by Howard Voren
For the Indian cultures of Central and South America, having a pet bird for the children to enjoy is almost as easy as plucking fruit from a tree. With such vast resources, the choices are endless. One would tend to believe that the choice would vary according to locality or tribal custom. The interesting thing is that regardless of the country or the tribe, the choice for a starter bird is almost always the same: a parakeet.
Here in the United States, the word "parakeet" conjures a completely different image than in the jungles to our south. Here, one immediately envisions the budgie. There, when someone says the word parakeet, he is talking about one of the representatives of the group of small parrots known as Brotogeris. Measuring about 7 inches from the tops of their heads to the tips of their tails, these little Latin diplomats are loved and cherished as pets throughout their range.
Although they are small, they have great presence and can always steal the show with their clown-like antics. Regardless of which type you choose, when hand-raised, they have the perfect personality to charm anyone into realizing the joys of having a bird as a companion.
Housing and Diet
The Brotogeris' small size and relatively wide bodies allows the use of some of the smaller parrot cages that are available. This is assuming that the bird will be spending quite a bit of time sitting on top of and climbing around its domicile.
Its diet should consist of a high-quality cockatiel seed mix or one of the pelleted diets as the mainstay. This should be supplemented on a daily basis with a variety of freshly diced fruits and veggies (don't forget the greens). It's worthwhile learning which foods they like best. These clever characters can easily be taught all types of tricks for treats.
Depending on the book you consult, Brotogeris come in about eight different varieties. Most carry names describing the coloration differences that allow them to be differentiated from their fellow ambassadors in neighboring countries.
The most widely distributed form, and the one that was imported in the greatest numbers in the early days of mass importation, was the canary wing (Brotogeris versicolorus chiriri). This little bundle of joy is bright green and flashes a bright canary-yellow patch of color on the upperside of its wings. This type has the largest range, including the vast majority of South American countries.
Literally thousands of these were imported from Paraguay, where the indigenous Guarani Indians call them "chi-ri-ri." This name comes from the call that they make as the flocks fly through the trees. In accordance with this, the subspecific scientific name chosen by the Scientist who first described them to the rest of the world is chiriri. Although they were all wild-caught, once they were separated from their "buddies" and had their wings clipped, they quickly became tame and affectionate pets.
During the same time period, small quantities of the canary wing's closest look-alike were also imported. This was the white wing (B. versicolorus) from Eastern Peru and Ecuador. With its wings closed, it shows a yellow patch that is just like the canary wing's. The bird is an overall duller shade of green but flashes a big surprise when it opens its wings: The yellow on the wing is replaced by pure white as the colored wing patch moves toward the tip of the wing. White is a very rare color in New World parrots. This bird was always relatively rare in aviculture but is now beginning to gain a small foothold. This is due to the introduction of new bloodlines into aviculture from a wild flock in South Florida. Like the canary wing, it was also released from imported shipments but in much smaller numbers.
The second type of Brotogeris to be imported in large numbers was the grey cheek (B. pyrrhopterus) from the Pacific coast of western Peru and Ecuador. This bird's overall pastel greens, blues and grays make it look a world apart from its cousins.
Grey cheeks were not only the most divergent in coloration, but were also the first Brotogeris in modern times to be imported exclusively as hand-raised babies. These birds were harvested seasonally from the nests of their wild parents and hand-fed until they were old enough to export. Due to this, the grey cheek is the bird that is responsible for the vast popularity that the entire family enjoys in the pet trade today. Unfortunately, grey cheeks have not proven to be reliable breeders, and since importation has ended, they have become difficult to find.
The next best-known member of the group is the orange chin (B. jugularis). This bird is the family representative throughout Central America. These highly intelligent and gregarious clowns have bright-green body feathers with a bronze-brown patch of color on the sides of their wings. True to their name, they sport a bright-orange patch of feathers under the lower mandible.
Those that were imported came in from Honduras and were all hand-raised. Unfortunately, most importers were only interested in the highly valuable yellow-naped Amazons that were being collected from the same areas. They chose not to take the health risk of bringing in these relatively inexpensive birds with the yellow napes. Due to this, only a few shipments of several hundred birds each were imported during this short time period. Fortunately, several breeding facilities, including my own, are producing them regularly on a yearly basis.
Quite similar in appearance to the orange chin is its Bolivian cousin, the cobalt wing (B. cyanoptera). They do not have the same rich green coloration on the body, but this is more than made up for with the cobalt-blue coloration displayed when they open their wings. Imported in very small numbers during the early 1980s, most of the birds wound up in the hands of bird breeders. Although this bird has a foothold in several breeding facilities, it will be a while before there are sufficient numbers to reroute them from the breeders to the pet trade.
The rarest of the "available" members of this clan is the golden wing (B. chrysopterus) from Surinam, South America. These birds have an unusual deep dark-green body coloration that is different than the green seen on any other New World parrot. They are highlighted by a bright-orange patch of color on their wings when in flight. As with all the other members of the family, they are incredibly entertaining and affectionate pets. Although this bird has proved to be difficult to breed in most aviaries, we at the Institute have been lucky enough to have several pairs that produce regularly every year.
The remaining two members of this group are the plain color (B. tircia) and the tui (B. sanctithomae). The plain color is a bird from Brazil that was never imported. As its name implies, it lacks the flash of color that all the other members of the group have somewhere on their bodies. The tui, on the other hand, was imported many years ago from Colombia. This bird looks like a miniature yellow-fronted Amazon and makes a marvelous pet. It is probably the most highly sought-after bird of the group. Unfortunately, during the time that they were imported, there was very little interest in captive-breeding. Due to this, they have all but disappeared. There are still a few pairs in competent hands, and we are all hoping for the best.
Howard Voren in the founder and director of the Voren Research Institute for Psittacultural Science and has bred several species of Brotogeris. Article originally appeared in the 1996/97 Birds USA. This is copyrighted material, reprinted with the author's permission. This article may not be reprinted without written consent from the author.