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Pionus Parrot Fact Vs. Fiction

Find the truth behind Pionus parrot myths, and learn about the different species of Pionus.

By Elise Kaplan

Pionus parrots aren’t flashy or known for great talking ability – rumor has it that they smell funny and are prone to wheezing fits – yet, somehow, they maintain a passionate group of fans.

Take a look at some of the rumors about Pionus parrots and see what breeders and other experts have to say.

Are Pionus Parrots Really Shy Perch Potatoes?
A Pionus isn’t likely to crave the limelight or be the life of the party, but it is still an active, social bird that enjoys the company of its people. Your Pionus might keep busy with toys or a snack, or enjoy itself by keeping an eye on things from a nearby playgym.

Pionus
Pionus vary in sizes, such as the blue-headed Pionus (left) and the Maximilian's Pionus.

Pionus parrots seem to like being part of the family and knowing what is going on. While you bathe the dog or fix a meal, don’t be surprised if you notice a wide Pionus eye looking over your shoulder.

“They don't make a nuisance of themselves,” observed Carmen Stuart of Brightwood Aviary in Georgia. “They're the little angel on the sideline.”

Breeder and writer Margrethe Warden agreed. “They’re not neurotic. They’re generally not needy, demanding birds. If cuddling is very important to you, you might want a puppy,” she advised. Although a  Pionus might not be cuddly when it first joins the family, the birds are not truly standoffish. Once you establish a trusting relationship with a Pionus, it might frequently, clearly solicit scratches or arch its neck so you can groom its pinfeathers.

The word that most often comes up in discussions of Pionus is “thoughtful.” They have a way of looking over a situation and then gazing upward as if to gravely ponder all the factors involved. In spite of their thoughtful, reflective nature, they are not neurotic or needy. The Pionus is not a “bite first, ask questions later” kind of bird, and when they bite, it is often a result of human error.

Are Pionus Parrots Dull-Colored?
At first glance, Pionus parrots might seem somewhat boring or drab when compared with the flashier species. But take a closer look at their appearance, especially in bright sunlight, and you’ll see subtle, gorgeous hues of salmon, cobalt blue, indigo, peach, violet and every shade of green.

“Most of the Pionus have great coloring. Bronzes, purple, bright blues and greens,” stated Bob Queen of Queen’s Pride Aviary in Texas. Even though mature birds are quietly striking in sunlight, youngsters especially can have a rumpled look that might not be to everyone’s taste. Others find it quite endearing.

“[They have] that Columbo look,” Stuart said. Younger birds often seem to fall down on their preening duties, and it's not unusual for their “underwear,” or fluffy down feathers, to be peeking out. It’s also not difficult to catch adult Pionus parrots looking a little unkempt and dropping bits of fluffy down here and there. The young blue head, in particular, can seem very unimpressive in appearance, because it does not develop its distinctive blue head until maturity.

In general, Pionus coloration probably offers an advantage in the wild. “Their colors are a bit darker than most parrots,” offered Bill Arbon of Impeckable Aviaries in Texas. “This adds to their ability to blend into their environment and makes them hard to see.”

Do Pionus Parrots Talk?
People generally acknowledge that Pionus parrots are not the best talkers in the avian world. Still, many individuals do talk.

“Their speech has a gravelly edge and will not be as clear as the speech of other, more accomplished, parrot species,” noted Russ Shade in his book “The Practical Pionus.” Both Stuart and Warden noted that the males might talk a little better and more often than females, but there is also variation among individual parrots.

Even if your Pionus is not much of a talker, it might still enjoy producing other sounds, like the microwave’s beep, a doorbell, the telephone’s ring or the ever-popular wolf whistle. A Pionus might find it entertaining when its owner sings a children’s song such as “Old MacDonald,” and join in with appropriate sound effects.

Do Pionus Really Have a Unique Odor?
The Pionus definitely has a distinctive odor. Something about the smell of a Pionus intoxicates many people, although it leaves a few other people holding their noses.

