August 27, 2010

Brotogeris as Pets

by Robbie Harris

Brotogeris are well known for their tameness and affection toward their owners, as well as their intelligence and pet quality. Over a half century ago, "bee bee" parrots filled the hearts of many bird pet lovers. These loving pets were actually the orange-chinned parakeets, also known as Tovi parakeets. Pet shops always had an abundance of these birds that were quickly snatched up by bird lovers because of their ability to be quickly tamed, resulting in wonderful, family pets.

Many other Brotogeris were attached with the common name bee bee, like the canary-winged and white-winged parakeets. Even cobalt-winged parakeets were once release out of a quarantine station simply labeled bee bee parrots.

Grey-cheeked parakeets, on the other hand, quickly earned the name "pocket parrot" because they loved to climb down inside their owners' shirt pockets and stay there, just poking their heads out, watch the outside world. All the time, I hear from people about how their pets ride all over with them in pockets. I even heard of someone who walked into a pet store and a grey-cheeked parakeet jumped onto her shoulder and quickly found her shirt pocket and climbed in. Needless to say, she bought the bird!

Brotogeris parakeets make excellent pets if domestically raised and hand-fed. They are all available in the United States, except for the plain parakeet. Recently, a few plain parakeets had been smuggled into the States and were confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Since then, these birds have died. So, to my knowledge, none are in the U.S.

Tui parakeets are very rare, and not available as pets, as of yet; but, cobalt-winged parakeets are available at times on the pet market. I have many pairs of domestically raised cobalt wings that are up for breeding. These little birds are truly amazing. No matter how old they are, or when the last time was that they were handled, they remain tame and sweet and do not bite. I can reach in and take out either the male or the female, and they are tame. even pairs that are more than 8 years old. Like many grey cheeks, these birds are very loving and once hand-fed will remain tame, even during breeding season. They make wonderful pets, and many learn to talk. They are also very reliable breeding pairs, unlike their cousin the grey cheek. All my pairs of cobalt wings will each have at least one clutch of babies in the spring, where grey cheeks can skip a year or more at will.

Canary wings had been imported in large numbers in the past, usually as wild-caught, untamed adults. With some work and patience, many were tamed into very nice pets. Today, no more of these birds are being imported; therefor their availability has dwindled, and their price has soared. Any hand-reared canary wing chick is a joy to own as a pet and will also turn out to be a good breeder bird.

There are many people who own, breed or just love some type of Brotogeris. With many people so enthusiastic and geared exclusively toward the Brotogeris family, I have high hopes that these wonderful birds will not disappear completely here in the U.S. However, as the years progress, I have found it much harder to locate certain species. I seem to be the only person in the U.S. who is working with Tui parakeets. Some years back, Tuis were imported to the U.S. and were sold to pet stores. I tried to purchase many of these birds, but people would not give up their pets. Since then, most of those pets have died out, but I did manage to get some to work with. Success for me has been good, but, because these birds are a bit tricky to work with, and unpredictable, progress is slower than I'd like. With my babies, I have found that the hand-raised males later become very bold and will attack me once paired with a hen if I put my hand in their cage. On the other hand, female Tuis stay sweet and tame, showing no real aggression. A single Tui would mostly make a cute, tame pet, resembling a miniature of a yellowheaded Amazon parrot. But, for now they must all go into breeding programs.

Grey cheeks are loved by many people. It seems that once someone has owned a grey cheek, it continues to be the "bird of choice." The grey-cheeked parakeet is, without a doubt, a very unusual species. Tame, hand-reared chicks make wonderful companions to their human owners. They are so intelligent that one must stop and wonder if there is a little person inside. As for a pet, either sex is equal in talking, companionship, entertaining, and affection. Two males or two females can become great buddies as cage companions. A grey cheek and another type of Brotogeris become very territorial and protective of their cage. A single pet can at times act very much the same way during breeding season. This aggressive behavior usually passes with just a bit of time and patience. Cobalt wings and single whit wings do not seems to go through these aggression problems--at least not mine or the ones I know.

Grey cheeks are quite bold, even though they are only a compact parrot of 8 inches, and quite a bit of that is tail. One will challenge a parrot two and three times its own size.

Many learn to talk quite clearly and can be taught tricks. The female bird that I had inherited learned to clearly speak more than 30 words. The grey-cheeked parakeet, as well as most any Brotogeris, can make an excellent family or single person pet.

Being very intelligent and playful, these birds can become bored when just left in their cage, and start the nasty habit of feather plucking. To keep them occupied, offer them safe toys and bird treats, such as chew sticks or a cracked-open walnut. Chewable toys can help keep their beaks in proper shape. Some individuals tend to develop misshapen or overgrown beaks. If so, an avian vet or a specialized bird shop can easily trim the beak when needed. Always make sure they are supplied with a water bowl large enough that they can bathe at will.

