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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.

Choosing a Pet Parrot – an overview of popular species

In recent years an ever increasing number of parrot species have been bred in captivity and made available to those of us who enjoy keeping these avian clowns. This wonderful turn of events has taken a good deal of pressure off wild parrot populations, but sometimes leaves the prospective parrot owner a bit bewildered when it comes to choosing a pet.

Choosing a species and an individual parrot is an important step, and is best undertaken after careful research and discussions with the specialists in our bird room. I will write detailed articles about the care of individual parrot species in the future. What I would like to do here is to give you a general idea of the personalities and needs of some popular species, to help in your initial planning.

Please bear in mind that individual parrots vary greatly in their personalities and reactions to different people and environments, and that they quite often break the “species mold”. Their past care – how and where they were kept and raised – and your own actions will also have a great influence on their suitability as pets.

Fischer’s Lovebird, Agapornis fischeri
The behavior of these spunky little fellows often belies the “love” part of their name. True, mated pairs are quite attentive to each other, but lovebirds in general are among the most fearless of birds and will not hesitate to take on adversaries many times their size.

Years ago I kept a flock of Fischer’s lovebirds along with a pair of grey duikers (small antelopes) in an exhibit the Bronx Zoo. The birds were the bane of the antelopes’ existence, and would only allow the much larger creatures to feed after the flock had eaten its fill. They would even crowd around the glass that separated them from the meerkat exhibit — screening at the normally bird-intimidating predators and just itching for a fight!

Adult lovebirds are almost impossible to tame, but when acquired as fledglings they make very responsive and intelligent pets. Although not known for their talking abilities, they make up for this with their clownish antics and sociability. Their small size (6 inches or so) renders them ideal choices for those with limited space.

Black-headed Caique, Pionites melanocechala
Although not as commonly available as some of the other birds on this list, this caique (correct pronunciation is “kah-ee-kay”, but you will often hear “cake”), is well worth searching for. Although somewhat less “dependent” upon company than other parents (often to the point of seeming “aloof”), this South American beauty often bonds closely with one person. They are fairly small (10 inches) and possess only moderate talking abilities. Colored green with a yellow and orange front and black head and beak, this bird is quite stunning to behold.

Spectacled Amazon, Amazona albifrons albifrons
Often overlooked because they are relatively common in the pet trade, spectacled Amazons have much to recommend them. They are, however, quite loud and given to an almost constant chattering, and this can be a bit much for some people. These tendencies, however, render them fairly good talkers and their outgoing personalities can be quite charming. Those that I have worked with have unfailingly become the center of attention, and were quite are undeterred by large groups and noisy surroundings. They reach about 11 inches in length, and so need a bit more room than the birds mentioned up to this point.

Yellow-naped Amazon, Amazona ocrocephala auropalliata
This Amazon is less brightly-colored than others of the group, but makes a wonderful pet for the right owner. I say “right owner” because they are quite large and active, and tend to defend themselves vigorously when threatened. That being said, yellow-napes are also extremely curious and engaging, and are among the most acrobatic and trainable of the Amazons. They reach 16 inches in length and are best acquired as hand- fed babies.


You can read more about important considerations in choosing a pet parrot at:http://www.windhovervet.com/choosing.htm

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