All About Birds: Caiques
Parrots are some of the most popular birds chosen by pet owners. Their colorful plumage and entertaining personalities make them fun to own. Enjoyed more for their playful antics and need for lots of human contact, rather than their ability to mimic speech (which is quite poor) the Caique is growing in popularity. However, the Caique can be a bit stubborn at times, so is not a good choice for first time bird owners.
There are only two varieties of Caique – The black-headed species, which originates in the northern part of the Amazon River, and the White-bellied Caique, which originates in the southern region of the Amazon River. Caiques prefer deeply forested areas and eat fruit and seeds. They spend most of their time high in the tree tops under the cool cover of the Amazon’s canopy, foraging for food and flitting playfully from tree-to-tree. Caiques prefer to dwell in pairs or small groups, rather than singularly.
A small parrot species, the Black-headed Caique (pronounced ki-EEK) is approximately 9 inches in length and 8 inches for the slightly smaller White-bellied Caique. The Black-headed Caique has red eyes and brightly colored feathers of green, orange, white, blue, and yellow, and a black head. The White-bellied Caique resembles the more common parrot species, and sports a white underbelly with a peach-colored hood.
With proper feeding and care, a Caique has a life expectancy of about 30 years, so it is important to keep this in mind when choosing this bird as a pet. Caiques are susceptible to the Polyoma Virus, so make sure you get your bird vaccinated for this disease by an avian veterinarian and checked thoroughly for any other avian diseases.
The black-headed Caique is more common since being introduced into captivity; although the white-bellied’s popularity is steadily increasing. Both Caique varieties bond well with humans and are well known for their playful energetic antics, particularly how they enjoy lying on their back to play with toys. Although they are excellent climbers and quite agile when they lay on their back to play, they are actually very poor flyers. They tire easily and become winded after flying very short distances, so they fly very slow. The Black-headed Caique is also known as the “dancing parrot” because they like to hop and dance around, especially when they hear a rhythmic sound or clapping. Their feathers also make a unique “whirring” sound when they fly or hover.
For pet owners wanting a quiet bird, a Caique may not be a good choice because they are so active and have a loud warning call that sounds like a smoke alarm, which in the wild is used to communicate with nearby birds who are visually out of sight. This high, shrill, piercing sound may be a bit much for apartment dwellers or those with smaller homes. Caique are a very active species that prefers lots of interaction with humans, and plenty of playtime. Although they are friendly to their handlers, they do not get along well with other parrot species, and can be quite aggressive towards them, so it is not a good idea to cage them with another parrot you already have.
Unlike most other parrot species, Caiques do not mimic human speech well at all. On rare occasion, a bird can learn a few words, which he’ll attempt in a soft garbled voice. Caiques find it easier to learn different whistling sounds. Owners can have fun creating lots of different whistling sounds and tunes and expect a great deal of interaction from their Caique. Interestingly you will find that common, everyday sounds like phones and electronic beeps from answering machines and microwaves, are also easy for your Caique to imitate; which makes this pet even more entertaining.
Caiques have a big appetite. A healthy diet should provide a variety of fresh fruit, as well as cooked and fresh vegetables on a daily basis. Frozen mixed vegetables such as green beans, lima beans, peas and corn are also good a good addition. Caiques enjoy a variety of fruits such as grapes, berries, pears, mangos and bananas. You can also provide apples, melons, and cherries as long as you remove the seeds. Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit should be fed in moderation. It’s also okay to add cooked brown rice and beans occasionally to the mixed vegetables. Because Caiques like to dunk their food in their water bowls, make sure you check it every day and keep it clean and fresh. Because your Caique’s diet is fresh foods, make sure you empty the food dish when your bird is done eating, as the food will spoil quickly and can make your bird sick.
- When a Caique is happy, it will wag its tail, which is done by shaking its tail feathers vigorously back and forth.
- Another habit of Caiques is their unusual behavior, sometimes referred to as “surfing”. While most birds will splash in a shallow bowl of water to bathe themselves, Caiques will “surf” or clean itself by rubbing its face, chest and wings against something soft (could be a towel, crumpled paper or human hair), then pulls itself along using its beak, while rolling around. It is believe they do this to mimic how they clean themselves in the wild, where they would exhibit similar behavior with wet leaves rather than soft surfaces and human hair.
- Although extremely good-natured birds, Caiques can go through a hormonal period (which is common among birds) where their behavior may be a bit more aggressive to include increased screaming, biting and nest building activities. This generally occurs once a year during the bird’s natural breeding cycle.
- Caiques have very expressive eyes. The reddish color makes it easy to ‘read’ a Caiques eyes and determine their mood. A very noticeable behavior is known as “eye pinning” where their pupils dilate, then contract quickly in a matter of seconds, indicating the bird has become over excited, or angry. This usually precedes a bite. Owners who know their birds well will learn to recognize the onset of this behavior and what over-stimulates and excites their bird. When this occurs, simply put the bird back in his cage so he can settle down.