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Yellow-Faced Parrotlets

Yellow-faced parrotlets are often considered to be one of the rarest species of Forpus, both in captivity and in the wild.

By Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.

Although imported into the United States in the 1970s and early '80s, yellow-faced parrotlets (Forpus xanthops) had all but disappeared by the '90s. In spring of 1994, I was fortunate enough to obtain five pair of yellow-faced parrotlets and have had much success in breeding them.

Yellow-faced parrotlets are the largest of the Forpus genus. Approximately 6 inches in length, they can weigh up to 45 grams. Yellow "face" is a misnomer because the entire forehead, cheeks, chin, chest and belly are a bright lemon yellow. Males have deep cobalt on the wings, back, rump and eyes streaks, very similar to male Pacifics (F. coelestis). Females have light blue backs, wings, rumps and eye streaks, which is the same as female F. c. lucida. A feature unique to yellow-face parrotlets is a black streak that runs down the middle of the top mandible.

Photo: Sandee Molenda
A female yellow-faced parrotlet.

Yellow-faced parrotlets are often considered to be one of the rarest species of Forpus, both in captivity and in the wild. There are believed to be less than 50 birds in the U. S. Europe reportedly has a number of breeding birds but, even so, availability of the species is limited. In the wild, they are found in the upper Rio Maranon Valley in northern Peru. Fortunately, they are prolific breeders in captivity, making it much easier on aviculturists working with this species. The International Parrotlet Society is one organization dedicated to conserving the yellow-faced parrotlet and has set up a breeding program for the species.

Creating A Good Breeding Environment
Yellow-faced parrotlets do well in large cages that are 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide by 3 feet long. Visually separate the pairs so they can hear, but not see, each other. This helps prevent aggression and keeps the pairs focused on breeding rather than fighting. Give each pair a variety of natural wood perches and a lovebird-style (7 inches wide by 10 inches tall by 7 inches deep) nest box attached to the outside front of the cage. The pair will only see the inside of their cage while in the box, thereby making them feel more secure. Fill boxes with untreated pine shavings to within 2 inches of the nest hole.

Unlike other species of Forpus that are mature at 1 year, yellow faces have much better breeding success at 2 years of age. Youngsters of the same sex can be housed in large flights until they are breeding age, then paired into individual cages with nest boxes. Yellow faces seem to be much less aggressive than other species of Forpus, which is especially good because there are so few of them available.

Photo: Sandee Molenda
A male yellow-faced parrotlet.

Yellow-faced parrotlets are delightful birds to give food to because they eat just about everything. Most parrotlets eat large quantities of food for their size, but yellow faces consume a huge amount, even for a parrotlet. We feed them a safflower-based hookbill mix that contains peanuts, sunflower and hemp, because they need the extra fat and protein. We also feed them Tropican™ pellets and Petamine™, which, along with cuttlebone, mineral block and clean water, are always available. The bulkof the diet is fresh foods that include two or three different fruits and up to 10 different vegetables, plus cooked rice or pasta and dried beans daily. They also receive chopped greens and whole-wheat or multigrain bread, as well as sprouted seed and egg food. Vitamins and powdered calcium supplement are sprinkled on the soft foods several times a week. They are also given bee pollen, Spirulina™ and wheat grass powder weekly.

Nesting behavior is much the same as other species of Forpus. The male usually investigates the box first and, once he deems it safe, is followed by the hen. They do not build nests but chew and rearrange the shavings into shallow depressions. Females pluck their breasts to make a brood patch and leave the feathers in the nest. Before she lays the first egg, the hen consumes huge quantities of cuttlebone — often as much as a 6-inch cuttlebone every day for several weeks prior to laying. Hens lay one egg every other day and have an average clutch of four to six. Hens sit on the eggs, leaving only to defecate, until the last chick has left the nest. The incubation period is slightly longer in yellow faces, with chicks hatching at 24 days instead of the usual 21. (Interestingly, the Mexican parrotlet (F. cyanopgyius) also hatches at 24 days.)

