The Unique Caique

You saw it at a pet shop or a bird show and were enthralled by the nonstop antics of the bright, 9-inch, jumping bird — a birdie gymnast with plenty of personality and the only parrot with a white belly. The caique (pronounced ky-EEK) has captured your attention. You’re probably wondering what it’s like to be the owner of such a powerhouse of energy.

Types Of Caiques

The white-bellied caique (Pionites leucogaster) and the black-headed caique are the two species of caique (P. melanocephala). The white belly has three subspecies, whereas the black head has two. Only the black head has a black strip of feathers on top of its head, whereas other caiques have a white belly. In the United States, black-headed caiques outnumber white-bellied caiques.

Because of its yellow thighs, the most common white-bellied caique in the United States is known as the yellow thigh (P. l. xanthomeria). Other subspecies include the green thigh (P. l. leucogaster) and the yellow tailed (P. l. xanthurus), which has yellow thighs but a lighter overall appearance.

P. m. melanocephala is the most common species of black-headed caique in the United States. The second subspecies, Pallid (P. m. pallida), has orange feathering while the other subspecies have yellow feathering.

The two species are just slightly different in size. According to caique breeder Gloria Balaban of Florida, the white-bellied caique is typically 1/4 inch longer than the 9-inch black-headed caique. The white bellied caique is likewise more rare and hence more costly than the black-headed caique. These seem to be the only significant distinctions between the species.

Delightful To Look At, But Better To Hold

“Caiques are not the sort of bird you purchase merely to look at,” says Tracy Day of Maryland, who has had Pooka, a black-headed caique, for three years. Caiques may live in captivity for up to 40 years, so you’ll be spending your life with them for a long time.

Prepare to spend many hours every week engaging with your bird. “Caiques are a demanding bird.” “They need a lot of human contact to remain tame,” explains Sally Blanchard, an avian behaviorist and the owner of Spikey LeBec, the 13-year-old black-headed caique known as “the famous caique.”

If you work all day, a variety of toys will keep your bird entertained, but nothing beats concentrated human attention for keeping your caique tame and happy. “Caiques are independent, lively birds who normally amuse themselves.” “However, if given the option between playing alone or with their favorite human, they will choose the human,” explains Day. This connection is especially vital for a bird kept alone — and it’s just simple sense. According to Balaban, the more smarter the bird, the more engagement it demands, and caiques are very clever.

However, you don’t want your caique to become too reliant on you. “Caiques need to be dependant to a degree, but not so much that they become a bother,” Blanchard says. A caique’s urge for socialization is also affected by how it was socialized as a newborn. “Those that were not properly socialized may have behavioral issues that may spoil their pet potential,” says South Carolina caique breeder Veta Hollaway.

First-Time Bird?

Caiques are not suitable as a first parrot for someone with little or no bird expertise. “You must constantly influence their conduct carefully.” “People may get into major trouble with caiques straight quickly if they don’t create guidelines and give caring advice,” says Blanchard.

Balaban argues that early socializing influences a bird’s future behavior. She does not sell unweaned kids since they must first learn how to be birds and socialize with one another before interacting with people.

Another reason to be cautious about caiques as a first-time bird, according to Blanchard, is that hostility is treated with aggression, so be soft. Recognize excellent conduct while ignoring negative. Caiques do not forget or forgive, and you must earn their confidence on a regular basis. “The more knowledgeable an owner is on how to care for a bird, the better the bird.” “Guide their conduct, not penalize it,” Blanchard explains. The return will be well worth it if you can satisfy the wants of this high-maintenance bird. “A person with a caique will never be bored,” Day adds.

The Ideal Environment

Allow plenty of cage room for your caique. Everyone agrees that more is more. “I believe birds need cages that are proportioned according to their activity level,” Blanchard explains. “Caiques need a lot of room.” Spikey LeBec lives in a cage that is 36 by 24 by 48 inches and has 3/4-inch bar spacing. These birds value height as much as breadth because they like swinging on toys and playing Tarzan. Another reason for a large cage is toys.

“There’s no space for a bird if the cage is too tiny by the time you put all the toys caiques demand in a cage,” adds Hollaway.

You may choose between a dometop and a playtop. “A playtop is fantastic, but a dometop provides you more useful area to hang items for the bird to play,” Day says.

Caiques need a lot of time outside of their cage. However, their curiosity may lead them astray, so they should constantly be monitored. “Most caiques consider life to be an amusement park experience. “They’re up for an adventure,” Blanchard adds. Spike once leapt onto her dog’s tail as it went by. He also climbed onto the microwave and poured powdered food over himself. This similar spirit of adventure has an advantage in that it qualifies caiques for travel by car or airline.

Caiques are quite adaptive when it comes to temperature and noise levels. “If you’re comfortable, they’ll be comfortable,” Balaban explains. However, Hollaway feels that when you first get your caique, you should acclimatize it if it comes from a significantly warmer or colder environment than your own.

Caiques don’t mind a lot of activity in the home. It all depends on what is considered normal. You should, however, offer a hide-away in their cage for those occasions when they want to be alone. “Caiques are either completely on or completely off. “They want to withdraw when they’re off,” Blanchard adds.

