(c)1996, Ralph Lima All Right Reserved. No whole or part of this document may be copied, reproduced, sold, rented or used in any other manner without express written permission by Ralph Lima.
Presented at the 1996 AFA National
inNew Orleans, Louisiana.
The following information is based
on my personal experience and should not be interpreted as the only way to care
for or breed caiques.Any reference made to �caique� is referring to
both the Black- headed and White-bellied Caiques, as
they are virtually identical in behavior.
This article was brought about because of the manyquestions
I have received over the years regarding the care and breeding of caiques.Hopefully,
this information will answer most of the frequently-asked questions and will
also enlighten those that are not familiar with the caique.
I observed my first caiques while helping a friend unload a shipment of parrots
into his Los Angeles facility during the early 1970�s.The ten wild-caught White-bellied Caiques were among a large shipment of macaws imported from
striking color and comical antics immediately endeared me to them and they
became the nucleus of my breeding stock.
Throughout the years, they have
proved to be one of the most intelligent species of birds that I have worked
with; which includes macaws, amazons, cockatoos, African greys,
conures, and most of the Australian parakeets.Thehand-fedcaique makes an exceptionally loving pet that immediately
becomes a member of the family and frequently the center of family life.Hand-fed caiques
have the characteristics of being friendly to friend and stranger alike, an
important asset when choosing a family pet.
The most common of the caiques is the Black-headed Caique
(Pionitesmelanocephala).They are found in South America predominately north of the Amazon River.TheBlack-heads
have a black forehead, crown and nape.They have a green streak under the eyes and lores,
cheeks and throat are orange-yellow.Across the back of the neck they have a wide dark orange band, bordered
above and below by a few blue tinged feathers.Their backs, wings, rump and upper tail-coverts are green.Their breasts and abdomen area are
creamy-white.Their thighs, sides of
abdomen and flanks are orange.Their
under wing-coverts are green; axillaries reddish-orange; under tail-coverts
yellowish-orange; their primary coverts and primaries are violet-blue edged
with green; carpal edge greenish-yellow.Their tails are tipped with yellow.They have gray-black beaks and legs.Adult birds have a dark orange iris.Adults are approximately nine inches in length and weigh approximately
Immature birds are a dull version of
the adults with the addition of a yellow wash through the abdomen area.
Immature birds have a dark iris.
were generally imported from Guyana. Imports numbered 300 to 500 per
year, through 1992.The Black-head has
one sub-species, the Pallid, which is very rare in captivity.
The White-bellied Caique (Pionitesleucogaster) is found in South America, generally south of the Amazon River.The White-bellied has a bright orange crown, nape, hindneck
and upper ear-coverts.The lores, throat and sides of the head are yellow.The back, wings, rump and tail-coverts are
green.The breast and abdomen are
creamy-white; flanks and thighs are green; under tail-coverts are green;
primary-coverts and primaries violet-blue edged with green.The beak is horn-colored, legs are pink, and
the iris is red in adult birds.Adults
are approximately nine inches in length and weigh approximately 190 grams.
Immature birds again are dull
versions of the adults with a heavy yellow wash on the abdomen, black blotching
on their feet and have a varied amount of black feathering on the head.There is no uniformity to the black
feathering on their heads.In the same
clutch, a baby may have half of its head covered with black feathers and its
nest-mates may have no black feathers at all.The black feathering usually occurs intermingled with orange feathers,
but on occasion can be solid.This gives
the appearance of a black cap.Usually
by three years of age, all of the black feathers have been replaced by bright
orange feathers.Birds that have had
heavy black feathering as babies, have had darker
orange feathering as adults.
Very few Green-thigh White-bellied Caiques were exported out of South America and consequently they are very rare
The White-bellied has two
sub-species, one of which, the Yellow-thigh, is the most common White-bellied
in captivity. The Yellow-thigh�s coloring differs only by the thighs being
yellow instead of green. The White-bellied has a Yellow-tailed sub-species that
does not exist in this country, but is being bred in Europe.
Yellow-thigh White-bellied Caique's
were imported infrequently up until 1982, when exports out of Bolivia ceased. Shipments of Yellow-thighs
consisted of very small groups, usually no more than 10 birds at a time.No more than 50-75 Yellow-thighs were
imported in any given year.Therefore,
the Black-headed Caique significantly outnumbers the
White-bellied Caique in captivity.
