COVER ARTICLE: Pionus Parrots


Pion us parrots are one of the most underrated treasures found in aviculture today. They are medium sized,short tailed birds that hail from Central and South America. There are five species commonly found in the United States. They are the Blue-headed (Pionus menstruus), White-capped (P. senilis), Maximilian (P. maximiliani), Dusky (P. fuscus) and Bronze-winged (P. cbalcopterus). There is a small population of Coral-billed Pionus (P. sordidus) but they are not well established in aviculture. Also not well established in the United States is the Plum-crowned Pionus (P. tumultuosus). The one species not represented in the United States is the White-headed Pionus (P. seniloides).

There are some who consider this bird to be a subspecies of the Plum-crowned rather than a separate species. In this article it will be addressed as a separate species. All pionus species are listed on Appendix II of CITES.

Pionus parrots have a distinctive flight with deep, stiff wing beats. These wing movements remain mostly below the body. These stocky birds are easily recognized by their trademark red vent feathers and noticeably notched upper mandibles. Pionus parrots do not have the overtly flashy coloring of many popular macaws and conures. They have subtle yet splendid coloring that is best appreciated in good lighting. They are not sexually dimorphic. These charming birds seem to have gained popularity in the last decade or two as more people are recognizing both their beauty and delightful qualities as companions.

One of the most popular and probably the most recognizable pionus species in this country is the Blue-headed Pionus, Pionus menstruus. It is a medium-sized parrot, 10 to 11 inches or 28 cm long, weighing an average of 260 grams. It is primarily a green bird with dark ear coverts and a deep blue, sometimes almost electric blue, head and neck. Juveniles have similar coloring but with much less blue. The neck and throat feathers are pink or red at the base, with this color often showing through. If the bright blue head was not distinctive enough, they also have a reddish patch on either side of the dark colored upper mandible. In addition to the nominate species, P.m. menstruus, there are two documented subspecies; however, only one, P.m. rubrigularis, is present (in small numbers) in American aviculture. It is slightly smaller than the nominate and the red coloration on the neck is more pronounced. Blue-headed Pionus are native to forests in the lower elevations in Central and South America, ranging from Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, through eastern Ecuador, Peru and into Brazil where they can be seen at the clay licks alongside the macaws. They are extremely common throughout their vast range and are also well represented in American aviculture where they are one of the most commonly kept pionus species.

After the Blue-headed Pionus, the White-capped or Whitecrowned Pionus, P. senilis, is probably the second most recognizable and commonly kept species. White-capped Pionus are one of the smaller members of the genus at about 26 cm (nine inches) in length and weighing around 220-230 grams. The Whitecapped Pionus is primarily a green bird with a white forehead along with white on the throat. The shades of green vary from lighter on the abdomen to darker on the breast and back. The beak is yellow or pale colored. These birds can be found in Central America from northern Mexico down into Panama. They prefer to inhabit forested areas and can often be seen flying about in large, noisy flocks. They are popular in the pet trade due in part to their availability and their price, which is generally lower than that of other pionus species.

The Maximilian's Pionus or Scaly-headed Parrot, P. maximiliani, is one of the larger pionus parrots and another frequently kept species in the United States. Its natural range overlaps somewhat with that of the Blue-headed Pionus. It is about 11 inches or 28 cm long and weighs in the neighborhood of 275- 280 grams. The plumage has varying shades of green with purple on the throat and breast. The head feathers are edged with grey, giving it a "scaly" appearance, especially at a distance. They are known for their pleasant temperament and willingness to adapt to a new environment.

The Bronze-winged Pionus, P. chalcopterus, is native to South America, ranging through western Colombia and Peru and into Ecuador. They are slightly larger than the White-capped at about 10 inches or 25 cm in length and weighing 265-275 grams. The plumage is striking and less green than that of other pionus species. The body is a bluish-purple, the throat white and the back is green, washed with bronze. These birds are delightful to keep but often seem to be very cautious and reserved until they are comfortable with their environment. Although popular in the United States as both aviary birds and companions, there is limited genetic diversity in the captive population due to the fact that only a small number of them were imported into the United States. Outside of the United States, they do not appear to be well established in aviculture.