August 27, 2010

The Grey Cheek and Its Cousins

by Robbie Harris

The Grey-cheeked parakeet, Brotogeris pyrrhopterus, has earned a reputation as one of the finest pet birds one can own, largely because it is a very affectionate, intelligent bird. Although it is only 8 inches long, it has a bold personality and is not intimidated by parrots twice its size. Many grey cheeks learn to talk quite plainly and perform tricks, adding to their appeal as outstanding pets. Given the run of the house (supervised, of course), they are inquisitive, exploratory and social, greeting visitors and inspecting their owners' plates at mealtime.

Thousands of Brotogeris (grey cheeks and their lesser known cousins) are imported every year. The grey cheeks have captured the hearts of U.S. pet owners because they are almost always chicks that were hand-reared in Ecuador and Peru. Other Brotogeris, such as canary wings, orange chins, cobalt wings, golden wings, Tui, and plain parakeets, come from southern Mexico, Central, and South America. Although they are usually imported as wild-caught adult birds, they can be tamed with time and patience. I believe all of the Brotogeris make good pets, but the best of all are the hand-reared chicks raised by breeders in this country.

Brotogeris parakeets range in length from 7 to 10 inches. In some ways, they are similar to lovebirds, but they have wedge-shaped tails, a more slender build and long, pointed wings that enable them to fly swiftly. All Brotogeris are primarily green, but the various subspecies are distinguished by small spots of color on their foreheads, chins, flight feathers or underwing coverts. Their beaks are long and slender sometimes giving them a sad-faced, or at least, a serious expression. Small, naked eye rings, not as prominent as those on most conures, given them a bright-eyed look. You cannot distinguish sex or age by appearance; adult males, females and youngsters of both sexes all look very much alike.

Some of the Brotogeris are abundant in their native lands and have been imported through the U.S. quarantine system for several years. In the past, the most commonly imported were the orange chinned parakeets, also called Bee Bee parrots. They earned an early reputation as good pets too.

The care and breeding of all varieties of these parakeets is the same, and in general, they all have sweet, gentle dispositions. Sometimes their chattering voices can be annoying, but a single bird kept as a pet is usually not too noisy. Grey cheeks seem to be the most aggressive of the genus; cobalt wings and canary wings tend to be shyer.

Although all members of the species have much in common, each deserves a separate description.

Grey-cheeked Parakeet

This 8-inch bird is also known as the orange-flanked parakeet, as well as the pocket parrot. Primarily bright green with paler underparts, it is named for its gray chin, forehead and sides of head. It is the only Brotogeris with a bright orange patch on its underwing coverts, which can be seen as just a touch of orange on the shoulder tips when the wings are held against the bird's body. Brown eyes and bluish feathers on the crown and primaries complete the array of colors on this bird. It commonly weighs about 54 grams.

Canary-winged Parakeet

The Brotogeris veriscolorus chiriri is a 9-inch, bright green bird with a slight blue tinge to its flight feathers. Its greater wing coverts have a vivid lemon yellow patch on them, striking when the bird stretches its wings, and brilliant in flight.

White-winged Parakeet

The Brotogeris versicolorus versicolorus resembles the canary wing in many ways; it is just 1/2 inch longer and weighs 65 grams. Mainly an olive green, it has a tinge of blue surrounding its eyes, forehead and upper parts of the cheeks. Outer primaries are blue-green, but the remaining primary feathers are white, with the secondary coverts yellow. When the wings are closed against the body, the white feathers are not visible, and people may refer to this bird as a canary wing.

Orange-chinned Parakeet

This 7-inch bird, Brotogeris jugularis, is also known as the Tovi parakeet or the Bee Bee parrot. Usually about 58 grams in weight, it is basically green with lighter shades of green on its underside. It is named for the bright orange spot under its lower mandible; other touches of color are yellow underwing coverts and a blue tinge to the crown, lower back, rump, thighs and under the tail and flight feathers.

Cobalt-winged Parakeet

The Brotogeris cyanoptera cyanoptera is a darker, more olive green than its cousins. It, too, has an orange spot on its chin, but its bright cobalt blue primary and primary covert feathers make its wings distinctive from those of the orange-chinned parakeet. Its forehead is dull yellow just above the beak, and the crown and nape have a blue tint to them. At 65 grams and 7 1/2 inches in length, it is slightly larger than the orange-chinned variety.

