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Two Mid-Sized Parrot Clowns: the Black-Capped and White Headed Caique, Pionites melanocephala and P. leucogaster, Part 2


Please see: Two Mid-Sized Parrot Clowns: the Black-Capped and White Headed Caique, Pionites melanocephala and P. leucogaster, Part 1, for general information on caique care.

Black-Capped Caique, Pionites melanocephala


The caiques are unique among South American parrots in displaying a white breast.  This is set off, in this species, by the bright green wings and back and a black face and crown.  The abdomen, thighs and under-tail are yellowish-orange.


Two subspecies have been described.  The nominate form, P. melanocephala melanocephala, is found in the eastern and southern portions of the range.

In P. melanocephala pallida, sometimes referred to as the pallid caique, the abdomen, thighs and under-tail are yellow instead of orange.  Intergrades, showing characteristics of both subspecies, are common where the ranges overlap.  The black-capped caique also interbreeds with the white-breasted caique (please see below), further confusing identification of the various subspecies.

Range and Habitat

The range extends from eastern Venezuela to French Guiana and south through southwestern Columbia and Ecuador to northeastern Peru and northern Brazil.

The black-capped caique is most commonly encountered along forest edges near rivers, swamps and other bodies of water.  It generally forages in the canopy, but will venture into adjoining savannas to feed as well.

Behavior and Social Groups

Caiques may be seen in pairs, family groups or small flocks – but whatever the arrangement, there is always a good deal of noise.  Observers often note that caique flocks always seem to be larger than they actually are, due to the racket they create.  As in captivity, they are always in motion.

Black-capped caiques have been observed to engage in a behavior that has come to be known as “crowing”.  A bird, apparently of either sex, will perch and raise its wings high over its head, exposing the bright orange under-feathers in the process.  While so poised it emits a “piping call” that has not been heard at other times.  “Crowing” is believed to be a contact behavior.

Black-Capped Caiques as Pets

Black-capped caiques are more commonly kept than are white-breasted caiques.  They are quite active, rolling about and playing – with each other and favored people – in a most endearing manner.  Although not known for their speaking ability, in time they can amass a decent repertoire of words.  Caiques are best acquired as young, preferably hand-raised birds, as they have a tendency to use their strong beaks when trying to “make a point”.  Please see Part I of this article for further information on captive care.

White-Breasted Caique, Pionites leucogaster

Range and Habitat

The white breasted caique has a more limited range than its black-capped cousin, and is less commonly seen in captivity as well.  Three subspecies occur through eastern Peru, northern Bolivia and northern Brazil.  It is native to eastern Ecuador as well, but its continued presence there is now uncertain.

Like the black-capped caique, this species usually moves about and feeds high in the treetops, and frequents forests bordering watercourses.


The three subspecies differ a bit in color.  All share a white breast.  The nominate race, P. leucogaster leucogaster has green thighs while those of the other subspecies are yellow.

The yellow-tailed caique, P. l. xanthurus is limited in distribution to northwestern Brazil and has, as might be expected, a yellow tail along with yellow thighs.  Its overall color is somewhat paler than that of the nominate race of the other subspecies (the yellow-thighed caique, P. l. xanthomeria).

Naturally-Occurring Hybrids

The yellow-thighed caique and the black-capped caique overlap throughout parts of their ranges, and frequently hybridize in the wild, leading some ornithologists to question the validity of their taxonomy.


A field research report on the behavior of black-capped caiques and other parrots in Ecuador is posted at:


Images 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.

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