Despite the wide range of sizes, all parrots share the same basic anatomy. Two of the things that distinguish them from other bird families are their distinctive, large, downward-curving beaks, and the arrangement of their toes. They have two toes facing forwards, and two facing back (a feature shared with woodpeckers and cuckoos).
Parrot-like birds evolved around 40 million years ago, in what is now northern Europe and North America (which is ironic, given that there are no surviving parrot species native to Europe). The myriad modern families of parrot appeared between 7 and 1.5 million years ago, always keeping to the warmer parts of the planet, and hence abandoning northern Europe as continental drift sent the landmass to colder climes.
The sole ‘northerner’ of the modern parrot tribe, the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), was blasted out of the skies by gun-bearing European settlers, with the last verified sighting of wild birds in 1904, and the last member of the species dying in Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.
There are more than 330 known species of parrot alive today; but the number is still rising.The El Oro Parakeet (Pyrrhura orcesi) of El Oro, Ecuador, was only discovered in 1988; and the Camiguin Hanging Parrot (Loriculus camiguinensis) of the Philippines was designated as a distinct species in 2006 (having previously been classified as a subspecies of the Philippine Hanging Parrot (Loriculus philippensis)).