Parrotlets – Petite Parrots in a Pint-Sized Package
By: Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.
For people who want a bird with
a large parrot personality without the large parrot, look no further than the
diminutive parrotlet. These
wonderful birds have all the personality of the large parrots but cannot eat the
dinning room table.
Recently, there has been an
explosion of parrotlet popularity as pet birds. Being adorable, intelligent,
playful and affectionate, the demand for parrotlets as pets is rapidly
increasing. Most parrotlets are bundles of energy, spending hours swinging,
climbing, playing with toys and interacting with their owners.
The exact life span of a parrotlet is unknown, mainly
because they have not been kept in captivity in large numbers until recently.
However, it is believed to be around 15 to 20 years of age or more.
While they are not immune to avian diseases, if well cared for,
parrotlets tend to be relatively disease resistant. If well fed, kept clean, not
exposed to other birds and protected from accidents, most parrotlets can live a
fairly long life for such a tiny creature.
There are many mispronunciations of the word
"parrotlet" but the correct one is "parrot”-“let", in
which the middle “t” is pronounced. It is also helpful to remember that it
means, "little parrot".
Different Parrotlet Species
The Pacific or Celestial parrotlet (Forpus coelestis)
is the most well-known and popular species of parrotlet.
They are almost five inches in length and weigh approximately 30 grams.
Both males and females are a basic olive green. The males have a
cobalt-blue streak of feathers extending from the eye as well as cobalt blue on
the rump and wings. Females have an
emerald green eye streak. They have dark olive green backs and wings with
yellow-green feathers around the face.
Pacific Color Mutations
Recently, several color mutations of the Pacific
parrotlet have been developed. So far, all but one of the Pacific color
mutations have been recessive and only one are known to be sex linked at this
time. The following color mutations have been developed in the Pacific
parrotlet: albino, dilute (formerly “American yellow”), blue, dilute-blue
(formerly “American white"), fallow, lutino, cinnamon (both recessive and
sex-linked), blue-fallow, pied (both dominant and recessive), pastel (formerly
“European yellow”), grey-green, grey and silver.
Green Rump Parrotlets
Another common species, Green Rump parrotlets (Forpus
passerinus) are also the smallest weighing an average of 22 grams and are
less than four and one-half inches in length. Green Rumps have a delicate,
streamlined body with a small beak in proportion to their heads.
Predominantly apple green, the females have a small patch of bright
yellow feathers between their eyes above their nostrils. The males have bright,
cobalt blue on their primary wing feathers while the secondaries are turquoise.
Spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus) are
at the smaller end of the scale weighing approximately 25 grams and less than
five inches in length. The males are a deep, rich evergreen with a bright blue
eye ring, cobalt rump, primary and secondary coverts, secondaries and under wing
coverts, bright violet blue on the primaries and rump.
Females are not as dark green as the males and also have an eye ring,
however, it is emerald not blue.
Rare Species of Parrotlets
There are also several species of parrotlets that are
rare to almost non-existent in the United States that are not usually available
as pets. These include Blue Wings, Mexicans, Yellow Face and Sclater’s
No other species is found as far north as Mexican
parrotlets, Forpus cyanopygius. Native
to northwestern Mexico, they are one of the larger species at five and one-half
inches and weighing almost 40 grams. The
males have bright turquoise rumps, primary and secondary wing coverts.
Blue Wing Parrotlets
Often confused with Mexican parrotlets, Blue Wings
(Forpus xanthopterygius) are not as heavy and stocky as their northern cousins,
weighing approximately 35 grams. Blue Wings are darker green and have very large
eyes. Additionally, the males have dark violet blue rumps and wings instead of
bright turquoise and females have more yellow around their face.
Yellow Face Parrotlets
One of the rarest and the largest species is the Yellow
Face parrotlet (Forpus xanthops) weighing 50 grams and almost six inches
in length. They are found only in one extremely remote valley in northwestern
Peru. The males have deep violet blue primaries and secondaries similar to male
Pacifics including the blue eye streak. Females
also have blue rumps, which are lighter than the males.
As the name implies, both males and females have bright yellow faces.
They also have beaks with a dark stripe running down the front of the
The Sclater's (Forpus sclateri) is approximately five
inches in length. The males' lower
back and rump are deep violet blue that is darker than in any other species.
