You might know what part of the world your parrot’s species is native to, but do you know what world category your pet bird belongs to? Parrots can be categorized according to Old World psittacines and New World psittacines. “Team New World” includes a familiar list of parrots that are also popular pet companions. If you share your life with a conure, Amazon parrot or macaw, welcome to the New World! If you come home to an African grey, cockatoo or cockatiel, you’re part of “Team Old World.”
Why Divide The World?
New World is a reference to the Western Hemisphere, namely the Americas, as well as some islands in Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The term “New World” is credited to Amerigo Vespucci, the 16th Century Florentine explorer, who just so happens to be the inspiration behind the name “America.” Vespucci explored the east coast of South America and discovered that South America was not part of Asia and extended a whole lot further than previously believed. Back in those days, the world was thought of as being made up of three continents — Africa, Asia and Europe. So this South American discovery really was like discovering a new world (at least for Europeans!). New World parrots include Amazons, conures, caiques, parrotlets, Pionus, quaker parakeets and macaws. Conversely, “Old World” generally refers to African, Asia and Europe. African grey parrots, lovebirds and cockatiels are examples of Old World species.
A World of Difference
New World parrots typically originate from rainforest type habitats, which means damp and temperate weather is the norm for them. (My un-scientific take away? If your Amazon, macaw or conure, has a hearty appetite perhaps it’s because his or her wild cousins have a smorgasbord of lush rain-forest foods to enjoy, and enjoy food they do!) Old World parrots, on the other hand, come from more arid habitats that are susceptible to drought-like conditions. (Unscientific take away: Perhaps this is why African greys and cockatoos are so good at puzzles; their wild counterparts have to “unlock” available food sources. Of course, all parrots are natural foragers but perhaps Old World parrots have to step it up a bit out of environmental necessity.)
Another interesting difference between New World and Old World is the fact that three of the more popular Old World parrots are also the dustiest. If you’ve ever shared space with an African grey, cockatoo and cockatiel you may be familiar with a layer of white dust left behind (which seems to be especially noticeable around any electronic devise within feather shakeout fallout distance!). These three Old World species produce a lot of powder down.
Interestingly, disease might affect New World and Old World parrots differently. For example, in her article on proventricular dilatation disease (PDD), Susan Orosz, Ph.D., DVM, Dipl. ABVP (Avian), Dipl. ECZM (avian) notes that PDD affects New World and Old World parrot species in different ways. According Orosz, the classical symptoms of PDD — depression, anorexia, loss of bod condition, regurgitation and passing undigested food in the feces are symptoms most commonly found in New World species, such as Amazons, macaws, conures, Pionus and parrotlets. However, with Old World species, such as African greys, cockatiels, cockatoos and Ecelctus, an PDD-infected bird often has symptoms of ataxia, which looks like the bird is having a seizure. Orosz suggests that a different part of the brain is affected in Old World birds with PDD as opposed to New World parrots affected with the disease.
On a similar note, Branson W. Ritchie, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl. ABVP — Avian, Dipl. ECAMS compiled a fact sheet for the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Infectious Disease Committee Manual 2013 on Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD), which suggests that PBFD affects Old World species more so than New World parrot species. Sadly, the disease is more fatal in Old World psittacines. The fact sheet states that while all psittacines are susceptible to infection, “most New World species develop a rapid immune response and clear the virus, although classic disease has been documented in some New World species (i.e., macaws and Amazon parrots). Classic disease associated with PCV-1 can occur in any Old World psittacine but is most common in cockatoos, African grey parrots, ring-necked parakeets and eclectus parrots.”