If you like to read fantasy you’re familiar with all the cross-breed monsters and animals fiction authors like to create. The Avatar: Last Airbender universe is especially well-known for all its hybrid animals – lion-turtles, penguin-seals, antelope-cats, and so on. Well, what if we told you about a real-life vulture-parrot that both looks amazing and is almost endangered?
Nicknamed “The Dracula parrot” this species’ actual name is Pesquet’s parrot. Its body resembles that of most other parrots and has bright red and black coloring. Its head, however, is mostly devoid of any feathers, exposing its dark skin which continues with ominous black feathers down the bird’s neck.
Almost as if it has come out of a Hayao Miyazaki film, the Dracula parrot actually lives in the cloudy forests of New Guinea. It’s a mid-sized parrot that measures ~18 inches when full-grown and spans almost a meter from beak to tail in flight.
Why does it look this way?
Most parrots are fully covered with colorful feathers so why does this vulture parrot have a naked head? Scientists aren’t 100% sure but the widely accepted explanation is that it’s to compliment the bird’s dietary habits.
See, the Dracula parrot doesn’t feed on the blood of Romanian virgins but on New Guinean figs. And because these fruits are a bit messy to eat, especially without a full set of teeth and a napkin, the parrot is believed to have evolved a feather-less head to be more hygienic. If the parrot had a full set of feathers on its head they would constantly get messy and need cleaning – with its full-shaven look, however, that’s not an issue.
The problem with this theory is that it’s not clear if a bit of messiness would have hurt Pesquet’s parrot’s survival chances that much. As we know, evolution doesn’t work by fully optimizing everything but simply be helping the individuals of a species to survive long enough to pass their genes.
Still, it is possible that a feathery head full of fig juice might have lowered the parrots’ chances of survival against raptor birds and snakes, hence why the theory stands as the most likely explanation for their naked heads.
Any other reasons for the “Dracula” moniker?
As a matter of fact – yes. In addition to their ominous look, the Dracula parrots also have a very terrifying call. As parrots.org describes it, the Pesquet’s parrot has a call that’s “harsh and rasping; also described as growling. Also drawn out scream given frequently in flight.”
With a screech like that and a clean, vulture-like head, it’s no surprise that people have dubbed this bird “the Dracula parrot.”
Not only are these vulture parrots nothing more than harmless fruit-eaters, however, they are also near-endangered.
According to the Red List, there are currently only between 20k and 49k adult parrots in the wild. That’s not too bad, compared to other species, however, the ongoing trend is of a rapid decrease.
The Red List outlines two main reasons for this steep decline in the bird’s population:
- Constant and unregulated hunting
- Deforestation and pushing out of habitat
It turns out that even though most people are initially freaked out by the Dracula parrot’s look, they still want to purchase its gorgeous red feathers. Together with deforestation and expanding urban zones, the parrot’s habitats are constantly shrinking.
“Hunting for feathers has increased with population growth. Current rates of decline due to hunting are uncertain but could be relatively minor, and the species appears secure in large areas of suitable habitat in central and western mainland Papua New Guinea, much of which occurs in rugged terrain in areas with a low human population density.”
It remains to be seen if human intervention will be required for the preservation of this unique species should they ever fall below the “endangered” line. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.