The Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus) - also known as the Blue-head Amazon or Red-vented Parrot, is endemic to tropical Central and South America, from Costa Rica and Trinidad south to Bolivia and South to Central Brazil.
They inhabit forests and terrain with trees up to a height of 600m or 2000ft, but are occasionally seen up as high as 1500m or 5000ft - however, only in favored feeding places in open country and cultivated areas.
During breeding season they fly in large flocks and can be seen in the mornings flying from the regular breeding sites to their feeding areas. At dawn or at dusk, large numbers of them are seen roosting communally in palm and other trees.
Longevity: "You & Your Pet Bird" by David Alderton states that Pionus live an average of 25 years. Pionus can live to be over 40 and often they live only 3 or 10 years due to accidents and poor nutrition.
The Blue-headed Parrot is a medium-large parrot, averaging 11 inches (28 cm) in length and its weight range is between 200 to 260 grams.
The plumage of the adult Blue Headed Pionus is generally green. The head, neck and upper breast are a deep blue. There is a red base on the feathers on their necks that show through. They have black patches on their ear coverts (feathers covering the ears) and the undertail is red. There is some yellow on the wing coverts. Their bill is blackish with red at the sides. The skin around their eyes (periophthalmic ring) is grey and their irides (= plural of iris) are a dark brown. Their feet and legs are grey.
Both males and females look alike. DNA or surgical sexing is recommended for those desiring to determine the gender.
Immatures have less blue on the head. Younger birds have a reddish frontal band [a few red feathers right above the cere (nose)]. The number of red feathers varies greatly with individuals, and these red feathers usually fall out by the time the pionus is 3 months old and are completely gone by the time the pionus reaches 1 year of age. The blue color is close to complete at one year of age. However, the blue can increase in intensity until about the second year of age. When the pionus is 2 to 3 years old, they will have attained full adult coloring.
Diet / Feeding
They feed on fruits, seeds, berries and blossom. They are also considered "crop pests" as they cause considerable damage to cornfields.
Blue-headed Pionus Parrots are increasingly popular as pets. They are very affectionate and although they are not birds that particularly enjoy being cuddled, they do love a head scratch.
They are quite independent birds, they are happy to amuse themselves with toys and food without constant attention from the owner. Well-socialized pionus parrots really enjoy interacting with people.
They can be noisy with light, high-pitched squeaking calls. However, compared to other parrot species (conures or amazons), they are relatively quiet. They talking ability is generally considered "poor" - although some say they are the best talkers in the Pionus family.
They are appreciated for their sweet and fun disposition, easy-going personality and intelligence. They are less apt to bite than other parrots species. These qualities make this parrot a good choice for first-time parrot owners and a wonderful family pet.
It is also an excellent choice for apartment dwellers, due to their calm personality and easy maintenance. Owners describe them as inquisitive and sociable parrots that are easily tamed.
Pionus Parrots are devoted to their owners and thrive on attention - however, some of them, particularly males, may bond with one person and aggressively protect that person from perceived dangers, including other family members. They are active by nature and may become overweight if closely confined.
Caring for Your Pionus:
The Pionus is a very active parrot and needs the largest space that your home can accommodate -- ideally, this parrot should be able to fly from perch to perch, especially so if the pionus is kept in the cage most of the day. The minimum cage size should be 30 x 30 x 36 inches.
This being said, however roomy the cage, every bird should be allowed to be out of the cage for a minimum of three hours each day. Many birds can spend a good deal of their time on a play pen or parrot perch. As they are not strong chewers, durable cage construction is not as critical as it would be for the largest species of parrots. They are technically inclined and learn to open locks pretty quickly and locks or escape-proof latches may be recommended.
When setting up your pionus, please visit this website: How to Keep Your Pet Parrot Happy and Healthy for ideas and recommendations.
Training and Behavioral Guidance:
Once they have learned a behavior such as stepping up they are very obedient and will remain steady in their training.
- Web Resources: I put together web resources for you to help you understand your pet bird and properly direct him. Please visit this website for valuable tips on parrot behavior and training.
The Pionus parrot should be provided a high-quality seed mix, a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, such as berries and apples. Some breeders suggest Pretty Bird High Protein or Daily Select as staple diets for Pionus parrots; they will tend to waste less food if fed small-sized pellets* such as Pretty Bird Daily Select Small. I personally prefer unprocessed food as I am concerned about chemicals / additives and also because synthetic supplements usually added to formulated diets are never as good as the nutrients found in natural food. Some supplementation may still be necessary if a variety of nutrient-rich food is not accepted by a bird or not provided by the keeper.
