by Robbie Harris
Brotogeris is the Latin name for a small group of birds in the parrot family, including the grey-cheeked parakeet, the canary-winged parakeet, the white-winged parakeet, the orange-chinned parakeet, the cobalt-winged parakeet, the golden-winged parakeet, the Tui parakeet and the plain parakeet. The member of the Brotogeris family are distributed from southern Mexico down through central South America.
These small, solidly-built birds range anywhere from 7 to 9 inches long and are somewhat similar to lovebirds in size, but with more of a slender build. Brotogeris have wedge-shaped tails that vary in length. The wings are long and pointed, which enables them to be very swift flyers. These birds are mainly green in color with many having other colors on the forehead, chin, primaries and underwing coverts. The beak is similar to an Amazon's in shape, with the upper mandible deeply notched in a hook-like fashion. They also have small eye rings similar to conures. Both sexes look alike, and young birds closely resemble the adults.
When deciding on which Brotogeris to choose, keep in mind that some are easier to find than others. Also remember that each will be a good pet if hand-fed and taken care of properly.
Grey-cheeked Parakeet (Brotogeris pyrrhopterus)
Grey cheeks are also known as orange-flanked parakeets, orange-winged parakeets, and pocket parrots. They can be quickly distinguished from other Brotogeris by the bright orange-colored patches on the underwing coverts. When the wings are held against the body, only a small bit of the orange can be seen peeking over the tops of the grey cheek's shoulders. The main color is a bright green, but paler on underparts. The chin, forehead and sides of the face are pale gray, giving this bird its common name. The crown, primary coverts and primaries are bluish. The eyes are dark brown, feet and legs pinkish, and the beak is horn-colored.
Males and females are identical in color and size. Immature birds are very similar to the adults in appearance, with the very young having black coloring on the beak. This black sometimes remains for months, until it fades to the adult horn color. Grey cheeks inhabit a small range in western Ecuador and northwestern Peru.
White-winged Parakeet (B. vericolorus vericolurus)
The white wing is sometimes referred to as the canary-winged parakeet or the yellow-winged parakeet. It is mainly an olive green, with a tinge of blue surrounding the eyes, forehead and upper parts of the cheeks. The outer primaries start off being blue-green with the remaining primaries white. The secondary coverts are yellow. When the wings are folded closed and held against the bird's body, the white patch is not visible, and only yellow can be seen.
This species of bird has bare facial areas around the beak and eyes, giving it the appearance of old age. The legs are pinkish-gray, and the beak is horn-colored. The sexes are alike in appearance. I find the personality of hand-fed white wings very similar to grey cheeks. Lately, I have seen many of these birds in pet shops for moderate prices. They seem to be more readily available in California and Florida, and if breeders are interested in setting up any of these birds for breeding, do it now, before the birds disappear, and the prices increase.
Canary-winged Parakeet (B. versicolorus chiriri)
The canary wing is actually a subspecies of the white-winged parakeet. The reason I separated them into two different descriptions is because of their distinguishable differences in size, coloring and personality. Both are commonly called canary-winged parakeets, as well as yellow-winged parakeets. They are also incorrectly referred to as Bee Bee parrots. This bird is slightly shorter than the white wing. It is a brighter apple-green in color. The face of this bird is totally feathered. There is a slight blue tinge to the thighs. A bright lemon-yellow patch is formed by the yellow coloring on the greater wing coverts, giving this bird its common name. There is no white coloring on this bird's wing.
Orange-chinned Parakeet (B. jugularis)
The orange-chinned parakeet is also known as the Tovi parakeet or the Bee Bee parrot. They are small birds, mainly green in color, with lighter shades on the throat, breast, undersides, and abdomen. The flight and tail feathers have a hint of blue. There is a blue tinge on the crown, lower back, rump, thighs, under the tail and flights. There is a bronze patch on the wing shoulder area. A distinct small orange patch can be seen just under the lower mandible, giving this bird its other common name. The underwing coverts are yellow, the iris dark brown, the beak horn-colored, and the legs a flesh-gray color. Both sexes look alike. The orange chins inhabit parts of Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. We were fortunate enough to receive a few small shipments of orange chins some time ago. They were easily tamed and made excellent pets.
Cobalt-winged Parakeet (B. cyanoptera cyanoptera)
The cobalt wing is olive-green in color, with darker shades on the back and wings. The forehead has dull yellow just above the beak. The crown and nape have a blue tinge. The chin is marked with an orange spot. The primaries and primary coverts are bright cobalt blue, giving the bird its name. The upper mandible is horn colored and darkens toward the tip. The eyes are dark brown. The feet and legs are brownish-pink. Sexes look alike, and immature birds resemble the adults. There are two subspecies with some color variations. I know of many people who own these birds as pets, and say they are excellent family birds with good talking ability.
Golden-winged Parakeet (B. chrysopterus chrysopterus)
The stout golden wing is deep green with an even deeper shade on the back and wings. The crown has a bluish tinge with a brownish frontal band. The primary wing coverts are bright orange. A dull spot of orange-brown coloring is on the chin. This iris is brown, and the beak is horn. The feet are a pale yellowish-brown. There are four subspecies all varying in color and/or size.
