Pocket-Size Parrot Fun
By: Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.
Whoever said good things come in small packages must have been talking
about parrotlets (pronounced "parrot-let" little parrot). With their wonderfully
outgoing personalities, adorable-size, colorful plumage, comical behavior and quiet voice,
parrotlets are quickly becoming one of the most sought-after small pet parrots. Less than
six inches in length, be assured that parrotlets are true parrots, with all of the virtues
and some of the vices.
There are many seven species of parrotlets with only five
being readily found in the United States. Many of these species have subspecies
including the Pacific, Green Rump, Mexican, Spectacle and Blue Wing. It is
important to remember when discussing subspecies, the United States cut off the
important of all parrotlet species in 1992. That means these parrotlets have
been domestically bred for almost 15 years and that few, if any, pure subspecies
of any parrotlet still exists. Breeders have managed to keep the population
healthy genetically but, unfortunately, most of the subspecies have been
commingled and are called 'generic'. This does NOT mean they are hybrids, which
is the breeding of two different species. But that the subspecies have been
interbred in order to keep from inbreeding or line breeding to continue the
While there are seven species of parrotlets, only three are
usually kept as
pets. These hand-fed parrotlets often become completely devoted companions who enjoy spending time
with their owners. They can learn to talk and are quite comical either playing with toys
or amusing their owners with acrobatics such as hanging by their beaks and toes. Unlike many large parrots, they have no problem
entertaining themselves all day with their toys while their owner is at work or school.
But when the owner returns, they will chirp welcome greetings and expect to come out to
ride around in a pocket or hide in their owner's hair.
Identification of Parrotlet Species
The most often-seen parrotlet is the Pacific or Celestial (Forpus
coelestis). It originates in Peru and Equador. Approximately five and one-half inches
in length and 28 grams, these olive green birds have pink beaks and legs. As with all
parrotlets, they are sexually dimorphic. Males have dark cobalt wings, backs, rumps and
streak behind the eye. Females are various shades of green with no blue and an emerald
green eye streak.
There is one subspecies, the lucida Pacific parrotlet (Forpus coelestis lucida) where the
females have blue rumps and eye streaks and, sometimes, wings although it is not as dark
blue as the males. Males of this subspecies have silver gray backs and wings as well an
eye streak that completely encircles the back of the head. This subspecies is found in
Columbia. You can learn more about the lucida Pacific subspecies by reading our
article entitled "The Lost Lucida".
There are several color mutations of Pacific parrotlets now available
although they are very expensive compared to normal green birds. Currently, there are
blue, cobalt blue, yellow (both American and European varieties), fallow, lutino, albino,
white (also American and European), olive or dark factor green and blue-fallow (blue with
red eyes). All of these mutations have proved to be recessive and none are sex-linked,
including the lutinos. We a listing of color mutations and their descriptions as
well as other articles on color mutation parrotlets including their care and
breeding on our site at "Color Mutations".
The Pacific parrotlet is the most popular species of
parrotlet kept as pets. Most Pacifics have a well-deserved reputation for being feisty and bold.
They are very much 'a large parrot personality in a small parrot body.'
They are the most fearless of the parrotlets and can be very stubborn and strong-willed at
times. They have very engaging personalities and can also be the most loving and
devoted to their owners. As with all parrots, they need to be taught limits and
understand their relationship with their owners. Pacific parrotlets, especially
males, often learn to speak. While most only learn a few words or phrases there
are others than literally know hundreds of words. They have very high pitched
but easily understood voices.
Green Rump Parrotlets
Slightly smaller and bright apple green, Green Rump (Forpus
passerinus) parrotlets range from 18-28 grams (depending on the subspecies) and from
three and a half to four and a half inches. As with Pacifics, Green Rumps have pink feet
and beaks. Male Green Rumps have dark cobalt blue and bright turquoise on their wings but
no blue on the back or rump (except on one subspecies). Females have bright yellow on
their faces between their eyes. The amount of yellow on their face denotes the
In addition to the nominate, there are four
subspecies of Green Rumps. Forpus passerinus viridissimus, is found on the islands
of Trinidad and Jamaica as well as northern Venezuela to northern Columbia. The males are
emerald green and have more cobalt blue on their wings than turquoise. Females are
also emerald and have a great deal of yellow between their eyes, which often covers half
their face. Males also have a very round, protruding forehead.
