Karnataka is home to five species of parrots of which four are parakeets. Parakeets have long, distinctly pointed tail feathers, whereas parrots have shorter tail feathers that are wider at the base and squared off. They also have more rounded heads but share the parrot family’s vibrant plumage. In short, all parakeets are parrots but all parrots are not parakeets.
Parakeets are small-sized, seed-eating parrots with long tapered tails that occur worldwide and are particularly abundant in the Indian subcontinent. The parakeets found in Karnataka belong to the family Psittaculidae and are grouped under the genus Psittacula. The only parrot species found in Karnataka, the Vernal Hanging Parrot, belongs to the same family but is placed in the genus Loriculus.
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
A leafy-green bird, the Rose-ringed Parakeet is the most commonly found parrot in the country. This pale green parakeet is one of the most familiar birds of India, and is as much at home in the countryside as in towns and villages. It has a short, heavy, deeply-hooked red bill, and a long blue-green tail. The male has a rose-pink ring around the neck, which merges with a black chin stripe. They are often seen near farms in large, noisy flocks that can be very destructive of the crops and fruit they feed on. They will also gather at railway stations and goods sheds, waiting to bite into sacks of grain and groundnuts. Its flight is swift and direct, with rapid wing beats. Its call is a loud, sharp screaming, keeak, keaak, keaak which it utters both at rest and on the wing. They nest in tree holes, holes in big buildings and old forts. A clutch usually has 3-4 pale white eggs.
Malabar Parakeet or Blue-winged Parakeet (Psittacula columboides)
Throughout the Western Ghats of India, of which Karnataka accounts for a large share. A harsh call followed by a flying streak of blue heralds the arrival of the Blue-winged or Malabar Parakeet. It is a handsome bird with a long yellow-tipped tail. Males have a red beak while in females it is black. The blue colour of the wings and tail are more prominent in males when compared to females. The Malabar Parakeet is endemic to peninsular India. They are primarily found in moist forests and associated habitats. These birds nest between January and March. The nest is usually a hole made by other birds such as woodpeckers or barbets in a tree trunk. A clutch usually consists of four eggs. Usually found in groups of 4-5 birds in forest clearings or secondary jungles, they feed on grain, fruits, flowers and nectar. Flocks move rapidly through the canopy uttering a harsh kek-kek-kek call.
Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)
The medium-sized parrot known as the Alexandrine Parakeet was given that name in honour of Alexander the Great, who brought many birds from Punjab to other European and Mediterranean nations and places where the aristocracy, nobles, and warlords treasured them. The bird is a vivid shade of green, red, and pink. A pink collar with a black stripe is also present on the back of the neck of male Alexandrine Parakeets. A red shoulder patch is also disctinct in this species. The absence of the neck collar and stripe gives juvenile Alexandrine Parakeets the appearance of the female. Their call is a deep, powerful screeching sound. Breeding is between November and April. The nest is usually a tree cavity; sometimes they may nest in buildings. The Alexandrine Parakeet lays between 2 and 4 eggs, which are incubated for approximately 24 days. There are several different habitats where the Alexandrine Parakeet can be found, including mangroves, dry and wet forests, cultivated areas, urban parks and deserts. It can be found up to an elevation of about 900 meters. Bangalore has a population of Alexandrine Parakeets and they can be heard flying over houses and apartment buildings thanks to their loud screeching call. These birds are normally found in small flocks, but larger groups may congregate where food is in abundance or in communal roosts at dusk like the Rose-ringed cousin.
Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala)
The gorgeous Plum-headed Parakeet is a slender bird with a bright bluish-red or plum-coloured head, a black-and-bluish-green collar and a maroon-red patch on its shoulder. This is an endemic species, restricted to the Indian subcontinent. The female’s head is grey and the collar is yellow. The broad white tips of its narrow blue central tail feathers can be seen during its swift arrow-like flight. This bird prefers light forests, well-wooded areas, as well as cultivated land, and roosts in large noisy flocks. It feeds on grains of all kinds, buds, fleshy petals and the nectar of flowers of trees like the Red Silk Cotton and Flame of the Forest. Breeding chiefly in December-January to April, nests are similar to those of other parakeets. Several pairs often nest in a loose colony in the same or adjacent tree trunks. The birds generally excavate the nest hole in a rotten tree stem or branch at moderate heights from the ground. Plum-headed Parakeets are usually seen in small parties, but the birds will sometimes collect in immense flocks and commit serious depredations on ripening crops, especially in cultivation close to forests. Their flight is very swift and flocks on the wing turn and twist their way through the branches of forest trees with astonishing agility.
Vernal Hanging Parrot or Indian Lorikeet (Loriculus vernalis)
The Vernal Hanging Parrot, also known as the Indian Lorikeet, is mainly found in the southwestern parts of India where it occupies forest and shrubland. This tiny green bird is usually found in pairs and can be seen in leafy fruiting and flowering trees where its small size and colour merge with the foliage. The bird is a resident breeder in the Indian subcontinent and some other areas of Southeast Asia. It undergoes local movements, driven mainly by the availability of the fruit, seeds, buds and blossoms that make up its diet. This is a small, mainly green, hanging parrot, only 14 cm long with a short tail. The adult male has a bright red rump and bill, and a blue throat patch. The female has a green patch. The Vernal Hanging Parrot nests in tree holes, laying 2-4 white eggs. The bird is less gregarious than some of its relatives and is usually in small groups outside the breeding season. Its flight is swift and direct, and the call consists of three sharp whistles uttered in quick succession.