Pionites leucogasterwhite-bellied parrot

Geographic Range

White-bellied caiques, or green-thighed parrots (Pionites leucogaster) are native to South America. Their geographic range stretches from the Atlantic Ocean near Belem, Brazil to central South America. White-bellied caiques are most commonly found within Brazil, south of the Amazon River. They have been observed in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Para, from the Madeira River to the Purus River, and from Jurua River to the South American countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. (BirdLife International, 2014; De Schauensee, 1970; Lee and Marsden, 2012; Rodriguez Mata, et al., 2006)

Habitat

White-bellied caiques live in terrestrial lowland tropical rainforests and terra firme forests. However, they are more commonly found in varea forests. These forests are prone to flooding and have high humidity, which provide ideal habitat for white-bellied caiques. These parrots are more commonly found in trees that border watercourses. During the breeding season, they reside in hollow trees approximately 30 m above the forest floor. Average elevation for these habitat types are around 800 m. White-bellied caiques do not migrate seasonally. (De Schauensee, 1970; Gilardi and Munn, 1998; Lee and Marsden, 2012)

  • Average elevation
    800 m
    2624.67 ft

Physical Description

White-bellied caiques are short, stout parrots approximately 23 cm long, with a wingspan of 38 cm, and weighing an average of 165 g. They have white, hooked beaks with pink nostrils on their ceres, a patch of bare skin above bird beaks. They also have bare skin around their eyes, which may possess melanistic spots or red irises surrounded by grey rings. White-bellied caiques are zygodactyls, meaning they has two toes facing forward and two more directly opposite facing backwards. Their tails are square in shape.

They have orange feathers on their heads and necks are orange, bright yellow on their cheeks, and white on their ventral side. These birds have a green lower belly, legs, back feathers, and underwings, dark blue wing coverts, and blackish flight wings.

Two subspecies of white-bellied caiques exist: Pionites leucogaster xanthurus and P. l. xanthomeria. Pionites leucogaster xanthurus has paler colorations and P. l. xanthomeria has yellow thighs.

White-bellied caiques are not sexually dimporhic and require DNA analyses or blood samples to determine sex. Immature white-bellied caiques are often confused with black-headed caiques (Pionites melanocephalus) because of the black juvenile feathers on their heads. In 6 to 24 months, they molt these black feathers. (De Schauensee, 1970; Rodriguez Mata, et al., 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    165 g
    5.81 oz
  • Average length
    23 cm
    9.06 in
  • Average wingspan
    36 cm
    14.17 in

Reproduction

Little is known about reproductive and nesting behaviors of white-bellied caiques. They have been observed to be monogamous, with no known courtship behaviors. However, paired white-bellied caiques participate in feeding and grooming one another before mating. Eggs must be laid within 48 hours after copulation to be fertile. During the breeding season, white-bellied caiques copulate daily, usually more than once a day. ("A management guide for the white-bellied caique parrot", 1998)

Reproductive behavior is driven by environmental and seasonal factors, such as temperature, photoperiod, rainfall and humidity. White-bellied caiques have their breeding season from October to April in the Amazon, but they have been recorded in outdoor captivity (southern Florida) to mate from early January to June. Parrots breed once per year. Both males and females reach sexual maturity around two to three years of age and lay their first clutch by their third year, although one case showed egg-laying by the age of 11 months with unknown causes. White-bellied caiques have an average clutch size of 3 small white eggs, approximately 2.5 cm in width and 3.2 cm in length. Females lay one egg every 2 to 3 days.

