and not caught in the wild.

This Alexandrine parakeet looks like it is wearing a mask.