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The Bananaquit or Sugar Bird – Natural History and Captive Care

Bananaquit on FlowerA bold, “trusting” demeanor and strikingly-beautiful plumage has rendered the Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) a popular bird both in and out of captivity.  Throughout its range, hotels and restaurants attract these little dynamos with bowls of sugar water, much to the delight of their patrons.  Bananaquits provided me with an excellent introduction to softbill-keeping when I began working for bird importers and zoos, and they remain a hardy favorite of aviculturists worldwide.


Forty-one Bananaquit subspecies (an avian record?) have been described.  Most are gray to black above and sport brilliant yellow under-parts (somewhat paler in most females) and a striking white eye streak. The down-curving bill, specialized for harvesting nectar, is long and sharp. Read More »

Pygmy Parrots – Thumb-Sized Lichen-Eaters that move like Woodpeckers

Micropsitta PusioI recently attended a fascinating lecture on Island Bird Diversity at the American Museum of Natural HistoryTwo Pygmy Parrot species – the Red-Breasted (Micropsitta bruijni) and the Finsch’s (M. finschii) – drew the speaker to the Solomon Islands. In reflecting back on the talk afterwards, I realized that, despite my interest, I had yet to observe a live Pygmy Parrot. They’ve never been in the collection of the Bronx Zoo, where I worked for over 20 years, and only rarely appear in museums.  Further research turned up one interesting field report, but it seems that we still know very little about these smallest and, arguably, most unusual of all parrots.

The World’s Smallest Parrots

Six species of Pygmy Parrots inhabit New Guinea, the Solomons and neighboring islands. They look, in most respects, like other parrots – but barely exceed a human thumb in size!  At 3.5 inches in length, the Buff-Faced Pygmy parrot (M. pusio) is the smallest Psittacine; its relatives are not much bigger. Please see the video below…it is hard to believe they are real! Read More »

Green-Cheeked Conures – Captive Care and Natural History

Uroko viviThe decision to purchase or adopt a parrot requires careful consideration. For all their wonderful qualities, these intelligent, social birds are very demanding of one’s time and finances, and not suited to all homes. One species, however, stands out as an “almost” safe bet.  The Green-Cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) adapts well to many different situations, and is less likely to display the behaviors that frustrate so many parrot owners. Although not trouble-free, it may well be the best choice for many parrot enthusiasts.

Pet Qualities

The word “fun” invariably arises when Green-Cheeked Conure owners speak about their pets. Even by parrot standards, they are curious and playful. Their affectionate nature and willingness to be coddled is often compared to that of a well-socialized cockatoo. These qualities, along with their small size, have skyrocketed Green-Cheeks into prominence in the pet trade. When I first began working for NYC bird importers in the 1970’s, they were unknown, and were uncommon as recently as 20 years ago. Read More »

Red-Billed Quelea – Captive Care of the World’s Most Numerous Bird

Red billed QueleaAlthough attracting less attention than European Starlings and other common birds, Red-Billed Queleas (Quelea quelea) outnumber them all.  Yet despite being dubbed the “Locust Bird” for its habit of moving in flocks containing millions of individuals, this attractive African weaver is surprisingly difficult to breed in captivity.


Population size is not the Red-Billed Quelea’s sole unique characteristic. It is also the only bird in which males exhibit highly variable color patterns that are not designed to advertise their value as mates.  In all other colorful, sexually-dimorphic species (those where males and females differ in appearance), color is used to express desirability to females (please see this Gouldian Finch article).

Some male Red-Billed Queleas vary so much from others that they appear to be of different species. The black or white facial mask is surrounded by feathers that may be colored red, orange, pink or various shades of each; the breast is often splashed with similar colors. Please see the article below for photos of several males…the effect of all this variation in a huge flock must be spectacular! Read More »

Meyer’s Lorikeet – Natural History and Captive Care

MaleoMost parrot aficionados know of the Meyer’s Parrot, but the beautiful green lorikeet bearing the same “first name” is relatively unstudied in the wild, and not commonly kept here in the USA. The Meyer’s Lorikeet (Trichoglossus flavoviridus mayeri), a subspecies of the Yellow-and-Green Lorikeet, differs from many related species in both coloration and social behavior.  A forest-dweller confined to a single island, this unique bird deserves the attention of aviculturists now, while wild populations are still relatively stable.


Three shades of green color the plumage of the 8-inch-long Meyer’s Lorikeet. The breast feathers and those behind the eye are tipped with yellow, and the bill is bright orange.  While lacking the “flamboyant” reds and blues often associated with lorikeets, it is quite spectacular in appearance. Read More »

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