Golden-winged Parakeet

The distinctive markings on this mostly green bird are bright orange primary wing coverts and a brownish frontal band just below its blue crown. The Brotogeris chrysopterus chrysopterus is the shortest Brotogeris, at 6 1/2 inches, and the stoutest.

Tui Parakeet

The Brotogeris sanctithomae sanctithomae looks like a tiny, 7-inch version of the yellow-crowned Amazon with its bright yellow forehead, which contrasts with its otherwise green body. Its glowing, golden irises surrounding the jet black pupils makes its eyes distinctive, too. Like other members of the species, it has shades of blue here and there on its body--on the flight feathers, cheeks and nape, with bright blue on the primary coverts.

Plain Parakeet

As its name implies, Brotogeris tirica is hardly distinctive. One of the largest of the group, at 9 inches, it is mainly green, with yellowish feathers on its crown, cheeks and underparts. It, too, has blue on its flight feathers, and more blue under its tail, with just a tint of blue on the hindneck and mantle. These birds, common in their native land, are rarely seen or kept in captivity in the U.S. because of the strict exportation laws of Brazil, their country of origin.

Care and Feeding

Grey cheeks and their cousins are the best of both worlds--small in size but big in personality and ability. Giving them good care is pure joy because they are so responsive and appreciative.

House them as you would a cockatiel, in medium-sized cages, but be sure to give them periods of freedom and playpens for practicing their acrobatics. Be sure, too, they always have a water bowl large enough to bath in. They love their baths, especially in the morning.

Feed Brotogeris a cockatiel seed mix containing sunflower seed, safflower seed and parakeet mix. Many of them will want to pick out just the sunflower seeds, but my grey cheeks ignore the sunflower and eagerly eat the parakeet mix. Seed mix, however, should never be their sole source of nutrition. They should always be offered fruits and vegetables. Apples seem to be their favorite fresh food, but they will also eat pieces of cut up oranges, carrots, beets, spinach, plums, pears, bananas, peaches, squash, wheat bread and peas (thawed frozen peas or still in the pod), corn on the cob or thawed kernels, grapes, cherries, dry dog or cat kibble and monkey chow soaked in water. Many Brotogeris also love a small bowl of fresh sprouted seeds daily.

Since all members of this family are intelligent and playful, they will need toys to keep them from becoming bored and perhaps plucking their own feathers. Bird treats, chew sticks and partially cracked walnuts are additional items that will entertain these birds.

When people realize what these birds need and how much variety of diet enjoy, it's great fun to indulge them.


If you want to breed grey cheeks or other Brotogeris, have them surgically sexed to be sure of their genders. Sometimes hens seem to be slightly more petite in the head and face than males, but you cannot be sure until a veterinarian has actually performed this safe, surgical procedure.

Brotogeris can be bred in colonies, but I have found that they quarrel too much in large groups. Thus, I prefer to set up a single pair per cage or flight. The bold personality that is charming in a pet grey cheek can become extremely aggressive, even nasty, during the month or two before they go to nest. Consistent with the shyer nature of the cobalt wings, canary wings and orange chins, although their increased aggression shows in defending the nest box and scolding, they do not become as ornery as the grey cheeks.

When a pair is ready to nest, they will use almost any wooden nest box offered to them. I have had the most success with standard budgie nest boxes filled several inches deep with pine shavings. Clutch size ranges between two and seven eggs, and the hen will incubate them for about 26 days. Chicks can be left with the parents until they fledge or can be removed to be hand fed. The best time for taking chicks for hand rearing is at about 2 weeks of age. Most Brotogeris are conscientious parents so the main reason for hand-feeding the chicks is to assure that they grow up to be tame, people-oriented pets. Although there are exceptions, seldom does removing the chicks inspire the parents to produce a second clutch.

When they can no longer be imported, the price of grey cheeks and other Brotogeris will soar because of their popularity. Many of these birds, which were inexpensive and easy to obtain just a few short years ago, are now difficult to find. Brotogeris make marvelous pets, but they should also be bred to assure an ample future supply of these birds when they can no longer be exported from their native lands.

Article originally appeared in the April 1985 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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