One of the most incredible birds in the world is the Pesquet’s parrot otherwise known as the Psittrichas fulgidus, and the vulturine parrot because its head and beak look very similar to those of a vulture. Some have even called it the “Dracula Parrot” because of the red and black color, and because it does kind of look like a vampire if you use your imagination.
The bird is typically found in New Guinea’s cloud forests in the lower mountains and foothills. However, their beautiful feathers make them a target for poachers, and their numbers have been in rapid decline. The feathers of the Pesquet’s parrot are highly prized. This combined with high prices in aviculture has resulted in over hunting. Habitat loss also presents an ongoing problem. For these reasons, it is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Pesquet’s parrot is listed on Appendix II of CITES.
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Parrot or vulture? It’s the Vulturine Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), or Pesquet’s Parrot, whose featherless face is reminiscent of a vulture’s. What’s different, though, is that the parrot mainly eats figs, not carrion. Like in vultures, scientists think its bare face might be an adaptation to prevent bits from sticking to it when diving into a meal. This bird is native to forests in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Peter Tan
These birds often travel in pairs or small groups. The Pesquet’s Parrot is one of three parrots with bare, featherless faces. It is thought to have evolved this way to avoid feathers from becoming matted with the fruit pulp the parrot feeds on.
The Pesquet’s parrot is a large parrot with a total length of approximately 46 cm (18 in) and a weight of 680–800 g (24–28 oz). Its plumage is black, with greyish scaling to the chest, and a red belly, uppertail coverts and wing-panels. The adult male has a red spot behind the eye, which is not seen in the adult female. Compared to most other parrots it appears unusually small-headed, in part due to the bare black facial skin and the relatively long, hooked bill.
The Pesquet’s parrot is considered a highly specialized frugivore, which feeds almost entirely on a few species of figs. Flowers and nectar have also been reported. Researchers believe that the bare part of the head is an adaptation which developed to avoid feather-matting from sticky fruits. Little is known about its breeding habits in the wild.
New Guinea is a large island separated by a shallow sea from the rest of the Australian continent. It is the world’s second-largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 785,753 km2 (303,381 sq mi), and the largest wholly or partly within the Southern Hemisphere and Oceania.
New Guinea has an immense biodiversity, containing between 5 and 10 percent of the total species on the planet. This percentage is about the same amount as that found in the United States or Australia. A high percentage of New Guinea’s species are endemic, and thousands are still unknown to science: probably well over 200,000 species of insect, between 11,000 and 20,000 plant species, and over 650 resident bird species.
In the period from 1998 to 2008, conservationists identified 1,060 new species in New Guinea, including 218 plants, 43 reptiles, 12 mammals, 580 invertebrates, 134 amphibians, 2 birds and 71 fish. New Guinea has 578 species of breeding birds, of which 324 species are endemic.