A single bird kept as a pet is usually not too noisy. Do not teach your bird to become a screamer. Many people, without realizing it, teach their birds that when they scream it brings them attention. Never reward your bird in any way if it is screaming. Do not take the bird out because it is noisy, or offer it a treat just to quiet it down, because getting some sort of response is a reward.

Most people are unaware of the fact that grey cheeks are not naturally tame. Many people hear the word grey cheek and instantly thin of a sweet, tame little bird. Not all grey cheeks are sweet, tame little things. I've seen the sweetest babies in quarantine stations that have just been imported from Peru. But I have also seen wild-caught imported grey cheeks that upon their release were just as nippy and feisty as a wild lovebird, some being almost untameable. If a grey cheek is wanted for a pet, not for breeding, be sure that the bird is already tame. Hand-fed Brotogeris are very trusting and loving toward humans, and most stay that way with lots of love and affection from their owners.

Any two different types of Brotogeris can become great friends. Be careful that they are slowly introduced. Each should have its own cage until you are positive they both really like one another. Many people have a grey cheek and a canary wing living together as tame pets, with the two birds being friends. This can cut way down on the demanded time they may require from you. If by chance your "buddies" end up being the opposite sex, there is a chance that breeding can take place.

I have seen various hybrid Brotogeris around, but not too many. Mostly canary wing and white wing hybrids are commonly found, but I have seen a grey cheek/white wing hybrid. If you want your pet to breed, then try to keep the same species of Brotogeris together. Brotogeris can hybridize among each other, if given the opportunity. I would not recommend these breedings because we all need pure birds to keep each species surviving in captivity.

Keeping Them as Pets

Keeping a Brotogeris as a pet is quite easy. Lots of love and attention is needed. Give it a nice, roomy cage with bar spacing close together so no mishap will happen, such as a head getting stuck between the barring. A cage for a cockatiel, with close bar spacing, will do quite nicely.

Dowels that are a 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter should be used for a Brotogeris (too large or too small could cause foot problems). Natural branch perches are always welcomed for climbing and chewing.

Playpens on top of the cage can bring hours of outside enjoyment. These birds love to play on an open playpen with treats and safe toys handy. All kinds of safe toys can now be purchased in pet stores. It may be a good ideas to rotate different toys every few days, so your pet will not get bored. Bored Brotogeris can become feather pluckers, and once this habit gets started, it is very hard to break.

Supervise your Brotogeris when it is out of its cage because it can be very mischievous and wander off, possibly doing damage to some furnishings or even to itself. Think of a pet Brotogeris as a child, and you should do just fine.


Diet is simple too. Various seeds for a small parrot start the Brotogeris diet. I have found that when it comes to this family of birds consuming dry seeds that each bird is an individual. For instance, one bird will eat only parakeet mix, another may prefer mostly sunflower seed, and another will eat all types of dry seed. Bird pellets can be offered as treats.

I like offering all of my birds a large variety. The birds do very well, and I have almost no problems with boredom. I feels birds, like people, need variation.! Some Brotogeris even enjoy eating live meal worms as a special treat (a good source of protein), which can be purchased at local pet shops. Others like treats such as bits of breakfast cereals or crackers.

Lots of fresh or frozen (thawed), fruits and vegetables should be offered daily, well washed. This is a very important part of their diet. They will eat mostly fruits and veggies that they like over most anything else. One can lightly dust damp foods with an avian vitamin to help provide anything that may be lacking.

Many Brotogeris will eat most anything offered to them. Foods that are not good for them will be eaten too. Keep your bird away from fatty foods and anything else that will not help maintain it in good shape. Poor nutrition is very hard on these birds, and they will not be long lived on a poor diet containing junk foods. On a proper diet, these birds can be long lived.

I talked to a man who has owned his pet cobalt-winged parakeet for 37 years. My son's pet white wing is about 12 years old now and going strong. A friend of mine owns Bird Jungle, a bird store in Scarsdale, New York. He says he has customers who are still bringing in their pet grey cheeks for periodical grooming. These birds were purchased from him when he first got the store more than 15 years ago. I own many Brotogeris that are about 20 years old and are still breeding, producing young and looking great.

Juvenile Brotogeris

Very young grey cheeks are easily distinguishable from adults as the upper beak is blackish in color. The younger the bird, the blacker the beak. Usually by the time the young bird is about 6 months old, the beak is the same color as the adults. Once the beak changes color, it is difficult to determine the age of the bird.