Tui Parakeet (B. sanctithomae sanctithomae)
Tuis are very attractive birds. They are bright green with lighter yellowish-green on the chest, abdomen, underwings, lower back and underside of the tail. The flights are bluish, being a brighter blue on the primary coverts. There is a tinge of blue on the cheeks, nape and underside of the flights. A very bright yellow patch on the forehead makes this species look like a tiny version of the yellow-crowned Amazon. The beak is a chestnut color. The iris is a glowing golden color that is set off by the jet-black pupil. Sexes resemble each other in color and size. There is one subspecies that has a yellow streak behind the eye.
Plain Parakeet (B. tirica)
Plain parakeets are mainly green with yellow tinges on the crown, cheeks and the underparts. There is blue on the flight feathers and underside of the tail (with just a tinge on the hind neck and mantle), giving the name of plain because of the lack of a variety of colors. These birds are very common in their native Brazil, but because of strict Brazilian exportation laws, only a few reside in the United States.
The grey cheek is the best known of the Brotogeris and has captured the hearts of millions of bird fanciers.
When grey cheeks were first introduced into the United States back in the late 1970s, they were very inexpensive, selling for $25 to $35. Thousands were imported, and almost all of them were tame and sweet.
At the time, a good friend of mine purchased 150 newly imported grey cheeks. This was the first time he had seen grey cheeks for sale, and as he reached into the cage at the quarantine station, several of them rushed toward him. At first, he thought they were coming to attack, but instead they were pushing toward him for affection. All of these birds had been hand-fed in quarantine. They covered his arm like a swarm of bees, each one vying for his attention. It was very difficult to pick the ones he wanted--thousands were so tame and sweet! Within five days, he sold every one of those virtually unknown little parrots, and his customers, including me, were begging for more.
Needless to say, within days, the quarantine station quickly sold out of all the grey-cheeked parakeets in stock. As the years went on, thousands more entered the United States. Unfortunately, very few, considering the numbers, ended up as breeders. This shortage will only continue unless more people set them up for breeding soon. This pas year, I raised several, but many more people looking for these sweet birds were left wanting.
Most people believe that grey cheeks are naturally tame. Let me clarify something now--not all grey cheeks are sweet tame little birds! I've seen the sweetest babies in quarantine stations just imported from Peru, but I've also seen wild-caught imported grey cheeks that were just as nippy and feisty as wild lovebirds. The tame, sweet grey cheeks are birds that were hand-reared.
Young grey cheeks are easily distinguishable from adults because the upper beak is blackish in color. The younger the bird, the blacker the beak. By the time a bird is 6 months old, the beak is usually the same color as that of an adult. Once the beak changes color, it is difficult to determine the age of the bird. My young feathered grey-cheeked parakeet chicks usually are just as colorful as the adults.
Housing a Brotogeris
Tame Brotogeris act like compact versions of the larger parrots. They are extremely intelligent birds. Most any cage suitable for a cockatiel will do just fine for a pet Brotogeris. It is best if the cage bars are close together, so your pet won't get its head stuck between the bars. Use dowels that are 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter. Natural branch perches are always welcome for climbing and chewing.
These birds love to play on open playpens with treats and safe toys at their disposal. It may be a good idea to rotate different toys every few days so that your pet will not become bored with the same old toy. Supervise your Brotogeris when it's out of its cage, because these birds can be very mischievous and wander off, possibly damaging furniture or hurting themselves. Think of a pet Brotogeris as a child, and you should do just fine.
It is important that birds receive a well-balanced diet to stay healthy and strong. All my Brotogeris are offered the following dry seeds: parakeet mix, safflower seed, and medium sunflower seed. If convenience is important, purchase a good cockatiel mix at a pet shop. I've found that when it comes to Brotogeris consuming dry seeds, each bird is an individual. For instance, on grey cheek I know will eat only parakeet mix, while another prefers mostly sunflower seeds, and another eats all types of dry seed.
It is also very important that fruits and vegetables--thoroughly washed--are offered. When it comes to soft foods, all of my Brotogeris love them. My birds receive a bowl of various soft foods, including sprouted seeds, apples, oranges, peaches, bananas, grapes, peas and corn (either fresh or frozen), grated carrots, yams, sweet potatoes and beets, spinach, and other fruits and vegetables in season at the time. I sprinkle a good avian vitamin supplement and powdered calcium on their fruits and veggies, especially for my breeding birds. Brotogeris young and old also relish monkey biscuits which have been soaked in water or fruit juice. Sometimes bird pellets can be offered to Brotogeris with their seed diet. Some will eat it, but others will not.
I like to offer all my birds a large variety in their diets. The birds do well, and I have almost no problems with boredom. Some Brotogeris even enjoy eating live meal worms as a special treat which is also a good source of protein. Others like treats such as various bits of breakfast cereals or crackers. Most pet Brotogeris become part of the family and eat at the dining room table. This is fine as long as the junk food is kept to a minimum.
