The Grey Parrot Anatomy Project

The grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) is the focus of the study.

The grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) is the focus of the study.

grey parrot head

To learn more about BriteVu featured in the Scientific American blog 10-30-15, go to

A detailed description of anatomy can provide clinicians and researchers invaluable information for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases for any species. Although long used for humans and selected animals, such anatomic references for commonly kept parrot species currently do not exist. The Grey Parrot Anatomy Project aims to create an accurate physical and digital anatomy reference, including a standardized basis for avian anatomy nomenclature, of a commonly kept parrot species, the grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus). The grey parrot was chosen because of its recognition worldwide in cognition and intelligence research, ability to talk, presence in the pet and aviculture trade, and conservation concerns as wild populations are declining.  The approach being used to develop such an atlas, involving advanced small animal imaging on live animals, image analysis and visualization techniques, could be highly desirable and be applied towards other animals to create similar references.

The goals of publication are two-fold.  One is to create a physical anatomy atlas book.  The atlas is our first goal and we hope to have it published by 2016.  As the information being collected for the project goes into far greater detail than can be shown in a book, we are also working towards building an online reference.  This reference would be available through a web platform and ultimately allow users to manipulate images in 3-D.  We also hope to open the information to other researchers who wish to pursue evaluation of detailed anatomic features we are digitally recording. We foresee the online digital application as a long term and ongoing project.

Northern helmeted curassow (Pauxi pauxi).

Northern helmeted curassow (Pauxi pauxi).

While the focus is on the grey parrot, we have been using a number of bird species (primarily parrots) to help develop various imaging techniques.  Some healthy birds are used in non-invasive imaging.  Deceased birds are used for dissection and imaging.  However no healthy parrots are being sacrificed for the project.

Chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) low resolution CT image.

Chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) low resolution CT image.

In the process of developing new imaging systems, we have been working on a number of educational and clinically diagnostic techniques that serve many potential applications.  At this point, we have developed micro-CT (aka ‘cat scan’) techniques for small birds, a means to non-invasively view blood vessels with MRI on live birds and new contrast agents to ‘cast’ the vascular system of recently deceased animals.  In the lab we have also used some of these advanced diagnostics on clinical bird cases as a means to make diagnoses not previously considered possible.  Ultimately, we would like to see these techniques refined and used in other facilities as a means to help solve problems in pet birds and other animals.

The research is primarily being conducted at the University of Utah and is divided between the colleges of Bioengineering, Biology and Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute.  Additional researchers and contributors from other universities, veterinary practices and aviaries have been providing birds and advice to help with the project.  In turn, we have been able to share our findings with a number of researchers working on often unrelated projects.

Tracy Aviary of Salt Lake City, Utah has also been involved with the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project and numerous other studies.  The staff and administration of Tracy Aviary have been tremendously supportive by providing physical resources and actual cases for study and we would like to thank them for their help! Tracy Aviary Logo



  1. Kris Rhood
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    I hope that you are not conducting cruel experiments on lab animals.

    • spotdvm
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink


      All of the animals used in the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project have been donated. Many are already deceased (primarily natural deaths) and shipped to us for evaluation. However some are donated alive but with terminal problems (as determined by their attending veterinarian or caretaker and reviewed by me) to be humanely euthanized. We have no colony of research animals that we use. In fact, my initial requirement for the project was that we do not rely upon ‘research’ animals for the study. Regardless, no painful procedures are being performed on live animals. We are seeing clinical cases for non-invasive MRI or CT scanning. While those animals are not directly a part of the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project, we are using data obtained from their scans. You can see pictures of some of those animals on the webpage.

      Further, the grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List and Appendix II by CITES. Besides our approach to not use research colony animals, we simply will not euthanize grey parrots just for the sake of this project. These animals have declining populations in the wild and we are able to collect the data we need through donations.

      You asked an important question and I hope that you better understand how we use the animals in the study.


      M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)

  2. Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    What is the primary cause of the parrots decline ? Can we breed them to solve the decline issue?

    • spotdvm
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Dr Danza,

      You certainly are not going for the easy questions! If you are referring to the decline of wild grey parrots in Africa the main causes are habitat destruction and poaching primarily for the pet trade. These birds cannot easily and legally be brought into the US or European Union because of respective laws. However, demand for wild parrots is still high in other parts of the world. Breeding more parrots alone will not stop the decline of wild parrots but can help with understanding their biology and potentially creating reintroduction programs (which come with a different set of problems). These are complicated topics that cannot be answered here. However many biologists, aviculturists and more have been considering these questions for years and are looking at a variety of options to help address the problems associated with the decline of numerous wild bird species.


      M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)

  3. shiwani tandel
    Posted June 9, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Echols,
    I wantted to thank yu for the excellent work that you are doing. I beluieve this project will help us understand these animals better and will help us treat them efficiently. I wish tou all the success. I believe you are looking for donations as well if yes, where can one send it? I have a lot of people wanting to donate for a cause and your cause is difficult yet extremely commendable. do tell mne how i could proceed.
    Warm Regards

    • spotdvm
      Posted June 9, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink


      Thank you for your kind words! Every day we learn more as a result of this project and I am excited by what we have found so far- more to come…..

      For people interested in making donations to the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project, please make a check to ‘Department of Bioengineering’ with a note designating the funds are to go to ‘Hsu R&D Account for avian anatomy project’.

      Checks can be mailed to:

      Liz Porter
      Associate Accountant
      University of Utah
      Bioengineering 3100 SMBB
      36 S Wasatch Drive
      Salt Lake City, UT 84112
      Ph: (801) 581-8952
      Fax: (801) 585-5361

      For people outside of the US, please e-mail Liz Porter ( directly for instructions on making donations.

      Thank you!

      M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)

  4. Posted October 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    As an avian veterinarian who loves studying everything about birds, I am so excited to hear about this project and look forward to learning more! Thank you for doing this!

    • spotdvm
      Posted October 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Dr Burcham,

      Thank you for sharing your interest in this project! I too am very excited about what we have already discovered and the potential of this project above and beyond the physical anatomy book.

      M. Scott Echols, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>