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Caiques by Karen M. Crassi

Funny, outgoing, fearless, acrobatic, rambunctious and lovable. These words all describe the personality of the parrots known as caiques (pronounced kye-eeks).

There are two major species, the black-headed caique (BHC), Pionites melanocephala, and the white-bellied caique (WBC), Pionites leucoaster. The BHC is slightly smaller than the WBC, with mature lengths of 23-25cm and weights of approximately 150g and 170g respectively. Both birds hail from South America.

These birds are quite beautiful in coloration. The BHC has a black cap which extends from the nares over the crown of the head and to just below the eyes.  It rather looks like it is wearing the mask of a bandit (think Zorro). The beak is black. Just below each eye is a small band of green. The rest of the head blends from yellow on the cheeks and chin to a peachy orange on the back of the head and neck. The back and wings are green, as is the tail. The breast and belly of the BHC is white, while the thighs and undertail coverts are orange. The WBC has a peachy orange head with yellow cheeks and a horn colored beak, green back and wings, white breast and belly, green thighs and yellow undertail coverts. A subspecies of the WBC, Pionites leucogaster xanthomeria, has yellow thighs rather than green.

There is little difference in personality between the two species, so which to choose is often decided by price and availability. Typically WBC are more expensive than the BHC, because the latter is more common. Prices can range from $600 to $1500, depending on source and area of the country so it is best to shop around. Pet stores usually are on the high end of the price scale.

My caique, Ricochet, is a BHC. He has the personality and activity level of most lories. He plays with his toys incessantly, only stopping to eat or sleep. He hangs upside down (these birds have very strong feet), swinging back and forth and flapping. He particularly likes leather, wood and rope, as these are the types of toys he can get his beak into. These birds definitely need a good sized cage. They aren't very big birds, but they will use every square inch of their cage, so that I would recommend no smaller than a 24 x 24 x 18 inch cage. They play rough, and will play with toys that most people would reserve for larger birds such as Amazons. They are not afraid of anything, and during their time out of the cage, they should be watched closely so they don't get themselves in trouble.

While playing with their favorite human, they may engage in an activity known as "hair surfing". To do this they grab a footful of hair and begin swinging back and forth and rubbing their breast on the hair and head of the chosen person. No one knows quite why they do this, but they love it, and the only possible problem with it is that they could become a bit tangled up, so be careful of this. You haven't lived until you've had four baby caiques all hair surfing on you at the same time.

They can be headstrong, so consistent discipline is a must from the start. Decide what is and is not acceptable behavior, and stick to it. Ricochet, like many caiques, likes to use his beak on fingers as well as toys. It is not meanness, but just excess energy and curiosity. To discourage beaking of your body parts, keep some toys handy and substitute the toy for your fingers. If the bird insists on chewing on you rather than a toy, some cage time may be appropriate.

Other behavior issues may include screaming for attention. This may happen in the morning when they are waiting for food (one of a caique's favorite things) or when their favorite person leaves the room. The good news is that a caique does not approach near the volume of larger parrots such as cockatoos and macaws. And they don't actually "scream" as much as whistle.

Ricochet produces a high pitched, single note call which he repeats at intervals. While he can occasionally get more raucous, this is rare. Caiques can learn to talk, so if you can teach your bird to "call" you with words rather than yells, so much the better. However, even if you do not achieve this, the yells are not that bad. If it gets really out of hand, try covering the cage for a few minutes and only remove the cover after the bird has quieted down. They are intelligent and will soon figure out what you approve and disapprove of if you are consistent in your reactions.

Clipping feathers to restrict flight is up to your personal preference. Be aware that if you decide to clip, you will not need to clip too many. They are not strong fliers, having relatively short wings in proportion to their body size. Start with perhaps three flight feathers on each wing and go from there if necessary.

Many people like caiques for their outgoing, fearless personality. Others like them for their vibrant colors. And others because they are a "large" parrot in a smaller, easier to care for package. I like them for all of the above reasons.

If you are looking for a small companion parrot with a big personality, consider a caique.

Copyright: Birds of A Feather Avicultural Society April 1998

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