A pair of grey-cheeked parakeets will breed in an aviary or a cage. It is very difficult to determine the sex of most Brotogeris by sight because these birds are not sexually dimorphic. In some cases, the males appear to have slightly larger heads and beaks compared to females, but this is not totally reliable. The most accurate way to determine a pair is by having the birds surgically or DNA sexed. Keep in mind that surgical sexing is an operation, and it can be a little more risky with the smaller birds.
While setting up pairs of Brotogeris for breeding, it is best for each pair to be in its own cage or aviary. Breeding pairs can become quite ill-tempered when getting ready to go to nest, and they may kill any other birds that are in the same enclosure with them at that time.
I once heard about a breeder who had two pairs of grey cheeks set up in a large aviary. The pairs got along very well. One pair went to nest and hatched out chicks and tended to them, but when the chicks were a couple of weeks old, the other pair went into the next box and killed them. I've had the tamest pair of grey cheeks become terribly vicious toward me when they are thinking about going to nest.
I have heard of people who have had some success in colony breeding canary-winged parakeets. I was successfully breeding two pairs of cobalt-winged parakeets in one enclosure, but after a year the birds starting fighting, and I feared that one might kill the other, so the pairs were given their own cages. I believe that it is just the safest way to breed these birds.
My pairs of Brotogeris use standard wooden parakeet nest boxes with a layer of pine shavings on the bottom. These birds are not known for building their own nests, but I have occasionally seen pairs fill up their nest box with apple and orange peels and other scraps fond on the bottoms of their cages, almost as if they were attempting to build a next similar to a lovebird's. I have offered them branches with leaves, but they go untouched. Most of my breeding pairs have a single clutch of eggs a year.
Some pairs will double and even triple clutch in a year. I do have a pair that raises three clutches a year averaging four chicks per clutch, nesting from February through July. This pair is housed outdoors in a sheltered building. There is no set number of eggs per clutch.
I also had one hen that laid an egg every other day for about six weeks, but this is not normal; she just didn't know when to stop. A clutch can be as small as two eggs and as large as eight, but my normal clutch size seems to average four to six eggs. The incubation period for Brotogeris eggs is 25 to 26 days. I've had many fertile eggs not hatch for more than a month from the time the first egg was laid, because these birds seem to start incubating only when they are almost finished laying all the eggs in the clutch. The hen may stay in the box with her newly laid eggs, but many times she is only brooding the eggs, not sitting tightly until at least three or more eggs have been laid. Because of this waiting period, incubation appears to be long for this species. Just to be safe, start counting 24 days from the time the last egg was laid. I have heard of too many people breaking eggs open way too early to find live babies inside the eggs.
Usually the hen does most of the incubation with the male standing guard just outside the box. Both parents tend the chicks when they start to hatch.
Once hatched, the chicks grow quite rapidly. At 12 days old, their eyes are open, and with another two days, dark quills can be seen developing under the skin. At about 4 weeks old, feathers start to pop through the quills, first in the tail and wings, soon followed by the rest of the body. Chicks fledge at about 6 weeks old, with both parents continually feeding the chicks on the outside of the box until they are eating on their own. By the time they are 9 to 11 weeks old, the chicks are usually weaned, eating mostly soft foods at first.
Once the chicks are eating on their own, they should be removed, otherwise they could disturb the adult breeding pair, should the pair decide to return to nest. Chicks can be left with the parents until they fledge, or they can be removed for hand-feeding when young and still unfeathered. The best age for removing the chicks for hand rearing is at about 2 to 3 weeks old. Unweaned baby Brotogeris will bob their little heads up and down, and make very loud "squeaking" noises. Though, once weaned, the loud squeaking stops.
If you desire, domestically reared chicks can be closed banded at a few weeks of age. I use cockatiel bands. A closed ban can prove that the check was domestically reared and can also be used for identification or age if dated.
I've found the Brotogeris to be very hardy birds as pets and as breeders. All my breeding pairs do just fine outdoors in Southern California weather. An indoor pair can be placed outside (weather permitting), as long as the birds are properly acclimated to the outdoor weather conditions. Late spring and summer, when the evening temperatures do not drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, is the best time to start indoor birds outside. My birds are housed all year round outdoors with weather as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit to as cool as 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brotogeris can hybridize among each other, if given the opportunity. Just recently, I was in a pet shop and saw a tame grey-cheeked parakeet and white-winged parakeet hybrid chick. Please be careful not to house two different species of Brotogeris together. I would not recommend hybridized breedings because pure birds are needed to keep each species going in captivity.
With all the changes in importation regulations, the cost of grey cheeks as well as other imported birds has increased tremendously. More people should set up pairs of Brotogeris for breeding purposes. I know many grey cheek owners who have set up a pair of pet birds in a cage in their living room with a budgie nest box at the pair's disposal. Many of these birds have gone to nest and raised chicks right there in the middle of the house. Soon the two pet birds turned into a family. Breeders are in desperate need of more young grey cheeks, as well as the other species of this family.
Article originally appeared in the January 1995 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.