Pet Connections

Parrotlets: A Small Parrot with BIG Personality

By Edward R. Moats

Over my many years of working with companion birds, no other species of parrots has captured my attention more than Parrotlets. What are Parrotlets you ask? They are a group of small parrots ranging in height from 4.5 to 5.5 inches tall that inhabit neotropical forests and jungles in South America.

They are classified under the genus Forpus. This group of small parrots is comprised of seven different species. And a few of these species also possess subspecies. In this article, I have decided to discuss the most commonly kept companion Parrotlets here in the United States, Forpus coelestis. Otherwise known as the Pacific or Celestial Parrotlet.

Pacific or Celestial Parrotlets are approximately 5.5 inches tall with a stout body weighing up to a whopping 32 grams. Their plumage is green. And they are sexually dimorphic (can be visually sexed.) Males are green with wings trimmed in dark blue on the primary feathers. Females do not have these blue feathers. They are often labeled as “small amazons” due to not only their physical characteristics, but their personalities and temperament that can sometimes rival even the largest amazon parrot. Although the personalities of these little feathered jewels can sometimes be considered demonstrative, they can also be sweet and endearing.

Many Parrotlet families are more than eager to share their experiences regarding a little bird that enjoys being the center of attention. Most agree that once trust is built, you have a feathered friend for life!

BEHAVIORAL CHARACTERISTICS

As I have already mentioned, these little spitfires can sometimes be a handful. I have been asked by potential Parrotlet families if these little birds truly live up to their reputation. With a grin on my face, I always assure them that each bird is an individual. But, as a general rule of thumb, these small birds have no issue expressing themselves. Be it demanding attention from their pet parent or defending themselves when they feel threatened. 

Quite often, Parrotlets tend to be defensive of their cages. This is an instinctive behavior passed on from their wild ancestry. In the wild, Parrotlets have to compete for shelter, food, and mates. They are also prey animals. And can fall victim to predation from a number of animals that can fit a 5-inch bird into their mouths. Therefore, the Parrotlet family needs to have a strong understanding in regard to Parrotlet behavior and positive ways to interact with these birds. 

The introduction of a Parrotlet into a new home, otherwise known as the TRANSITIONAL

PERIOD; can sometimes be a trying time for Parrotlets and their family. During this period, patience and understanding is of the utmost importance. The family, or caretaker, needs to fully understand the proper way to interact with a Parrotlet. All too often, new families jump the gun by purchasing their new feathered companion before doing any research regarding it’s needs. And because of this, they can unknowingly make a negative impression on their new friend. Body language, the tone of your voice, environmental stimuli; all are factors that can determine the outcome of interactions with a Parrotlet. Remember, trust is earned, not given. Even a Parrotlet that has been handfed will go through a transitional period when introduced into a new environment. Patience will be rewarded in time.

DIET

Parrotlets are OMNIVORES. In their natural habitat, they feed on seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and insects. In our homes, it is virtually impossible to replicate the bio-diversity available to these birds in the wild. Therefore, offering a bio-diverse diet that consists of some seed, fruits and vegetables, and plant-based proteins can insure that your Parrotlets is offered a nutrient dense diet that will meet it’s needs. 

Introducing pellets to the Parrotlet diet comes with some controversy. Many feel that feeding

pellets to color mutations of Parrotlets can possibly cause kidney issues. I personally feel that it has nothing to do with color mutations. Consider a parrot let’s size. As I mentioned in my Avian Nutrition article for our winter issue, pellets are void of water. When pellets are introduced to water, the pellet absorbs the liquid and expands like a sponge. If a small bird does not drink ample amounts of water, the pellet pulls liquid from the digestive track and can cause dehydration. With dehydration, ketones and ureic acid levels increase over time and can cause renal issues or failure. As I have mentioned before, there are pros and cons to feeding pellets. If you plan on offering pellets to your Parrotlet, be sure to monitor the water intake of your bird.

COLOR MUTATIONS

In the mid 1980’s, color mutations of Pacific Parrotlets were introduced into the United States from Belgium in limited numbers. Many of the color mutations available today come from this small number of birds. Currently, some color mutations are still being imported. But, it is a GREAT undertaking requiring countless hours of red tape. And importation can be costly. Because of the limited genetic diversity of these color mutations, inbreeding of related birds continues to be of concern. Today, colors of Pacific Parrotlets range from white, blue, yellow, and turquoise. 

With the introduction of the color mutations comes another concern regarding genetic diversity in Pacific Parrotlets that spikes great controversy with many. The on-going breeding of color mutations and not out crossing back to the nominate (or normal green) of the species and improper genetic pairing. In other words, breeding blue to blue, yellow to yellow, white to white, etc. 

Why should a pet parent be concerned? Because these color mutation birds where produced

through a process called LINE BREEDING. This is where related birds that possess a visual trait are paired to pass on the trait or characteristic (color) to offspring. This is also known as inbreeding. When a breeder does not out cross color mutations every few generations to a normal green, congenital defect are amplified and can affect the size and vitality of offspring. 

Perpetual pairing of color mutations and not out crossing has also proven to shorten the lifespan of Parrotlets. Before the introduction of color mutations, Pacific Parrotlets where known to live on average 10-20 years. Today, with the on-going improper genetic pairing of color mutation Pacific Parrotlets, many of these birds meet their demise before the tenth year. Results from necropsy reports have common denominators, the subject birds succumb to cardiovascular disease, liver failure, and other congenital issues that result in an untimely death.

All of this can be summed up in a few sentences. Because of the demand for pretty colors in these birds, many breeders are driven to meet the demand for color as opposed to maintaining the health of a species. The color mutation Parrotlets that are available as pets today, are essentially a genetic “engineered” animal that does not resemble their wild ancestors. These color mutated birds tend to fetch higher prices as opposed to a normal green. In the end, greed is the undoing of these birds as companions.

I hope that this brief introduction to Pacific Parrotlets has sparked an interest in learning more about these little birds. As with any animal, careful consideration should be taken to determine if one of these birds can easily transition into your home and family. If you feel that one of these birds can make the perfect companion for you and your family, I suggest that you continue to research before you jump in feet first. 

Parrotlets are small in stature. But, don’t be fooled by their size. In the body of these 5-inch

little bird beats the heart of an Amazon parrot! 

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