Colorful, charming, and intelligent, parrotlets have become increasingly popular pets. Their small size and quiet nature make them an ideal choice for people who live in apartments or condos or anyone who can't house a larger bird.
Nicknamed "pocket parrots" in the pet trade, these tiny birds are the smallest members of the parrot family. They are just as intelligent as many larger species. Some learn to talk quite well, although they're not especially noted for this ability. When properly tamed, they make perfectly affectionate and absolutely adorable pets.
Common Names: Parrotlet, pocket parrot, Pacific parrotlet, celestial parrotlet, and Lesson's parrotlet
Scientific Name: Forpus coelestis
Adult Size: 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches, weighing about one ounce
Life Expectancy: 20 to 30 years in captivity, when well cared for
Origin and History
The Pacific parrotlet can be found in Central America and South America. They're most prevalent in Peru and Ecuador where they enjoy the tropical forests.
It's common for these tiny birds to gather in flocks of 100 or more, with some being so large they look like clouds of smoke in the sky. Parrotlets will spend hours each day in the trees where they forage for fruit and seeds or on clay cliffs that supplement their diet and prevent health issues.
Parrotlets are "true" parrots and their closest relative is the Amazon parrot. Although the two species differ greatly in size, owners often report striking similarities between them. This applies to their appearance as well as their temperament.
Parrotlets have not been bred in captivity long, so many of their natural instincts have not been bred out of the species. While Pacific parrotlets are the most common species to be kept as pets, others are popular as well. Among these are the Mexican parrotlet (Forpus cyanopygius cyanopygius), the spectacled parrotlet (Forpus conspicillatus conspicillatus), and the yellow-faced parrotlet (Forpus xanthops).
All of the personality characteristics found in larger parrots are also inside this miniature package. While they are small, they do have the temperament of a big bird and require just as much attention. Tame, hand-fed parrotlets who are well cared for make very sweet and affectionate companions and in this way are often compared to lovebirds.
Known as feisty, somewhat impish birds, parrotlets can become unruly without proper handling. They often do best as pets when kept by themselves, as they are prone to becoming aggressive toward other birds. You may also find them to be territorial in their cage, especially untamed birds during feeding time.
It's important to remember that these miniature parrots can be fearless at times. This can get them into trouble, especially in a home with dogs and cats because the bird may not back down from the predator.
Parrotlets are just as intelligent as any other parrot. They can be trained to do a few tricks and some individuals will learn to talk.
These little birds don't have the volume of large parrots. Their voice is almost whisper-soft and their vocabulary can reach 10 to 15 words, which is quite impressive for their size. Screeches and chirps are commonplace as they're naturally very vocal, but it's nothing that a neighbor down the block will hear.
Pacific Parrotlet Colors and Markings
Pacific parrotlets are absolutely adorable with their miniature parrot features. Their tiny tails are delicate and their curved beaks and large head perfectly mimic their larger cousins. They also have zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes point forward and two toes point toward the rear.
This is a dimorphic species, with the normal coloration being mostly green. Males can be distinguished from females by the splashes of bright blue on their backs and behind their eyes. Parrotlets also come in many color mutations, such as lutino, blue, and albino.
Caring for Pacific Parrotlets
While parrotlets may be small, they are by no means low-maintenance. They are naturally easier to clean up after compared to larger birds. However, they require socialization and need to be handled daily to keep them tame.
As with all parrots, bored parrotlets can become destructive. This can include nipping people, chewing up things around your home, or resorting to feather plucking, which can become a serious health concern. Proper training, positive reinforcement, and daily attention is the best way to combat these issues.
That said, compared to other parrots, parrotlets are rather good at entertaining themselves. Just be sure to supply plenty of stimulating toys in their cage. The minimum cage size for this bird should be 18 inches square and the bar spacing should be no greater than 1/2- to 5/8-inch. The more room you can provide, however, the happier your bird will be.
It's also important that you take precautions when the bird is out of the cage. They are so small and delicate that it's easy to have an accident when they're on the floor or hopping around on furniture. To prevent this, set your boundaries early on. They can be taught to remain on a play stand, you just need to be diligent about setting the bird back on it every time he gets off.
One of their favorite activities plays into their nickname. These "pocket parrots" can often be seen poking their head out of their owner's shirt pocket for a quick petting on the head. It's the perfect carrying pouch that keeps your bird next to you, which is right where it wants to be.
Feeding Pacific Parrotlets
Pacific parrotlets have extremely high metabolisms and must have food available at all times. They are known for their voracious appetites and thrive on a varied diet. This should consist of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables, small seeds such as millet, high-quality commercial pellets, and nutritious protein sources such as eggs.
Very active, parrotlets need plenty of room to play and many toys to play with. They are inquisitive little birds and will get into your things if you don't provide them with toys of their own.
If you want to own parrotlets, you should be sure that you can set aside a bird-safe area for your pets to play in for at least one to two hours a day. They need to be able to come out of their cages, stretch their wings, and exercise their leg muscles to maintain their physical and mental health.
Introducing new things, from toys to ladders, to the bird's cage will also keep him intrigued and occupied. Swings, leather, wood, knotted rope, bells, and beads are among their favorites, though anything shiny or brightly colored will capture their curiosity.
Even a random branch once a week can be a delight and help curb the bird's natural instinct to chew and climb. You can create foraging challenges that will test your bird's food hunting abilities as well.
This bird is the perfect size for a cute birdie tent. They like to sleep in these or on swings, though they can become aggressive in the tent once mature and their nesting nature kicks in. Removing the tent should calm them down if you notice this behavior.
More Pet Bird Species and Further Research
If you’re interested in similar species, check out:
Otherwise, check out all of our other small parrot species profiles.