Care Of The Chicks
Yellow faces will feed and fledge their own young if allowed. As with other species, it is recommended that the adult male be removed from the cage when the young start to fledge. This prevents aggression between parent and offspring. Adult males have been known to maim or even kill their male chicks upon fledging. The female continues to feed the young and teach them to eat on their own. The male can return once the chicks are weaned and placed in another flight.

As with most aviculturists, we hand-feed our chicks. This is done even though they are never going to be sold as a pet. Often, hand-fed parrotlets that are not socialized to be pets, make steady, reliable parents that are not overly sensitive to human intervention. They are used to people, but not bonded to people. Therefore, they raise healthy chicks without causing havoc when humans are in the aviary.

Photo: Sandee Molenda
Yellow-faced parrotlet chicks.

Most parrotlet breeders pull chicks for hand-feeding at 10 days of age. They should be banded with a closed, lovebird-sized band. Each chick's weight, parentage, date of hatch and band number should be recorded in the breeder's records. Chicks need to be fed every four hours, five times daily. Chicks do not need to be fed through the night unless they are less than 7 days old. There are many commercial hand-feeding formulas available these days. Food should be fed at 102 degrees Fahrenheit and syringes need to be kept in disinfecting solution such as Benadine™ or Wavecide™.

Chicks need to be kept in a brooder at 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicks should be placed on pine shavings in small containers. Parrotlets will not eat pine shavings, and they are absorbent, sanitary and inexpensive. Also, they provide good footing for the babies, preventing leg and joint problems. Chicks should be weighed daily prior to the first feeding. They should gain between .5 to 1.5 grams per day. Should they lose weight, unless they are weaning, that may be a clue to something being wrong. If chicks lose weight two or more days in a row, they need to be checked by a veterinarian specializing in avian medicine.

When chicks are approximately 4 weeks old and are covered with feathers, they can be placed in a container with seed, pellets and millet spray to begin weaning. They can also be removed from the brooder at this time. Be sure to continue to feed chicks every four hours. Gradually, they will take less formula and eat more solid food. At about 6 weeks, they can be moved into a cage with a small dish of water. Continue to diminish the number of feedings. They should be completely weaned by 8 weeks of age.

Aviculturists who have these rare birds must work together to ensure their future survival. Members of The International Parrotlet Society understand this and have started breeding cooperatives and studbooks. Unfortunately, the barriers between countries often make it impossible to trade birds to diversify the bloodlines. However, we can still share information and knowledge to help one another and the future of these magnificent parrotlets.

The International Parrotlet Society
The International Parrotlet Society's purpose is to promote interest and education in parrotlets. This includes their care, reproduction, exhibition and conservation both in captivity and preservation in the wild. IPS was founded in 1992 by a handful of aviculturists dedicated to these unique and amazing little parrots. Since then, we have grown to include more than 700 members in 13 different countries and are one of the largest and most respected specialty organizations in the world. IPS meets twice a year, once at the National Cage Bird Show and once at the American Federation of Aviculture convention.

For more information, contact:
The International Parrotlet Society
Post Office Box 2428
Santa Cruz, CA 95063-2428
Telephone (831) 688-5560
Internet: http://www.parrotletranch.com/ips

Sandee and Robert Molenda have been breeding birds since 1983 and parrotlets exclusively since 1986. They own The Parrotlet Ranch in Aptos, California, which has been certified under the Model Aviculture Program. Both have also been certified by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council under the Avian Specialist program. Currently, they have more than 100 breeding pair of parrotlets, which include six of the seven nominate species as well as many subspecies of the Forpus genus. Recently, they added Pacific blue, yellow and fallow color mutations to their aviary. They have also been very successful in breeding a difficult species, Mexican parrotlets, and are one of the first breeders of spectacled and the only breeder of yellow-faced parrotlets in the United States.

3-3-2004


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I just love Parrotlets! I have one Pacific and the Yellow-Faced seem absoutly wonderful! I wish i could own one!
Brittany, Brunswick, OH
Posted: 1/27/2010 4:06:06 PM
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