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Individual species profiles on various birds.

Aggression in Lories and Lorikeets (Psittacidae, Lorinae)


The 56 lory and lorikeet species are among the most gorgeous and active of all parrots, and are usually quite bold in character.  In both the wild (particularly Australia) and in zoos, lory feeding stations are a great hit with tourists, with hundreds of colorful birds flocking onto treat-bearing visitors.

The Effect of Feeding Ecology

Lory and lorikeets rely primarily upon a relatively scarce, widely-scattered food source – pollen and nectar, and herein lays the explanation for their aggressive feeding behavior.  Competition at feeding sites has fostered in these birds a repertoire of over 30 threat displays…a far greater number than is seen in other parrots.  Unfortunately, these tendencies often express themselves as aggressive behaviors in captivity, with even long-paired birds sometimes running into difficulties.

Space and Aggression

A change in the environment is frequently a pre-cursor to aggression.  Giving the birds more room – a great concept in principal – often leads to fighting.  This is true for many birds (and other animals)…I once lost 2 white-crested laughing jay thrushes to aggression after giving birds that had lived peaceably together for 18 month access to an adjoining cage.  Of course, crowding can also lead to fights, but the possibility of extending or establishing a territory seems an especially strong factor.  Lories seem particularly prone to this phenomenon.

Adding a Nest Box

The provision of a nest box may bring on breeding-related aggression in an otherwise peaceful male, and moving even a long-established pair to a new cage is always a cause for concern.  Be sure to observe your birds carefully at such times, and separate them if you will be away for long periods when the change is first instituted.

Introducing Birds

Introduce new birds by caging them side-by-side, and confine a possibly troublesome individual to a small cage or carrier within the larger cage, if space permits, to allow the birds to get used to each other.  I relied upon this method with a wide variety of birds in zoo situations, and found it most useful.  If using a carrier for the introduction, choose one with barred as opposed to solid sides, so that the birds can interact.  Pets International Take Me Home Traveler is ideal.

Other Considerations

Limiting mobility by clipping the wings of aggressive birds is another tried and proven method of easing the introduction process.  The availability of a wide variety of bird toys and a complex, well-perched cage will go a long way in keeping your birds occupied with constructive (rather than destructive!) activities.  Of course, proper lory nutrition is essential in fostering normal behavior and good relations among your pets.



Please also see my article on lory and lorikeet feeding behavior and natural history:

Lories and Lorikeets – why do they differ so from other parrots?

Image referenced from Wikipedia.

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.

The Macaws: An Overview of a Spectacular Group of Parrots, Part III


We’ve thus far met the largest and smallest of the macaws (please see Part I and II of this article).  Today I’d like to cover a few that, while considered to be “miniatures” in the macaw world, are still quite substantial birds, and not at all small in character.

At 15-20 inches in length, the following birds are comparable in size to an Amazon parrot, but more thinly built.  Along with the noble macaw (please see Part I of this article), they are excellent choices for those new to macaw keeping.  All have the intelligence and spirit of their larger relatives, but are easier to manage and a bit calmer in general (and less expensive!).  Most adjust well to cage life if taken out for frequent exercise.  The cage provided should, however, be larger than one might choose for a similarly-sized Amazon – something along the lines of an A&E Dometop Birdcage, or if possible, a larger macaw cage, would be ideal.

Chestnut-Fronted or Severe Macaw, Ara severa

This charming bird’s unfortunate Latin name conjures up the image of a stern creature, which is not at all accurate.  The largest of the “miniature macaws”, the 20 inch long severe is playful, affectionate and a potentially skilled talker.

Like all macaws, a tame severe enjoys physical contact, but will still occasionally put you to the test by trying to establish dominance.  However, it is not nearly as strong-willed as the larger macaws, and usually makes a fine pet.

Severe macaws are emerald green with a blue cast to the head and outer wings.  The underside of the flight feathers and tail is a startling reddish-orange.

