The wonderful Pionus parrots and Caiques are interesting groups of psittacines both as breeding birds in the aviary and for pets. Four species of Pionus and two species of Caiques are well-established in aviculture in the United States. Unlike some other psittacine genera, these two are proving to be easily bred from domestic-bred stock. Therefore, we can expect to have these marvelous birds in our aviaries and homes despite the unavailability of new wildcaught breeding stock. Although there are similarities in breeding the two genera, in my opinion the Caiques present a greater challenge to the aviculturist than do most of the Pionus species. However, there are still four Pionus species that are not well-established in aviculture so there are plenty of challenges for the aviculturist in both groups. To begin, I will address some husbandry aspects that are common to both genera and then I will add information specific to each specific genus.
Choosing Breeding Stock
Choosing breeding stock is of utmost importance. Although it is tempting to purchase proven pairs, this is not always the most prudent thing to do. Certainly there are some really good proven pairs offered for sale from time to time. Just as often, an aviculturist will sell a pair that is indeed proven and has produced well in the past but has now slowed in production or has developed bad habits such as breaking eggs or killing chicks. Be sure you can trust the seller of a proven pair and always ask for as complete a history on the pair as is possible to obtain. In previous years, most pairs set up for breeding were wild-caught adult stock of unknown age and history. We had no way of knowing if a particular bird had been pair-bonded in the wild and if it had ever bred before. Such birds often took several years to settle down and to re-pair in captivity. Today there are domestic, unrelated birds available in the more common species. Both Pionus and Caiques have been bred to several generations in captivity. We are finding that domestic birds, even handfed ones, are breeding well in captivity. In general, domestic birds have the advantage of usually being of known age. Young domestic hens are full of eggs and will have a long breeding future ahead of them.
Exercise caution when introducing two birds together, as aggression is a possibility. It is best to house the birds in adjoining cages for a while and then put them into the intended breeding cage at the same time. Thus neither bird has a chance to achieve prior dominance in the breeding cage. Domestic birds can be introduced at a young age to reduce the chances of aggression. It is always a good idea to have any prospective breeding stock seen by an avian veterinarian. Birds should be screened for bacterial infections, psittacosis, vitamin deficiencies, parasites, and be given other tests that your veterinarian might recommend.
Caiques and Pionus will breed in a variety of cage sizes and configurations. There are cases from two pet birds breeding in a small pet cage to birds breeding in large flight cages. In general, both Caiques and Pionus will breed in the same size cage. A cage that is two to three feet wide, three feet tall and three to six feet long is sufficient for one breeding pair of birds. It is best to use suspended cages that have perches raised above the eye level of the keeper. Pairs usually feel more secure and are more likely to breed when kept in this manner. Pairs can be housed in side by side cages, but Pionus breed best if separated from sight of other pairs. Aluminum sheeting is ideal for separating adjoining cages. Caiques do not necessarily have to be separated by sight. I have seen successful breeding situations with Caiques housed both ways.
Any caging situation should have a safety area such as a wire safety aisle built around it. This will prevent escape of the birds should they get out of their breeding cage and prevent predation by animals such as raccoons. Caiques are especially adept at opening cage doors.
I recommend that nestboxes be constructed of wood. I do not like metal nestboxes as they are too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Metal conducts heat and cold far better than does wood. Additionally, I think the chewing of the wooden box prompts birds to breed. This is a more natural type of nest; there aren't metal nestboxes in most tropical forests. Although the nestbox will have to be replaced periodically, I think the benefits outweigh the small cost factor of replacing the box occasionally. Using thick plywood to construct the box will reduce somewhat the frequency with which the nestbox will have to be replaced.
Caiques and Pionus will both breed well in both rectangular and L-shaped or "boot" boxes. A rectangular box with dimensions of 11 x 11 by 22 inches high is readily....