Parrot Tongue Anatomy, Function & Facts (With Pictures)

Side view and close up beautiful pet parrot showing its parrot tongue

Have you ever wondered what is so unique about the parrot tongue and its anatomy that it can mimic human speech, unlike other birds that are only able to make chirping sounds?

Parrots are popular for being able to mimic the words we say. It is the syrinx in parrots’ tongues that enables them to make sounds similar to those produced by humans.

Furthermore, they also use their tongues to handle objects and taste and put food into their throat.

In this guide, we will talk about everything you need to know about the parrot tongue’s anatomy, its functions, and other fun facts about this amazing part of the parrot’s body.

Do All Parrots Have Tongues?

Green parrot showing its tongue with another parrot

All parrots have tongues; however, they use them differently depending on the parrot’s size.

In general, smaller parrots mainly use their tongue to guide food into their mouth, while larger ones use it in several other ways.

For instance, cockatoos such as the umbrella cockatoo, macaws, and African grays use their tongue together with their beaks in several ways, such as searching for food, selecting and moving objects, and breaking apart thick or heavy objects.

Meanwhile, smaller parrots such as cockatiels, budgies, and parakeets do not use their tongues the way larger parrots do. This body part is only intended to guide food into their mouth.

4 Interesting Facts About Parrot Tongue

Close up of parrot tongue with blur background

While the parrot’s tongue is popular for being linked to the parrot’s ability to make human sounds, there are actually more interesting facts to know about this small body part of parrots.

1. A parrot’s tongue has only about 350 taste buds 

Like humans, parrots are also able to taste their food. However, they only have about 350 taste buds compared to humans, who have about 10,000 taste buds. Hence, humans can distinguish several tastes, unlike parrots.

Though they have a less developed sense of taste, parrots can distinguish sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. They are also able to avoid poisonous foods with their taste buds.

2. A parrot’s tongue can be of various colors

Unknown to many, a parrot’s tongue can come in various colors, including pink, grey, and black, which is the most common color. It is believed that their tongue color correlates with their beak color.

Some kinds of parrots may also have a distinctive tongue color. For instance, the tongue of a red and black palm cockatoo is also red and black.

It is very important to remember that a parrot’s tongue color does not change. However, if it does, have your bird checked with a veterinarian, as it could be because of an infection.

3. Lorikeets have the strangest tongue in the parrot world

Lorikeet is a type of parrot that is native to Australia. Due to their diet, these species have evolved a long and flexible tongue with a brush-like tip.

This strange tongue structure helps them have access to flower nectars, pollen, and soft foods like fruits.

4. Parrots are the only bird species with intrinsic tongue muscles

While all birds’ tongues have bones and cartilage, only parrots have muscular tongues. This is among the distinctive features of a parrot tongue that makes it unique.

The other bird tongue types include grooved tongues, sticky tongues, piston tongues, nectarine tongues, and lingual nails.

Truly, there is so much more fascinating about a parrot’s tongue than its unique skill of aiding this bird to imitate sounds.

Parrot Tongue Anatomy

Parrot tongue anatomy

Understanding a parrot’s tongue anatomy is the first step in knowing how their tongue works and how they can make sounds that other birds are not able to do.

What Does a Parrot’s Tongue Look Like?

A parrot’s tongue is generally small, fleshy, and often pink in color or delicately pigmented. It can be similar to a human’s tongue. 

However, the parrot’s tongue is thick, y-shaped, and long enough to extend out of the beak.

Several parrots, such as lorikeets, lories, and swift parrots, possess a brush or bristle-like tongue tip. This is because they have a different feeding method as compared to the other parrot species.

What Is the Parrot Tongue Made Of?

While a human tongue is made of muscle tissues, a parrot’s tongue, on the other hand, is made of a series of bones called the epibranchial, ceratobranchial, urohyal, basihyal, and paraglossal.

These bones, often referred to as the hyoid apparatus, hold the tongue in place and allow it to move around and be controlled.

Do Parrots Have Holes in Their Tongues?

Yes, parrots have a hole in their tongue. It is located at the back, near the base of their tongues.

Although this may look like an injury, this hole is actually the opening to the larynx and trachea, also known as the glottis.

The glottis is located at the base of the tongue, right above the larynx. Unlike humans, a parrot’s glottis is always open, which makes it look like a hole.

It is also for this reason that parrots are prone to accidentally choking while they drink water when startled or if they are trying to talk while they are eating.

Having an understanding of the anatomy of a parrot’s tongue makes us appreciate the complexity of its structure and how it gives us the fun companionship of these lovable companions.

