Choosing a “Best First Bird” from the hundreds of captive bred species is very challenging because personalities vary so much among the same species. The qualities you seek in a pet should guide your decision. For example, do you want a quiet bird, one you can interact with, or a pet to observe in a large flight cage with a mate? Bearing that in mind, today I’d like to introduce you to my hands-down favorite parrot, the Gray Cheeked Parakeet or Pocket Parrot (Brotogeris pyrrhopterus). Also known as the Orange-Winged Parakeet, this delightful bird is an excellent choice for those new to parrot keeping and without the space needed for large species. And trust me, its attractiveness will not dim as you gain experience, for those of us who started out keeping these little guys remain enamored of them decades later. No doubt my experienced readers will have other favorites; your thoughts will be of great value to novices, so please share your experiences by posting below. Please also post below if you’d like advice on choosing your first finch or softbill.
The ease with which Gray Cheeked Parakeets adjust to human companionship is my primary reason for recommending them to folks without parrot-keeping experience. Within their native range, it is said that even wild-caught adults make fine, handle able pets. Captive born youngsters, even if not hand-raised, offer new owners the best chance of obtaining a friendly, hands-on companion. One may even be able to train an adult that has little human contact…a virtual impossibility with many other species.
Of course, taming and training must be done properly…please post below for further information. But it is worth the effort, as well-adjusted Gray Cheeks are the most charming, affectionate and entertaining avian pets one could hope for!
Midway in size between lovebirds and cockatiels, Gray Cheeks are small enough to accommodate in most homes, and generally not quite as noisy as many parrots. They also break the parrot mold by tending to bond with all familiar people, rather than to their primary caretaker alone. Despite their diminutive size, well-habituated Gray Cheeked Parakeets are usually quite fearless, taking on dogs, larger parrots and strangers indiscriminately. While very amusing to observe, this aspect of their personality can get them into trouble, so watch yours closely!
Gray Cheeks do not have a reputation as talented mimics, but some individuals do quite well in learning to repeat words and sounds.
A number of the Gray Cheek’s relatives, including the lovable Bee Bee Parrot, are popular among bird enthusiasts (please see photos) and also suitable for beginners. Please see the articles below and post any questions you may have.
The 6-8-inch-long Gray Cheeked Parakeet is clad in various shades of yellowish to bright green, and sports blue highlights with a gray chin, forehead, and cheeks (no surprises there!); small bright orange feathers decorate the under-wings.
Range and Habitat
The Gray Cheeked Parakeet occupies a limited range in Ecuador and northwestern Peru, where it may be found along moist and dry forest fringes, in thorn scrub, and on ranch and farm outskirts.
Wild populations appear to be much reduced from former years, due to over- collection for the pet trade and habitat loss. Certain sections of their range now lie within protected areas, so there is at least some hope for their future survival.
When I started working for bird importers back in the 1970’s, Gray Cheeks rivaled Budgies and Cockatiels in popularity. Breeders here in the USA did not make up for the shortfall caused by the prohibition on importing wild parrots, so that today captive-born individuals are not always easy to find. However, they are well-worth searching for!
Although not very large, Gray Cheeked Parakeets are quite active and, like all parrots, are prone to stress-related disorders when kept in small enclosures. Large cages or aviaries stocked with a variety of parrot toys are ideal, and daily out-of-the cage time is essential. Pairs that are closely confined may over-preen one another to the point of severe feather loss.
Fruit and greens figure highly in the natural diet, and are essential to your pets’ long term health. Provide your Gray Cheeks with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, and be sure to search out “exotic” varieties if these are not available from your usual store. Pomegranate, prickly pear fruit, apples, kiwi, carrots, peas, corn, dandelion, kale and many other types of produce will be readily accepted (introduce new foods slowly to avoid digestive upset).
The balance of the diet should be comprised of a good small parrot seed mix. Dried fruits and vegetables are relished, and may be used as training aids.
Breeding should be given more attention by pet keepers, especially given this species precarious status in the wild. So far, results have been sporadic, but this may be due to a lack of interest, given the huge numbers of inexpensive, wild-caught animals that were available early-on.
Gray Cheek clutches average 4-6 eggs, which are incubated for 24-30 days. Only the female incubates, but the male often sits beside her in the nest hollow – the mothers among my readers must, I’m sure, wonder just how “useful” this is!