Caiques have no particular lighting, humidity, or air purification requirements beyond that of other hookbills. Lighting is most likely the most essential component. “All parrots need a lot of supervised time outside in a cage basking in natural sunshine,” Blanchard adds, “as well as a Vita Lite or other full-spectrum light for inside.”

Food, Glorious Food!

Caiques are voracious eaters. Balaban has had new customers call her after a week or two, amazed at the quantity of food their new caique is consuming. Reports of a picky caique are very unusual and are generally the result of incorrect weaning. Owners must provide a healthy food for their caiques. Caiques like variety, but their strong activity requires a little more fruit in their diet than other parrots need; vegetables rich in vitamin A are also essential. These, together with a seed and pelleted diet, should keep your caique happy and healthy.

Favorite treats differ according to the diversity of foods they prefer. Balaban adds, “They’ll sell their soul for a grape.” Blanchard gives Spike one nut every day. Pooka, Day’s caique, adores strawberries and peppers (red, green and chili). However, “Caiques are quite food possessive.” “I only anticipate Spike to bite me if he’s eating a favorite dish and I attempt to pick him up,” Blanchard explains. If you keep two caiques together, this possessiveness may create issues, therefore Blanchard suggests providing each caique its own feeding bowl.

Health Concerns

In general, caiques are healthy birds. Although any bird may get sick, caiques seem to be particularly vulnerable to polyomavirus, a disease that causes severe diarrhea and also affects the heart, liver, and kidney. This is unusual since polyomavirus is generally only seen in young birds under the age of four weeks. It is usually lethal. “I vaccinate all of my young caiques and advise customers to talk to their avian vet about an annual polyomavirus booster,” explains Balaban. The danger of exposure to your bird may influence whether a booster is necessary. The danger is low if a bird is kept alone and at home all of the time, with no visiting from other bird families.

Training And Talking

Caiques are very bright, with natural characteristics that allow them to learn tricks rapidly. Blanchard taught Spike in a half-hour to turn over and pretend dead when “shot,” then in five minutes to somersault in her hand. Most infant caiques, according to Balaban, can be trained to step up in five to ten minutes. Many caiques are housebroken. The only constraint seems to be the owner’s willingness to invest time and money in training.

Blanchard imitates Spike’s natural hopping motion by dressing him up as a wind-up toy. He jumps away when she coils him up and places him on a table. She also trained Spike to dance to music by mimicking his natural bobbing. She began whistling in response to his bobbing and eventually got him to bob in response to her whistling as well. Blanchard highlighted a gimmick Spike used to perform at her lectures where he placed rings on a platform to better demonstrate their intelligence. One day, a ring slid off the table, and someone in the crowd leapt up and replaced it. Spike no longer placed the rings on the stand after that one incident. He tossed them to the crowd, who picked them up. (To read more about Spikey LeBec’s exploits, go to

Caiques are not as vocal as Amazons or African greys, but they do communicate. “Every pet caique I know speaks at least a few words.” “They speak in a squeaky Minnie Mouse or a gruff Donald Duck voice,” says Balaban. Spikey LeBec has roughly 20 sentences and enjoys whistleing off key. Blanchard identifies them as having poor enunciation skills. “Strangers may not comprehend what your bird says,” Balaban continues, “but you will.” Caiques, according to Day and Hollaway, like mimicking noises, whistling tunes, imitating the beep of a fax machine or microwave, a squeaky door, or a cat’s meow.

To Pair Or Not To Pair

Caique couples, according to Balaban, are double the joy. “Caiques are one of the few birds who can have a human/pet connection even if they are partnered.” She advises that their willingness to associate with people decreases substantially during breeding. They should be back to their lovely selves after breeding. This characteristic contributes to the caiques’ distinctiveness since most other birds are less friendly and forget about their people once coupled.

Hollaway thinks that pairing caiques will not harm the human-bird interaction if done correctly. “This is the only bird for which I would inform a potential pet owner that having two in the same cage is OK as long as the owner interacts with both caiques.”

Having two caiques increases an owner’s effort and time commitment significantly. Blanchard and Day both leave their caiques alone and have done quite well (although Day is considering getting a second caique in the near future). Blanchard thinks that unless you want to produce caiques, it is best to mate them with the same sex.


“What I like most about caiques is how self-assured they are. When they attempt to demonstrate how hot they are, they snort from their noses. “They strut and snort,” Blanchard adds.

“Caiques are extroverted and gregarious creatures.” I believe they consider everyone and everything to be a possible playmate. “I believe caiques have two mottos: ‘No fear!’ and ‘Life is short, play with all the toys you can!'” explains Day.

“Caiques are cunning and determined. They will have their way. They’ll wheedle and connive as they push and push. “They’re tenacious birds,” adds Balaban.

They also catch up on the emotions of others around them, which may lead to some fascinating situations. Blanchard was conducting a presentation when he was brutally stopped and sneered at by the hotel maitre d’. Spike leapt right on the man’s nose! Balaban’s customer had to cope with her bird following her visiting mother around like a cat. In one meeting, the mother was shocked to see the bird force through her bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. The mother, stunned by the bird’s power and drive, waited to see what would happen next. Finally, the bird swooped onto the bed and attempted to attack her.

