The Caique - Part I


As a subject for almost any ornithological study, the caique Pionites seems to be ideal. It now serves to give me information on artificial incubation and some factors determining the growth rate of chicks. Another interest it has for me is to use it to demonstrate the genetics of its particular pattern of feather color. The caique shows considerable geographical variation in appearance.

Unfortunately, these genetic studies have yet to involve those wonderful, even if they are abnormal, color mutations that so intrigue those who take an interest in such avicultural oddities. Shortly after World War II, a lutino was introduced to the United Kingdom by Miss Maud Knobel. As she kept it as a pet, it died without being given any opportunity to breed. Yet, inevitably, whether we do it wittingly or unwittingly, by inbreeding caiques, some mutations of color will be revealed.

As with other parrots, the caique, when given the opportunity, proves ready to go to nest. Mine have always bred in small flights and cages. During this time, it has become apparent that, although the caique has a pronounced territorial behaviour concerning its nesting area, it is highly sociable. Like the budgerigar, it seems to breed best when several pairs are kept in close proximity.

There are snags to keeping caiques.

They cannot withstand continual exposure to the very low temperatures of a prolonged northern winter. Another is that they bawl fairly loudly, gesticulate with wing, head and tail, and call to each other. The impression then might be that this noisy posturing is because all are handicapped by partial deafness. This is not so. They have evolved their clatter and semaphore to communicate information through the dense canopy of a tropical forest. To my ears, the din is nowhere near as unpleasant as the squawks and shrieks made by the Aratinga conures. But it still can carry some distance. So, unless you live in warmer climates and well away from others, your caiques may have to be kept in an indoor bird room, rather than outside, in an attempt to muffle their sounds and stop them from getting their feet frosted in mid-winter.

With their brash, extrovert, swaggering ways, it might easily be imagined that caiques could be difficult to pair. Although they are hooligans and bullies in established pairs and family parties, they are usually well behaved when alone with a strange caique in strange surroundings. (It might be unnecessary to point out that when forming fresh pairs of parrots, or any other birds, the two should be put into a completely neutral "introductory" cage or aviary.)

When a single caique is placed with another bird, it may seem indifferent at first. In fact, there is less squabbling between two strange birds than will normally be present between most established pairs. There is an exception: the hand-reared pet is not always as cowed and well-mannered, for it is not solitary. It has an ally - the owner. Therefore, tame birds may first persecute and bully another bird.

The re-caging of ''divorcee'' caiques, again as with other parrots, should be arranged so that they cannot see and, preferably, not hear their former partner. When they are paired, caiques frequently bicker and quarrel. They happen to be that sort of bird. They have repeated arguments over perching, food, preening, and nest boxes. This strong individuality is part of their charm. When studying these birds, one will notice that females are less aggressive towards others than their mates. This somewhat more passive, less belligerent attitude can cause them to suffer more readily from stress when crowded together. For example, in a mob of imported, wild-caught caiques, it will be found that there are usually more cock than hen birds.

Once they settle down to a captive life, caiques can be very long-lived (several of my breeding birds are known to be more than 30 years old). During this time, each would have been given many different partners. Indeed, all established breeding pairs of any of my parrots will be split up after they have produced a certain number of offspring. The amount of chicks that cause me to "divorce" successful parents always depends on the size of my initial stock.

Some breeders will object to disturbing stable breeding unions. Yet it is essential if we want to avoid future inbreeding. By attempting to continually out-cross with unrelated birds, and ultimately use every available bird, a high number of outcrosses are then possible. Thus, inbreeding does not take place. This simple rule ought to be observed when the available population is limited. What, after all, is the point of producing ever more brothers and sisters? Switching partners gives the maximum genetic diversity and must conserve the greatest number of wild-type genes. If you are conservation minded, no further individuals will have to be taken from the wild for "new blood'.'

My "foundation" stock of caiques was acquired more than fifteen years ago. Despite the then freedom from import restrictions and quarantine, the birds still were acquired with some difficulty. There were then so few birds to obtain. This has...