Another subspecies found in this country is Forpus passerinus
deliciosus. Native to northern Brazil along the banks of the Amazon, this subspecies
is the smallest weighing only 18 grams. Bright apple green, the males are the only Green
Rumps to have a light turquoise-blue wash of color over their rumps. In addition to being
very tiny, females also have more yellow on their faces than in the nominate but not as
much as in viridissimus.
A dilute color mutation with dark eyes is available in Europe
and possibly in the United States. There is also a cinnamon color mutation that
has more yellow than the dilute and ruby red eyes.
The male Forpus passerinus cyanophanes, native to northern
Columbia, has more dark blue feathers on the upper wing than the nominate. This forms a
patch of color that can be seen when the wing is folded. The female is indistinguishable
from the nominate. This parrotlet is not believed to have been imported into the United States.
Forpus passerinus cyanochlorus is found only near the upper
Branco River in northern Brazil. The males are very similar to the nominate, however, the
females are a much lighter shade of yellow-green. This parrotlet is also not believed to
be in the United States.
Green Rumps generally have more reserved and shy personalities
than most Pacifics. They can be easily intimidated or frightened by new things
and take a while to adjust to new situations. They usually take a few days or
even weeks to settle into their new surroundings but
with a little patience and time, they can become wonderful members of the
family. Green Rumps can also learn to speak but they are generally not as vocal
as Pacifics or Spectacles.
Spectacle (Forpus conspicillatus) parrotlets are the most recent
entry into the pet market. Unavailable before 1992, several pair were imported and through
a successful breeding cooperative sponsored by the International Parrotlet
are now hundreds of these beautiful little parrotlets available as pets. Spectacles are
close to Green Rump size weighing about 25 grams and less than five inches in length. They
are also very dark green, especially the males. Both males and females have pink beaks and
legs. Males have beautiful violet-blue wings, backs, rumps and rings around both eyes
(makes the birds look like they are wearing spectacles, hence the name). Females are also
dark green and have emerald eye rings.
Forpus conspicillatus metae is found in
central Columbia and western Venezuela. The males have bright green heads with
yellow-green faces and throats. The eye ring is a thin partial line of blue feathers.
Females have more yellow overall than in the nominate.
Found in south western Columbia, Forpus conspicillatus caucae,
can be identified by its large, heavy beak. Also, the blue plumage of the males is
lighter and less violet than in the nominate.
These tiny gems have very outgoing personalities but not as much of
a stubborn streak as their Pacific cousins. Unlike most Green Rumps, they
are not shy and are very inquisitive and curious. They also seem to be one of
the talkers of the parrotlets with both males and females often learning to
imitate human speech.
Blue Wing Parrotlets
Of the rarer parrotlets, Blue Wings (Forpus xanthopterygius) are
the most wide spread. Blue Wings are larger than the previously described birds, weighing
35 grams or more and close to five and one-half inches in length. Males and females have
gray beaks and legs. Males have blue violet wings, backs and rumps. Females have light
green yellow faces. Blue Wings have slightly larger eyes than other parrotlets and tend to
be nervous, flighty birds (even when hand-fed). Blue Wings can also be difficult to get to
breed, often taking six months or more before producing eggs.
Forpus xanthopterygius flavissimus is
native to northeastern Brazil. Generally paler green with yellow green under-parts, both
males and females possess bright yellow faces and cheeks. The Parrotlet Ranch was the
first in the United States to breed this beautiful subspecies and holds a First Breeding
Award from the Society of Parrot Breeders and Exhibitors. In fact, one of these parrotlets
was exhibited for only the second year and has already become a Grand Champion.