One of the most nutrient-dense food items that you can feed your birds and are usually eagerly accepted by birds (even picky ones!) are sprouted seeds. Sprouted or germinated seeds are usually more easily accepted by "seed addicts" than fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Sprouted seeds are healthier as the sprouting changes and enhances the nutritional quality and value of seeds and grains. Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process - thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds.
- Sprouted seeds will help balance your bird’s diet by adding a nutritious supply of high in vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.
- Soaked and germinated "oil" seeds, like niger and rape seeds, are rich in protein and carbohydrates; while "starch" seeds, such as canary and millets, are rich in carbohydrates, but lower in protein.
- It is an invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds. Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.
*Please note: When feeding pellets to your pet, please be aware of the fact that over-feeding citrus fruits (including oranges) or vitamin-C-rich foods to your birds can lead to "Iron Overload Disease" as vitamin C increases the amount of iron absorbed from foods and supplements.
As is the case with most parrot species, their diet should include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add nutrition and psychological enrichment. Their food intake should be monitored as overfeeding can lead to selective feeding and wasteful throwing of food. Pionus parrots should be fed little to no sunflower or safflower seeds. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet. However, if the base diet is seed-based, a good avian supplement should be given to prevent deficiency diseases. Such supplements should be added to soft food items rather than adding them to the water, as this dilutes the vitamins and water-soluble vitamins break down rapidly. Also, water containing sweetened vitamins is a good growth medium for bacteria. On the other hand, supplements sprinkled over seeds are usually lost when the bird shells the seeds.
- Click here for more information on bird nutrition
The breeding season usually commences in May. In their natural habitat, they nest in tree cavities. A normal clutch consists of 3 to 4 (occasionally five) white eggs. The average incubation period is about 26 days. The young wean when they are about 12 weeks old and are usually independent by 3 months of age. They reach maturity at 2 to 4 years.
The Blue Headed Pionus is bred regularly in captivity and is moderately difficult to breed in captivity.
During the breeding season, they can get noisy. If you have near-by neighbors who are sensitive to noise this should be a consideration when deciding to breed this species. They are breeding age when they are about 3 to 5 years old. In North America, the breeding season stretches from February or March to June or July.
One problem that breeders face is that the male pionus in breeding condition can get aggressive towards their mates. One option to protect the female is to clip the male's wings prior to the breeding season to give the female an advantage when trying to escape the aggressive male.
For cage construction, breeders suggested the following dimensions: 5 x 1 x 2 m (8.5 x 3 x 6 ft). Suspended cages facilitate sanitation as droppings and discarded food fall through the wire cage floor. Grandfather-style nest boxes work best. A size that works well is 10" wide x 10" deep x 18-24" high (~25 x 25 x 50 cm). Place the nest box high up in a dark, secluded area of the aviary.
Pionus chicks are challenging to handraise and it is best to allow the parents to take care of the chicks for at least the first week. Various green foods and mealworms are appreciated by the parents for feeding the chicks. Corn cob is a favorite weaning food.
If you decide to pull the chicks at this time, Exact or Pretty Bird Handfeeding formulas are suitable for handfeeding the young.
Species: Scientific: Pionus menstruus menstruus ... English: Blue-headed Parrot ... Dutch: Zwartoorpapegaai, Zwartkoppapegaai, Blauwkoppapegaai ... German: Schwartzohrpapagei ... French: Perroquet à tête bleu ... CITES II - Endangered Species
Distribution: Colombia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, northern Brazil, northern Bolivia, central Brazil, Trinidad
Description: Looks like the nominate species described and featured above, but this sub-species has a much duller blue to its head; and the red to throat is more marked. The green is generally darker. It averages 10.5 inches (27 cm) in length.
Distribution: Southern Costa Rica, Panama, western Colombia, western Ecuador
Species: Scientific: Pionus menstruus rubrigularis ... English: Paler Blue-headed Parrot ... Dutch: Bleke Zwartoorpapegaai ... German: Blasser Schwarzohrpapagei ... French: Perroquet à tête bleu Cabansis ... CITES II - Endangered Species
Description: Looks like the nominate species described and featured above, but generally has a deeper blue coloration. All green feathers are marked with blue, so this sub-species looks like a blue version of the nominate species. Its bill is horn-colored without a reddish tinge. It averages 10 inches (26 cm) in length.
Distribution: Coastral north-eastern Brazil
Species: Scientific: Pionus menstruus reichenowi ... English: Reichenow's Blue-headed Parrot ... Dutch: Reichenows Zwartoorpapegaai ... German: Reichenows Schwarzohrpapagei ... French: Perroquet à tête bleu Espirito Santo ... CITES II - Endangered Species
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