Their large range extends from eastern Panama to French Guiana and south to northern Bolivia and central Brazil.  Severe macaws are nearly always associated with forested swamps and wooded river floodplains. Image referenced from Wikipedia.

Yellow-Collared, Yellow-Naped or Cassin’s Macaw, Ara auricollis

This little beauty reaches only 15 inches in length.  It is clad in dark green, with a black forehead and a yellow collar about the base of the neck; streaks of blue mark the tail and wing feathers.

Yellow-collared macaws are well known for their harsh, high-pitched screeches, but more than compensate for this by being among the most personable of the group.  Often described as “clownish”, they do indeed have a way of keeping one amused.  Those I have worked with were tireless in their efforts to explore and manipulate everyone and everything around them, and friends echo this observation.  In common with their relatives, yellow-collared macaws need a great deal of contact and interaction if they are to remain friendly.

Very much a bird of swampy forests and wooded riversides, the yellow-collared macaw dwells in the center of South America – eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, northwestern Argentina and central Brazil.  Field observations indicate that it may be even more gregarious than other macaws, with flocks numbering 400-500 birds occasionally reported.  It is also said that, in contrast to other macaws, pairs of yellow-collards are not always evident within the flock (pairs of macaws usually stay in close physical proximity to one another, even within a large flocks, and are usually easy to distinguish). Image referenced from Wikipedia.

Illiger’s or Blue-Winged Macaw, Ara maracana

Midway between the 2 preceding birds in size, the beautiful 17 inch long Illiger’s macaw also differs from them in color, being more of an olive than emerald green.  It has a red forehead, blue-green head, blue and green wings and a patch of red on the belly and lower back.

This macaw is very amenable to handling, and tames readily.  Alert and active it is, like all macaws, curious and prone to getting into mischief if left out of the cage unsupervised.  It is often described in books as “moody”…but I’m not sure how that label arose, as it seems to me no more prone to mood swings than other parrots (or most people!).

The range of the Illiger’s macaw is now only a fraction of what it once was.  Today, this bird is known only from eastern Brazil, Paraguay and northeastern Argentina – and is considered threatened in each of these countries. They are particularly scarce in Paraguay, but happily are bred in abundance in captivity.  Most often encountered in pairs or small flocks, Illiger’s macaws keep to forests and forest edges near lakes, swamps and rivers. Image referenced from Wikipedia.


A great deal of information on the natural history and conservation status of the Illiger’s macaw is posted at:


The African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) in the Wild: Natural History Notes on a Popular Pet

Today I’d like to take a look at how this most desirable of parrot pets gets along in its natural habitat.


African GraysThe gray parrot may be found across the breadth of central Africa, along, above and below the equator, and on islands in the Gulf of Guinea.  The huge range extends from Guinea Bissau on the west coast to Cameroon and continues southeast to Kenya in East Africa and south to northern Angola.  Three subspecies have been described, but there are questions as to their validity.


The gray parrot is a bird of moist lowland forests and coastal mangrove swamps, but also forages in wooded savannahs and cultivated areas.  Flocks of up to 200 individuals roost together in very tall trees, preferably located in forest clearings or on small river or lake islands.  Tall forest-edge trees are also utilized.

Feeding Behavior

Flocks of African gray parrots depart for their feeding grounds earlier than do most birds, flying very high and fast while calling loudly.  The parrots take regular routes to and from favored feeding grounds, and stay to the uppermost branches of the trees while foraging.  They tend to climb rather than hop or fly from branch to branch when feeding.  Gray parrots are difficult to approach when feeding, and very shy in general.

Oil palm nuts are a favored food, but a wide variety of other nuts, fruits, seeds and berries are taken.  They are rarely observed on the ground, but flocks in West Africa sometimes raid maize fields.  This, along with the reported presence of quartz in the stomach of some individuals, indicates that they may leave the treetops on occasion.


