Looking at the A/FD for Anchorage Ted Stevens Intl (PANC), there are a couple of entries in in the airport remarks for a piece of onboard equipment called a ‘parrot’.

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I am not familiar with this piece of equipment aboard an airplane, though I suspect it may be a synonym for a radar transponder. Has anybody heard that term for a transponder as well?


2 Answers 2


Because NATO code word for IFF is Parrot. The codewords are somewhat of a misnomer since they are more about standardizing usage and removing ambiguity ('parrot' is hard to mix up with other aviation terms) than being a true code, though as here can be confusing to outsiders wondering where the animal, mythical creature or alcoholic drinks names are coming from.

Have vague memories of seeing British WWII usage but not currently finding a source using Parrot that far back, where it would more likely to have had an actual code word, randomly selected for NOT having meaningful association with interrogate/response.

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    $\begingroup$ Brevity terms aren't any real secret; they're published so that all NATO pilots use the same words meaning the same thing, and they're widely used in training & daily operations. They also have enough association with the underlying term as to be easily remembered... you don't want to be struggling to remember an arbitrary term in the middle of a tactical exercise. This discussion is a good example: a parrot squawks to announce its presence. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented May 24 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ hartzellprop.com/brief-history-5-atc-terms isn't a great source but also says it's RAF terminology. If a system was codenamed Parrot (in the usual sense of code names) the natural verb for its transmission would be "squawk*. I reckon if the RAF's IFF system had been called duck, transponders these days would quack $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented May 24 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ "Code" doesn't even mean secret, necessarily. Consider Morse code. So I'd say this isn't a misnomer but just another example of a code serving a purpose other than secrecy. $\endgroup$ Commented May 26 at 4:45

Yep. For additional clarity, according to the CFI Notebook -

  • Transponders came about during World War II when the British developed a transceiver which was capable of identifying friendly aircraft

  • This system was called "Parrot" which led to terms like "squawk your parrot" (turn on your transponder), and "strangle your parrot" (turn your transponder off)

  • The U.S. adopted this same system and instead called it "Identification of Friend or Foe," or IFF, a term still utilized by the military today

  • Like the term IFF making it to modern day operations, squawk stuck around too which is why we are assigned a squawk code to allow ATC to see where we are

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    $\begingroup$ just why? can't they just say transponder? $\endgroup$ Commented May 24 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ I can understand if it was pilot slang, but I’m surprised to see the FAA include the term in a chart supplement. I wonder if it’s a regional thing i.e. referring to a transponder as a parrot is more common in Alaska or northern Canada, than in the southern CONUS. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @AadirajAnil because it ties back to NATO code words. Will let you draw your own conclusions about how some of them got thought up. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiservice_tactical_brevity_code. Is a valid question if military terms from quite a long list should be showing up this way. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Romeo_4808N apparently Parrot was originally British. Certainly WWII UK military projects used codenames like that. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented May 24 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Added clarity was provided regarding historical development and term usage. The term parrot is apparently ubiquitous... $\endgroup$ Commented May 25 at 22:11

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