Pionus Parrots

A brief introduction to the genus Pionus

The Amazonian Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus m. menstruus), der er udbredt fra det østlige Colombia til det nordlige Bolivia, Guyana og det nordøstlige Brasilien, er den i fangenskab mest udbredte repræsentant for slægten Pionus.

The Pionus genus is a group of small- to medium-sized parrots whose range extends from Mexico in the north and south to Central and South America. In the northernmost distribution area in Mexico, the White-crowned Parrot (Pionus senilis) is found, while for example the Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus) is the species with the largest distribution area covering large parts of northern South America.


This short introduction to the genus Pionus is supplemented with a small gallery of photos that I have taken over time of some of the representatives of this genus. At the time of writing, the photo gallery includes 6 species and 3 subspecies.


The scientific genus name "Pionus" alludes to the smooth and stepped shape of the birds, which, together with the long wings and short, almost straight-cut tail, precisely characterizes this genus. Thus, the length of the wings is almost 2.5 times the length of the tail, and the tips of the wings reach all the way to the edge of the tail.


As other characteristics of the Pionus Parrots, these birds' beaks can be highlighted, which are quite strong and also have a clear tooth cut. On the sides of the upper bill there is a coloured - yellow or red - area and the nostrils, which sit in the wax skin, are round and without feathers. The eyes are surrounded by a naked ring, the colour of which varies from species to species. The undertail coverts of all the species (subspecies) are red or red-edged, and indeed the Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus) Latin species name refers to this fact. Depending on the species (subspecies), these parrots are 24 - 30 cm in length.


With a few - in my opinion - few exceptions, this genus cannot be said to be brightly coloured, but the colour composition of the plumage of the individual representatives must, on the contrary, be said to be very special, and it is often not sharply demarcated between the individual colours. In strong light, the colours of the plumage can change, as is also known from a number of other parrot genera. Males and females are the same with no visible gender difference - unless you are very knowledgeable. The young birds, on the other hand, typically have a plumage that differs from the parent birds.

In the wild, Pionus Parrots stay mainly in biotopes characterized by dense and tall forest, and it is also here that you can find their nests in hollows in the trees. These parrots inhabit areas that go from 0 meters above sea level up to approximately 2,500 meters high, which means that a large part of the distribution area consists of mountainous regions. If you talk about e.g. the Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus), then you will find it in the range from 0 - 2,000 meters high, which means that there can be significant temperature differences between day and night depending on the specific biotope.


Again, depending on the species (subspecies), usually 3 - 4 eggs are laid, sometimes up to 5 or 6 eggs, which hatch over 20 - 27 days. The young are ready to fledge after 55 - 70 days.


These are birds which, until relatively few years ago, were not particularly widespread among aviculturists, as most species (subspecies), as already mentioned, are not particularly brightly coloured. I remember, among other things, that pet shops - when I was young - found it difficult to sell the Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus), there was simply no demand for them. Fortunately, that has changed, so that over recent years these magnificent parrots have become quite common among aviculturists, e.g. concerns certain species (subspecies). A good indication of this change is that, over time, aviculturists noticed the - usually - calm and docile nature of these parrots, in addition to the fact that they are almost "mini Amazon Parrots", with an added advantage since they are less noisy than these.

The Scaly-headed Parrot (Pionus m. maximiliani) has a range that includes northeastern and central-eastern Brazil as well as eastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil to northern Argentina. In addition to the nominate form, 3 subspecies of science are recognized. It is one of the most common Pionus species in human care.

In nature, you often see them in pairs - or even more often - in small groups. The Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus) is most often found in groups of approximately 10 individuals.

When a Pionus Parrot becomes excited or frightened, it may emit a distinctive hissing or snorting sound that is sometimes mistaken for a sign of fear or illness. These birds also give off a musky or sweet smell which some aviculturists find unpleasant, while others describe it as a pleasant - not a smell - but a scent.

In human care, Pionus Parrots must have an aviary of a certain length, as they are actually good fliers. In fact, it is said that these parrots are easy to identify during field studies in the wild, as they - as something unique to this genus - make use of powerful wing beats, where the tips of the wings come close to hitting each other under the body during the flight of the birds.

In human care, aviculturists will find these birds to be generally peaceful and very little noisy, in addition to being moderate rodents. Some aviculturists think that Pionus Parrots are too sedentary.

A number of species (subspecies) of the genus are very rare in captivity. The most common species in human care are the Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus), Scaly-headed Parrot (Pionus maximiliani) and White-crowned Parrot (Pionus senilis). In addition, the Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus) has become more common in recent years as a result of several successful breedings among aviculturists.

Pionus Parrots are both gentle and charming and can therefore make excellent pets, but unlike a number of other parrot species that are kept as pets, you may find that although Pionus Parrots generally enjoy being stroked with a hand on the back/over the wings, then they don't like being turned on their backs to be cuddled on their stomachs.

In the wild, the Pionus Parrots feed mainly on various types of fruit, including bananas, but in addition they consume berries, seeds, nuts, flowers (nectar), but it has also been observed that some birds take animal food, which is why some aviculturists in human care, for example, offers them mealworms. Due to the Pionus Parrot's low energy level, they should not be fed large amounts of seeds and other foods that have a high fat content on a daily basis, as they tend to become obese.

According to "Howard & Moore's Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World", Vol. I, from spring 2013 as well as the latest version 4.1 (August 2018), "Errata and Corrigenda to Volume I", the genus consists of the following 7 species and 11 subspecies:


  • Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus), plus 2 subspecies.
  • Red-billed Parrot (Pionus sordidus), plus 5 subspecies.
  • Scaly-headed Parrot (Pionus maximiliani), to which are added 3 subspecies.
  • Speckle-faced Parrot aka Plum-headed Parrot (Pionus tumultuosus), plus 1 subspecies.
  • White-crowned Parrot (Pionus senilis).
  • Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus).
  • Dusky Parrot (Pionus fuscus).


Except for the subspecies Reichenow's Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus m. reichenowi), which is categorized as "Vulnerable", assuming that there are less than 10,000 mature individuals left in nature and that its population trend is decreasing, all the other Pionus species have been categorized as being of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International, which means that they fortunately are not threatened in the wild.


For many aviculturists, the Pionus Parrots will certainly be worth an acquaintance.


Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 21.06.2013 / 22.01.2024