Native to eastern Bolivia and central Peru, Forpus xanthopterygius
flavescens, has plumage is which is lighter and more yellow than the nominate. The
blue on the males in also lighter. Both males and females have bright yellow on their
face, cheeks, forehead and throats, which is quite prominent. There are none of this
subspecies in the United States.
Found in northeastern Peru, southeastern Columbia and northeastern
Brazil, Forpus xanthopterygius crassirostris, males have gray violet primary
coverts and secondaries are dark violet blue. Females are smaller than the nominate and
are more green. The upper beak is compressed laterally in the middle, which is prominent
in both sexes.
Only found in two locations along the Amazon River in north eastern
Brazil, Forpus xanthopterygius olallae, are dark green birds with the males
rumps and wings being darker blue than in the nominate.
The male Forpus xanthopterygius spengeli, native to the coastal
region of northern Columbia, can be distinguished from the nominate by the dark turquoise
blue rumps. The primary coverts are violet blue with the secondaries being dark turquoise.
Females have more yellow on the forehead.
There is a blue color mutation of the Blue Wing parrotlet. It
is rare but available in the United States. The coloring is much more deep, true
blue than that of the blue color mutation Pacific.
Mexican (Forpus cyanopygius) parrotlets are also on the large
size being five and one-half inches and approximately 40 grams. Mexicans are bright green
and males have gorgeous bright turquoise wings, backs and rumps. Both males and females
have gray beaks and legs but females' beaks do not turn gray until they are in breeding
condition. Mexican parrotlets are an enigma in the world of parrotlets. They are the only
species that can be bred in a colony. Unlike the others, they have a set breeding season
(usually spring and summer). They are the most Northerly-found as most species come from
Central and South American. They only produce one clutch a year; sometimes every other
year and never double clutch while the other species produce multiple clutches per year.
One subspecies, Forpus cyanopygius pallidus, is
found from southeastern Sonora to northwestern Mexico. In both males and females the
plumage is lighter green with a gray tinge and the under parts are more yellow than in the
Forpus cyanopygius insularis is found only on two of the Tres
Marias Islands and are believed to be greatly endangered. A dark green head, back and
wings as well as blue-green under-parts identify this subspecies. The face is yellow-green
and the males rumps and wings are darker turquoise than in the nominate and they
have blue on their chests. The parrotlet has only been seen on a couple of islands and is
Of all the species, Mexicans are the ones in most need of being bred in
captivity. They live in an area of Mexico that is being harmed by habitat destruction and
are often smuggled both of which are devastating the wild population. Unfortunately, very
few people are breeding these parrotlets. Even so, the International Parrotlet Society is
sponsoring a breeding cooperative to encourage people to breed these magnificent
parrotlets and save them from extinction.
Yellow Face Parrotlets
Although only found in one valley in Peru, Yellow Face, (Forpus
xanthops) are regularly bred in Europe and are in much less danger of disappearing
than Mexican parrotlets. However, there are only a handful in the United States.
Yellow Face are the largest of the parrotlets weighing 50 grams and close to six inches in
length. They are similar in markings to Pacifics, but both males and females have blue on
the wings, backs, rumps and eye streaks. In males, it is deep, dark blue violet and in
females it is lighter and brighter blue. Both males and females have bright yellow faces
which includes the forehead, cheeks, chin and continues down the chest to the belly.
Yellow Face have a black stripe on the top of the upper beak which is very prominent.
Never imported in the United States and rare even in Europe, Sclater's
(Forpus sclateri) parrotlets are reported to be dark forest green. Males have deep
blue that is darker than the cobalt in male Pacifics. The females are lighter than the
males with yellow under parts and a yellow green face but still are darker than other
female parrotlets. Both males and females have a black upper beak.
There is only one subspecies of Sclaters
parrotlets, Forpus sclateri eidos. Native to western Guyana, Venezuela, Brazil and
Columbia, the males are lighter green and have lighter blue than in the nominate. The
females are also lighter green with more yellow, especially on the breast.