The breeding season apparently varies in accordance with local conditions, as eggs have been reported in March, June and July through September in different regions.  Gray parrots favor nest cavities that are located 90 feet or more above the ground.  Suitable nest sites are likely a major limiting factor on population levels.

Population Status

Wild populations are everywhere in decline due to deforestation and collection for export.  The gray parrot is considered to be “Near Threatened” by the IUCN and is listed on Appendix II of Cites.

An article on the habits and status of gray parrots in the wild is posted at:


The Macaws: An Overview of a Spectacular Group of Parrots, Part II


Please see Part I of this article for information concerning macaws in general and the noble or red-shouldered macaw in particular.  Last time I left off with an account of the smallest macaw…I begin here with the largest.

Hyacinth Macaw, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus

Hyacinch Macaws at the Tennesee AquariumAt 40 inches in length and sporting a wingspan of nearly 5 feet, this giant of the group is also the world’s largest parrot.  Words cannot do justice to its plumage, which is deep cobalt blue in color, highlighted by golden yellow about the eyes and lower mandible.

Hyacinths are largely confined to southern Brazil, with sporadic records from western Bolivia.  They favor stands of buriti palms, the nuts of which form a large portion of their diet, and forage mostly in the higher branches.  Hyacinth macaws also frequent open forests along waterways near and within Brazil’s Pantanal region.

Although these spectacular birds are not for those lacking large parrot experience (or cash!), they are considered to be among the most gentle and affectionate of the macaws.  Hyacinths are, however, extremely protective of those to whom they have bonded, and wary of strangers.  They will not hesitate to use their massive beaks when a threat is perceived, and must be handled accordingly.

Blue-and-Gold Macaw, Ara ararauna

Blue and Gold MacawAlthough smaller than the hyacinth, this 3 foot-long beauty is still quite an impressive bird.  With its particularly affectionate personality, playful ways and impressive speaking ability, the blue-and-gold is perhaps the best of the large macaws with which to start.  Huge imports in the 1960’s and 70’s allowed the establishment of many breeding groups, and today it is the least expensive and most widely-kept macaw in the USA.

Colored in turquoise-blue offset by a brilliant golden-yellow chest, blue-and-gold macaws are sometimes seen in large flocks, within which the pairs stay in close contact.  Indeed, even upon my first sighting of them in the wild (when I could hardly think straight, so impressed was I by their size and brilliance!), pairs were readily discernable within each flock.

This species is declining in many areas, but still occupies a huge swath of land from eastern Panama and French Guiana in the north to Bolivia in the south.  Flocks forage widely along savannahs, forest edges and swamps, returning at dusk to favored roosting sites.  The blue-and-gold is one of the few macaws that can be counted upon to show up on a well-planned birding trip to prime habitat…I guarantee that a sighting will be remembered for a lifetime.

Green-winged Macaw, Ara chloroptera

Green Winged MacawOften mistaken for a scarlet macaw, the green-wing is a larger bird, nearly the size of a hyacinth, and is clad in a deeper burgundy red than is its more commonly-kept cousin.  It is also an easier bird to manage than the scarlet, being quite gentle and very playful.  My first long-ago experience with hand raised green-wings remains sharp today…rolling on their backs and pawing at me, they acted more like kittens than birds!  Green wings are, however, very sensitive birds, and are easily upset by strangers or sudden noises.  Their beaks are out-sized, even by macaw standards, and lend them a comical air.

The range of the green-winged macaw closely parallels that of the blue-and-gold (please see above), but it is much more of a true forest bird than its relative.  Green wings favor hilly country, and are rarely observed far from heavy tree cover.  When foraging and roosting, they stay to the treetops.  Interestingly, green wings hybridize with both military and blue-and-gold macaws in the wild.

A look at a few moderately-sized macaws next time will round out our survey. 


You can read about World Wildlife Fund’s work with hyacinth macaws in the Brazilian Pantanal at:


Hyacinch Macaw images and Green-Winged Macaw Images referenced from Wikipedia Commons

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