Parrot Tongue Function

Parrot tongue function

A parrot’s tongue is a very important body part since it plays a fundamental role in many functions.

The tongue also compensates for the absence of other important organs like the teeth, which are not found in birds.

What Does the Parrot Tongue Do?

A parrot’s tongue has the same function as that of a human tongue, which includes tasting and licking. However, they also use their tongue to touch, test, and manipulate objects.

Additionally, they also use their tongue to funnel food into the throat and handle objects. Aside from these usual functions, their tongue also enables them to mimic words.

Do Parrots Use Their Tongues to Talk?

Parrots do not mainly use their tongues to talk, as they have a voice box organ called the syrinx.

The two sides of the syrinx can vibrate independently, which enables them to imitate pitch, volume, and human accents completely.

This syrinx is located right where the trachea or windpipe meets the lungs, and it also has vocal folds, just like our larynxes do.

However, studies show that parrots use their tongue to adjust sound and that the smallest movement of the tongue significantly changes the quality or modulation of the sound they produce.

Why Do Parrots Talk?

Due to the sociable nature of parrots, experts believe that parrots mimic human speech because they want to fit in.

That said, when parrots are in the wild, they make bird sounds. While in human company, we hear parrots make human sounds in an effort to follow what the humans are doing.

Why Do Parrots Move Their Tongues?

Parrots move their tongue around mainly to learn more about their surroundings. Likewise, they use it to lick, touch, test, and break objects and foods given to them.

Parrots also move their tongues to escape the heat. Birds will turn to gular fluttering when they are overheated.

This is when they open their mouths and move the muscles in their necks. This action is similar to a dog panting.

Why Do Parrots Click Their Tongue?

When you notice a parrot’s tongue clicking, it could indicate that the parrot is either happy, excited, contented, or looking for attention.

The sound is similar to when humans click their tongues on the roof of their mouths.

Note, however, that not all types of parrots click their tongue. Cockatoos and cockatiels are mostly known for tongue-clicking.

Do Parrots Taste With Their Tongue?

No, parrots do not taste with their tongue. While it is true that parrots have taste buds and can taste food, their taste buds are located at the back of their tongue, which means they must swallow before they can taste.

It is also important to note that parrots only have about 350 taste buds, which means they may not have a very well-developed sense of taste.

Like humans, a parrot’s tongue is a vital organ. Without this, they are unable to do different tasks and may not even be able to eat and live.

To help you appreciate the amazing functionality of the parrot’s tongue, watch this video:

Lorikeets: Nature's Weirdest Tongue in Slow Motion | Earth Unplugged

Frequently Asked Questions

Beautiful parrot with tongue out isolated on white background

Why Are Parrots’ Tongues Barbed?

Some Parrots have barbed tongues that resemble spikes. These barbed tongues aid them in eating seeds, securing a grip on foods, and communicating.

Why Are Parrots’ Tongues Dry?

A parrot’s tongue appears to be quite dry, especially at the tip, since the salivary glands that provide moisture content are located at the back of the parrot’s mouth.

The dryness in a parrot’s tongue helps parrots in holding small items or food in place with their tongue.

Are Parrot Tongues Wet?

A parrot’s tongue is not wet. It is actually dry, especially at the tip, because the salivary glands are located at the back of its mouth.

However, if you inspect a parrot’s tongue at the back of its throat, you will find it moist.

Do You Have to Cut the Parrot’s Tongue?

You must not cut a parrot’s tongue for whatever reason, especially to make them talk. This is contrary to myths that for birds to learn to talk, you need to split their tongue first.

Cutting a parrot’s tongue may injure it, which may require medical help later on.

Can a Parrot Injure Its Tongue?

Parrots can injure its tongue even though its beak protects them from injuries. Most parrots’ tongue injuries occur from unforeseeable events or common activities.

Some of the most common incidents parrots cut its tongue is when they chew something pointed like a faulty toy or metal.

That is why it is very important that owners practice caution and look after their parrots.

Note that a parrot’s tongue has extreme vascularity, which means it will extensively bleed when cut. This is why it is crucial that you immediately stop the bleeding or seek veterinary help when this happens.

Final Thoughts

Parrots are indeed a one-of-a-kind bird species. With their wits and brightly colored feathers, which make them very attractive, it is only understandable why many pet lovers want to home one of these birds.

However, beyond their popularity, colors, and wits, what makes parrots even more special is their uncanny ability to mimic human speech. This is one of the things that makes them unique from other bird specie.

Understanding parrots, their anatomy, and why they have this special ability is very important, especially for pet lovers. It helps us to appreciate these birds and build our relationship with them more.

Are you also amazed about the anatomy and functions of parrots’ tongues? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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