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Parrotlets

(“parrot”-“let”)

Genus Forpus

parrotlets

SPECIES COMMONLY KEPT AS PETS:

Pacific parrotlet (Forpus coelestis), Green Rump parrotlet (Forpus passerinus), Spectacled parrotlet (Forpus conspicillatus)

** There are several color mutations and sub-species of most of the different species, which may make identification more challenging.

NATIVE TO:

Central and South America; Peru and Ecuador

LIFE SPAN:

15-20 years

AVERAGE ADULT SIZE:

3.5-5 inches, 25 grams

AGE OF SEXUAL MATURITY:

4-5 years old

MALE OR FEMALE:

Most parrotlets are not sexually dimorphic, which means males and females are not visually different. A few species can be sexed by their colorations, but since many color mutations have been developed within those species and sub-species, it is difficult to trust these guidelines. However, pure male pacific parrotlets have a blue eyestreak. A proper DNA test by a qualified avian veterinarian can tell you whether your pet is a boy or girl.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Also known as “pocket parrots”, parrotlets are one of the smallest parrots in the world. Each species has different markings and colorations, and mutations and subspecies of those species can be different still. All parrotlets are tiny with smooth, even feathering, a large (relative to their size) rounded beak, and small dark eyes. The beak and feet are generally a lighter color, and the tail is relatively short and slightly pointed. The parrotlet’s closest avian relative is the Amazon parrot! Although these species differ greatly in size, the similarities in physical appearance are striking.

SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:

Perky, active and alert with bright clear eyes, cere and “nares” (nostrils). You should observe your parrotlet eating and drinking constantly throughout the day, although this activity is most apparent in the morning and early evening or while you are eating. Feathers should be neat and well groomed. Feet and legs should be smooth and free of bumps and rough scales. A healthy parrotlet should be chatty and happy!

NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:

Parrotlets are intelligent, sweet, family birds. They will get along wonderfully in a home with a large family or just a single owner whether they are a single bird or in a pair.

Parrotlets are giant parrots in tiny parrot bodies! They have huge personalities and will enjoy the entire family. They are curious, active and feisty. These birds do not seem to know that they are tiny, and will go after any other animal that they consider a threat to the family or their territory. Be sure to keep your parrotlet separated from other animals in the house and do not let your bird “play” with species other than his own. They are fearless. Parrotlets must be well trained and socialized from the start; otherwise, they will end up “owning the owner”, becoming little monsters. They are known for being bossy, proud little birds.

Many parrotlets, especially males, can speak very well, although every bird is different. Some will learn only a few words, some will learn hundreds and some will learn none at all.

DO NOT buy a parrot solely for their ability to speak and mimic. There is NO guarantee that your parrot will talk.

Although parrotlets are generally quieter birds than most parrots, they do have their moments of vocal jubilation. However, since their outbursts are rare, they can be recommended as apartment pets.

Birds are flock-oriented animals, and they do very well with other birds in the home to communicate with. However, YOU as the caretaker become a flock member as well. Daily attention is extremely important for your parrot. A neglected bird becomes a problem bird. Extreme screaming and biting is often the result of a badly trained animal that is not often handled. As a parrotlet owner, be prepared to interact and work with your pet on a regular basis. Respect the high intelligence level of your bird by talking with, playing with and caring for him as if he is a small child.

When their wings are safely clipped, they can come out of their cage to sit on and with family members to enjoy out-of-cage time. During this time, they should be closely monitored to make sure they don’t get into anything or eat anything that might be dangerous to them.

Pay close attention to your pet parrot’s body language. Ruffled feathers can mean an aggravated parrot. Also, a parrot can “pin” his eyes - make the pupils smaller purposely - when angry or excited. A calm parrot will appear relaxed, with feathers smooth and an erect posture. An angry or threatened parrot will attempt to look larger and more threatening by puffing his feathers and crouching lower than normal.

DIET:

Parrotlets DO NOT live by seed alone! Recent studies regarding companion bird diets have revealed that seed only diets can be extremely dangerous. A seed only diet can result in nutrient deficiency and diseases such as liver disease, kidney disease, obesity and cardiac disease, all of which can severely shorten the life expectancy of your pet. Seed is very limited in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Even the new “fortified” seed diets on the market are still lacking, as the bird will only eat the inside of most seeds, leaving the “hull” behind. Therefore, the bird never properly ingests the good nutrient coating on the outside of the seed.

Parrotlets eat a great deal and require a high-energy food to fuel their energetic, hummingbird-like metabolisms. Gram for gram, parrotlets eat more than macaws! Be sure to provide plenty of good nutritious food at all times. Parrotlets are also prone to obesity, so also be sure to feed a quality diet.

