I will never forget the first time I saw a parrotlet. My husband and I attended a bird show in Sacramento, California. We were walking around and I saw two tiny green parrots in a show cage. They looked like miniature Amazon parrots! I did not know what they were, but I was determined to have some.
It took some time, but I finally found out that these diminutive parrots were called parrotlets. It took even more time to locate a pair for sale. I went to the breeder’s home. He took the pair out of the cage, showed me the male and then the female. He put them in a paper bag and I took them home. I had no idea what to feed them, what kind of cage to keep them in or even that there was more than one species of parrotlet!
After years of trial and error and much frustration, I promised myself if I ever figured out how to care for these parrots, I would do everything I could to help educate other people. And I have. I have written a book as the fulfillment of that promise to myself. I hope this presentation from it will help you to better understand and care for these unique little parrots.
The correct pronunciation of “parrotlet” is “parrot” “let”. The “t” is pronounced in the word parrot. The word parrotlet means little parrot.
Parrotlets are one of the smallest species of parrot in the world with their closest relative being Amazon parrots. Most species are less than 5″ in length and weigh less than 30 grams. Parrotlets are tiny, streamlined parrots with wedge-shaped tails and large beaks for their size. Primarily green, patches of yellow, gray and blue identify the species, subspecies and sex. When the males and females in a species look different, they are called dimorphic. Identification of the male of a species is made upon the particular shade and location of blue he possesses. Being more difficult to identify, females are generally identified by their size, conformation and coloring, because they lack the blue of the males. More information on the various species can be found in my companion article Parrotlets in Aviculture – The Various Species.
Today’s bird cages are made out of all kinds of material including metal, Plexiglass(tm), wrought iron and plastic. Whatever material you decide upon, make sure it is easy to clean and free from zinc and lead. Also, do not use a cage made of brass or copper. Paint should be baked on to keep it from flaking. Powder coating is the best, however it does increase the cost of the cage.
As previously mentioned, parrotlets are very physically active parrots and need a good size cage to keep them happy and healthy. It’s always best to get the largest cage you can afford. This will allow the placement of lots of perches to facilitate climbing and space for a wide variety of toys in which to play. Pet parrotlets should have a cage at least 18″ x 18″. This is the minimum recommended size cage for a single bird. Breeding pairs should have cages at least 24″ x 24″. It is better to have a cage that is wider or deeper than it is tall. This will allow for the greatest amount of area for your parrotlet. Cage bars should be no wider than 1/2″. This will accommodate all species including tiny Green Rumps and Spectacles. A grate on the bottom is required, as it will keep the parrotlet away from old food and droppings. Many cages also come with seed guards to help keep the area around the parrotlet clean.
Parrotlets should be provided with natural wood perches not dowels. This will give the bird more variety when perching and will help exercise the feet and toes. By supplying an ample amount of perches of various sizes, although still small in diameter, the birds may choose whichever size is the most comfortable. Manzanita, eucalyptus or various unsprayed fruit trees (all except cherry and avocado) are also good. Parrotlets love to strip the bark off of branches. Be sure to scrub it well and microwave it for 15 seconds at a time for one to two minutes. Keep an eye on it because it can catch on fire. Untreated pine is nice because it is soft and they can chew it easily. Perches made out of cement or covered with sand may be used for nail filing but only one should be installed in the cage at a time. Never wrap sandpaper around a perch to keep toenails from growing. They will not keep the nails trimmed but will only irritate the bird’s feet and cause damage and disease.
In the world of parrotlets, everything is a fun game. Parrotlets absolutely love to play. Their natural boldness and intelligence makes them a delight to watch as they tumble and play. Usually bundles of energy, parrotlets spend hours swinging, climbing and playing. Parrotlets will use a wide variety of toys that should be alternated often to keep the parrotlet from getting bored.
The most important feature of a toy is safety. Check chains to make sure they are welded shut and are large enough to prevent a toenail or beak from getting caught. Dyes should be all natural vegetable dies. Avoid snap locks or key chain-type attachments; they can catch a toe or beak. Use Quik Links(tm), dog clips or shower curtain holders instead. Always err on the side of caution when picking toys. If a toy looks dangerous, do not use it. Never buy a toy that contains lead, zinc or has been painted with unknown paints or dies.
