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Choosing a Maximilian’s Pionus

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Maximilian's pionus make good pets but are not often available and are not popular due to their relatively drab coloration. They typically don't speak well. They are intelligent, inquisitive birds but are sometimes shy. Mature birds, especially males may become bonded to one person and aggressively protect that person from other people including other family members. They are relatively common in captivity but captive bred birds are not frequently available. They are active by nature and may become overweight if closely confined.

Appearance and Personality

Maximilian's pionus are medium, stocky dark brownish-green parrots with short square tails, also known as scaly-headed parrots. They have a blue throat patch and the typical bright red patch on the under tail coverts. Primary and secondary flight feathers are green and contrast with darker body. The tail is green. The beak is dark gray and rather mottled in color. They have distinctive red eye-rings which are light colored but appear to have a stripe of dark gray which appears to extend from the brow to the bottom of the lower lid as if bisecting the eye. This eye ring stripe is distinctive and present even in young birds.

Maximilian's pionus (Pionus maximiliani) have a very large range in central-eastern South America from southeastern Brazil to northern Argentina. They inhabit dry tropical lowland forests such as caatinga and cerrado forests. They are usually found in lowlands but range up to approximately 6000 feet elevation in some areas.

They are tolerant of human disturbance and often found near cultivated areas. Generally found in pairs or small groups but may be found in larger gatherings especially when roosting. They nest in tree cavities and feed in the tree canopies. They grow to about 11 inches in length. Most juveniles have relatively little color compared to adults. The eyes or both juveniles and adults are dark brown.

Maximilian's pionus can probably live up to 40 years or more. Little is known about their life span in captivity. Breeding age is approximately 3 to 5 years.

Maximilian's pionus should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew. In order to ensure safety companion pionus parrots should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. Young pionus parrots should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of novel situations. They need to have some space for exercise.

Feeding

Pionus parrots should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet as a basis for good nutrition. They should be fed approximately 2 heaping tablespoons to 1/4 cup of pellets. They will tend to waste less food if fed small sized. The diet should be supplemented with the same volume of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Monitor food intake. Overfeeding leads to pickiness, selective feeding and wasteful throwing of food. Pionus parrots should be fed little to no sunflower or safflower seeds or seeds should only be given as treats. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet.

Birds, which are fed only seeds, will need vitamin and mineral supplementation to prevent deficiency diseases. Preferably vitamins should be added to soft food rather than putting in the water as this dilutes the vitamins, water soluble vitamins break down rapidly and water with sweetened and vitamins is a good growth medium for bacteria. Vitamin added to the outside of seeds is usually lost when the bird shells the seeds.

Grooming

Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or gently dried with a blow drier. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as pionus parrots often fall and injure themselves. Clip only the primary flight feathers and only enough so the bird will glide to the floor. Maximilian's pionus are heavy bodied and care must be taken not to cut too many feathers. Excessive wing clipping can result in injuries from falling.

Housing

Maximilian's pionus are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Ideally the cage should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not as critical as it is for macaws and cockatoos. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages. Ideally the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

Breeding

Maximilian's pionus are moderately difficult to breed in captivity. In North America Maximilian's pionus breed predominantly in the spring and have a limited breeding season typically from February or March to June or July. Clutch size is typically 3 to 4 eggs. One inch by one inch by 14 gauge welded wire is a good choice for cage construction. A suggested size is 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall by 6 to 8 feet long suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor.

Grandfather style wooden nest boxes can be used. Size should be approximately 10 inches by 10 inches by 24 inches.

Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 8 to 10 weeks of age. Maximilian's pionus are difficult to hand-rear from the egg. For best results they should be initially fed by the parents or fed very often in the first week.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Pionus are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following:

  • Pox virus infection (Primary disease of imported birds)
  • Feather-picking
  • Aspergillosis
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Psittacosis
  • Poor eating habits
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Mate aggression
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals
  • Toe necrosis

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