Species group: Caiques
Other common names: Black-capped Parrot; Pallid Caique, Black-Headed Parrot
Scientific name: Pionites melanocephala
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.)
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
A Black-Headed Caique
In 2011, we acquired our first bird - a lovely black-headed caique. After meeting the breeder and selecting the bird, I prepared for his homecoming by learning as much as I could about caiques.
Caiques are energetic, fairly high-maintenance parrots. They are absolutely hilarious, entertaining little birds, with a lot of love to give. They are very intelligent.
First and foremost, training is vital with caiques. It's good for them, both intellectually and emotionally, as it keeps them from getting bored and bonds them with their owner. We started with basic "step up" and "step down" training, then progressed to "come" when his name is called. After that, we started trick training for fun little things, like "turn".
Caiques can and should be potty-trained as well. People are often surprised when I tell them that Avery is potty-trained. Caiques have a very telling butt-wiggle that lets you know they are in the process of going to the bathroom. If you see this tell-tale sign, gently relocate them to the appropriate place to potty. In our home, we lined our window sills with newspaper and attached suction-cup perches to each window for Avery, both as potty places and for him to look outside. Another way to potty train a caique is simply to make sure you place them in the appropriate area every 20 minutes or so, and say "Go potty", then reward them when they do. Every morning when he woke up, Avery would have a very large bowel movement, and we used that as a training opportunity.
Caiques do best on high-quality seed mixes, and with a daily diet of various fruits and vegetables. Our breeder provided us with a list of foods that were safe to eat, and we slowly added to it over time. It took a little extra time each day to make sure Avery's bowls were clean and to put together his little "salad" at lunch time, but it wasn't a huge lifestyle change for me.
We also wipe down the bars of his cage and clean his perches every few days. An easy way to keep the bottom of the cage clean is to place several pages of newspaper in it, and take out one layer each day.
We found that caiques have long memories. When we brought Avery to see his breeder 2 years after acquiring him, he warmed right up to her. Caiques are also prone to boredom, so we invest a pretty decent sum of money in new toys every few months. They particularly enjoy toys with treats in them that they can either shove around until the treat falls out, or shred to get to the treat.
Caiques are not particularly cuddly, but when they are tired, they will rest quite contentedly on your shoulder for their evening preening. We also tend to keep our caique away from young children. While he seems to really like children's high-pitched voices, and our 10-year-old son handles him well, I don't let him near children any younger than that.
The only downsides to owning caiques are their stubbornness and some of the sounds they learn to imitate. Avery gets several hours out of his cage each day, but sometimes I need some "me time". He can get a little crabby about being put away for an hour or two if he doesn't have sufficient playtime. So it's important to help your caique get their energy out!
He learned to imitate some really cute things, such as saying "Step up" on his own... However, he also learned to imitate some really annoying sounds, such as our telephone's ringing. Avery will also respond to the telephone when it rings or our infant daughter when she cries.
Overall, I think caiques make wonderful pets for families where there is at least one person who can stay at home and give them the time they need for play and socialization. Anyone considering a caique should do plenty of research first, as understanding their behavior and training them is just as important - if not more so - as it is with a dog..
From WendyCallahan Jun 26 2013 8:53AM
Caiques - The Clowns of the Bird Kingdom
To say I wasn't prepared for a caique is an understatement. To say I've been disappointed is a lie.
Ping, our caique, is about 8 months old. He has taught me a lot over the few months that we've had him, and hopefully I've taught him just as much.
We purchased him from a consignment bird store near our home, and the shop owner told me that I would have my hands full with the "King of the Clowns". I didn't believe him at the time. Soon after I got him home, I realized how true that statement was. Ping gets into EVERYTHING and can easily make a mess if you're not watching him. He's knocked over a drink more than once, and has jumped onto the food that we're eating. He runs towards shiney/bright objects, hangs from cords, and will bite at you if you try to take something away from him.
However, he's also very sweet, loves to cuddle up in a blanket, and keeps us laughing. His little hops when he gets excited make my heart melt. If you leave a room, he'll follow you. He plays in my hair and says "pretty bird" in his gravely voice. If I point my finger at him, he rolls on his back and wants to wrestle. He loves hearing odd sounds and mimicks our other birds. He's just the best.
And now, it's time for the pros and cons.
* Will keep you entertained for hours.
* They don't bond with just one person, like most parrots. They absolutely love everyone.
* Absolutely loves to play with toys and humans.
* Very loving, when they're in the mood.
* Caiques don't like to fly very much. They're floor birds, so you don't have to worry about one taking off out the door if you open it for whatever reason.
* They're very intelligent. They learn tricks and normal techniques very easily.
* Has a powerful bite. It will hurt.
* Requires a lot of attention. Our bird will go continously for hours on end. It can get tiring.
* Can be aggressive, especially towards other birds. You'll have to be careful and watch them around other birds, because they're known for their bird-on-bird fights.
* Caiques don't talk much. If they do, it sounds more like mumbling. They mostly mimick other sounds, and they can be somewhat loud (not as loud as a cockatoo or conure, but close-ish).
* They have some gnarly mood swings. One second they can be happy and playful, and the next they're trying to bite you or start yelling at you.
The only thing caiques are susceptible to is polyomavirus. However, there are vaccines and boosters for this that should be done on an annual basis.
In conclusion, caiques are not good for first time bird owners. You must be very patient with them and guide them. However, for the more experienced bird owner, consider getting one of these clowns!.
From kittehkat Jan 19 2015 6:34PM
It may Help the Bird Stop Plucking
Clomicalm (clomipramine) treats stress and agitation. Many animal behaviorists believe that some birds pluck their feathers due to stress. The plucking becomes a nervous habit that is difficult to break. The prescription medication may relax the bird enough that the habit ceases. Unfortunately, when the drug is discontinued, many birds again start plucking.
Always discuss the possible side effects of the medication with your veterinarian before administering it to your pet bird. .
From KimberlySharpe 387 days ago