My young feathered grey-cheeked parakeet chicks are usually just as colorful as the adults. When it comes to purchasing a grey cheek or any Brotogeris for a pet it is best to start off with a young, tame bird. Tame Brotogeris act like a large parrot in compact form.

Avoiding Accidents

For years, people have called and written about all types of accidents that occurred with their birds. I have heard of birds getting injured or killed by dogs or cats. Other fatal accidents have happened because pets are left by a window in their cage, where later in the day the sun would shine in and give the bird a heat stroke; or pets are stepped on by someone not knowing the bird was walking in its path; or birds are getting injured by a door being closed. More examples include wandering pets chewing through an electrical cord, drowning in a toilet where the seat had been left up, a full-flighted pet landing on a hot stove or hot pot or ending up in a kitchen sink full of water. I even have had people tell me how their pet ended up flying into an open freezer and the door was then shut.

But the most common accidents I hear of or get calls about are people who sleep with their pets, and accidentally roll over on their birds. Brotogeris like to crawl into pockets or tucked away in small spaces. If you are sleeping, your bird may crawl underneath you to feel warm and secure. I once talked to a lady on the phone from midnight until 4 a.m. as she cried about the loss of her pet she loved so much. She told me she was a psychologist and calling from back East, (I'm on the West Coast). She could not sleep because she had just woke up to this terrible tragedy; she had fallen asleep on the couch, and had rolled over in her sleep on her pet. Needles to say, the bird was dead. Sleeping with your bird is not a good idea. I know how easily this can happen; I was forever taking my daughter's bird out of her bed as she slept, but she has since broken this habit. Most, if not almost all, accidents can be prevented. By giving thought to ways your bird could be in possible danger, and then correcting the problem, could help greatly in preventing accidents from happening and allowing your bird a long, happy life.

Pet Brotogeris

Many people write or call to tell me all kinds of things about their pet Brotogeris. One lady wrote and told me that her grey cheek named Chicken Little loves wooden Popsicle sticks to play with, but prefers some Popsicle left on the stick so first he can enjoy a bit of dessert and then destroy his toy. This bird is famous, because some years back, he did some professional modeling. Actress Isabella Rossellini did a photo shoot with Chicken Little for the publication Interview. Since then, Chicken Little has retired.

I know of a girl who treats her grey cheek as a family member. Late one night, there was fire in her apartment building. All turned out okay, but her bird was very upset by the commotion. So at 2 a.m., she ordered a pizza for her grey cheek to help settle the bird down (it was the bird's favorite food).

Here's a little story about one of my breeding pairs of grey cheeks, which will illustrate how unusual some of the personalities can be in these little characters. I had a "normal" pair of grey cheeks, so I thought. Each day, I would fill their flat glass bowl with the soft food mixture that I prepare for all my birds daily. This pair, like all the other pairs, would immediately start to devour their treats with such delight, soon the bowl would be empty. This pair went to nest, laying six fertile eggs, taking very good care of their clutch.

Upon inspection one morning, I found that three chicks had just hatched. The pair's bowl was filled, as usual. The pair came over to the bowl, looked inside, and together, instantly, they flipped over the soft-food mixture dish, food flying everywhere. I refilled it, and again it was turned over. This continued for days. I kept offering them the soft-food mixture many times a day. One day, I scooped out some of the mixture of soft food into their bowl, and a different outcome occurred. The pair ran over to the bowl, chattering with excitement. They immediately started to pick out the peas only. That day in that particular scoop of my soft-food mixture there were extra peas. This time, they did not flip over their bowl. The next time, I went out to feed them, I added extra peas on top of the soft foods. Again, the pair was excited, and the bowl remained right-side up. I soon figured out that when this particular pair has chicks in the nest, they demand extra peas, and if not given their way, the soft food goes flying. Once the chicks are removed for hand-rearing, this pair acts "normal" again, content with my usually mixture of soft foods.

A woman bought a baby grey cheek from me, and she wanted to finish the last of the hand-feeding. She wanted the two of them to form a close bond, which they did. The little grey cheek was named Squeeky because of the squeaky begging noises she made as a young chick. I'd had this baby surgically sexed, so we knew the baby was a female. Squeeky learned to say many words and phrases quite clearly. She also learned to associate the phrases with her surroundings. Squeeky would climb to the top of her cage and hang by one toe from the roof of her cage. When she would fall down, she would climb back up to her perch and say, "Squeeky, are you okay?" Also when Squeeky is creating havoc, she says, "I'm a good girl." She will also ask for a treat. Squeeky is now 10 years old, and she is still talking up a storm.
Article originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of Bird Talk. This is copyrighted material, reprinted with the author's permission. This article may not be reprinted without written consent from the author and Bird Talk magazine. 

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