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Choosing a White-Crowned Pionus

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Give a young, white-crowned pionus a lot of attention and you should have a very docile and tame parrot for many years. The white-crowned pionus is a popular pet. Though they don't speak well and can be shy, they are intelligent and inquisitive.

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

White-crowned pionus (Pionus senilis) parrots are medium, stocky bright green parrots with white crowns. They have speckled brown patches on the dorsal wing coverts and blue lacing on the neck. The under tail coverts are bright red as in all pionus. Primary and secondary flight and tail feathers are green edged in blue. The underside of flight feathers is aqua colored. The beak is horn colored and they have fleshy eye rings. They are also known as the white-capped pionus and the white-capped parrot.

They are found on the Caribbean slope of Central America from Mexico to Panama, primarily in lowland tropical forests as well as oak and pine forests, ranging up to 6000 feet elevation. These birds are generally gregarious when not breeding, and they are often found in large gatherings especially when roosting.

They nest in tree cavities, and feed primarily in the forest canopy. These birds eat various tree seeds, new leaves, palm fruits, berries, pods, fruits, acorns and buds. Occasionally, the parrots cause crop destruction, especially corn and sorghum.

The length of the white-capped pionus is 9 to 10 inches, and they weigh 230 to 260 grams. Males are generally larger and have deeper and more extensive blue than females, and have larger heads and beaks. Juveniles have no blue on the neck and smaller white patch on the crown. The eyes or both juveniles and adults are dark brown.

White-crowned pionus can probably live between 35 and 45 years or more. Little is known about their life span in captivity. Their breeding age is approximately 3 to 5 years.

No matter what their age, they should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew. As with all birds, they should not be allowed unsupervised freedom, 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 pellets. 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 eat a formulated diet.

Birds that are fed only seeds will need vitamin and mineral supplementation to prevent deficiency diseases. Preferably, vitamins should be added to soft food rather than adding them to the water. Vitamin added to the outside of seeds is usually lost when the bird shells the seeds.

Pionus in general and white-crowns in particular are very difficult to hand-rear from the egg. They will do much better if allowed to be parent-fed for 1 to 2 weeks. They require relatively high protein and fat in the diet.

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. White-crowned 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

White-crowned 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, but locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages. The best situation for these birds is to have an outdoor cage as well as an indoor home to allow playtime in the fresh air and sunlight.

Breeding

White-crowned pionus are very difficult to breed in captivity. In North America, they 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, or 1-inch by 1/2-inch 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. When they are in breeding condition the eye-rings and feet become bright orange.

Grandfather-style wooden nest boxes can be used. The size should be approximately 10 inches by 10 inches by 18 to 24 inches.

Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 8 to 10 weeks of age. White-crowns are moderately noisy when in breeding season. If you are trying to breed them, consider the noise and your proximity to neighbors.

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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