In captivity, white-bellied caiques are prolific breeders, with clutch sizes of up to 6. In captivity, breeding pairs use nest boxes; females remains inside, incubating eggs for 26 days while their mates feed them. Chicks are born blind with sensitivity to light and only a few downy feathers, weighing an average of 7.2 g. ("A management guide for the white-bellied caique parrot", 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    The white-bellied caique typically breeds once annually
  • Breeding season
    October-April
  • Average eggs per season
    3
  • Average time to hatching
    26 days
  • Average fledging age
    11-12 days
  • Average time to independence
    11-12 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2-3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2-3 years

Female white-bellied caiques sit on eggs until hatching. Male white-bellied caiques bring their female mates food and provide protection during this time. After chicks hatch, both parents take turns caring for their young. Usually, females regurgitate digested food to feed the chicks. Parents stay with chicks through their fledgling stage, about 11 to 12 days after being born. (Sparks and Soper, 1990)

Lifespan/Longevity

An average lifespan for wild white-bellied caiques is currently unknown. In captivity, the species has been recorded to have a maximum longevity of 26 years, but is expected to have the potential of living up to 40 years. (Sparks and Soper, 1990)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    26 (high) years

Behavior

In captivity, white-bellied caiques are known as the clowns of the parrot community. They exhibit playful behaviors such as hopping or frequently lying on their backs. Due to their high cognitive ability, they can be taught tricks; however, they generally lack the ability of vocal learning and are not known to imitate human languages.

White-bellied caiques live and travel in pairs or monospecific family groups of 10 or more. Their groups congregate in the forest canopy, spending most of the day feeding and resting. They participate in preening behaviors and are generally highly sociable during resting periods. While in flight, these birds fly low through the canopy, unlike many other parrot species, they fly without vocalizing.

White-bellied caiques occupy clay licks during feeding times, where predation and competition influence their behavior. They have been observed to join small parrot/parakeet aggregations rather than large parrot or macaw aggregations. White-bellied caiques benefit from large mixed species groups, which serves as protection from nearby predators. This species displays two approach behaviors while attending clay licks. They either arrive in slow, circular flight patterns or they move deliberately through adjacent trees to check for predators or landslides and search for other individuals to lead the group. If a group spots any threats, or are not joined by other individuals, that group will cease its approach or move to alternative areas. (Cameron, 2012; Lee and Marsden, 2012; Sparks and Soper, 1990)

Home Range

Currently, an exact home range or territory size for white-bellied caiques is unknown.

Communication and Perception

White-bellied caiques communicates mainly using vocalizations. Their call consists of screeches, shrieks and squawks. In the wild they are very noisy, vocalizing repeatedly while resting and in flight. Reports note that, in captivity, noisiness is dependent upon the individual bird. White-bellied caiques can mimic, or imitate environmental sounds, but cannot repeat human speech. Aside from their keen sense of hearing, white-bellied caiques also perceive their environment through its senses of touch, taste, and sight. They use their tongue to feel and taste their surroundings by repeatedly licking an object. Like all bird species, white bellied caiques have four types of color-receptive cones which allow them to distinguish colors humans cannot perceive. Three of their cones are detect a spectrum of color similar to the human-visible spectrum, but with a slightly more limited range of wavelengths. Their cones also have specially adapted oil droplets that allow them to better distinguish colors by refining specific wavelengths. Their fourth cone is ultraviolet sensitive, which allows them to see in the UV spectrum. (Cameron, 2012; Rodriguez Mata, et al., 2006; Sparks and Soper, 1990)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

The diet of white-bellied caiques consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, low amounts of clay lick, and occasionally ants. Clay licks provide a sodium supplement and protect white-bellied caiques from harmful dietary toxins, so it is an important part of their diet. Lee et al. (2014) observed food consumption for a population of caiques and found that an average diet consisted of 24% flowers, 34% seeds, 31% pulp and 11% whole proportions of flowers, fruit pulp, seeds, and entire fruit in the diet. The study also reported that this bird consumed 44 unique plant species over the course of the study. Its diet is high in carbohydrates and fats for daily energy expenditures, such as thermoregulation, body growth, and maintenance. They consume additional protein during breeding season to promote egg health and nestling growth. Offspring eat regurgitated food from their parents and have to eat often – about every 1 hour, though that time lengthens with age. (Cameron, 2012; Lee, et al., 2014)