The primary and secondary-coverts, secondaries and under wing-coverts are
also blue violet. The upper
mandible is gray and the lower is horn colored.
Basic Parrotlet Care
Hand-fed parrotlets make wonderful pets and quickly
become members of the family. Being highly intelligent they often can be taught
to do tricks and can learn to talk. Parrotlets
kept as single birds make the best pets. This is because one parrotlet often
become dominant over the other and may become possessive and jealous and even
pick on the other parrotlet. “Share” does not seem to be a word in the
Intelligent and fearless, these
curious little parrots can get into a lot of trouble if they are not supervised
when out of their cage. Parrotlets
are also very territorial and can attack other animals, especially other birds,
even those much larger than themselves, if given the opportunity. While this
does not mean they need to be the only pet in the household, they should be
physically separated from other birds and pets for their own safety. They must
also be trained from an early age to not follow their owners around or have free
rein of the house. Unfortunately, most parrotlets meet their demise by
preventable accidents. Always keep a pet parrotlet’s wings clipped for its own
safety and always supervise it when it is out of its cage.
Although parrotlets are
small, they are very active and intelligent so they need room and a lot of toys
with which to play. A single parrotlet should have a cage at least 18" by
18". Of course, a larger cage is fine unless it is so big the parrotlet
gets lost in it. Bar spacing should be no larger than 1/2" or 5/8"
wide to insure that a head cannot get caught. The cage should have feed doors
that allow for easy access to all dishes as well as provide a door big enough to
stick in a hand. Cages should have pull out trays with grates to keep the
parrotlet off of the bottom. Open food dishes should be used as many parrotlets
will not stick their heads into a dish with a hood and can starve.
Food and water should be placed so droppings cannot soil them.
Natural wood perches
made from manzanita or eucalyptus should be used so the parrotlet may choose a
comfortable spot and this will also help exercise their feet. Perches made from
cement or sand are also available which help keep nails worn down. If using one
of these perches, only provide one in a high spot in the cage as their feet can
become irritated if it is the only place in which to perch. Never use sandpaper
covers on perches as they do not wear down nails and can cut the bottoms of the
parrotlet's feet. The parrotlet's cage should be kept out of drafts and direct
sunlight. A quiet corner in a busy room is a good place. It is also a good idea
to keep the cage covered at night to ensure sound sleep and help control
daylight hours. Parrotlets should have at least 12 hours of darkness per night.
Pet parrotlets are
usually bundles of energy, spending hours swinging, climbing and playing with
lots of toys that their cage should accommodate. Ropes, ladders, leather chew toys, bells, beads and rings are
particular favorites. However, parrotlets have very strong beaks for their tiny
size so it is important to be safe, strong toys. Buy toys designed for
cockatiels and conures not budgies or finches. Continually check toys and
perches for wear and make sure there are no sharp edges or areas to enclose a
beak or toe.
Being extremely active
birds, parrotlets require a great deal of high-quality fuel.
Gram for gram, they eat more than a macaw.
Parrotlets will eat more than a cockatiel or even a small conure so
always provide a large amount of food as well as a wide variety. A fresh high,
quality seed or pellet diet is necessary. Diets designed for cockatiels or other
small hook bills are perfect for parrotlets. If providing a seed diet, it is
good to provide limited amounts of sunflower and hemp seed. Parrotlets,
fortunately, are not prone to obesity and other dietary problems thought to be
caused by too much fat in the diet. This is probably due to their
hummingbird-like metabolisms and their high-energy playfulness.
Whether fed seeds or
pellets, parrotlets still require fresh fruits, vegetables and greens daily.
Parrotlets thrive on a basic diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, greens, sprouted
seed, Petamine™, whole wheat bread, cooked rice, pasta, potatoes and dried
beans. Fresh water, mineral block and cuttlebone should be available at all
times. Many grains and protein foods also make healthy treats for pet
parrotlets. Only feed top-quality,
fresh, unspoiled foods. The best rule of thumb is if it's not fit for a person,
its not fit for a parrotlet.
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 biannual
meetings, exhibition awards, participation in the Parrotlet Placement Program,
contact with other knowledgeable parrotlet owners, breeders, researchers,
conservationists and veterinarians, cooperative breeding programs and IPS
traceable bands. Dues are $25 per year US $30 International. Contact:
International Parrotlet Society
PO Box 2446
Aptos, CA 95003-2446