The vasa parrots (Coracopsis) are two species of parrot which are endemic to Madagascar and other islands in the western Indian Ocean.
There are two species and several subspecies:
Coracopsis, Wagler 1832
- Coracopsis vasa, (Shaw) 1812 - (Greater Vasa Parrot)
- Coracopsis vasa comorensis, (Peters,W) 1854
- Coracopsis vasa drouhardi, Lavauden 1929
- Coracopsis vasa vasa, (Shaw) 1812
- Coracopsis nigra, (Linnaeus) 1758 - (Lesser Vasa Parrot also known as Black Parrot)
- Coracopsis nigra libs, Bangs 1927
- Coracopsis nigra nigra, (Linnaeus) 1758
- Coracopsis nigra sibilans, Milne-Edwards & Oustalet 1885
- Coracopsis nigra barklyi, Newton 1867
They are notable in the parrot world for their peculiar appearance, which includes extremely truncated bodies with long necks, black to grey feathers and a pink beak.
The skin of both female and male Vasas turns yellow during the breeding season, and there is often feather loss. However in females the feather loss can result in complete baldness. Another interesting feature of the females breeding physiology is when her feathers, which are usually black to grey, turn brown without a moult. This is caused by the redistribution of melanin, which is the pigment that makes the Vasas' feathers black.
In addition to their appearance they possess aspects of their physiology that make them completely unique amongst parrots. Vasa chicks are known to hatch after only 18-20 days of incubation, which is highly irregular as parrots of the Vasa size range tend to take up to 30 days to hatch.
The male Vasas' cloaca is able to invert into a hemipenis, which becomes erect during mating - a feature unique to the genus. Baby Vasas possess pads on their beaks which when stimulated prompt a strong feeding response. These pads disappear after only a few weeks, however the feeding or 'weaning' reflex remains unusually strong well into adulthood. Often aviculturalists have to use a syringe to force food into the crops of young Vasas as the intensity of the weaning reflex prevents them from being spoon fed.
Vasa parrots infected with the debilitating psittacine beak and feather disease are known to turn white, which, during the 1970s when the first wave of birds were exported into Europe and America, resulted in them being mistakenly advertised by importers as albinos.