Parrots use the head as a limb

The New York Institute of Technology (NYITCOM) wanted to study one aspect of parrots. And that is that they have a particular way of extending their abilities. Parrots use their head as a limb. A third propulsive limb.

Parrots climb by extending their heads and grasping branches or other surfaces with their beaks. Research on their locomotor behavior is almost nonexistent. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Parrots use the head as a limb.
Parrots use the head as a limb.

Experiments were conducted in which parrots climbed a vertical track from zero to 90 degrees. A small force plate mounted on the back of the track measured the force generated by the beak. Also, from the hind legs and tail.

The parrots’ beaks first made contact with the track when climbing at a 45-degree angle. Climbing at 90-degree angles, they generated forces comparable to those produced by the hind legs.

In contrast, bird tails produced minimal forces. It serves as a support and not as an additional limb.

It was found that climbing vertically they use their heads in this way.
It was found that by climbing vertically they use their head in this way.

Student Melody Young is an author of the research. She says, “Parrots use the head as a limb. They are the only birds known to do that. This behavior seems to have required neuromuscular changes over time,” she said in a statement. “It represents an evolutionary novelty that, to our knowledge, has existed only in parrots.”

This project is the first step in a series of studies focusing on the locomotor behavior of parrots. Parrots are an ancient arboreal (tree-dwelling) lineage. There are anatomical and behavioral parallels to living primates. Over the next few years, the team and lab will be working toward that end. They seek to understand the anatomical and neuromuscular underpinnings of the parrots’ unusual locomotor behaviors. They hope to develop bio-inspired robotic systems that simulate this movement.

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