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Tattoo designs - P >> Parrots

Parrot tattoo designsParrot Tattoos - "Polly wants a cracker." The phrase is synonymous with 'parrot', particularly one that sits on a pirate's shoulder, as was made famous in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story, Treasure Island (1883). Long John Silver, the one-legged pirate, had his parrot, 'Capt. Flint', who may not have been the first parrot to be associated with the name 'Polly', but he certainly popularized it. And Polly certainly ensured that the parrot would become an iconic symbol of the pirate tradition.

As a legendary companion to man, the parrot suggests a kind of guardian. Their ability to 'parrot' speech makes them a symbol of communication. As a totem, they lend us psychic support to fly, look beautiful, and be a maestro of non-malicious mockery. Parrots are also said to symbolize courtship. The Hindu god of love, Kama, took a parrot as his symbol. The Hopi people of the American Southwest embrace a 'parrot clan' who saw the parrot as a symbol of the South, and of abundance.

Parrots are wide-spread in sub-tropical and tropical environments (helping to explain their exotic appeal), and are found in North and South America, Africa, Australia and across Asia. There are 372 species of parrots, ranging in size from a few inches to three feet in length. Along with jays, crows and magpies, parrots are among the most intelligent of all birds. African grey parrots have been used extensively to study the possibilities of inter-species communication. Perhaps the most famous parrot in modern history was an African Grey named, "Alex" who could count and had math skills that were considered highly advanced in animal intelligence and had a vocabulary of over one hundred 'vocal labels'.


Loud, brightly coloured, and defiant, the parrot doesn't do much more than shriek, squawk, and look fantastic. Or so we think. In the wild, flocks of parrots may have highly developed social structures. In art, the parrot has long been employed to light up otherwise drab landscapes. Without much effort on its part, the parrot strikes us as exotic, intelligent, regal, oracular, stubborn and profane. And they make striking tattoo designs. Some of the more popular species featured in parrot tattoos have been the vividly colored Macaws, the spectacularly crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels, Parakeets, Lovebirds, Canaries and Budgies.

Since parrots utter only words they've heard, and repeat them without any understanding, the parrot's intelligence is seen as 'uncertain', a trait that would be present in any parrot symbol. Consequently, a 'parrot' has come to mean a person who imitates words and actions without comprehending them. Another kind of 'parrot' is a gossip, a hapless spreader of rumours. That's not to say Parrot People don't benefit from this neurosis, since they are able to ignore their own problems by focusing on the lives of other people. Furthermore, all language (some would say, all thought) is second-hand, which, if true, would make us all parrots. Blessed is the person who realizes this and blissfully proceeds through life performing acts of parrotry and regurgitating the world's vast and colourful lexicon of clichés.

Early Greeks and Romans employed the parrot symbol to refer to inferior people, along the lines of comic relief. Being called a 'parrot' was an insult. But the parrot attained almost divine status as a religious symbol during the Middle Ages. In depictions of Mary, mother of God, the parrot symbolized her virginal motherhood. It may sound outrageous in this day and age, but the fact is the parrot was looked upon in Europe as a miracle of nature due to its ability to mimic human speech. This talent was apparently put to good use in Rome, earning the parrot a job as the herald of emperors. "Hail Caesar!"

Parrots are also a symbol of the fragility of the environment and an early warning system that things may be amiss in the world. The expression, 'Canary in the Mineshaft', derives from the use of canaries in coal mines and mine shafts to warn of 'bad air', or noxious gases and fumes. The canaries had even less tolerance for poor air quality than did the miners. Coal miners took caged canaries down into the shafts as an early warning system, at the first hint of poor air quality the canaries would become distressed and the miners moved to higher and presumably safer ground. Of course, a caged bird was not exactly a willing volunteer to monitor air quality, and the expression has also come to mean someone whose safety may be compromised to further someone else's interests, usually financial.

'Pissed as a parrot' is an endearing term that comes to us from Queensland, Australia, where parrots occasionally enjoy a diet of fermented fruit. While the parrot symbol permeates much of Australian life, they haven't gone as far as the citizens of the Commonwealth of Dominica, who have put the parrot on their national flag. A Sisserou Parrot stands on a twig encircled by ten lime-green stars. A symbol of flight toward greater heights and the fulfilment of aspirations, that's the Dominican view of the parrot.

Parrots and pirates

Parrot flashA final word on 'Polly' the parrot - it seems to have been derived from 'Pol', meaning 'Paul'. English author, Ben Johnson, in his 1611 play Volpone, was the first to portray a parrot named Pol, which, at the time, was a variant of 'Paul'. Since then, it became common practice to name parrots and macaws 'Polly'.

A word of caution to would-be keepers of exotic birds - read up before you purchase one. Most kept birds die well before their time. The average life span of the larger parrots is 75 years, but due to their sometimes aggressive, noisy, biting behavior - all of which is perfectly natural - many of them die of neglect and abuse. The result has been the establishment of numerous parrot shelters in many urban centers. Even more troubling is that many parrots are protected species, and the public's appetite for exotic birds had led to serious declines in wild populations and the loss of many birds in illegal smuggling and bird-trafficking operations.

Parrots Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!Perhaps no other group of birds has been as exploited as have parrots, and a parrot tattoo is an homage to one of the most colourful characters in the avian world and certainly in literature.

Get inspired by some really great images and photos in our Parrot Inspiration Gallery

See also: Bird Tattoo Index, Pirate Tattoos

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Parrots as tattoo designs and symbols

Tattoo designs - P >> Parrots

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