Pacific Parrotlet: Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

Blue-winged parrotlet sitting on a branch.

Jaim Simoes Oliveira/Getty Images

Colorful, charming, and intelligent, Pacific parrotlets are the smallest members of the parrot family. Nicknamed "pocket parrots" for one of their favorite hiding spots, they 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 those who do not have the space to house a larger bird. Some can learn to talk quite well, although it is not known for being a big talker. They make perfectly affectionate and adorable pets.

Species Overview

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

Origin and History

The Pacific parrotlet is found in Central America and South America. They are most prevalent in Peru and Ecuador. They live in the tropical forests.

It is common for these tiny birds to gather in flocks of 100 or more. Some flocks get 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.

Parrotlets are "true" parrots, and their closest relative is the Amazon parrot. Although the two species differ significantly in size, they have striking similarities in appearance and temperament.

Pacific parrotlets have not been bred in captivity long, however, they are the most common parrotlet species kept as a pet. Other popular species include the Mexican parrotlet (Forpus cyanopygius cyanopygius), the spectacled parrotlet (Forpus conspicillatus conspicillatus), and the yellow-faced parrotlet (Forpus xanthops).

Temperament

You get all of the large-parrot personality characteristics in a miniature package. These birds may be small, but they act like the big guys and require just as much attention. Tame, hand-fed parrotlets make very sweet, affectionate companions. They are often compared to lovebirds.

Without proper handling, parrotlets can become unruly and impish. They often do best as pets when kept by themselves. They are prone to becoming aggressive toward other birds, especially if they are untamed. Territorial fights might break out during feeding time.

These miniature parrots may act fearless, but this bravado can get them into danger, especially in a home with dogs and cats. Feisty parrotlets may not back down from a fight with your furry pets.

Parrotlets are just as intelligent as any other parrot. They can be trained to do a few tricks. Some individuals can talk.

Speech and Vocalizations

These little birds do not reach the piercing decibels of the larger parrots. Their voice is almost whisper-soft, and their vocabulary can reach 10 to 15 words, which is quite impressive for their size. They will screech and chirp since they are naturally very vocal, but their noise should not be bothersome for neighbors.

Pacific Parrotlet Colors and Markings

Pacific parrotlets are 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 bird's normal coloration is mostly green. Parrotlets also come in many color mutations, such as lutino, blue, and albino.

This a dimorphic species, which means there are noticeable differences between males and females. Males can be distinguished from females by the splashes of bright blue on their backs and behind their eyes.

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 handling 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 self-mutilating behavior. Proper training, positive reinforcement, engaging toys, and daily attention are the best ways to keep your parrots content.

Compared to other parrots, parrotlets are rather good at entertaining themselves. Supply them with plenty of stimulating toys in their cage. The minimum cage size for this bird should be 18 inches square. The bigger the cage, the better. The bar spacing should be no bigger than 1/2- to 5/8-inch.

Supervise the period that the bird is out of the cage. These birds are so small and delicate that it's easy to have an accident if they are on the floor or hopping around on furniture. To prevent accidents or injury, early on set boundaries for the bird. Teach the bird to remain on a play stand. Diligently set the bird back on it every time it gets off.

These "pocket parrots" can often be seen poking their head out of a shirt pocket for a quick petting on the head. This is a fun, engaging activity for the bird. To your fine-feathered friend, your pocket is the perfect carrying pouch that keeps it right where it wants to be—right next to you.

Common Health Problems

Like most parrots, these birds require out-of-cage time and socialization with you. If your bird feels neglected or bored, it may resort to feather plucking and even skin picking, which can become a severe health concern.

In general, parrotlets are hardy little birds that do not typically get diseases. They can live, on average, up to 30 years in captivity. However, bacteria, viruses, and harmful fungus can make any bird susceptible to illness. These harmful organisms can cause psittacosis (bacterial respiratory infection), Pacheco's virus (fatal herpes infection), and aspergillosis (fungal lung disease). There are a host of even rarer avian diseases that can also affect parrotlets.

Diet and Nutrition

Pacific parrotlets have a speedy metabolism and must have food available at all times. They are known for their voracious appetites and thrive on a varied diet. In the wild, parrotlets feed on blossoms, seed heads, fruits, and berries.

Their diet should consist of fresh bird-safe fruits and vegetables, small seeds, high-quality commercial pellets, and nutritious protein sources such as eggs. They should also have access to a cuttlebone as a calcium source, particularly if a female is egg-laying.

Fruits and veggies should make up 50 percent of a parrotlet's diet. A high-quality bird pellet should account for 35 percent. The remaining 15 percent should be a low-fat seed mix primarily consisting of barley, millet, cantaloupe, flax, or grass seeds.

Exercise

Very active, parrotlets need plenty of room to play and many toys for playtime. They are curious 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 bird to play at least one to two hours a day. They need to be able to come out of their cage, stretch their wings, and exercise their leg muscles to maintain their physical and mental health.

Introduce new things like toys and ladders to the bird's cage, which will help keep it intrigued and occupied. Swings, leather, wood, knotted rope, bells, and beads are among a bird's favorite items, though anything shiny or brightly colored will capture their curiosity.

Providing a random branch once a week can be a delight and help curb the bird's instinct to chew and climb. You can create foraging challenges that will test your bird's food hunting abilities as well. Safe woods include apple, pear, cherry, willow, ash, poplar, elm, horse chestnut, walnut, alder, and maple.

This bird is the perfect size for a cute birdie tent. It will sleep in the tent or on a swing. Once the bird matures and their nesting nature kicks in, remove the tent if it causes the bird to become aggressive.

Pros

  • Small-sized, don't require as much space

  • Quiet, although may be trained to talk

  • Affectionate

Cons

  • Small size makes them more delicate

  • Can be feisty, bullish, and temperamental

  • Can get destructive if bored

Where to Adopt or Buy a Pacific Parrotlet

Most bird rescues list their birds on online search databases like Adopt a Pet and Petfinder. If you want to know what it is like to live with one, contact a local breeder or parrot adoption agency and ask if you can visit their birds. The Beauty of Birds maintains a list of reputable parrotlet breeders. On average, parrotlets sell for $200 to $400.

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.