Like the other captive birds pictured in this article, this Alexandrine parakeet has an ID ring on its leg.

Staying One Step Ahead

CITES faces other challenges to protecting parrots. Most captive‑born chicks have an ID ring. It is placed on their legs. Some traders have figured out how to put these rings on wild birds. So, we can’t tell the difference.

How do we stay one step ahead of the criminals? Scientists are working on a test. It would help determine if a bird is wild or not. A breeder, pet buyer, or airport inspector could take a blood or skin sample from a bird. It would show where the bird came from. Another test could examine chemicals in parrot feathers. It would show what a parrot eats and where it comes from.

There has been some progress. The Puerto Rican parrot, once down to 13, now numbers in the hundreds— thanks to captive‑breeding programs.

Conservationists say that people need to understand the risks to these birds. They are worth protecting.

green‑cheeked conures

What can you do to help?


Think twice before buying a bird.

Do your research and make sure this is the right kind of pet for you. Are you prepared to be responsible for it?


If you already have a pet bird, give it a good life.

Offer regular exercise and play with your parrot. Feed it fresh fruits and vegetables. Schedule regular checkups with your vet.


Support groups helping birds, like these:

• World Parrot Trust
• Parrots International
• Wild Bird Trust
• BirdLife International


Learn more about captive birds and wildlife trafficking.

Start here:


Spread the word.

red fan parrot

Alex, the African Gray

Irene Pepperberg is a scientist who studies the way animals learn. In 1976, she bought an African gray parrot and named him Alex. She wanted to teach him a few words.

She did not know that Alex would be her pet for more than 30 years. She did not know that, together, she and Alex would change the world’s thinking about parrots. Alex’s vocabulary grew to more than 100 English words. He also created new words of his own!

Alex could describe objects, shapes, and colors. He could do simple math. And he understood concepts such as none, same/ different, and bigger/smaller.

Alex proved to the world that “birdbrains” are pretty bright after all.