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Blue Headed Pionus

May 2000

Blue Headed Pionus

Vera Dennison



Have you thought about marketing the Pionus in the pet trade? Most members of the general public have probably never been introduced to these ideally sized parrots; and yet in the States they are very popular pet birds. Looking like a smaller version of the Amazon parrot, they have a variety of subtle colours, a square tail and a stocky build. They are smaller than Amazons and Greys but larger than Conures – an ideal size for the average pet bird owner. They have sweet personalities and are not unpleasantly noisy. They are further characterised as being independent, and therefore much less demanding of your time than a Cockatoo or a Grey. They are normally content just to hear and see you nearby.

Although Pionus parrots seldom learn to speak more than ten words, they make a variety of very interesting unusual jungle noises. Their body language also forms an important part of communication, and you will eventually learn what it all means. They for example lean in the direction they want to go, they march back and forth, fanning their tail and lifting their neck feathers up, and when they are given a spray bath, they literally dance with pleasure as they hang upside down in the shower of drops.


Pionus have their own special personalities; this is what makes them so appealing and what compensates for their lack of talking ability.

One thing a new Pionus owner must learn about immediately, is the asthmatic wheezing sound that these birds emit. If a Pionus is stressed or scared, he will begin to wheeze. Be assured, it is normal; he is not ill – and make sure you tell that to all your visitors and your vet, in case he doesn’t know, and so that you don’t hear all day long, What’s wrong with your bird? Has he got asthma?.

Pionus are inclined to be shy and nervous at first and you are advised to go about your training and introducing new toys etc slowly and gradually. Yet these normally quiet and friendly birds can suddenly become aggressive, especially at the start of a new breeding season. But not all Pionus suddenly become nasty little biters, and those that do, calm down again after a while, probably when their hormones have settled down.


There are eight types of Pionus, of which five are quite readily available from breeders in our country: Blue-headed, White-capped/crowned, Bronze-winged, Dusky and Maximil-lian’s.


Give your Pionus an abundance of fresh, crisp fruit and vegetables. Also make sure they have things to chew on, not because they would otherwise be destructive, but because they need to be occupied happily, and some are inclined to pluck their cage mates rather badly. Soft wood blocks, pine cones, fresh branches and leaves, green mealies etc. are the easiest to get. Restrict their oil seeds like sunflower and peanuts because captive Pionus can become overweight.

They will readily eat most foods you give them: sprouted and/or cooked beans and peas, cooked rice, maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes and pasta. Fresh apples, broccoli, carrots, grapes, fresh green mealies, green beans, kiwi, mango, green peas in the pod, pomegranates and any other fresh fruits and vegetables in season will be enjoyed. This diet is however short of essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements and needs to be supplemented with avian pellets or crumbles that will balance out the diet and fulfill all their nutritional needs.

A cooked chicken bone or a chop bone can also be given to pet birds to chew on. We continue to warn against avocado, which may or may not be poisonous for birds, it is not worth the risk to experiment with our birds to find out the truth, and anyway, they eat enough other foods not to need avocado.


Pionus breed from their third year onwards. They need to be surgically or DNA sexed. Pairs become very attached to one another and are good parents. They are seasonal breeders, laying four to six eggs and often managing to produce two clutches.

Incubation lasts 28 days. Weaning can take a little longer than with other parrots, up to 5 months. Our pionus do very well in suspended cages of about 2,6m long x 900mm x 900mm and with nest boxes of 25cm x 25cm diameter and 60cm high. They are not destructive but we still line the nest boxes with welded mesh which then acts as a ladder.

Our Pionus get our normal parrot mixture of Avi-Plus Parrot mixed with cooked peas and beans and mealies and fresh chopped fruit and vegetables. Their seed is restricted. Our White-crowned are useful as foster pairs while they are all reliable parents and do not force us to rear their babies by hand unless we want to sell them as tame pet birds. In that case we remove babies from the nest at about two weeks, ring them with an 8.5 or 9.5mm size ring and hand feed them on nothing but Avi-Plus Hand-rearing Parrot and water. They have large crops, eat very eagerly and grow well.


We see that increasing numbers of Blue-headed Pionus are being offered for sale. Young birds are dull green and have a red band across the forehead. Their mature feathering is attained at about 18 months, and then they show the electric blue head and emerald green body. They have a red triangle underneath the tail and some have a few pink feathers under their chin, while others have a larger pink patch.

According to the various articles I have read, no mention is made that any members of the Pionus breed less well than others, but here in South Africa I have heard from a number of breeders that their Blue-headeds breed less readily than the others. I think the birds should be given the opportunity to choose their own mates – and now that more of these birds are available, we should find it easier to do. The pairs that did not breed for us, were simply given a mate, and some of them were, in my opinion, just too tame. I cannot conclusively say though that this was the reason for their reluctance to breed. Our other pairs go down regularly each year and breed well.

The fact remains that this group of birds, of which the Blue-headed is probably the most spectacular, has all the qualities to make it a real asset to any pet bird household and to any bird breeder’s collection.

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