This article by Hayley Baker, of the Parrotlets UK, appeared in The Parrot Society magazine volume 51, February 2017. It gives useful information for newcomers to these fascinating small parrots.
What attracts you to keeping Parrotlets? Is it their fun and feisty behaviour? Their intelligence? The various colours? I personally love to sit and watch how they interact in their pairs. I love how one minute they are grooming and preening each other and then the next minute they are having a huge verbal debate. They are truly entertaining little birds. But what ever reason we keep them, we all care for and house them in a similar way.
Pacific or Celestial Parrotlets - Forpus coelestis
Parrotlets are miniature parrots from South America (Ecuador and Peru), and are becoming very popular. Their natural habitat is dry landscape with plenty of shrubbery to forage. The most commonly kept species is the Celestial or Pacific Parrotlet (Forpus coelestis). It is a short bird of 12.5 cm, and weighing around 28-35g. When keeping Parrotlets, either as pets or for breeding, research is important. Ensure you are buying a healthy Parrotlet by asking your breeder questions. Lineage is extremely important: you don’t want to buy a bird too closely related or inbred. Also genetics play a huge part on the health. For example two of the worst possible combinations are red-eyed to red-eyed varieties (this includes Ino and Fallow mutations) as these can cause blindness in babies. I’ve had many emails regarding blind red-eyed birds and this is more than likely due to improper pairings. Other unwise pairings are Double Dark factor to Double Dark Factor (this includes Mauve and Olive). Pairing such mutations is a poor combination as DD Birds are very weak birds generally with poor feather structure. The best combination of lineage would include at least one green parent. Normal greens are very important to breeding Celestial Parrotlets. Don’t let yourself get too carried away with mutations (this applies to all parrot-keeping! - Ed.) Luckily there are more and more breeders getting into keeping ‘pure’ greens if you can get some of them into your flock the better.
Keeping and breeding Parrotlets These birds are suitable for beginner/intermediate bird keepers. The only down side to keeping and breeding these wonderful birds is that you must only keep these birds in pairs. They are really aggressive and territorial once sexually mature. I do however keep young individuals in flights or large cages but in same-sex groups, then once they are sexually mature they get paired up. Many breeders also do this, especially when showing Parrotlets.
Parrotlet Set Up Within the parrotlet interest group, breeders' cages vary, proving that these birds are not particular about their breeding cages. Some people use double metal breeders, some use wooden, others all wire cages, and others even pet style cages. The minimum measurements I would recommend are 38 x 38 x 76 cm. And I do feel they prefer a lengthy cage to a tall cage, but of course bigger the better. Bar spacing must be no bigger than 18 mm. Perches should include a good variety different lengths and widths (especially width for exercising the feet). Ensure that food and water bowls are away from toys and perches so they do not get soiled. The food and water must be changed daily. A variety of toys is needed, but do not overcrowd the cage so they are unable to fly. Most toys are safe but it’s always good to check daily for damage or loose threads, etc that could cause harm. Using a product like Easibed (www.gardenfeathers.co.uk) or similar is always good to put on the cage base as it is super absorbent, clean and does not scatter around when the Parrotlets fly around.
Parrotlet cages set up with toys
Feeding Parrotlets Parrotlets need a similar diet to lovebirds, so I always recommend a lovebird mix (for example deli nature Number 72) or a parakeet mixture with a good canary seed in the ratio 60:40. Giving Parrotlets an interesting diverse fresh diet is also important. Ensure it is always finely diced as Parrotlets will not use their feet to eat. Apple, pear, pomegranate, broccoli, spinach, melon, berries, quinoa, brown rice, carrot, and sweet potatoes are all popular inclusions in the mix. Diet in breeding birds is very important as the hen will use a lot of calcium during egg laying. Always make sure they are getting plenty of calcium supplementation.
Breeding Parrotlets When setting up a breeding pair there are important steps to take. Firstly, are they genetically compatible? If you pair a blue to green or green to green there is not too much of an issue. But if you are pairing a mutation to a mutation please re-evaluate. An ideal pairing if you are getting into mutations is a 'visual' to a 'split'. (We could do with a good article on parrot genetics - any offers?! - Ed.) Secondly make sure you introduce them in a neutral cage: as mentioned before they are very territorial and if you were to add a Parrotlet to another bird in its existing cage there is a very high chance that the visitor will get killed by the resident Parrotlet. Always let them settle with one another before adding a nest box, and make sure all perches are sturdy. Parrotlets should never be allowed to breed at less than 12 months old: for a young hen to go through so much too young will take its toll on her. And never breed them more than twice a year if you want the hen to live a long healthy life. When breeding Parrotlets calcium is so important, so make sure cuttlefish is always available and provide egg food daily for babies. As mentioned, many breeders on the interest group use a variety of boxes with great success. These vary from budgie- or lovebird-style to L shaped. Again a product like Easibed is a great base substrate for the box with a little soil. I personally find if the box is on the front of the cage breeding will be more successful (especially with Spectacled or Green rumped). Parrotlets usually lay 5-8 eggs and will incubate them for 21-23 days. You can ring the babies when their eyes start to open (usually 7-9 days) and you can identify sex and mutation when feathers start pinning through (usually around 2-3 weeks). Babies usually fledge at around 4-5 weeks and are fully weaned by 8 weeks old. Never buy a Parrotlet under this age, especially a hand reared one, as they can regress).
If you are setting up a bird room with Parrotlets please ensure that the birds cannot see each other if the cages are close. They will get distracted and will not breed as well, and if they are too close they may attack one another through the bars. Always make sure there is ample lighting, and full insulation or slight heat through the winter months. Never house Parrotlets outside especially in the winter as this can prove fatal.
A selection of parrotlets in different colour mutations
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