Canadian Parrot Symposium

Canadian Parrot Symposium

 

 

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All material Copyright 19912002 by the Canadian Parrot Symposium unless otherwise noted. For permission and information about reprinting articles, please e-mail your request.

The Wonderful World of Caiques

Laurel Neufeld



The group of caiques are one of the biggest bunches of clowns in the parrot family. Nothing is too big for them to challenge and they will try just about anything once! They can be found in central and north-central South America. The preferred habitat is forest but the Black-headed caiques may also be found in the savanna (Forshaw 1977). Caiques measure 23 cm in length and their plumage appears to the viewer as if they were dressed in formal wear! Both the Black-headed caique (Pionites melanocephala) and the White-bellied caique (P. leucogaster) have deep green wings and backs. Both also possess a white breast and abdomen, a characteristic unique for South American parrots. The Black-headed caique, as the name implies, has a black cap and nape, the lores are green, cheeks, throat and legs are orange-yellow and the bill is black. The White-bellied have an orange head, buff coloured bill, and green legs. The are 2 sub-species of the Black-headed (P. m. melanocephala and P. m. pallida) and 3 sub-species of the White-bellied (P. l. leucogaster, P. l. xanthurus and P. l. xanthomeria) (Forshaw 1977).

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.

Literature Cited

Forshaw, J.M. and W.T. Cooper, 1977, Parrots of the World, TFH Publications, Neptune, New Jersey. p584.

Sample Weight Chart for a Parent-raised Caique Chick
Day
Weight (in grams)
Crop Contents
     
Hatch
5.25
1/2 full
1
6.5
3/4 full
2
7.9
full
3
9.55
full
4
11.35
3/4 full
6
16.4
full
8
23.3
full
10
30.2
full
11
37.2
3/4 full
13
47.0
full
15
57.3
full
16
58.15
3/4 full
17
66.45
3/4 full
18
69.9
full
20
77.25
full
22
81.5
3/4 full
24
93.55
1/2 full
25
103.0
full
27
115.45
full
32
129.3
1/2 full
34
146.3
full
36
147.6
full
38
162.35
full
41
162.5
1/4 full
43
170.3
1/4 full
45
167.25
1/2 full
46
171.85
full
51
177.4
3/4 full
57
176.65
1/2 full
63
164.9
1/4 full
69
171.8
1/4 full
83
-
*fledged
84
174.0
1/4 full

*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

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.


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