I must mention that I hear a
tremendous amount of confusion from somewhat newer aviculturists when they hear
the term White-bellied, as both the Black-head and White-bellied have white
abdomens.I have had discussions with
several noted ornithologists regarding the nomenclature used to name the caiques. The most reasonable explanation is that
White-bellied Caique's were discovered and named
prior to the discovery and naming of the Black-head.This could explain why the White-bellied is
not called the �Orange-headed� Caique.
are housed outdoors year-round, which is possible due to the warm climate of
southern California.Being an extremely
social species, the caiques are maintained one pair
per cage with a minimum of 12 pairs adjacent to each other in full visual
view.The cages are 2-feet wide, 3-feet
high and 6-feet long, constructed of 1/2-inch steel
tubing and 1-inch by 1-inch welded wire.Cages are suspended 4-feet over concrete flooring and are spaced
3-inches apart to avoid physical contact between pairs.Theircages have been placed at a height
that allows the perched caiques to be above
eye-level; this is very important as the birds feel less threatened.The cages are fitted with two perches at
either end of the cage, one perch being a pine 2X4 and the other perch a
natural tree branch (manzanita or eucalyptus).
The caiques are fed in
large glazed ceramic dishes with4-inch high
sides to minimize waste.Water is
provided in 14-inch shallow glazed ceramic dishes in which they enjoy early
morning baths throughout the year.Caiques love to bathe themselves, even during freezing
winter spells.An automatic overhead
misting system provides relief during warm weather.
are constructed of sheet metal and the interiors lined with 1-inch pine
boards.The boxes are 12-inches square
and 24-inches tall with a 3-inch square entrance hole.The boxes are hung behind a wall that
separates the box from the rear of the cage(see photo).The nestboxes occupy a room that resembles a long, narrow
enclosed hallway.This hallway is
completely insulated for sound and light, keeping the boxes in total
darkness.This feature allows the boxes
to be inspected without the birds ever seeing anyone.I feel strongly that this has provided the
birds with an extra sense of security and has dramatically increased their
productivity.A combination of pine
shavings and eucalyptus chips are used for nesting material.Caiques do not seem
to be very particular about the type of nesting material placed in their nestboxes.They will
make fine dust out of whatever is used by the end of the breeding season.
Care should be used in housing caiques at facilities where possible polyomavirus
carriers are located. It has been determined that caiques,
both babies and adults, are extremely sensitive to this deadly virus.
In my opinion the most important
requirement in successfully breeding and maintaining caiques is their
my success throughout the years in producing large clutches, high level of
fertility, and large babies, I feel that my diet is providing the caiques with their nutritional requirements.Due to my lacking a scientificbackground,
I will not attempt to detail the levels of vitamins, proteins and other
minerals in the diet. Instead, I will list my ingredients and quantities.The following amounts when mixed will feed 50
pairs of caiques:
Sprouted �Racing Pigeon� seed(with
safflower and corn)
10 cups- Frozen mixed vegetables
6 cups- Diced red apples
6 cups- Diced broccoli
Sprouted beans (lentils, mung, small white)
1/2 cup-Powdered vitamins (Clovite/Fort
1/2 -Medium-sized orange per pair
1/4 -Banana (with skin) per pair
This mix is fed daily, year round, in the early morning
frequently asked if caiques need nectar in their
In my opinion, nectar is not required and caution should be
used in its use.In warm climates,
nectar can become a medium for a number of bacteria�s. If one is inclined to
feed nectar, using one of the dry nectar formulas available on the market would
I have found that caiques are extremely prolific and willing breeders. The caique normally reaches sexual maturity at the age of
three. There have been several occurrences of caiques
producing babies at two years of age; however, this is not the norm. When
housed outdoors in a warm climate, caiques are
seasonal breeders beginning their season in early spring and concluding in late
summer. I have several older pairs of caiques, in
excess of 20 years in age, that usually begin their egg laying
in late November.