“They have a delightful odor,” Stuart said. “They only do it when they're kind of worked up and happy.” Their aroma is sometimes described as “sweet” or “floral,” and other times as “musky,” although still not necessarily unpleasant. The aroma seems stronger when the birds are agitated or emotionally aroused in some way.

Although the companion Pionus will only receive the grateful sniffs of its owner, wild Pionus might derive a more practical advantage from this odor. “There have been some studies which suggest that the odor is designed to attract certain species of ants to their nests to help keep them clean,” Shade noted.

Pionus Look Like Amazon Parrots. Are They Related?
While Pionus parrots and Amazon parrots live in the same areas in the wild, and there are certain similarities in appearance, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion as to how closely the two parrots are related. “Without actually doing DNA studies, we can’t really answer that question,” noted Warden, adding, “Both male Pionus and Amazons are sometimes known for aggressive behavior, and it’s widely believed that they’re close cousins.”

There are other similarities between the Pionus and the Amazon parrot. For example, the emotional states of both birds are fairly easy to read; and Amazons, like Pionus parrots, are known to have a pleasant aroma.

It seems unlikely that anyone can mistake the watchful, thoughtful Pionus temperament with that of a boisterous, opera-singing Amazon. “They can be very tentative,” Warden said of the Pionus.

Is Pionus Wheezing A Medical Concern?
Sometimes you hear about worried Pionus owners rushing their new baby bird to the vet because their pet’s sudden wheezing seems to signal respiratory failure. The Pionus wheeze, although it might sound alarming, is a sign of stress rather than illness.

It is not completely surprising for a young bird to experience an attack of nerves when first getting its bearings in its new home; after your bird has become mature and well-socialized, you will probably discover that you haven't heard any wheezing for some time. Wild-caught birds are also more easily spooked, and breeding birds might also be more likely to wheeze as a result of the stress of raising their young.

Still, it is possible for a sick bird to wheeze. “If your parrot is wheezing and you observe fluid accumulating around the nares, it’s best to check with your avian vet,” Shade cautioned.

What Are Pionus Like in The Wild? 
We have much to learn about the behavior of wild Pionus parrots. However, thanks largely to the efforts of the Pionus Parrot Research Foundation, we know some basics, and what knowledge we have helps us better understand the behavior of our companion birds.

In the wild, Pionus are generally found in large, noisy flocks. Although they sometimes forage on the ground, they are more frequently observed feeding in the trees. Blue-headed Pionus are also frequently found in the company of macaws and Amazons, partaking of the clay found on river banks.

Despite their somewhat stocky appearance, Pionus parrots are quite strong and nimble fliers. The sight of a Pionus in flight is striking, since the extended wings expose wonderful colors that are often hidden.

Are There Noticeable Behavior/Size Differences Between Pionus Species?
The white crowns in particular have a reputation for being feisty, while the blue-headed Pionus are often thought of as calmer and perhaps a little on the bland side. Some people find the bronze-winged Pionus to be shyer or more tentative. But those with experience with the various species maintain that they see more variety in temperament among individuals than between, say, a Maximilian’s or a dusky Pionus.

“It really varies from one bird to the next,” Queen offered. “They are just like people, each one is different.” Males might have more of an aggression tendency, but bird breeders maintain that you can still find aggressive females and laid-back males.

Pionus can range in size from somewhat less than 200 grams to about 280 grams, and some variety in sizes exists. The white-capped Pionus and dusky Pionus are on the smaller end of the range, with some weighing less than 200 grams, while the other species tend to be a little larger. Again, great overlap and variation among individuals exists.

In aviculture, the Maximilian's Pionus tend to be less expensive because of their wider availability, while other species cost more because they are rarer, harder to breed or considered more colorful. Luckily, all species possess that Pionus thoughtfulness that is so comical and endearing.

“All are equally personable. I think they’re all wonderful,” Warden said.


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I think it would be nice if you would post a full article instead of a teaser article. I doubt very few people are going to purchase or look for a old issue.
William Polit, Guelph, On Canada
Posted: 4/27/2011 8:30:44 AM
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