Parrotlets need a good quality pellet diet in order to thrive properly. As seed can only be used as part of the diet, it should be balanced out with other offerings. Pellet diets (available at Pet Supplies Plus) have been carefully formulated to meet the specific needs of the pet bird, therefore properly meeting the majority of the dietary needs of your bird. Your bird should also be offered fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruit and grain as often as tolerated. Please see our sheet that outlines the fresh foods your pet will appreciate. Never feed your parrotlet chocolate, sugar, fried foods, avocado, or junk food. NOTE: Be sure to remove any fresh foods that have not been eaten within a 24-hour period.

SUPPLEMENTS:

The only supplement that should be necessary if you are feeding your parrotlet correctly is calcium. Calcium can usually be offered in the form of a cuttlebone or calcium treat that attaches to the inside of your bird’s cage. If you notice that your bird does not touch his cuttlebone or calcium treat, a powdered supplement such as packaged oyster shell can be added directly to your pet’s food. Follow the directions on the supplement package. Also make sure your pet is getting a good intake of vitamin A in the form of red and orange fruits and vegetables.

  • For optimal physiologic use of the calcium you are giving your bird, the bird should be exposed to UVB light for at least 3-4 hours a day (or more or less depending on the species). Please see our UVB Lighting for Companion Birds and Reptiles handout for further information about UVB light.

WATER:

Fresh water must be available to your parrot at all times. Because your pet will often bathe in his water, it must be checked and changed several times a day. It is recommended that the bowl be wiped clean with a paper towel at every change to prevent a slimy film from collecting on the inside of the bowl. This ‘slime’ will harbor bacteria, which can be dangerous for your bird. Thoroughly wash the bowl with a mild dishwashing detergent and water at least once a day.

All water given to birds for drinking, as well as water used for misting, soaking or bathing must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.

HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:

Parrotlets need a clean, warm, mentally stimulating environment. A single bird should have a cage no smaller than 18”x18”x18”. Two birds should have a cage measuring at least 28”x 24”x36”. The basic rule of thumb is the bigger the better! Parrotlets are very active and like to flit back & forth as much as possible. Remember that birds fly horizontally, not vertically like a helicopter! Choose a cage that allows that natural movement. The spacing between the bars of the cage should be no wider than 3/8 inch to a ½ inch. If the bars are too far apart, your crafty bird is very likely to try to squeeze through them and then get stuck. The cage should be placed in a family centered room where the bird(s) will feel a part of the “flock”; however the back of the cage should be positioned against a wall to provide security. Your parrotlet will feel threatened and nervous if it is in direct traffic. Avoid drafty areas and any placement that will get too much direct sun for any portion of the day. If your bird spends time out of his cage, make sure that any ceiling fans are off while he is out. Do not place your bird?s cage in the kitchen, as cooking fumes and even a small amount of smoke can be fatal. Average room temperature will be fine for your bird, not to exceed 80 degrees. Be careful of drafts from air conditioning, especially when bathing and misting. Perches of varying materials and types should be included in the cage. We recommend having at least three different types. Having different types will exercise the feet and prevent sores and foot related health issues. See the recommended supplies section. At least three clean bowls should be ready for use: one for fresh water, one for seed/pellets and one for fresh foods. Your bird may appreciate a cage cover for nighttime. The cover can block out any extraneous light and create a more secure sleeping place. Be careful not to use any fabrics that your bird might catch his claws or beak in, or that he might pull strings from and eat.

DO NOT USE SANDPAPER COVERED PERCHES OR FLOOR PAPER. THESE PRODUCTS ARE DANGEROUS AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE DAMAGE TO YOUR BIRD’S FEET.

DO NOT USE “MITE DISKS”. THESE ARE NOT EFFECTIVE AND MAY HARM YOUR BIRD. SEE YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IF YOU SUSPECT PARASITES.

DO NOT USE BIRD GRAVEL. BIRD GRAVEL IS USED FOR BIRDS WHO DO NOT CRACK THE HULL OR SHELL OF THE SEEDS THEY EAT. IT IS MEANT TO GRIND THE SEEDS IN THE CROP OF THE BIRD. DOVES AND PIGEONS CAN BE GIVEN BIRD GRAVEL, BUT CANARIES, PARAKEETS, AND ALL SPECIES OF PARROT WILL CRUSH THE SEED OR NUTS BEFORE INGESTING THEM AND THEREFORE DO NOT BENEFIT AT ALL FROM GRAVEL. GRAVEL CAN BE SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS FOR BIRDS OTHER THAN DOVES AND PIGEONS - IT CAUSES SEVERE IMPACTIONS, WHICH ARE OFTEN FATAL.

