Captivating Caiques


Two Species

Caiques (pronounced kah-EEKS) comprise a small group of the 138 living types of parrots found today in South America. Geographically, it appears that the mighty Amazon River or its tributaries serve to separate the Blackheaclecl Caique Pionites melanocephala in the north from the White-bellied Caique P. leucogaster in the south. The Black-headed Caique was imported in greater numbers into the United States. These birds probably came out of Guyana, in northern South America, for the most part, although their habitat extends into Venezuela, southern Columbia, eastern Ecuador and northeastern Peru. A large part of the White-bellied's range is in Brazil, which did not allow exportation of its wildlife well before the Wild Bird Conservation Act 0 992).

Rosemary Low, noted British aviculturist and author, believes that both types of caiques should be treated as conspecific--as one species=and that perhaps their differences in color indicate geographic variations of the same bird. She points out that the White-bellied, when very young, has a black crown similar to the Black-headed Caiques. As the birds mature, however, the White-bellied Caique develops a bright apricot-colored head, while the Black-headed retains its characteristic markings. To complicate matters even further, there are subspecies within each species with subtle differences in color. The nominate race of the White-bellied Caiques has green thighs, while the subspecies, more readily available in U.S. collections, has yellow thighs. The distinctions among the Black-headed Caiques are more subtle and also involve the thighs. some more yellow, others more orange.

Caiques are the only parrots, excluding cockatoos, of course, that have white breasts. Caiques also seem to have the most erect posture of all the parrots, a factor that contributes to their alert appearance. Lori es are not found in South America, but if one parrot fills that niche in the New World, many could agree that caiques do so convincingly. These birds move like lories, jumping more than climbing, and they are certainly as acrobatic.

Like lories, caiques really enjoy eating fruit. Many successful breeders will provide them with nectar mixes, which they seem to relish. Unlike lories, however, caiques are extremely poor flyers. This factor certainly could contribute to isolating population pockets of caiques thereby allowing for the evolution of specific color variations, which have proven adaptive to particular environmental pressures. Their attempts at flying give the impression that it is a somewhat difficult activity and the execution of any in-air maneuverability virtually impossible. Many ornithologists see a relationship between this genus and some conures, based on the bone structure of their skulls. However, my subjective observations lead me to consider that they might be closely related to the Hawkheaded Parrot Deropzyus...