Since they have such strong beaks be sure and buy sturdy, well made toys designed for cockatiels and small conures. Toys that provide motion are favorites. Swings are especially coveted and many parrotlets enjoy sleeping on them. Natural fiber rope, leather and softwood are also appreciated as parrotlets love to chew. Fortunately, unlike most parrots, they usually do not destroy their toys. Amazing acrobats, they often play with several at once such as hanging from a swing while chewing on a rope toy and striking at a bell.
Today, there are endless arrays of toys made out a wide variety of materials. Ropes, ladders, leather chew toys, beads and Olympic rings are all appreciated. It is hard to say whether parrotlets love bells or hate them, but they sure enjoy attacking them! A simple inexpensive toy that parrotlets love is a child’s toy Slinky(r). Either string it across the cage for a fun tunnel or hang it from the cage top for a bouncing, hanging toy.
Parrotlet Nutritional Needs
Parrotlets utilize a lot of energy in their limitless enthusiasm for play; therefore, they require top quality nutrition. All animals, no matter what the species, require a proper diet, exercise and a clean environment in order to remain healthy and live a long wonderful life. Everyday, research into avian nutrition is being conducted all over the country at universities and by private companies and great strides continue to be made. More has been learned in the last five or ten years about parrot nutrition than in the previous fifty.
Parrotlets thrive on a basic diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, greens, seed and pellets. They should also receive whole wheat bread, cooked rice, pasta and cooked dried beans. A healthful diet of a variety of foods is the best. If fresh fruits and vegetables are difficult to obtain, sodium free frozen, and then thawed to room temperature may be substituted.
Parrotlets should receive a primary diet of fresh, high quality seeds and/or pellets. If feeding seed, a cockatiel or small hook bill type should be provided. Look for a mix that contains sunflower. Unlike many other parrots that tend to put on weight, parrotlets need the extra fat in order to keep them in peak condition. They also love millet spray, but it should be limited to once a week or they can eat it to the exclusion of other foods. Babies, however, should be provided with as much millet as they will eat especially right after weaning.
There is much controversy over the benefits of pellets versus seeds. However it is agreed that a “seed-only” diet is extremely nutritionally deficient. There are many good brands of pellets available and again, feed pellets formulated for cockatiels or other small hook bills. Parrotlets will often eat both pellets and seeds, so both can be provided. Color mutation parrotlets should not be fed pellets. Some mutations seem to be susceptible to kidney damage when fed pellets.
There are diets on the market today that are cooked and fed warm to your parrotlet. These diets are usually rice or pasta based with a variety of beans, corn, dried fruit and vegetables and herbs. There are many companies that manufacture these diets including Pretty Bird(tm) and Soak N’ Cook(tm). Parrotlet Take Out(tm) is formulated specifically for parrotlets. All of these companies produce several varieties, each with different ingredients and/or themes.
Fruits, Vegetables and Greens
Whether eating pellets, seeds or both, parrotlets need a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and greens daily. A parrotlet should receive at least two different fruits and three different vegetables plus at least one kind of green each day. The following is a brief guide to feeding a parrotlet. Generally, what is good for people should be good for the parrotlet. The exceptions are avocado, chocolate and alcohol. No parrotlet should ever be fed these foods. Feed only top-quality, fresh, unspoiled foods to your parrotlet. If you would not eat it, do not feed it to your parrotlet.
Fruits: Apples (seeds removed), peaches, bananas, all melons, mango, pomegranates, grapes, oranges, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, plums, all berries, pears, grapefruit, nectarines, pitted cherries and just about everything else except avocados. Care when feeding citrus fruits is a must as too much can cause problems. More than twice a week is not advised.
Vegetables: Carrots, corn, peas, zucchini, squash, radishes, bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, cooked regular and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, fresh and dried chili peppers. Avoid celery. It contains mostly water and has almost no nutritional value.
Greens: Spinach, kale, bok choy, red and white chard, mustard greens, radish, beet and carrot tops, Chinese cabbage and dandelion greens. Again, avoid lettuce, as it is 90% water. Sprouted seed is good for both pets and breeders and can be fed daily.
Many people prefer to buy their parrotlet organic fruits and vegetables. These foods have not been sprayed with chemical pesticides or fertilizers, which have been shown to leave residue. Parrotlets are very tiny and small amounts of this residue could build up in the parrotlet’s body. With organic produce readily available at most supermarkets, it can be very easy to feed your parrotlet a safe, healthy diet.
Harrisons(tm) bird feeds are made from all natural and organic products. No pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used in the production or manufacturing process. Harrisons also does not use preservatives or artificial colors and flavors.