White-bellied caiques select foraging sites based on food supply. They forage on the forest floor and in the canopy in mornings due to the good lighting and cooler temperatures. These parrots have two bouts of feeding each day — once in the morning and once in the late evening. They use their stout legs and zygodactyl toe arrangement to hang from tree branches and feed, using one of their feet to grab and bring food to their beaks. White-bellied caiques have highly sensitive tongues, which they use to probe nuts or seeds, searching for a crease or groove. They search for the most effective entry site, then use their beaks to crack open and eat nuts or seeds. White-bellied caiques hone, sharpen, and clean their beaks by chewing on wooden branches. This special food behavior keeps the beak in good condition and exercises pivotal jaw muscles. (Cameron, 2012; Sparks and Soper, 1990)

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers

Predation

Because there are few scientific studies on white-bellied caiques, their predators are unknown. However, they are a target of anthropogenic trapping and hunting. Because they can fly, they are intelligent, and they live in large groups, most Amazonian parrots do not have many predators. Potential predators include birds of prey, monkeys, and snakes, which usually target eggs rather than mature parrots. (Sparks and Soper, 1990)

Ecosystem Roles

Because a significant amount of their diet is fruit, white-bellied caiques act as seed dispersers in their environment. They compete with other Amazonian parrot species for feeding and nesting habitats. They compete with blue-headed parrots (Pionus menstruus), orange-cheeked parrots (Pyrilia barrabandi), dusky-headed conures (Aratinga weddellii), and white-eyed conures (Psittacara leucophthalmus).

Like many other species in the order Psittaciformes, white-bellied caiques sometimes suffer from skin and feather disorders caused by parasites, such as lice, mites, fleas, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Parasitic infections are common amongst birds that were recently imported or that have frequent contact with the ground. (Gilardi and Munn, 1998; Greiner and Ritchie, 1994; Sparks and Soper, 1990)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

White-bellied caiques are purchased as pets, and so they serve as a major source of income for the international pet trade and pet store owners from both legal and illegal trafficking.

The illegal pet trade in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia brings in a mass of circulating money. Traffickers face up to two years of imprisonment and a fine up to 100% of the organisms' cost. However, this penalty is rarely enforced, as Santa Cruz officials declare animal trafficking as a low priority offense.

A common disease specific for parrot species like white-bellied caiques is psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD). Effects of PBFD include beak and claw deformities, loss of feathers and/or abnormalities, which result in death by immunosuppression. Being that white-bellied caiques can carry this disease, it is a common test subject for genetic research into the evolution of the disease and its host. Blood sampling from white-bellied caiques is being used as a reference sequence to investigate the genetic diversity the virus in South African parrots. This may help protection and conservation efforts for other psittacines around the world. (Heath, et al., 2004; Herrera and Hennessey, 2007)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative or harmful effects of white-bellied caiques on humans.

Conservation Status

White-bellied caiques are currently listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The primary threat to white-bellied caiques is increased deforestation and urbanization of the Amazonian basin. The Brazilian Forest Code is a piece of legislation listing the laws involving forestry and landownership in Brazil. Legal changes made to the Brazilian Forest Code have reduced the percentage of natural forestry required for a private landowner to own, making it easier for private landowners to contribute to deforestation. Loss of their habitat combined with poaching has caused a decrease in population.

There are no conservation actions in progress for white-bellied caiques, but there are some conservation actions being proposed. These include the management of new protected areas, the expansion of biodiversity conservation, and the expansion of protected Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which are restricted areas specifically for bird conservation. There are also campaigns against the changes made on the Brazilian Forest Code.

White-bellied caiques are a social species that can adapt to captive conservation research initiatives indefinitely. This involves constant breeding, artificial incubation, and aviculture. The Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park in Florida and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation partnership developed the White-bellied Caique Population Management Program. Other institutional facilities such as Beardsly Zoological Gardens, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Park, and Central Park Zoo (WCS Conservation Center) participate in these captive conservation programs. The success of zoological institutions, private aviaries and the established White-bellied Caique Population Management Program with the genetic database and husbandry protocol serves as a template for a recovery procedure and restoration of wild flocks.

