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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.

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