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The Wonderful World of Caiques
I have been fortunate enough to view the White-bellied caiques on numerous occasions in the rain forests of Bolivia. I normally saw them in small groups of 3 or 4, and once was lucky enough to find 2 fledglings waiting, not so patiently, while mom and dad were feeding on a nearby tree. It has been my experience to hear the birds more often then actually sighting them. They are usually so high in the forest canopy, it is often hard to get a good look, but they make their presence known by the loud calls they emit while flying.
Black-headed caiques are more commonly kept in aviculture then the White-bellied. I have never had hands on experience with the White-bellied, but I did manage a collection with 5 productive breeding pairs of Black-headed caiques. These birds were housed in an indoor birdroom with a mixed collection of birds, including Fig parrots, Hawk-headed parrots and Abyssinian lovebirds. Full spectrum fluorescent lights and temperature were controlled to simulate seasonal changes and 5 skylights were installed to allow as much natural lighting as possible. Humidity was kept at approximately 50%. Large plants were placed between cages to allow the birds some privacy.
All breeding pairs were housed in cages 6 by 2.5 by 2.5 feet. The cages could be divided into 2 sections by sliding in a Plexiglas divider. This caging methods allowed for the feeding side of the cage to be disinfected on a regular basis without disturbing the nest box which was attached to the other side. A variety of perches were used, including natural willow branches and round dowels with one edge shaved flat for the comfort of the birds' feet.
At PsittaZen, we allowed all birds to raise their own chicks whenever possible. The caiques proved themselves to be wonderful parents and I rarely had to intervene. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects to consider for the successful breeding of parrots and rearing of chicks. Our birds were free fed everything. They were offered 2 different seed mixes, pellets, and a wide range of nuts. Walnuts were the preferred nuts of our birds. Breeding caiques with eggs or chicks were given a salad of 12 grain bread (dampened with Roudybush hand feeding formula), corn and blueberries in the morning, along with a shish-kabob style feeder containing 3 fruits and one vegetable. In the afternoon the birds were offered a second salad consisting of various cooked beans, lentils, pasta, and some extra vegetables and fruit. The majority of these fresh foods were consumed while there were chicks in the nest. Recently fledged chicks also did very well on this diet.
Non-breeding birds were offered the same choice of seeds and pellets. Nuts were offered as a treat approximately once or twice a week. The shish-kabob feeder was given out everyday, but the bean salad was only given to the birds about twice a week during the non-breeding season.
Vitamins were sprinkled on the salads or shish-kabobs. Three times a week the birds received Nekton S or Prime. They also received an avian specific probiotic and trace minerals once a week. Cuttle-bones and mineral blocks were in the cages for the birds to nibble on.
After trying a number of nest boxes, both the birds and the humans decided on a favorite. The box was a rectangular shape with the hole located on the front of the box, near the top. The birds could enter the box, step onto a shelf, then climb a wire ladder down to make their nest underneath the shelf. This design prevented eggs and chicks from being scrambled if parents felt the need to enter the box quickly. Pine and eucalyptus wood shavings were placed into the nest boxes, along with wooden inserts that were screwed into the walls and could be replaced when needed. I feel it is very important to allow parrots the freedom to manipulate the interior of their nest and it appears to be an important part of the preparation for breeding and nesting. If metal nest boxes are used for parrots, wooden inserts should be added to allow the birds to design the interior of their home.
Toys are absolutely necessary for the psychological well-being of these birds. They love to play! Both babies and adults will play for hours with any toy you offer them. Unlike a lot of parrots that will shy away from anything new, caiques will attack a new toy with gusto. They love everything from a toilet paper roll to a $25.00 specialty parrot toy. Natural branches, with lots of bark to peel, and pine cones are also relished, but be sure to thoroughly disinfect any natural products given to your birds. Young birds will often get down on the floor of their cage and roll around on their backs, while playing with their toys.
Our caiques proved to be very successful and prolific breeders. As these birds are bred more often, they will probably become more widely available. I have never kept one as a pet, but from the stories I hear, they are quite a handful! I hope to see these birds maintained in aviculture, and with their charming personalities and great looks, I'm sure that won't be a problem.
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to John Doole, owner of PsittaZen: Rare Parrot Breeding Centre, for sharing his knowledge of parrots with me. He has given me many years of experience with these birds and that has allowed many doors to be opened in my life. John has been a wonderful boss, but more importantly, a great friend.
Forshaw, J.M. and W.T. Cooper, 1977, Parrots of the World, TFH
Publications, Neptune, New Jersey. p584.
*Note: This chick may have fledged before 83 days, but we did not see it out of the nest until this time. Most chicks fledged between 70 to 77 days.
Laurel Neufeld is currently in her third year at the University of Manitoba, studying Zoology. For the past seven years she has been the manager of Psittazen: Rare Parrot Breeding Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her accomplishments at this aviary include the first Canadian breeding of Abyssinian lovebirds and three species of Fig Parrots. Psittazen was also very successful in breeding Hawk-headed parrots and Black-headed Caiques. Laurel has published articles in Bird Breeder magazine reporting Psittazen's progress in breeding parent-raised, captive bred parrots.
Laurel has also participated in two research trips to the Amazon Basin in Bolivia, South America. Here she worked in cooperation with the local people to study parrot behaviour and possibilities for conservation programs. She also assissted in a veterinary study to determine the health of wild parrots.
Laurel hopes to combine her knowledge of captive and wild birds, along with her Zoology degree, to continue to work with parrots in their natural habitat.