Home | Bird Species Profiles | Two Mid-Sized Parrot Clowns: the Black-Capped and White Headed Caique, Pionites melanocephala and P. leucogaster

Two Mid-Sized Parrot Clowns: the Black-Capped and White Headed Caique, Pionites melanocephala and P. leucogaster

The two parrot species known as caiques (pronounced “kai-EKE) have not, until recently, been very popular in the pet trade. In fact, my introduction to both came about as a result of caring for several that were part of the Bronx Zoo’s collection, despite prior experience working for a large bird importer. Their outgoing personalities, unique markings and non-stop antics have now brought them out of the avicultural shadows, and their popularity is on the rise.

Some Preliminary Considerations
The bold, lively personalities that render caiques such amusing pets – they are unfailingly described as “clownish” by fans – can also make them a handful to train and care for. They are quite headstrong, and tend to nip if un-socialized. Wild caiques are on the go all day long, and in captivity must be given plenty of opportunity to exercise.

They are also quite vocal – much of their calling consists of whistles as opposed to screams, but the noise factor is a consideration. I would not recommend a caique as a “first parrot”, but for someone with a bit of experience and time to devote to their care, they have a great deal to offer.

General Characteristics
White-Headed CaiqueThe two described caique species (and 5 subspecies) seem unrelated to other South American parrots. Both are stocky in build and present quite a unique appearance in terms of color – bright green backs and wings with white breasts and, depending upon the species, a black or yellow-orange head. At 9 inches in length, they are just the right size for those with limited space…please note, however, that caiques are quite active and need a roomier cage than their size might indicate, or daily out-of-cage exercise.

Care in General
Caiques require a cage of at least 18″ x 18″ x 24″, larger and vertically oriented if possible. The Hagen Motel Cockatiel Cage is ideal. They enjoy baths and showers, and absolutely must have a wide and ever changing variety of toys. Caiques are as active an inquisitive a parrot as you will find – they will keep you entertained and laughing for hours, but languish if allowed to become bored.

Daily exercise outside the cage is very desirable, but due to their incredibly acrobatic and curious ways, free-ranging caiques should be supervised or only trusted in a “parrot-proofed” room.

Caiques, unlike many parrots, prefer to roost within an enclosed space, and should be provided with a suitably sized nest box for night-time use.

Caiques are unusual among parrots in favoring live insects. Although not strictly necessary, they should be offered mealworms, waxworms and crickets on occasion. Most caiques appreciate other meat based foods as well – the bone from a cooked chicken leg will provide quite a workout for their beaks.

Sprouted seeds (please see my article, Sprouting Seeds at Home: A Useful Method of Providing Pet Birds with Nutritious Treats), sprouting greens  and fresh fruits, vegetables and berries of all kinds should be offered as part of the daily diet (i.e. not merely as treats). Wild caiques consume a good deal of plant food daily, and in captivity readily accept, among other foods, apples, melons, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, cooked yams, corn, peas, squash, beets and kale.

Wild caiques have been observed to feed upon flowers, and the white-breasted caique is believed to be an important pollinator of at least 1 plant species. Lory nectar should be provided each week or so, and insecticide-free flowers will be relished.

The base of the diet can be a high quality parrot pellet, along with a bit of seed-based food. Like most parrots, caiques will eat sunflower seeds to the exclusion of all else if given the opportunity.

The tops and stalks of thick-skinned vegetables, such as carrots, beets, broccoli, kale and turnips should be provided – these will keep your birds busy as well as supply important nutrients.

I’ll take a closer look at both caique species next time.

The Rare Species Conservatory Foundations caique management protocol, including detailed information on hand rearing chicks, is posted at:

Images referenced from Wikipedia commons here and here.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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