CORN COB BEDDING CAN QUICKLY BREED MOLD AND MILDEW, WHICH IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR BIRD. BIRDS CAN ALSO BECOME IMPACTED FROM SWALLOWING CORN COB BEDDING.

ENRICHMENT:

In the wild, birds spend most of their day from morning until night foraging for their food. In our homes in a cage, their food is right at their beaks, no need to go hunting! Because of this, it is very easy for our pet birds to become bored and lazy. Since these animals are so intelligent, it is a horrible sentence to be banished to a cage with nothing to do. “Enrichment” is important because it will keep your parrotlet’s mind busy! At least three types of toys is a good number in this case as well. Parrotlets enjoy shiny, wooden, rope, foraging, and plastic toys. It is very important to purchase toys made specifically for birds as they are much more likely to be safer in construction and material. Birds can be poisoned by dangerous metals, such as lead or zinc. They can also chew off small pieces of improperly manufactured “toys” and ingest them, which of course can lead to a variety of health problems. Be sure to include “foraging” toys. These types of toys mimic the work that a bird might do to find food in the wild. Hide treats in cardboard tubes and balled up paper or purchase plastic puzzle toys, which force your pet to work for his treats! Several types of “play places” are available for safe out-of-cage playtime. A portable one can allow your bird to spend time with you in different rooms (just avoid the kitchen!).

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES:

Clean, rust-free square or rectangular metal cage. Minimum 18x18x18, with bar space no larger than 3/8 to ½ inch apart. A selection of at least 3 different perches, such as wood dowel, natural branch type, a therapeutic perch or a cement perch. A good supply of packaged pellet diet, to be mixed with seed. As time goes on, you can slowly convert your bird to a majority of pellet and fresh food.
At least 3 different toys. Purchasing more than 3 can allow you to interchange them in your parrotlet’s cage to prevent boredom. Calcium supplement such as cuttlebone, calcium treat or oyster shell. Treats such as millet spray, foraging box treats, and nutrient “berry balls”. Avoid sugary treats like honey sticks.
3 sturdy dishes. One for fresh water, one for pellet/seed mix, and one for fresh foods. Misting bottle and bird-bath. Parrotlets often enjoy a swing to perch on.
Play gym for out-of-cage use. Nail clipper & styptic powder. NOTE! Never use styptic powder on your bird’s skin - ONLY nails!! A bird safe cage cover. Be careful of using towels and blankets, which can catch bird nails and beaks in their threads or create too warm an environment inside.

CAGE MAINTENANCE:

Your parrotllet’s cage should be checked daily for any dirt that is accessible to your bird. Feces and spoiling food should be wiped clean of perches, cups and cage bars consistently to prevent health problems. Cage paper (which should be under a floor grate to prevent access to droppings) can be changed every to every-other day. Check the metal parts & bars of your bird’s cage periodically for chipped paint and rust, which can cause serious health issues if your bird chews or swallows any flaked pieces.

The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every month with: A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32) Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.

RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!

NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION

GROOMING & HYGIENE:

All birds should be gently misted with a water bottle dedicated to this use only. The spray should be room temperature and misty, sprayed up and over the bird to replicate a fine rain. NEVER spray the bird directly in the face. In addition to misting, a room temperature birdbath should be offered to your bird at least twice weekly. Monitor your bird while he is bathing, and remove the bath when he is finished. During misting and bathing procedures, make sure there are no drafts that may chill your bird when he is wet, which can cause respiratory issues. If your bird seems to stop grooming himself and becomes dirty and unkempt, contact your avian veterinarian. He may be ill. Be sure to visit your avian veterinarian on a regular basis for wing and nail trims.

IF PROBLEMS ARISE, CALL YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY! It is also highly recommended to have your bird seen by an avian vet for a yearly exam to make sure your pet stays healthy. Birds hide illnesses well; yearly exams can catch small issues before they get worse.

  • Fluffed feathers, missing patches of feathers, feathers being purposely plucked.
  • Evidence that your bird has stopped grooming him/herself.
  • Bird sitting still and low on perch with a puffed up appearance, drooping wings - may also stay at bottom of cage.
  • Beak swelling or unusual marks on cere.
  • Nasal discharge, eye discharge, wheezing or coughing.
  • Any change in stools including color or consistency.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Favoring of one foot, holding a wing differently, presence of any blood.

© Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise

Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets

In conjunction with Pet Supplies “Plus”

10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

Ph (716) 759-0144

www.buffalobirdnerd.com