will lay a clutch of 3 to 4 eggs. However, every year I experience a few
clutches of 5 eggs. As many as 7 eggs have been laid in a single clutch. Eggs
are usually laid at two-day intervals. I have older pairs that now lay at 3-day
intervals. Incubation usually begins after the 3rd egg is laid and lasts for 25
It is very apparent when caiques are about to commence egg-laying. Their lower
abdomen's swell-up as if they were nine-months pregnant. It is very amusing to
see them clowning around in spite of their �big-bellies.� They will usually
swell-up a week or so before egg-laying is to begin.
sleep in their nestbox, and this is an indicator of
their readiness or willingness to begin egg laying. If
the birds are not sleeping in their box, odds are that they will not commence
egg laying. This can also be an indicator that the
birds do not feel comfortable with their cage, nestbox
or mate. I have on occasion experienced caiques that
were afraid of the nestbox. This has been remedied by
catching the birds late in the evening, sealing the opening of the nestbox and placing the birds into the box. The nestbox opening is unsealed in the morning and usually one
night of being forced to sleep in the box removes their fear of the nestbox.
can display very aggressive behavior towards each other. This usually occurs
with the onset of the breeding season.The male is usually the aggressor, but not always. I have observed male caiques forcibly attempt to feed an unwilling mate, causing
lacerations and bruising to the area surrounding the beak.This behavior has also been observed during
forced attempts at copulation.When this
occurs, the birds should be separated immediately. I am aware of situations
where one member of an established, producing pair has killed its mate. As
previously mentioned, this behavior is frequently observed at the start of the
breeding season, but can occur at any time. Pairs are frequently monitored in
an attempt to observe the aggression before any birds are seriously injured.
When aggression is observed, the
culprit is removed to an isolated flight, out of visual contact with any other caiques. The flight is as far away from other caiques as possible to minimize vocal interaction. This
solitary confinement lasts for a minimum of 90 days. After their sentence has
been served, the bird�s flight feathers are trimmed and it is returned to their
mate. In 9 out of 10 occasions, the birds will act as if they were long-lost
lovers and aggression does not return. When this does not remedy the problem,
the birds are introduced to new mates.
breeders have mentioned that Black-headed Caiques
seem to be more aggressive than the White-bellied Caiques.
I have not found one to be more aggressive than the other.
ARTIFICIAL INCUBATION AND HAND-REARING
the past 10 years, I have artificially incubated the majority of my caique eggs. The eggs are removed from the birds once the
entire clutch has been laid. By doing this, the caiques
will double clutch and frequently triple clutch. Pairs are frequently allowed
to raise their third clutch to weaning. In raising caiques
to the third generation, I have found that the caiques
that are hand-raised, either from hatching or from 10 days of age, have been
much calmer in the flights and will breed sooner than the parent-raised caiques. Heavier weights at weaning have also been
experienced from hand-raised caiques.
Eggs are incubated in a Grumbach incubator at 99.5 degrees. Humidity is set at 42%
and the eggs are turned automatically 7 times a day. Once the eggs begin to
draw down, they are no longer turned. After the chick pips through the egg
shell, the egg is removed from the incubator and placedinto a hatching unit. The hatching
unit is a converted Lyons incubator top with a customized plexi-glass
body(see photo). The temperature in the hatching unit
is set at 100 degrees and humidity is 50%. Chicks usually hatch 48 hours after pipping and are left in the hatching unit until ready for
their first feeding, usually 12 hours after hatching.
For the past twenty years, I have
made my own hand-feeding formula. In the old days, the formula was made out of
necessity as their were no commercially made formulas
available. After experimenting with some of the commercial formulas, I found
that I preferred my old formula and so I continue to make it. My formula consists
of a dry powdered base to which frozen mixed vegetables and water is added at
time of preparation. Followingare the ingredients of the dry
12 Cups- Ground Zupreen Monkey Biscuits
3 Cups- Ground Hulled Sunflower
3 Cups- Ground Blanched Raw
8 oz. - Gerber�s Baby Oatmeal Cereal
These ingredients are mixed together
and stored in zip-lock bags in the freezer. At time of preparation, thefollowing ingredients are mixed in a
commercial high-speed blender:
6 Cups- Powdered mix(described above)
3 Cups- Frozen Mixed Vegetables
1/8 teaspoon- Pancreazyme(a digestive
6 Cups- Bottled Drinking Water
For 1-5 day old babies, the formula
is a little thinner and finely blended. As the babies grow, the formula is
thicker and coarser. In its thinnest form the formula resembles pancake batter
and in its thickest form resembles watered-down peanut butter.
