Pionus Parrots
pet bird

Pionus Parrots

Pionus Information

Pionus is a genus comprised of medium-sized Central- and South American parrots. A Pionus parrot is comparatively stocky built with a short tail. They are sometimes confused with Amazon parrots, but are considerably smaller. There are six recognized species and two subspecies, all with bare eye rings and bright red undertail coverts. The rest of the colouration is not very flamboyant, but the bird will shimmer and gleam under bright lights. Due to the red feathers underneath the tail, Pionus birds are also known as Red-vented parrots, especially in older sources.

Scaly headed Parrot
Scaly headed Parrot

Pionus Taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Aves
Order:           Psittaciformes
Family:          Psittacidae
Subfamily:    Psittacinae
Tribe:             Arini
Genus:           Pionus

  • Pionus chalcopterus (Bronze-winged Pionus or Bronze-winged Parrot)
  • Pionus fuscus (Dusky Pionus or Dusky Parrot)
  • Pionus maximiliani (Maximilian's Pionus, Maximilian's Parrot, Scaly-headed Pionus, or Scaly-headed Parrot)
  • Pionus menstruus (Blue-headed Pionus or Blue-headed Parrot)
  • Pionus senilis (White-crowned Pionus or White-crowned Parrot)
  • Pionus sordidus (Red-billed Pionus, Coral-billed Pionus, Red-billed Parrot, or Coral-billed Parrrot)
  • Pionus tumultuosus (Speckle-faced Pionus or Speckle-faced Parrot)
    • Pionus tumultuosus tumultuosus (Plum-crowned Pionus or Plum-crowned Parrot)
    • Pionus tumultuosus seniloides (White-headed Pionus, White-capped Pionus, White-headed Parrot, or White-capped Pionus)

Pionus Care

Some species of Pionus are quite frequently kept in captivity, particularly the Blue-headed Pionus (Pionus menstruus) and the White-headed Pionus (Pionus tumultuosus seniloides).

Pionus birds are normally less noisy than Macaws and Cockatoos but when kept with other screaming birds it tends to repeat their sounds. When scared or excited, the Pionus parrot can produce a peculiar wheezing or snorting sound (it sounds a bit similar to asthma). This is not a sigh of disease; the bird is just a bit wounded up by something. Pionus birds can learn to repeat a few words but they are not great mimicker of human speech. They are much better at reiterate whistles, microwave beeps, alarms and similar.

Pionus birds exude a sweet or musky odor. Before you decide to get a Pionus bird, spend some time with Pionus birds to determine if you would be okay with having that smell in your home. Some people like it, others detest it.

Compared to extremely extrovert and boisterous birds like Amazon parrots the Pionus bird can seem a little shy and reclusive. It prefers gentle companionship over rowdy games and usually reacts adversely to sudden moves. This bird needs quite a lot of time to adapt to new situations and trying to rush it will only make it even more stressed and anxious. If you give your Pionus bird enough time and tenderness, it will however turn into an extremely tame and kind companion.

Pionus birds feed chiefly on soft foods and their beaks are therefore not very strong. You don’t have to get them extremely durable toys for chewing, anything harder than pine wood is actually too hard for most Pionus species. They tend to favor chewing toys made from softer materials like soft wood and leather. 

Feeding Pionus

As mentioned above, Pionus parrots have rather weak beaks compared to nut and seed eating parrots since they feed chiefly on soft foods like fruits, berries and small seeds. You can for instance serve them pellets and a seed mix containing small seeds, plus plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Keeping your birds on a varied diet is recommended. Make sure that the pellet mix or seed mix contain sufficient amounts of vitamin A. If you fear that your Pionus parrot isn’t getting enough, serve it carrots and sweet potatoes.   

Breeding Pionus

Male and female Pionus parrots do not display any notable sexual dimorphism and are therefore hard to sex. The three most commonly used methods of sexing Pionus birds are DNA sexing, surgical sexing, and chromosomal analysis.

One you have a male and a female Pionus bird, the rest is fairly simple. Pionus are normally excellent parents and will do most of the work for you.

A 25 x 25 x 50 cm (10 x 10 x 20 in) nest box is suitable for one couple. Coarse pine shavings will be appreciated as nesting material, but expect your birds to toss out certain pieces deemed inappropriate. Getting the nest ready can take up to two weeks, but you know that egg laying is nearby when the female Pionus starts spending more and more time inside the box. When she has laid her first egg, don’t let your curiosity get the better of you; a human constantly peeking inside the nest can be highly stressful for her. Incubation will not commence until the second egg has been laid. New eggs are laid every other day and chicks will consequently also hatch every other day. A Pionus clutch usually consists of 3-4 chicks. The incubation period is around 26 days, counting from the day the second egg was laid.  

As mentioned above, Pionus birds are normally highly devoted parents but in order to make the offspring really tame, you can start hand-feeding them when they’re roughly three weeks of age. Hand-fed Pionus birds tend to reproduce later in life than parent-fed ones and some breeders therefore let the couple raise a few chicks on their own now and then.

Pionus Health

Visible signs of illness in Pionus parrots:

  • the bird seems listless and lethargic
  • the bird sleeps more than normally
  • the bird eats less than normally
  • changed faeces
  • plumage looks dishevelled
  • plumage looses its former sheen
  • feather plucking 
  • bare spots visible in the plumage
  • sneezing (more than just occasionally)
  • discharge flows from the nostrils
  • slit eyes instead of round eyes

Pionus Facts

Pionus facts # 1
Pionus birds like to be rained on and will hang themselves upside down and spread their wings to catch as many drops as possible. If you keep a pet Pionus parrot, mist it regularly. Make sure the bird is resting on a suitable perch with plenty of room to hang upside down and spread its wings.  

Pionus facts # 2
Compared to their body size, Pionus parrots lay really large eggs. Sometimes you can even see traces of blood on the first egg laid by a Pionus bird.

Pionus facts # 3
Many Pionus keepers report how their birds love having the radio or TV on, and some individual birds even seem to develop a taste for certain TV-shows – such as wildlife documentaries and colorful cartoons. If you leave your bird alone during the day, use a timer to turn on a record that you know your parrot likes. This will help it pass time until you come back.

Pionus fact # 4
Pet Pionus birds can often be seen dipping their food in the water try before eating it.

Pionus fact # 5
Unlike most other parrots, Pionus parrots do not have an oil gland above the tail.

Pionus Lifespan

The average lifespan of a Pionus parrot is 25 years in captivity, but some specimens have reached an age of over 40 years.


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