White-crowned Pionus

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Is the White-crowned Pionus right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: White-crowned Parrot, White-capped Pionus (a dated usage you should avoid)

Scientific name: Pionus senilis

The basics:
The White-crowned Pionus was the first Pionus to gain widespread popularity among pet owners, who were bowled over by this colorful, mid-sized parrot who was confident and playful, yet seemed to lack the “beakiness” or the desire to scream of some of the better-known talking South American parrots. A properly socialized White-crowned Pionus can fit right into a busy family, going to anyone safely, even if you happen to live in an apartment. Of course, they do mimic, and if kids scream, or dogs bark, then your White-crowned Pionus may too learn to scream or bark. But they rarely offer any genuine behavior problems, and they can be a great starter bird for someone who wants to get their first “real” parrot.

The White-Crowned Pionus is a striking parrot of the Caribbean slope of Central America, ranging from Mexico and down south to Costa Rica and western Panama. It can be found in mountainous country as high as 2,300 feet. If you sit on a hill above the tree where the birds are feeding and gaze down, you are struck by the gleaming white crowns. However, if you happen to be underneath, you will be reminded of the old-fashioned name for this genus, the Red-Vented Parrot, because the red vents give the illusion that the upper canopy of the tree holds red flowers, not an entire flock of chunky little parrots.

The White-crown is the classic Pionus with a clean blue head, white crown, white throat, and white eye-ring. Unfortunately, the White-capped Pionus, has long been confused with the White-crowned, but it is actually a separate species distinguished by a face “speckled” with small white spots.

A great many White-crowned Pionus, P. senilis, both in older writings and today on the internet even in the newest of videos, are mis-identified as White-capped Pionus, which is now the accepted common name for P. seniloides. In an otherwise good article, you can check the scientific name to make sure you're reading about the correct species. There are some well-respected breeders and writers out there who have published using the old name, so you can become confused if you're not aware of the issue. The two species are not really that difficult to tell apart once you're aware of the issue. Under the white crown, an adult White-crowned Pionus has a relatively clean blue face with a white throat patch. In addition to a less impressive white cap on its forehead and forecrown, the adult White-capped Pionus has a sprinkling of white spots on a duller face.

193 - 229 grams (6.8 - 10.5 oz.)

Average size:
24 centimeters (9.5 in.)

25 - 35 years

Behavior / temperament:
All White-crowned Pionus are individuals, but for the most part, this species is highly regarded for having a calm, intelligent nature that makes it easy to tame and to teach. Their voices might not be much, but if you stick with it, they will probably learn a few words. Better yet, if you teach them to go to other people, and practice with them regularly, you can have a gentle pet who enjoys playing with a variety of people, even children. If you allow them to bond to one person, you need to be very aware of their moods and body language, so that the bonded bird does not learn to nip at either its mate or anyone that it perceives to be a rival.

Warning: A White-crowned Pionus, especially a young one who is not used to you, can start wheezing in a way that looks for all the world like a full-blown asthma attack. When you get your new bird, make sure you get a health check from the vet. If the bird is simply wheezing to express its stress in the new home, the thing to do is to back away and give your Pionus some time to calm down – not to fuss over it with unneeded medicines. It's better for you to get to know the baby White-crowned Pionus, by visiting it at its aviary while it's being weaned by the breeder. Give the bird time to get to know you before you take it home.

A single White-crowned Pionus needs a powder-coated metal cage of a minimum size of around 36”w x 24”d x 36”h with no more than ¾” bar spacing. They are not particularly chewy birds, but they do need to have some toys that they are welcome to chew to destruction. You should also have a playpen and perhaps some perches outside the cage, to give your pet a place to hang out around the house with you. Have some toy ladders to encourage climbing.

While the White-crowned Pionus is not known for being fiercely territorial, even during the breeding season, never let them become cage-bound. Don't let your pet become a chubby perch potato when you can easily encourage the bird to come out and play. Also, even though some individuals do remain friendly and non-territorial when in season, some birds do become hormonal. Know your bird, and train all Pionus to step onto a handheld perch so you can move your pet to neutral territory for playtime – even during a hormonal surge.

The White-crowned Pionus, like the other Pionus, is a sturdy little bird with a tendency to gain weight. Wild birds forage heavily for fruit and green vegetation, including seeding plants and sprouts. There seem to be several diets that will work for this species, as long as you are careful to avoid over-reliance on dry, fatty seed. Some people may opt for a pellet-based diet, while others may opt for a soak and cook diet that includes plenty of well-cooked or well-sprouted legumes. The classic diet developed by John Stoodley included half sprouting beans and seeds, and half fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whichever diet you choose, you will clearly need to learn to make a high quality “chop” salad that includes lots of fresh fruits and greens for your pet. Like other colorful parrots, the White-crowned Pionus may have an elevated need for natural sources of vitamin A. Make sure that you include deep orange (carrot, well-cooked yam) or deep red (pomegranate) produce in the daily salad.

While some people do offer seed mix or at least seed sprouts in the daily diet, it's best to make these seeds the low-fat varieties, such as millet and canary seed. Hold back fatty seed like sunflower or safflower to offer as treats, either hidden in foraging toys or else for trick training. If your White-crowned Pionus likes to indulge in high-fat seed, the bird will definitely need to be encouraged to exercise. Never offer avocado or chocolate.

Written by Elaine Radford

White-crowned Pionus Health Tip

White-crowned Pionus

From PB_Bird Jan 18 2009 10:23AM


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