Housing Your Pet
Minimum cage side is 18" x18"x18" with maximum
bar spacing be 1/2"- 5/8". Parrotlets do best in a cage that is longer than it is
tall so it will accommodate a large amount of perches and toys.
Make sure to place them where they can be easily removed for cleaning or
replacing . They should also not be placed over food or water containers so
their droppings do not soil their food and water. Natural non-toxix,
wood branches are better than dowels but a wide variety of perches should be
utilized. Some parrotlets may not stick their heads into a covered dish so avoid dishes with hoods on them.
A cage that has a grate
on the bottom will keep curious beaks away from droppings, stale food and other debris.
Parrotlets love to play with all kinds of toys. Toys made of leather,
rawhide, wood and rope are much appreciated. They also like things that move. All
parrotlets should be given a swing and many will sleep there at night. They will also
spend hours untying knots, chewing on beads and attacking bells. Many people like to
provide their birds with soft cloth toys such as Happy Huts or Birdie Buddies
when they are young so they have something with which to cuddle and sleep. However, they
should be removed after the parrotlet is six months old or undesirable behavior may occur. Make
sure all toys are safe with welded chains and made from non-toxic materials. Also,
parrotlets have strong jaws and beaks so make sure the toys can take the pounding.
Buy toys made for cockatiels or small parrots such as conures to insure safety
Being very active birds, parrotlets require a lot of food for their
size. They eat more than lovebirds and cockatiels so be generous with the food.
The bird seed company Volkman's makes a
mix specifically for parrotlets which is based on the mix we have fed at The
Parrotlet Ranch for years. It is called "Parrotlet Super" and may be
obtained a local pet shops, feed stores or directly from the company. Parrotlets
can also eat a good-quality small hookbill or cockatiel seed mix with sunflower or a pellet diet instead of
seeds. Breeding pair, however, should be fed seeds at least several times a week if on
fed seeds or pellets, parrotlets still require fresh fruits, vegetables and greens every day.
They should eat wholegrain breads, cooked legumes, root vegetables and grains,
sprouted seed and high protein foods such as hard-cooked eggs with the
shell. Fresh water, mineral block and
cuttlebone should be available at all times.
Vitamins can be sprinkled on the fruits and
vegetables several times a week. Breeders should also be supplemented with powdered
calcium. Parrotlets on a pelleted diet should NOT be fed vitamins as this can cause health
problems. Also, there have been reports of color mutation parrotlets have high
uric acid levels as well as kidney problems such as calcification of kidneys in
parrotlets fed primarily pelleted diets. . It is believed
there is nothing wrong with the pellets, but due to the mutation, the parrotlets
these foods improperly. We have an article on our site about this condition and
its possible causes on our site at "Pellets and
Parrotlets as Pets
A single parrotlet makes the best pet and avoids problems such as
jealousy and aggression. Many people feel because they are at work or school all
day their parrotlet may become 'lonely' and would appreciate another parrotlet
companion. Unfortunately, "share" is not a word generally known in the parrotlet
vocabulary so keeping two together usually results in fighting and problems between them
especially if a new one is introduced after the first one has established its
territory. They often become jealous and combative with the new parrotlet or
utterly ignore it. It often results in the owner having to house them
This is not to say it is not possible to keep more than one parrotlet (I
coined the phrase "Parrotlets are like potato chips, one is never enough.")
but only if the owner wants another parrotlet not because they think their
parrotlet wants another parrotlet. There is better success of the two parrotlets
enjoying each other if they are both obtained at the same time and played with
by the owner one on one daily. Unlike budgies, they will not bond
with each other. Also, get two parrotlets of the same sex. Either two males or two
females can co-habitat but avoid male/female as there is a possibility of breeding. Of
course, if kept in separate cages, this should not be a problem.
Parrotlets do not bond with the person who hand-feeds them but the
person they spend the most time with between the ages of six and twelve weeks
but older parrotlets can make excellent pets as well. Many older
parrotlets make great companions and seem to be grateful for being given a
chance. Its best to buy a parrotlet from a breeder who handles and socializes their birds
rather than just feeds them and puts them back with little or no interaction.