This species, along with all other parrots in Psittaciformes, is protected under CITES. White-bellied caiques are listed under Appendix II, which regulates trade. ("A management guide for the white-bellied caique parrot", 1998; Birdlife International, 2014)

Contributors

Jennie Rhambarose (author), Radford University - Fall 2015, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Zeb Pike (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Galen Burrell (editor).

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

mimicry

imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (Pionites lecogaster xanthomeria). A management guide for the white-bellied caique parrot. N/A. Loxahatchee, FL: Rare Species Conservatory Foundation. 1998. Accessed September 25, 2015 at http://www.rarespecies.org/wb.pdf.

Bird, J., G. Buchanan, A. Lees, R. Clay, P. Develey, I. Yepez, S. Butchart. 2011. Integrating spatially explicit habitat projections into extinction risk: A reassessment of Amazonian avifauna incorporating projected deforestation. Diversity and Distributions, 18/3: 273-281.

BirdLife International, 2014. "Pionites leucogaster" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014. Accessed September 11, 2015 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/62181308/0.

Birdlife International, 2014. "Pionites leucogaster" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T62181308A62181748. Accessed November 28, 2015 at http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-2.RLTS.T62181308A62181748.en.

Brightsmith, D. 2005. Parrot nesting in southeastern Peru: Seasonal patterns and keystone trees. The Wilson Bulletin, 117/3: 296-305.

Buchner, T. 1983. Parrot eggs, embryos and nestlings: Patterns and energetics of growth and development. Physiological Zoology, 56/3: 465-483.

Cameron, M. 2012. Parrots: The Animal Answer Guide. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

De Schauensee, R. 1970. A Guide to The Birds of South America. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Gilardi, J., C. Munn. 1998. Patterns of activity, flocking, and habitat use in parrots of the Peruvian Amazon. The Condor, 100/4: 641-653.

Greiner, E., B. Ritchie. 1994. Avian pathogenic flagellated enteric protozoa. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 4/3: 112-125.

Heath, L., D. Martin, L. Warburto, M. Perrin, W. Horsfield, C. Kingsley, E. Rybicki, A. Williamson. 2004. Evidence of unique genotypes of beak and feather disease virus in southern Africa. Journal of Virology, 78/17: 9277–9284.

Herrera, M., B. Hennessey. 2007. Quantifying the illegal parrot trade in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, with emphasis on threatened species. Bird Conservation International, 17/4: 295-300.

Lee, A., D. Brightsmith, M. Vargas, K. Leon, A. Mejia, S. Marsden. 2014. Diet and geophagy across a western Amazonian parrot assemblage. Biotropica, 46/3: 322-330.

Lee, A., S. Marsden. 2012. The influence of habitat, season, and detectability, on abundance estimates across an Amazonian parrot assemblage. Biotropica, 44/4: 537-544.

Miyaki, C., R. Griffiths, K. Orr, L. Nahum, S. Pereira, A. Wajntal. 1998. Sex identification of parrots, toucans, and curassows by PCR: Perspectives for wild and captive populations studies. Zoo Biology, 17: 415-423.

Parker, III, T. 1982. Observations of some unusual rainforest and marsh birds in southeastern Peru. The Wilson Bulletin, 94/4: 477-493.

Rinder, M., A. Ackermann, H. Kempf, B. Kaspers, R. Korbel, P. Staeheli. 2009. Broad tissue and cell tropism of avian bornavirus in parrots with proventricular dilatation disease. Journal of Virology, 83/11: 5401-5407.

Rodriguez Mata, J., E. Francisco, M. Rumboll. 2006. Birds of South America Non-Passerines: Rheas to Woodpeckers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sparks, J., T. Soper. 1990. Parrots: a Natural History. New York, NY: Facts On File Inc.