Breeding Parrotlets (An Overview)


Due to the increasing popularity of these charming, much sought after companion parrots, demand often outstrips supply. It is thus important that aviculturists know how to breed their birds in order to minimize importation from the wild. Although, due to the recent regulations, importation has come to an almost complete stop anyhow.

In the 1920s, most wild-caught parrotlets were imported into Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark; this gradually increased into the 1950s when almost the whole of western Europe and England were


importing them. Unfortunately, in those early days priority was never given to the responsible captive breeding of the birds because they were usually easy to obtain or replace. So why would one "break one's neck" trying to breed them?

Today, however, the situation is quite different. Because the supply of wild caught birds from their native countries is likely to dry up in the not too distant future, future demands will have to he met hy captive breeding. Fortunately, most species are not yet directly endangered in the wild hut, in spite of this (and rightly so), all par-


rotlets are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

Anyone desiring to breed parrotlets must first decide which species they want to keep and breed. It is highly recommended that one starts with a minimum of three unrelated pairs of birds per species or subspecies. The three pairs must not be related in any way, so that the young produced from these pairs also are unrelated; in other words, we will have three groups of unrelated offspring that can he paired up.

Experience has shown that each pair of birds are better housed in their own breeding cage or (even better) aviary. ln this way, it is less difficult to leg hand (diameter 4 - 4.2 mm) the young accurately and to keep an accurate record. Without accurate records (a card system, for example) it is impossible to maintain a healthy, noninterbred series of breeding pairs. Don't forget that many parrotlet species, especially hens, are quite difficult to distinguish, which can lead to unwanted hybridizations if inadequate care is taken.

Always take care in determining the species (or subspecies) you obtain; don't just study illustrations in one book, but check various publications (i.e. Forshaw's Parrots of tbe Worldl3rd edition], Alderton's Tbe Atlas C!f Parrots, and Juniper and Parr's Parrots). My hook Tbe Parrotlet Handbook (fall, 1999, Barron's) will show many species and subspecies in color as well hut most of these birds are captivebred and therefore sometimes look nicer when compared with wildcaught specimens.

Due to the difficulty in determining the various species (and subspecies), it is recommended that beginners start with three unrelated pairs of Pacific or Celestial Parrotlets Forpus coelestis. Apart from the re-discovered subspecies F. c. lucida (see Molenda's article in Watchbird; Volume XXII, No. 5; September/October, 1996, pages 20- 22), which is rarely commercially available, the Pacific Parrotlet has no subspecies to cause confusion.

We must set out to pair up pure birds, so that they in turn produce pure homozygous offspring; pairing


between nominate and subspecies is taboo. Pacific Parrotlets, moreover, are easy to obtain in the U.S., Canada, and Europe and are thus readily available even in the yearly breeding season. Several color mutations are available in this species (which are given full attention in above mentioned hook). In order to keep specific color mutations pure, they must he paired carefully, and it may sometimes he necessary to inbreed them. For this reason, I would advise beginners to concentrate firstly on the "normal" wild colored birds (but be careful that you use genuine wild-colored birds that are not split with a certain color mutation).

Another particularly attractive species, without subspecies, is the easy to recognize Yellow-faced Parrotlet Forpus xantbops. This species is extremely colorful, and is not especially difficult to obtain in Europe. In the


U.S. and Canada it has heen intensively imported during the last five or so years and has heen hred widely. The future of this species in aviculture looks rosy.

All of the other species have one or more subspecies, some of which are extremely difficult to distinguish from each other. If you want to hreed these species/subspecies (which is quite possible), you must he very familiar with the various subspecies, so that false pairings and inbreeding can he avoided. At this point I will stress again, that only strict selection of pairs of pure nominate or suhspecies can guarantee the continuing existence of the pure form.

For example, a nominate hen of the well-known Green-rumped Parrotlet, Forpus passerinus, paired with a cock Blue-winged Parrotlet, Forpus xantbopterygius, will produce offspring that are not only racially impure, hut they also closely resemhle the father Bluewinged Parrotlet, Inexperienced aviculturists would often mistake these offspring for pure Blue-winged Parrotlets. Such hybrids have demanded high prices when sold as "subspecies of the Blue-winged Parrotlet." Such fraudulent representations have no place in the avicultural community.

It is also very advantageous to know if the birds you are considering are wild caught, or captive hred. It is not possible to estimate the age of wild caught birds, and hens must he at least one year old before they can he safely bred. Additionally, older, wild caught hirds are not always anxious to pair up when placed together in a cage or aviary (see below). Such difficulties are minimized if you use captive bred stock. I would therefore advise beginners to deal only with captive bred birds, using a trio of unrelated pairs, in order to build up a line.

Selecting Breeding Pairs

Parrotlet partners are very faithful and devoted. This is very easy to observe in their behavior. Should one bird fly to a perch, or nest box, the other will follow almost immediately. If it flies to feed or drink, the partner will join it without hesitation. The birds will frequently preen each other mutually. Though they have their occasion-


al short altercation, they will soon make up with renewed tenderness. They will separate themselves from other aviary inhabitants, and will chase them away if they get too close. They sleep, in their favorite spot, pressed tightly to each other and, when the hen is incubating, the cock will often spend the night with her in the nest box. Parrotlets can thus he correctly called the "lovebirds of South America." However, before this is all possible, cock and hen must he willing to pair up in the first place.

The easiest way to pair up birds is to place several unrelated youngsters (all leg-handed) of the same species (or subspecies) in a flight (indoor or outdoor, as long as we can keep adequate control), and allow the hirds to pair up themselves. This is not always as easy as one may want it to he, as certain undesirahle pairings may ensue (such as hrother x sister). And, once the hirds are paired up it is almost impossible to separate them without causing them an inordinate amount of stress, so you must keep a close eye on them.

Once you see which birds have shown an interest in each other, you can remove these individual pairs and place each pair in a roomy hreeding cage or aviary (each pair should have its own run).

Another simple method is to place two birds of opposite sex together in a breeding cage or other roomy cage and hope that they will show interest in each other. This usually poses no difficulties if previously unpaired young hirds are hrought together.

Older birds that have already hred, those in which one of the pair have died, or pairs which have shown unwillingness to hreed and need to be remated (for example: in order to maintain a particular color mutation) are, unfortunately, not always ready to accept a new, strange partner. This is especially the case when a bird can still see or hear its old partner, even when they are in different accommodations.