Parrots are amazing creatures that impress us with their physical appearance, ability to talk, and the gift of seemingly being able to hear things without the obvious presence of ears. But parrots must have ears if they can hear what’s going on around them, right? The short answer is yes, parrots do have ears that help them with both hearing and balance. However, their ears are not present or structured in the same way that a mammal’s ears are. Here’s what you should know.
A Parrot’s Ears
Obviously, parrots do not have outer earlobes like humans and so many other animals do. In fact, it looks as though they have no ears at all! Instead, parrots and birds in general have a small funnel-shaped hole in their heads that is located right behind and just below each eye. These openings are covered by special feathers called auriculars for protection .
The inner parts of a parrot’s ear are different from ours. While we have a coiled inner ear structure (cochlea) and three bony elements (ossicles), a parrot’s inner ear consists of a relatively straight cochlea and just a single ossicle.
The length of the cochlea varies among parrot species, and generally, the longer the cochlea, the better and wider the range of the species’ hearing.
The hearing range of most birds is most sensitive between 1 kHz and 4 kHz, though interspecies variability exists. Birds, like humans, cannot hear hearing frequencies above 20 kHz (ultrasonic sounds); however, some birds can hear infrasonic sounds (<20 Hz).
Overall, the hearing ability of most parrots is roughly similar to that of humans. Birds, however, are notably more sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm changes and use these cues to identify other individual birds, even when they’re in a flock of thousands of birds.
In addition, parrots use different sounds, songs, or calls in different situations, and the ability to recognize these sounds lets other parrots know if the sound is indicative of a threat, a territorial call, or an indication of the presence of a resource (such as food).
Interestingly, isolated pockets of parrot populations of the same species have the ability to create sounds that are of a particular dialect, indicating that, in part, their vocalizations are based on learning from others and not entirely instinctive.
How a Parrot Understands Where Noises Are Coming From
For most animals, external ear lobes are responsible for guiding sounds into the ear canal so it can be determined where the sound is coming from. This structure works by absorbing, diffracting, and reflecting sounds to help a mammal figure out what a sound is and where it originated. Although parrots do not possess this hearing structure, they do have the ability to figure out where sounds come from.
A study completed in 2014 attempted to figure out how this is possible, with the help of crow, chicken, and duck subjects. Based on the results, it seems that a parrot’s head comes into play here. The theory is that in a parrot or another bird, the eardrum facing the origin of the sound that they hear processes the sound at one frequency, while the other eardrum processes the sound at a different frequency.
The difference in frequencies enables birds to determine whether the sound is coming from the left, right, above, or below. The parrot’s specially shaped head makes all this possible, as it’s responsible for the diffraction, reflection, and absorption of sound frequencies.
Another trick parrots that can fly use to know where a sound is coming from is by flying in circles and using the shift in sounds to figure out where the sound they’re interested in is coming from.
Finding Your Parrot’s Ears
You can find your parrot’s ears under their feathers, but it is important to look for them gently and to make sure their ear openings don’t remain unprotected for long periods. The feathers that cover their ears are essential in making sure that nothing irritates the ear openings and that a parrot can understand what they’re hearing and where the noise that they’re hearing comes from.
Gently push the feathers on the sides of your parrot’s head forward with your fingers, and you should be able to see the small ear openings right behind and below the eyes. Never use your fingers or other objects to touch the openings, as this can cause irritation or damage to the openings.
Unless you’re asked to observe your parrot’s ears by a veterinarian, there is generally no reason to manually locate them. If you suspect that your parrot has an issue with their ears, consult your veterinarian.
Can Parrots Hear Well?
Parrots can hear in ranges similar to humans. Though their hearing is less sensitive than that of humans, it is good enough to get the job done.
Can Parrots Hear Sound at All Volumes?
This depends on the sound and the frequencies. In general, parrots are less sensitive to a specific frequency or pitch than humans. Therefore, if you can hear a faint sound (assuming your hearing is normal and not impaired), then your parrot in the same location as you might not be able to hear it.
Excessively loud sounds should be avoided around parrots since, much like humans, this can progressively damage their hearing. Though some species of parrots might be able to regenerate their hearing potential, constant exposure to overly loud sounds will impede this process.
Does Household Noise Bother Parrots?
A parrot can get used to regular household noises, so it won’t bother them in the long term. However, sudden loud noises, arguments, and children’s horseplay can be a nuisance to them depending on their personalities. So, household noises can bother parrots, but they are not likely to unless the noises are unusual for the regular environment.
Do Parrots Like Listening to Music?
Parrots seem to enjoy listening to music, but the type of music that they like depends on their personal preferences. Some parrots tend to enjoy classical music, while others like pop, and some even like rock and roll. Pay attention to how your parrot responds to the different types of music that you play to determine what they enjoy the most and like the least.
Can Parrots Understand What Humans Say?
Parrots may be able to mimic words and noises that we humans say, but the ability to comprehend the meaning behind words isn’t shared by all species. Nonetheless, intelligence studies on parrots have revealed that some large parrot species can indeed speak with reason and thought, perform simple math, and understand what they’re saying.
Parrots do have ears, and they can hear what’s going on around them in their own way. However, they don’t have ear structures like we humans do, and they cannot hear all the frequency ranges as we can. Now that you understand how a parrot’s ears work, you can set realistic expectations about what your parrot is hearing and how they may react to the sounds that they hear.