Parrots comprise more than 350 species of birds, inhabiting the warm continents. Bone fossils dating back 40 million years have been found in areas now comprising Northern Europe. The earliest visual evidence of these birds dates to around 5000 years ago to caves in Brazil. The first written reference to parrots dates back more than 3000 years ago in Indian literature.
Parrots have been admired and collected for millennia, and have been pets, status symbols and ships' companions, revered for their beauty and intelligence. In Alexandrian Greece, parrots brought back from India were kept in fancy cages made of precious metals and other rare materials. In later eras, cages were encrusted with jewels and became so elaborate that they eclipsed the birds within. When the Roman Empire waned, interest in parrots temporarily declined, but revived again during the age of the Crusades. Merchants, explorers and soldiers brought them back to Europe, where they remained in vogue until the present.
Pope Martin V even appointed a "keeper of the parrots" to protect talking parrots brought back to Europe by Portuguese explorers to India.
In maritime lore, parrots have been associated with pirates, who certainly collected them as status symbols and appreciated them for their entertaining ways and ability to mimic human language.
In the modern era parrots continued to be collected and kept as pets by royalty, but also began going to sea as pets with various navies. They continue to sail today, as pets on private vessels. A famous African Grey named Sunny, served aboard a Royal Navy frigate in the early 21st century, and frequently used colorful language at inappropriate times. Nevertheless, she was beloved by Captain and crew. She later developed a nervous condition and retired to Wales, where she is happy and learning new less-salty words.
Last year, the Museum adopted a wonderful mascot as our muse. PIM serves as a tribute to these versatile and long-lived birds!