What are the Differences Between Parrots and Parakeets? Physical and Ethological Differences

Translated by Nick R

Parrots and parakeets are two groups of birds commonly found in homes, making them the preferred domestic species. However, they are not the same and you probably wonder how can you distinguish a parrot from a parakeet.

General differences between parrots and parakeets 

It has happened to many of us that we mistake parrots for parakeets due to their shared characteristics. This is due mainly to their phylogenetic (evolutionary) closeness and therefore, it is often difficult to tell which species are parrots and which are parakeets.

Next, I’ll show you the general characteristics that make parrots and parakeets.

Parrots Parakeets
The largest pet birds.Includes the smallest species.
Greater ability to speak, better vocalization.They make sounds, learn some words.
They have more robust tails.Lighter tails.
It groups species of the order Psittaciformes, included in the superfamily Psittacoidea.Includes some species of the families Psittacidae and Psittaculidae.
The distribution of its natural habitat covers mainly America and Africa.They are distributed mainly in Australia and Asia, some species in Africa. 

Taxonomy: family tree of parrots and parakeets 

What is the taxonomy? Don’t get confused. All you need to know is that taxonomy is the way living things are classified and linked to know their origin; something like a family tree.

Evolutionarily speaking, the family tree of the animal kingdom has several classes, among them, birds. The taxon ‘birds’ in turn incorporates several other taxa or hierarchically organized groups, called order, superfamily, family, subfamily, tribe, genus, species, and subspecies. In other words, as if you were talking about your family; grandparents, sisters-in-law, cousins, brothers, uncles, etc.

Here you can see that the Psittaciformes order (they look like parrots) is divided into three large superfamilies: Psittacoidea (typical parrots), Cacatuoidea (cockatoos), and Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots). The Psittacoidea are subdivided into three families: Psittrichasiidae, Psittacidae (parrots, parakeets), and Psittaculidae (parakeets, lovebirds). In this case, only the last two will be included.

What species of birds are part of the parrot group? 

When we talk about parrots in the narrow sense of the word, we refer to a wide number of species, which includes wild, exotic and domestic birds of larger size; including common parrots, macaws, and parrots, among others, belonging to the Psittacidae. These species’ main characteristic is their size, but also their behavior since parrots are characterized by their great intelligence and ability to talk.

However, in broad terms, parakeets are also part of the parrot group, but they are attributed with specific characteristics that differentiate them from the large group of Psittacoidea. What does this mean?

All parakeets are parrots, but not all parrots are parakeets.

What species of birds can be classified as parakeets? 

This designation is used to name a group of birds that share characteristics, referring mainly to their size and behavior relative to other parrots. Parakeets make up a group of species that includes smaller wild, exotic and domestic birds such as parakeets and agapornis (“lovebirds”), which are part of the Psittacidae. In addition, smaller species of parrots (Psittacidae) such as the monk parakeet.

How can I distinguish a parrot from a parakeet? 

Now, you know roughly what a parrot or parakeet is, but do you really know how to tell them apart? Probably not yet.

Don’t confuse ‘parakeet’ with the well-known species of Australian origin. As I said before, parakeet refers to a group of birds that includes budgerigars. In that sense, if you want to distinguish a parrot from a parakeet, you must take into account two types of differences: physical and ethological (behavioral).

Physical characteristics of parrots and parakeets 

Actually, the differences between parrots and parakeets are minimal, some more evident than others. But, in general, you will be able to distinguish them easily taking into account the following Physical characteristics.


Size is important. Parrots are larger than parakeets, which only grow up to 18 cm in most species. There are parrots of impressive sizes, reaching up to one meter in height. However, most pet bird species have an average length of 40 cm, ranging from 35 cm to 50 cm, except for some parrot species, such as the monk parakeet, which grows up to 30 cm in length.


Their tails tend to be thinner, sharper, and shorter in parakeets, while parrots have a more square and wide shape. As for colors, both parakeets and parrots have beautiful, brightly colored feathers.


The beak of parrots in general, including parakeets, is curved; very small and close to the face in parakeets. The difference is that parrots (group defined above) have the same curved upper jaw as parakeets, but larger and more pronounced forward, projecting noticeably above the lower jaw.


Both parakeets and parrots have two forward-facing claws and two backward-facing claws, i.e., they are zygodactyls. The difference lies in the appearance and size of the legs which, in the case of parrots, are thicker and larger with a slightly rougher appearance than in parakeets.


Parrots tend to have a more upright posture and more upright posture according to the right angle of the vertical axis of their beak. Smaller birds maintain a less straight-angled posture, showing a certain forward inclination.

Ethological characteristics of parrots and parakeets 

On the other hand, you can also distinguish both groups by their ethological characteristics, which determine the general behavior of these two groups of birds.

Ability to talk 

Although parakeets can also imitate sounds and words, they don’t possess the same ability to speak and vocalize as parrots. This is because parrots, apart from having a special organ for speaking, called the syrinx, also have a more developed, thicker, and larger tongue, with which they are able to vocalize better.

Neither parakeets nor parrots have vocal cords, but they have a unique respiratory system, making use of the muscles of the trachea to imitate sounds.


Parrots, parakeets and birds, in general, are very intelligent animals, capable of solving problems. In addition, they have the ability to speak, thanks to parts of their brains specialized to imitate and memorize sounds.

What differentiates parakeets from other parrots is that, as they are larger birds with complex brain structures, they have a greater memory, being able to memorize a large number of words.


Parrots in general are very sociable birds and build very complex social structures. However, parakeets live in flocks, very large groups of individuals, while parrots are grouped in smaller groups that allow them to have more independence. Obviously, behavior varies from one species to another.


  1. Parakeets are part of a group of species commonly known as parrots, but they can be distinguished as a subgroup of this group, with their own particularities.
  2. The differences between parrots and parakeets are minimal due to their evolutionary closeness, which places them in the tree of life as close relatives.
  3. The two groups have a phylogenetic distance that can be evidenced, to a great extent, in their natural distribution.
  4. Parrots are smaller parrots, with lower talking capacity and less memory.
  5. Parrots comprise a wide variety of species, which in practical terms have been grouped into parrots and parakeets.

You know, parrots and parakeets are different. Share with someone else what you learned today.