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For Spanish title, see cacique. For Turkish fishing boat, see caïque.
For other uses, see Caique (disambiguation).
Black-headed Caique adult pets in cage.JPG
Black-headed parrots, breeders.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Superfamily: Psittacoidea
Family: Psittacidae
Subfamily: Arinae
Genus: Pionites
Heine, 1890

The caiques /kɑːˈk/ are species of parrots in the genus Pionites. There are two main species, the white-bellied parrot (or white-bellied caique) and the black-headed parrot (or black-headed caique). They are relatively small and stocky, with a short, square tail. Due to their very bright, pure colors they are considered among the most beautiful parrot species. Their typical weight is 150–170 grams. They can live up to 40 years.

They are endemic in the Amazon Basin in South America, with the black-headed north of the Amazon River, and the white-bellied south. They are endangered and are listed on Appendix 2 of CITES as a species of least concern. They generally prefer forested areas and subsist on fruit and seeds. Caiques are generally canopy dwellers, spending most of their time in the tops of trees, foraging and playing. Caique wing feathers produce a distinctive whirring sound in flight. They are highly vocal.

Caiques have a social system which is slightly unusual for parrots. They tend to live in a clan of five or ten related families in a single enormous tree. When a caique fights, other members of its clan immediately take its part. Caiques form long-lasting relationships, positive and negative, with other clan members. They are extremely competitive for status. They may be less exclusively pair-bonders than larger parrots. In captivity they may be more likely to have several long-term human "friends" than other parrots, and can be less troublesome in relating to their bonded human's spouse. A human family may comprise a caique's clan, if the members take the trouble to make individual friendships with the caique.

Black-headed caiques are also occasionally known as the "seven-color parrot" because in addition to having red eyes, each caique's plumage includes black, green, yellow, orange, white and blue feathers. They have also been nicknamed in aviculture as "the dancing parrot" for their habit of hopping and "dancing", especially when encouraged by rhythmic clapping.

Historically, caiques were thought to be unsuitable as pets, because wild-caught caiques do not accept captivity well. This is evidenced by the fact that natives such as the Machiguenga peoples of Amazonian Peru, who live in the areas where caiques are endemic, do not typically make companions of them, unlike larger parrots. Current, more sophisticated, domestic breeding practices have shown that this is not the case, although caiques are not "beginner" or "easy" parrots. The black-headed caique's eyes in the photograph[clarification needed] are "pinning", a precursor to aggressive actions such as biting.

Pionites melanocephalus (black-headed parrot).
Pionites leucogaster (white-bellied parrot).

Species and subspecies[edit]

  • Black-headed parrot, Pionites melanocephalus. There are two subspecies. They hybridize freely and individuals showing some level of intermediacy in colors are common:
    • Black-headed parrot/caique (P. m. melanocephalus): Eastern part of its range. Orange thighs and crissum, nape deep orange, and belly white.
    • Pallid parrot/caique (P. m. pallidus): Western part of its range. Yellow thighs and crissum, nape relatively pale, and belly tinged yellowish (often barely visible; belly normally appears "dirty white" in the wild).
  • White-bellied parrot, Pionites leucogaster. There are three subspecies:
    • Green-thighed parrot/caique (Pionites l. leucogaster): Eastern part of its range. It has green thighs and upper tail.
    • Yellow-thighed parrot/caique (P. l. xanthomerius): Western part of its range. It has yellow thighs and green upper tail.
    • Yellow-tailed parrot/caique (P. l. xanthurus): Central part of its range. It has yellow thighs and upper tail.


Juvenile white-Bellied caique on back playing

Caiques are growing in popularity in aviculture. The more commonly found species is the black-headed caique since it was introduced first in captivity, but the white-bellied caique's popularity is growing rapidly. Well-raised caiques bond well with humans and have a reputation as playful and energetic birds that enjoy playing with toys and lying on their backs, as shown in the photo on the right. These birds sometimes perform a behavior unusual for avian species in which they roll over on their backs in apparent play - sometimes called "wrestling".[1][2][3] They are not particularly good flyers, becoming tired and winded after only a short distance. They also tend to be clumsy and slow in the air compared to other birds. They often prefer to walk, jump, climb, or hop as a mode of transportation. They are excellent climbers, with very strong feet and legs.

Caiques also exhibit a unique behavior known as "surfing", where the bird will vigorously rub its face, wings and chest against any nearby soft item (e.g. carpets, towels, cushions, crumpled paper, curtains or human hair) while using its beak to pull itself along. During this, the bird will display jerky movements and may roll over several times. This behavior is thought to be a cleaning or bathing motion and occurs regardless of age or sex. In the wild, caiques use wet leaves for this behavior.

Compared with the volume of larger parrots, caiques are fairly quiet if trained properly. They have a peculiar call which has been compared to a smoke alarm, used for warning and for making contact with flock members who are out of visual range. This call is high, piercing, and loud enough to alert flock members across the jungle or neighboring apartment dwellers. They are extremely active, prefer lots of physical interaction and playtime, and are prolific chewers. They can be distrustful of or aggressive toward other species of parrot, so prospective buyers should be careful if they have or plan to have other types of parrots. They can also be highly demanding of human attention, and stubborn, not easily distracted from stealing eyeglasses or chewing unapproved items even when tempted with favorite treats and toys.

Caiques are poor imitators of human speech, and their appeal as a pet lies in their playfulness, not their speaking ability. Some individuals learn to mimic words, and will speak in a loud and metallic voice. Many caiques easily learn to whistle and some birds enjoy developing a large repertoire which they creatively recombine to come up with new calls and short tunes. They also enjoy learning environmental sounds such as telephone rings and microwave beeps. As well as mimicking calls for other birds. Caiques are considered "acutely intelligent", particularly in social interactions.[citation needed]

Caiques have a very faint, slightly spicy odor.[citation needed]

As parrots go, caiques are somewhat "difficult" birds and inexperienced parrot owners should be ready to exercise patience over a long period. Caiques suitable as pets are basically wild animals which have been well-socialized to humans since birth. They have been "co-parented" with their caique mothers, by humans. Caiques have never been bred for domestication. Forming a relationship with a well-raised, domestically-bred caique requires a level of dedication and interest which is not necessary to forming a relationship with most domestic pets.

Although caiques can make wonderful, affectionate companion parrots for the right person, due to their extremely engaging and funny personalities, some individuals can be very hot-tempered. Their beaks and claws are needle-sharp, unless maintained with abrasives. Caiques need an environment in which humans exercise firm, consistent, gentle dominance, for them to become good pets. Establishing dominance can take some time. Many caiques never become "safe" with strangers, and are unsuitable for homes with children. Caiques ordinarily respond well to homes in which some time is devoted to playing with them each day. Caiques are very emotionally perceptive, and enjoy sitting quietly, watching and listening to humans interact with each other. The affection and respect of their human friends is very important to them. It has been said that "you love 'em or you hate 'em". They amply reward the painful process of socializing them. Like all pet birds, they need to be kept in a bird-safe environment.


As with most parrots, males and females of either species of caique look exactly the same. The only ways to determine sex are surgical sexing and DNA sexing.


External links[edit]