Breeding Yellow Face Parrotlets

Yellow Face (Forpus xanthops) had all but gone by the 1990s, despite being introduced into the United States in the 1970s and early 1980s. I was lucky enough to receive five pairs of Yellow Face parrotlets in the spring of 1994 and have had great success breeding them.

The Yellow Face parrotlet is the biggest member of the Forpus genus. Yellow Face is around six inches long and may weigh up to 45 grammes. The term “yellow face” is misleading since the whole forehead, cheeks, chin, chest, and abdomen are brilliant lemon yellow. Males have vivid blue stripes on their wings, back, rump, and eyes, which are quite similar to male Pacifics (Forpus coelestis). Females have the same bright blue backs, wings, rumps, and eye stripes as female Forpus coelestis lucida. A distinctive characteristic of Yellow Face is a black stripe running along the centre of the upper mandible.

Yellow Face parrotlets are widely regarded as one of the most endangered Forpus species, both in captivity and in the wild. The number of birds in the United States is estimated to be fewer than 50. Despite the fact that Europe has a lot of breeders, their availability is quite restricted. They may be found in the wild in Northern Peru’s upper Rio Maranon Valley. Fortunately, they are prolific breeders in captivity, which makes the job of aviculturists dealing with this species much simpler. The International Parrotlet Society is one conservation group that has established a breeding programme for the Yellow Face parrotlet.

Yellow Face parrotlets thrive in spacious cages 2′ tall, 2′ wide, and 3′ long. The couples should be separated visually so that they may hear but not see each other. This reduces hostility and keeps the breeding couples focused on breeding rather than fighting. Each couple receives a selection of natural wood perches as well as a lovebird-style (7″w x 10″t x 7″d) nest box affixed to the cage’s exterior front. While in the box, the couple will only view the interior of their cage, making them feel more safe. To within 2″ of the nest hole, boxes are filled with untreated pine shavings.

Unlike other Forpus species that reach maturity at one year, Yellow Face has much superior reproduction success at two years of age. Youngsters of the same sex may be kept in big flights until they reach reproductive age, at which point they are separated into individual cages with nest boxes. Yellow Face seem to be less aggressive than other Forpus species, which is particularly beneficial given the scarcity of them.

Yellow Face parrotlets are great birds to feed since they eat just about anything provided to them. Most parrotlets eat big amounts of food for their size, but Yellow Face devour a massive amount even for a parrotlet. We give a safflower based hook bill mix that comprises peanuts, sunflower and hemp since they require the additional fat and protein. We also feed Tropican™ pellets and Petamine™, which, together with cuttlebone, mineral block and clean water, are always accessible. The core of our diet is fresh foods that include two or three different fruits and up to ten different veggies plus cooked rice or pasta and dry beans everyday. They also get chopped greens and whole wheat or multigrain bread as well as sprouted seed and egg meals. Vitamins and powdered calcium supplement are sprinkled on the soft meals many times a week. They are also given bee pollen, Spirulina™ and wheat grass powder regularly as well.

Nesting behaviour is much the same as other species of Forpus. The male usually investigates the box first and once he deems it safe, is followed by the hen. They do not build nests but chew and rearrange the shavings into shallow depressions. Females pluck their breasts to make a brood patch and leave the feathers in the nest. Before she lays the first egg, she will consume huge quantities of cuttlebone – often as much as a 6″ cuttlebone everyday for several weeks prior to laying. Hens will lay one egg every other day and have an average clutch of four to six. She will sit on those eggs, leaving only to defecate, until the last chick has left the nest. The incubation period is slightly longer in Yellow Face with chicks hatching at 24 days instead of the usual 21 Interesting, the Mexican parrotlet (Forpus cyanopgyius) also hatches at 24 days.

Yellow Face will feed and fledge their own young if allowed. As with other species, it is recommended the adult male be removed from the cage when the young start to fledge. This will prevent aggression between parent and offspring. Adult males have been known to maim or even kill their male chicks upon fledging. The female will continue to feed the young and teach them to eat on their own. The male can return once the chicks are weaned and are placed in another flight.

As with most aviculturists, we hand-feed our chicks. This is done even though they are never going to be sold as a pet. Often, hand-fed parrotlets that are not socialised to be pets, make steady, reliable parents that are not overly sensitive to human intervention. They are used to people but not bonded to people, therefore they raise healthy chicks without causing havoc when humans are in the aviary.

Most breeders pull chicks for hand-feeding at ten days of age. They should be banded with a closed, lovebird size band. Each chick’s weight, parentage, date of hatch and band number should be recorded in the breeder’s records. Chicks need to be fed every four hours, five times daily. Chicks do not need to be fed through the night unless they are less than seven days old. There are many commercial hand-feeding formulas available these days. Food should be fed at 102° F and syringes need to be kept in disinfecting solution such as Benadine™ or Wavecide™.

Chicks need to be kept in a brooder at 89° F. Chicks should be placed on pine shavings in small containers. Parrotlets will not eat pine shavings and they are absorbent, sanitary and inexpensive. Also, they will provide good footing for the babies, preventing leg and joint problems. Chicks should be weighed daily prior to the first feeding. They should gain between .5 – 1.5 grammes per day. Should they lose weight, unless they are weaning, that may be a clue to something being wrong. If chicks lose weight two or more days in a row, they need to be checked at by a veterinarian specialising in avian medicine.

When chicks are approximately four weeks old and are covered with feathers, they can be placed in a container with seed, pellets and millet spray to begin weaning. They can also be removed from the brooder at this time. Be sure and continue to feed chicks every four hours. Gradually, they will take less formula and eat more solid food. About six weeks, they can be moved into a cage with a small dish of water. Continue to diminish the number of feedings. They should be completely weaned by eight weeks of age.

It is very important that aviculturists who have these rare birds, work together to ensure their future survival. The International Parrotlet Society understands that and has started breeding cooperatives and studbooks. Unfortunately, the barriers between countries often make it impossible to trade birds to diversify the bloodlines. However, we can still share information and knowledge to help one another and the future of these magnificent parrotlets.

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