The feeding schedule is as follows:
1-7 day old babies-Beginning at 6:00 AM, one feedingevery four hours until .
7-21 day old babies-4 feedings a day,
21-60 day old babies-3 feedings a day,
beginning at AM and concluding at .
60 day old to weaning-2 feedings a day,
graduallyreducing feedings as
babies begin to eat on their own.
As you can see by my feeding
schedule, babies are not fed from until the following morning. I am able to
do this because of the thickness of my formula and also because of advice from
several �old-timer�s." The comment made by these respected aviculturists
was �Do you think that the birds feed their babies every two hours through the
night?� Probably not. By feeding a thick formula more
time between feedings is possible. At the feeding all babies are completely
empty. Emptying of the crop should be allowed at least once every 24
Formula is fed between 100-105
degrees. The formula is heated by filling the necessary syringes(from
1cc to 20cc) with cold formula, placing them in a metal container andfilling the container with hot tap water. My
hot tap water is in the 135-140 degree range. A stainless steel dial
thermometer is placed in with the syringes. When the water temperature reaches
105 degrees the formula has matched the water�s temperature. One syringe is
used per baby. I have been using this method for several years. This method
prevents �hot spots� that are created when formula is heated in a microwave and
the syringes in the container remain warm while feeding. This has eliminated
the need to re-heat formula because it has cooled down. It usually takes 25-30
minutes for the formula to cool down to 105 degrees. This allows time to band
babies, change bedding, and update records.
Syringes and containers are soaked
in a very effective wide spectrum disinfectant, �Virkon
S.� Syringes and containers are heavily rinsed prior to use.
Clutch mates remain together from
hatching to weaning. This allows for interaction and bonding to their own kind.
closed-banded at about 21 days of age. By the age of 10-12 weeks, the caiques are weaned over to a diet of spray millet, parrot
seed mix, and chopped apples and oranges.
In the over 20 years of breeding caiques, I have produced in excess of 65% males in both the
Black-headed and White-bellied. It is also of interest that the majority of the
imported wild-caught caiques were males. I currently
do not have any clear explanation for this disparity in the sexes.
Following is a chart of average weight gains atfive-day
intervals: At hatching- 6 grams
5 days- 8 grams
10 days- 12 grams
15 days- 25 grams
20 days- 45 grams
25 days- 80 grams
30 days- 105 grams
35 days- 125 grams
40 days- 150 grams
45 days- 160 grams
50 days- 170 grams
55 days- 175 grams
60 days- 180 grams
During weaning babies thin down to
approximately 150 grams, and by one year of age they attain their adult weight.
As I alluded to earlier, hand-fed caiques should be rated near the top of any pet list. Their
personality and antics are unmatched. They possess a very unusual
characteristic of lying on their backs to play or while sleeping. On numerous
occasions, I have been told that I had a dead bird in my nursery or in my
flights, only to find a sleeping caique on its back,
feet in the air and wings completely extended. I know of an individual that
purchased a caique from me a number of years ago,
that folds a cloth diaper in a corner of the birds
cage. At night, the caique crawls in-between the
layers of the diaper and sleeps on its back with only its head exposed.
A frequently asked question is �Are caiques good talker�s?� I know of
several caiques that have become great talkers;
however, I do not consider this the norm. The majority of the pet caiques that I am aware of do not talk at all or very
minimal at best. Their voice is somewhat faint and a little difficult to
comprehend. For these reasons, I do not consider the caique
to be a �good� talking parrot.
I hope this information has cleared
some of the confusion regarding the caique and has
served as an introduction to those that have not yet had the pleasure to meet
one. The caique is a bird that deserves serious
attention by aviculturists.
I am always available for anyone
seeking advice or information on their needs. I would like to express my
sincere interest in seeing that the caique becomes an
established species in captivity.
Joseph M., Parrots of the World, Lansdowne Editions, 3rd edition, 1989.
PO Box 6496
Woodland Hills, Ca