Black-Headed Caique

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Is the Black-Headed Caique right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Black-capped Parrot; Pallid Caique, Black-Headed Parrot

Scientific name: Pionites melanocephala

The basics:
Little known in the 1980s, the Black-headed Caique has soared in popularity as people become aware of its out-going personality and colorful, clown-like appearance. Its closest relative, the White-bellied Caique, also has a white belly, but you can easily tell them apart because of the Black-headed Caique's striking black-capped head. In the wild, the Black-headed Caique is the species found north of the Amazon River, while the White-bellies live south of the Amazon. Both species are known for rolling on their back to sleep, an unusual “playing dead” pose that has frightened more than one new caique owner.

The Black-headed Caique is easily found in lowland forests north of the Amazon River and sometimes encountered in the foothills perhaps as high as 1,000 meters. In the wild, they are noted for a noisy morning “greeting” display where they perch on exposed branches to call to each other. Usually found in pairs or small flocks of less than 10 birds, they have communal roosts and larger, noisier gatherings are sometimes reported. There are two subspecies, P. m. melanocephala, and P. m. pallida. The so-called Pallid Caique is the paler version, with yellow instead of orange-yellow thighs.

A small stocky colorful parrot with a white belly, yellow-orange lower face, and bright yellow thighs, the Black-headed Caique has a black crown that distinguishes it from the White-bellied Caique with its orange crown.

130 - 170 grams (4.6 - 6 oz.)

Average size:
23 centimeters (9 in.)

20 - 30 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Black-headed Caique enjoys a growing popularity because of its beautiful coloration and its lively inquisitive personality. These birds are packed full of energy, strong-willed, and mischievous. They are playful birds that love to interact with people and are often referred to as clowns. Although a wild flock is naturally noisy, a single pet may not be particularly vocal and it is fairly unusual for a Black-headed Caique to learn to talk very well. A good owner will take firm but gentle control. Use common sense techniques to prevent territorial biting around the cage, and allow this energetic bird time for its afternoon nap. Because they do enjoy some downtime during the day, they can be a practical pet for people who work away from home.

In addition to often sleeping or playing on their backs, Black-headed Caiques are known to “surf,” a strange behavior where they roll or pull themselves over a person's body or hair. In the wild, they would bathe by rolling around in wet leaves. In captivity, they indulge in rubbing themselves against your clothes or hair. It might seem odd, but it's completely normal. They are not particularly strong flyers, and they may tend to be “beaky” to pull themselves here or to grab on there. Be aware when they are over-using their beaks, so that you can distract them with a toy to grab or chew instead of a finger.

Your Black-headed Caique should have a powder-coated metal cage at least 24”w x 24”d x 24”h with no more than ¾” bar spacing. The cage should be outfitted with several different perches and toys. They should also have a play gym with several more toys so they can spend time away from their cage regularly. Be sure to teach your pet to step up reliably on a hand-held perch so that you can easily move the bird to the play area. They are territorial and tend to be nippy if people insist on sticking their hands in their cages. Like little kids, Black-headed Caiques benefit from an afternoon nap, so have a towel or even a clean cloth diaper in the cage where the bird can roll on its back to sleep.

Like most of the South American parrots, the Black-headed Caique demands a nutrient-rich, varied diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the wild, they eat mostly flowers, plants, a variety of seeds, and possibly insects, so a seed-based diet simply does not provide enough nutrition. The diet should be built around a high-quality pellet or soak-and-cook, with plenty of sprouts and chopped produce on the side. While you may offer your pet healthy treats like brown rice or pasta from your own dinner, never allow any parrot to consume avocado or chocolate. If you choose to feed these birds nectar, as some but not all Caique owners do, you must take good care to keep the nectar feeder absolutely sterile, since the natural sugars could provide a great growth medium for harmful bacteria. You must never serve honey.

Written by Elaine Radford


trainable, real sweetie, mimics sounds, beautiful black-headed caique, good personalities, big clowns


real jerk, aggressive, fussy eater, rowdy bird, BIG mess, nasty bite


high energy, side-to-side swaying walk, Lovable Troublemakers, frequent water changes

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