Those Colorful, Clownish Caiques! (Parrots)

Relatively new to the avian pet trade, caiques (pronounced “ki-eeks”) are quickly making their mark in the world of aviculture and are gaining much-deserved popularity with their bright, festive coloring and playful, active personalities. These cocky yet clownish little birds are as friendly and outgoing as they are curious, their talking ability has proven to be more than adequate, and their entertaining antics are a welcome delight to any observer. From all appearances, these energetic little beauties possess almost all of the most sought-after traits that are considered desirable in a companion parrot.

Currently the most commonly available species is the black-headed caique, originating North of the Amazon and westward to parts of Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. These birds sport a deep, rich forest green color on their backs, wings and tail. The top and upper back of the head is a shiny jet black; the nape and neck is a vivid yellow/orange, and the beak is black. There is a hint of dark green around the eyes, and the entire front of the belly and breast area is a soft cloudy white. “Socks” and the underside of the tail is burnt orange. This parrot measures approximately nine inches in length, and their sex is undeterminable by visualization.

The less common but increasingly available species is the white-bellied caique, whose habitat is South of the Amazon, from northern Brazil and spreading to parts of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. The appearance of the white-bellied species is almost identical to the black-headed, with two striking exceptions: the beak of the white-bellied caique is horn colored, and the entire head is a bright yellow/orange, giving this species the appearance of wearing a hood. The abrupt color changes from one part of the body to another are so pronounced on both of these birds that they look as if they have been painted on! The white-bellied species is slightly smaller in size measuring approximately eight inches in length, and again, this species is not sexually dimorphic.

Caiques are surprisingly small but heavy to those who have not previously encountered them; their body build is compact and stocky with a “barrel”-like chest and short, square-shaped tail. The average weight of an adult is approximately 150 to 175 grams, and their average lifespan is 30 years. They have a relatively narrow wing span and this, coupled with their weight, prevents them from flying long distances. In their native habitat, small flocks have a tendency to group together in treetops. Their chattering and verbal interactions among themselves can become quite loud, and they take flight quickly when approached, returning only when they sense the “intruder” has departed.

As with most avian species, the personality traits of the caique differ with each individual bird. Some exhibit the “Show me you love me” desire to be petted and cuddled more than others, but the overall pet potential of these charming little clowns is very hard — if not impossible — to surpass. They are rambunctious, energetic little pistols who sometimes seem to never wind down! They are very social, happy-go-lucky birds by nature, and love attention from their humans. Their work is to play, and they do play hard! They are quite coordinated, and some of their natural daily antics will consist of climbing up, down, over, around and under; swinging; tumbling; wrestling; rolling; hanging; jumping; and perhaps the most amusing of all, bunny-hopping. This entertaining-to-watch activity has thus far been noted to be specific to caiques and the etiology is unknown, which only serves to to heighten their uniqueness and desirability as companion parrots.

Well-known behavior specialist Sally Blanchard shares her life and love with an adorable black-headed caique named Spike. Spike often accompanies Sally to lectures, where she demonstrates his exuberance for this hopping activity by placing her hand on his back, grasping him around his middle and pretending to “bounce” him up and down. Much to the delight of spectators, Spike will continue “bouncing” and bunny-hopping long after Sally has released him!

Caiques are energetic, busy little birds, and caution must be exercised during playtime to prevent biting that can stem from “emotional overload”. To keep them entertained, provide a multitude of toys to hold their attention. They especially love those that either make noise, or assist them in their “travels”; such as bells, balls, ropes or hoops. They prefer things that provide movement, and swings are high on the list of favorites. Because their activity level is so high, they need toys such as acrylics that can withstand hard play; and like all companion parrots they need “destructible” wooden toys to satisfy their chewing instincts and keep their beaks in shape. Natural, bird-safe branches are a favorite. Toys should be rotated on a regular basis to prevent boredom.

The talking ability of this species is not notably impressive as with the African Grey; but they easily speak well enough to be understood if you listen closely. They have tiny, high-pitched voices that are similar in sound to that of a budgie. They spend a good deal of time chattering to each other and can become quite noisy when socializing. They quickly learn to whistle musical tunes, and seem to prefer mimicking those whistled by their owners as opposed to what they hear on a radio or television. These parrots are intelligent, and teaching them to perform tricks is usually quite simple. Potty-training is also quite easy for them to master. It has been noted that hand-raised, tame caiques will remain loving to their humans even after being paired with a potential mate; they do not often exhibit the tendency to become “one-owner” birds.

They have no special dietary requirements; pellets supplemented with fruits, vegetables and other foods common to parrots will satisfy their needs and requirements. They do have a fondness for chewing natural green branches, so providing a supply of these is recommended.

Possessing so many positive traits that are sought by bird owners, I believe that caiques are well on their way to becoming one of the most opular companion parrots in existence. Their reasonable purchase price ($750 — $1000) is well within the range of other popular species, and the recent increase in successful breeding attempts by many avicuturists definitely ensures that we will be hearing and seeing more of these cuddly little clowns!