A parrotlet life span is believed to be around 15 to 20 years but no
one knows for sure. Very few people breeding parrotlets today were around that
long ago so it is hard to say. Among the 'old timers', many of us have had
parrotlets this long that were either imported before the ban or have been
raised in our aviaries. Mutation Pacifics have an even shorter track record as
most of them were not available until about the mid-1990's. Parrotlets are rather hardy birds and if well-fed, kept clean and not exposed to
other birds, parrotlets should live to a ripe old age. Unfortunately, most meet their
demise by accidents so its important to always keep the parrotlet's wings clipped and not allow
them to walk around on the floor. Also, do not take them outside unless they are in a cage
as they can fly even with clipped wings.
Parrotlets are very smart and can be taught to do a variety of tricks
as well as talk. I know several parrotlets that have a vocabulary of more than 100 words
and a few that speak more than one language! Males seem to be more frequent talkers than
females but females have been known to speak as well. The best talking parrotlets have
owners that talk to them regularly rather than for a few minutes each day. Although formal
training sessions of 10 minutes several times a day will help as well. Parrotlets seem to
watch the mouth, tongue and lips of the person talking and this is best accomplished with
It is true that parrotlets can be territorial and can be
especially defensive with their cage. In the wild, parrotlets nest up to 200
yards away from other birds and will take over an entire tree by fighting off
other birds or other animals in defense of their 'home'. So, being protective of
their cage is normal and can be controlled with proper
training. All parrots test your limits and parrotlets are no exception. They
must be taught what is acceptable behavior using gentle behavior modification
techniques and not with anger or physical threats. NEVER HIT A PARROTLET as it
can easily be injured or even killed. They also learn nothing but to fear you. Generally
speaking, most become very bonded and want to be with their human as soon as they
There are some excellent books available on parrotlet
behavior including two we have written ourselves. The
Parrotlet Handbook which we wrote to give to our clients that took home our
parrotlets and needed good basic information on identification, caging,
training, diet, behavior and even breeding. The second, All
About Parrotlets has most of the information of The Parrotlet Handbook
but much more about diet, behavior, training, showing (exhibiting) and breeding.
We also have two more books in the works, one completely devoted to parrotlets
as pets and an expanded updated version of All About Parrotlets.
Books about general parrot behavior and training are also
very helpful to parrotlet owners. Especially if one is having a particular
behavior problem or is trying to teach their parrotlet tricks. Parrotlets are
very smart and are just like any other type of large parrot, only tiny. They can
learn in the same manner as their larger cousins.
It is also true that parrotlets can be defensive with other animals
and other birds much larger than themselves. It is very important to keep the parrotlet
away from other animals as most will not tolerate a strong nip on the nose or feet.
This does not mean the parrotlet has to be the only animal in the house, but
species segregation is very important. Parrotlets should not be able to have
physical contact with other birds or animals no matter how 'gentle' the
parrotlet or other animal. They can live in harmony if they are kept away from
one another and not allowed physical access.
Parrotlets are not for everyone but if you are looking for a parrot
with plenty of personality but cannot eat the dining room table, consider a parrotlet. You
will have a delightful pet whose comical antics will keep you entertained and devoted
companionship for many years to come.
International Parrotlet Society
The International Parrotlet
Society was founded in 1992 to educate its members and the public on proper
parrotlet care, breeding, conservation and exhibition as well as promote and
support conservation and veterinary research.
IPS members receive
wonderful benefits such as a beautiful, full-color bi-monthly journal, a free
Breeder Directory, attend meetings, receive exhibition awards, participation in
the Parrotlet Placement Program and cooperative breeding programs, contact with
other knowledgeable parrotlet owners, breeders, researchers, conservationists
and veterinarians and obtain IPS-issued traceable bands. Dues are $25 per year
US $30 International. Contact:
International Parrotlet Society
PO Box 2428
Santa Cruz, CA 95063-2428