The Caiques are two species of the parrot family from the Amazon Basin of Brazil. They are the White-bellied Caique and the Black Headed Caique. They are generally around 9 inches in length with short tails and strong beaks and live around 20 years.
The White-bellied Caique (Pionites leucogaster) is a relatively common bird in its native range around the humid forests and surrounding woodland south of the Amazon River and into Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.
They have an orange-yellow head and vent, green wings and back and a white belly with pinkish legs and beak. There are three subspecies which have slight difference patterns in their feathers.
The Black headed Caique (Pionites melancephalus) also occupies the forests but not so humid areas of the Amazon basin, north of the river and west of the Ucayali River as well as areas of Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela. In the wild, they are found in small flocks of up to 10 birds or in pairs.
They have a black crown, yellow and orange head, white belly, green wings and back and dark grey bill and feet. There are two subspecies which have slight differences in plumage.
Caiques are energetic and playful birds who are intelligent and can adapt to new situations easily. They need plenty of attention from their owner and a variety of toys when they are in their cages to avoid boredom. They can be noisy and also have an endearing habit of rolling onto their backs and playing with toys using their feet.
These birds view everything as something to play with, so might be wise to keep the breakable and valuable items out of their reach. They will also travel well by car or plane as they are curious and relaxed. They don’t need to be in a quiet area of the house when in their cage as aren’t affected by household noise. Nor do they have any special needs regarding lighting or heating, though it always pays to find out what kind of conditions they have been raised in to help them adapt.
Caiques can be biters if not trained from a young age, more so than many of the species of parrots of similar size.
These birds are not great at mimicking human speech but are good at other sounds such as alarm clocks, smoke alarms, microwaves, car alarms and whistles. They will often form these new sounds into little songs.
The minimum cage size for this type of bird is 24x24x24 so they can spread their wings, nor their tails would drag on the floor. They cage should be made from sturdy metal to avoid the bird chewing through, and there should be no less than two perches, one near food and water and the other up high to be used for roosting. Natural materials for perches are best as the birds enjoy chewing them so willow or poplar is a good choice.
In the wild, these birds live in the tree tops and eat berries, seeds and fruits. In captivity, a combination of seed and pellet diet as well as fresh fruit, vegetables and grains is ideal. Variations of diet are also important to avoid boredom with food.
Because they are high-octane, busy birds, they need more fruit and vegetables than other, less active species and need to keep up their intake of Vitamin A to remain healthy.
Vegetables which are perfect with caiques include peas, sweetcorn, carrots, beet greens, lettuce, watercress and sweet potatoes. They will also enjoy greens such as chickweed, dandelion, spinach and broccoli. Fruits which they are particular to include apples, bananas, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and raisons. As with any bird, remove the apple seeds due to tiny amounts of toxic material in them. One of their favourite treat food is walnuts.
Oyster shell or gravel can be provided as a calcium supplement and cuttlebone is useful for keeping their beaks in good shape. Any other vitamins that may be needed can be added to drinking water.
Caiques can be aggressive towards other birds so should not be left with other birds alone. They are strong willed and need to be trained properly and carefully, with a firm hand. If they are handled nervously, they will come to dominate their trainer and be aggressive with humans in general.
Allow a newly arrived bird time to get used to it’s surroundings before trying to do any training. A hand-reared bird will adapt quicker, but time should be given for the bird to assess its environment. Sessions seem to work best on an evening and should start around 20 minutes at a time, offering treats to step up onto your hand.
Caiques are not too fussy regarding shape and dimensions of nest boxes, as long as it is big enough to fit both birds in, so 10inches x 10inches x 24inches in length will be comfortable. The birds are sexually mature from 2-3 years of age and should be introduced outside breeding season to avoid aggressiveness.
When the pair is ready to breed, the male will become more aggressive than normal and can even harm the hen, so needs to be monitored. The hen will nest build and take in extra minerals to make eggs. They can produce 3-4 eggs per clutch and the chicks hatch around 26 days later.
Experienced bird keepers say that this is not a bird to start keeping parrot family birds but if you have some experience and want to try a new species, these are rewarding and entertaining characters. If hand reared, they need constant interaction to remain tame and if parent reared, can be trained with care and the right techniques. They are intelligent but can be prone to biting, so learning how to deal with this behaviour if it occurs is also important. Otherwise, they can make a wonderful addition to the family.