Their resolve spans the years as well. Balaban’s 8-year-old white belly spent the first 60 days of his life in quarantine when she adopted him as a 2-year-old. She and her husband brought him out at night and played with him on the bed. The caique spotted the coiled wire on the phone and refused to let it go. They removed the cable and placed it in a drawer so he wouldn’t damage it. A few years later, the caique was returned to the bedroom for the first time since the quarantine, and he immediately went for the phone cord. He recalled where it had been for years! If your caique gets infatuated with a thing, remove it from sight, like Balaban did with the phone wire.

Another characteristic that distinguishes caiques is their love of surfing. “In the wild, caiques are a bird of the high tree canopy. There are many flat leaf surfaces in the high canopy, and caiques like bathing in them. Domestic birds meet this requirement by surfing their hair. They massage their whole body on any diaper or bumpy surface, spreading the feathers on their cheeks and thighs. “It’s not a sexual habit,” Blanchard explains. Despite this tendency, they are not well-known cuddlers. Day compares them to cats, saying, “They snuggle, but on their own terms.”

Caiques may be fierce biters, but with good socialization, any issues should be avoided. If biting occurs, it may be due to fear. Analyze the circumstances around a bite to avoid future difficulties. Caiques are sensitive to unpleasant emotions. Were you worried or unhappy if there wasn’t a stimulus that may have startled your bird? Blanchard feels that excitement causes a lot of caique violence (lunge biting). Pet a caique gently if it is agitated or anxious. Slow it slowly by slowing your own energy down.

Don’t mix up gnawing and nipping. Chewing on owners is natural and demonstrates love. Caiques like handling. Blanchard believes that biting on you is their method of retaliating for your treatment. Blanchard recommends giving a bird something else to nibble than your finger if it is pinching. Caiques, according to Balaban, are a rather “beaky” species. “They’ll investigate you with their beak, but don’t encourage rough play.” Avoid activities such as “beak wrestling” or tug-of-war.

The Noise And Mess Factor

Do you want to know whether caiques are messy? “Yes. Every parrot is. The more fresh fruit they consume, the dirtier they get. The more soiled it is, the farther they will throw it. “Parrots are not for those who want their homes to be picture-perfect,” explains Balaban.

Noise is determined by the particular bird. “When caiques are excellent, they are really good.” “When they’re horrible, they’re horrifying,” Blanchard adds. Their cry is a monotonous nagging sound that jars on the nerves since it lacks variety, unlike that of most other birds. However, Blanchard claims that most screaming may be avoided by keeping your caique entertained or by paying close attention when it makes two or three contact calls. “Caiques may be boisterous if they don’t get their way — like a toddler who pouts,” Hollaway advises prospective caique owners. They’ll yell and cry until they get their way.” However, noise is really relative and reliant on the bird. The neighbors had no idea Day had a pet parrot until they saw it.

Male Vs. Female, Baby Vs. Adult

Caiques are not sexually dimorphic, therefore men and females cannot be distinguished visually. Although Blanchard believes that behavioral differences between male and female caiques cannot be identified until more individuals are aware of their bird’s sex, there do not seem to be any major behavioral differences between male and female caiques. Males seem to be more aggressive, although this is likely due to the fact that more males than females are put in pet settings (females are usually placed with breeders). One cost differential between the sexes is that females are typically more costly than men due to their scarcity.

Personal choice determines whether to have a baby or an adult. “Everyone wants a youngster, but I see no reason not to take on an adult bird that has already been owned,” adds Balaban. If you have a baby, you will have the opportunity to participate in its socialization and personality development. But don’t get an unweaned infant. Blanchard warns that, although being a little bird, caiques often take four to five months to wean.

Toys Galore, Bring On More!

Toys are essential for caiques. The more toys there are, the better. They appreciate various sorts of toys, but especially ones with vivid colors and that move or make noise. Giving them something to hang on or swing on brings out their inner Tarzan.

Caiques’ boundless energy drives them to play with all of their toys every day, so swap toys often to preserve their interest. This may seem to be costly, but you may supplement store-bought toys with handmade ones. Balaban encourages owners to be inventive; even a complete roll of uncolored, unscented toilet paper can delight your bird. [BIRD TALK suggests cutting the toilet paper roll so that your bird may easily remove its head. — Ed.]


Caique breeding is difficult. Hand-feeding is challenging because the chicks aspirate (inhale) the food unless it is done correctly. The issue of keeping the young alive is not the only one. Caiques are seasonal breeders (January to July), and the issue, according to Balaban, is getting them started. Although caiques are physiologically capable of mating at around 2 years of age, Blanchard believes that many should not or will not do so until they are about 5 years old. According to Balaban, more breeders in the United States are overcoming these breeding barriers, and caiques are progressively becoming more accessible. A dark nest box is another important factor in successful breeding. A typical clutch contains two to four eggs.

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