Parrotlets should receive at least one protein food several times weekly. Grains should be also fed several times a week, although there is no harm in feeding daily. Many grains and protein foods also make healthy treats for your parrotlet.
Grains: Steamed white, wild or brown rice, cooked pasta, whole wheat and multigrain bread, plain popcorn, bran muffins, polenta, grits, sprouted seeds, cous cous, cooked oatmeal and dry, high-fiber, all natural cereal. New grains are constantly popping up on the supermarket shelf these days. Take advantage of their availability and both you and your parrotlet will be eating better.
Proteins: Parrotlets cannot crack open nuts, however, they enjoy hulled, peanuts, cashews and almonds. Raw sunflower seed, cooked lean beef (fat trimmed), chicken, eggs, and fish, hard cheeses such as cheddar and Monterey jack. Tofu and cooked beans such as lentil, kidney, pinto, black, navy, garbonzo, white or butter are low in fat and high in protein yet very inexpensive. Egg food should be given to breeding pairs every day. Sunflower seed and nuts are high in fat – be careful not to over feed pet parrotlets. Breeders need the extra fat in order to produce healthy babies.
Do not let cooked foods remain in the cage for long periods of time. Remove anything cooked the parrotlet has not eaten within an hour of feeding. Cooked foods provide bacteria with an excellent breeding ground and can cause illness and death if left in the cage for just a few hours. Feed cooked highly spoilable foods on a paper plate that can be taken straight from the cage and tossed in the trash. Parrotlets are fast learners and will quickly run to that dish as soon as its placed in the cage and eat every soft delicious morsel. They will usually chew up the dish so only use white or unbleached non-coated paper.
Never feed grit to a parrotlet. Parrotlets hull their seed with their beak rather than swallow it whole. Therefore grit is not needed to grind up the food. It is unnecessary and has been known to cause crop impaction and death. If the parrotlet is on a well-balanced diet and has access to mineral block, cuttlebone and vitamins, they will have no need for grit.
Vitamins and Supplements
A pet parrotlet receiving a balanced diet has little need for vitamins and supplements. However, it can be good insurance in making sure the parrotlet is receiving enough nutrients. Some seed mixes are coated with vitamins. Since parrotlets hull their seeds, however, it is doubtful they are receiving any of the vitamins. There are many good commercial vitamins on the market. Find one recommended for pets and not formulated for breeders.
Breeding parrotlets have higher nutritional requirements and need vitamin supplements in order to produce healthy chicks. There are many vitamins formulated for breeding birds to keep them in optimum condition. Parrotlets also need lots of calcium when they are breeding. Breeding pair should also receive powdered calcium supplements.
Cuttlebone provides much needed calcium that is vital for breeding parrotlets. It is also important for young parrotlets in order to grow strong healthy bones. Adult females need more calcium than males, especially breeding hens. However, it should always be available to all parrotlets including pets. Mineral blocks contain various necessary minerals and should be available at all times. Some parrotlets eat a lot of mineral block and others hardly touch it. Mineral blocks are very important for breeding pairs and should always be available.
Supplements should be sprinkled over the soft foods in a powdered sugar or salt shaker several times weekly. Parrotlets that are fed a primarily pellet diet should not be fed vitamins. It can overload their systems and possibly damage the kidneys and/or liver.
Since parrotlets eat flowers in the wild, some people like to feed them bee pollen. Bee pollen is high in protein and amino acids. It is believed to promote healing and energy. It may also have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. There are companies that manufacture bee pollen specifically for birds now available. Bee pollen is also believed to enhance fertility and may help with feather picking as well.
Spirulina(tm) and Wheat Grass Powder
Spirulina(tm) and wheat grass powders are two supplements recommended to be used together for optimum benefit. Primarily used by breeders and exhibitors, Spirulina(tm) is the trade name for algae that is grown in the sea. It aids in digestion, strengthens the immune system and increases fertility. Spirulina(tm) also improves feather color and condition. Wheat Grass is used in conjunction with Spirulina(tm). Wheat Grass contains all essential amino acids as well as trace minerals. Both supplements can be beneficial to pet parrotlets for their feather conditioning and immune enhancing properties, especially when they are molting. Spirulina(tm) and wheat grass powder are also used to enhance fertility in breeding pairs. Added to hand-feeding formula, chicks grow up stronger and healthier, with a beautiful sheen to their feathers.