Hawk-headed Parrots

Common Names: Hawkhead Parrot, Hawk-headed Parrot, Red-fan Parrot
Scientific Name: Deroptyus accipitrinus accipitrinus and  Deroptyus accipitrinus fuscifrons
Origin: South American (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil)
Relative Size: 13-14 inches
Weight: 290-300 grams
Average Lifespan: 40 – 50 years
Egg Clutch: 1- 3 white eggs
Incubation: 26 days
Talking Ability: Moderate

Hawk-headed Parrots look more like colored hawks than actual parrots. In fact, those that casually observe birds might mistake them as birds of prey. Because they look more Raptor like than parrot like, they have been thus named “Hawk-headed” parrots to the Western world. In other parts of the world, particularly South America, they are named Red-fanned Parrots.

These birds are magnificent to look at and their coloring is nothing less than one would come to expect to see on a parrot. Like most parrots their body is dark green. This deep green color can be seen on the covert (shoulders) of their wings mixed with seaweed greens. Their chest feathers also have the green coloring; however, each feather looks as if they have been dipped in red and iridescent blue paint. This blue is so striking that it closely resembles the blue in many of the butterflies found in the rainforest.

Near the nostril region, towards the top of the head, the bird has a patch of beige feathers that gradually fade into browns and grays. As the gray cap proceeds to the neck region, each gray feather is speckled with beige giving the parrot a prehistoric look.  The nape and stomach region of the parrot have bright red feathers that are tipped in blue. When the bird becomes excited it lifts its nape, revealing a large fan. It truly is a sight to see.

The eyes are just as unique looking as they have three colors: yellow, gray, and black. It really adds to the overall appearance that makes these creatures look unique. Younger Hawk-headed Parrots have dark eyes, they will eventually lighten up around 5 – 7 months. The eyes have a bare patch of skin that surrounds them. This skin, the beak, and the feet are charcoal black, adding a nice contrast to the bright colors of this parrot.

The tail of this parrot is oddly shaped compared to most parrots in general. Many parrots in this region have tails that are long and pointy, or short and stubby; not Hawk-headed Parrots. These birds have tails that are moderately sized, roughly making up about a third of the bird’s overall size. The tails are brightly colored in blue and green and the shape resembles a rounded paddle made for rowboats. To many bird watchers, the tail looks more hawk like than parrot like.

The average size of a Hawk-headed Parrot is roughly 13-14 inches in length.

Hawk-headed Parrots in the Wild

There are two types of Hawk-headed Parrots found in South America ( Deroptyus accipitrinus accipitrinus and Deroptyus accipitrinus fuscifrons).   Deroptyus accipitrinus accipitrinus can be found in the northern parts of South America such as Columbia, Venezuela, and Guyana. Deroptyus accipitrinus fuscifrons can be found in Brazil. Both these species are native to the Amazon rainforest.

Those looking to study Hawk-headed Parrots should know there is conflicting information about where these creatures like to dwell. Some sources say these birds like to stay away from flowing water and thrive in more dense jungle areas, while others proclaim these parrots enjoy open lowland areas. Whichever it is, one thing is certain, they live in tropical environments that get drenched with rain daily and these birds thrive in warmer climates.

At one time it was believed these creatures were solitary. This has been proven to be false, since these birds have been seen in smaller flocks occasionally ranging between 3 or 5 birds on average. They might congregate in larger flocks, but the dense jungle makes it difficult to really study these birds’ social habits.

These Red-fanned Parrots are much more private than most parrots that dwell in the rainforest region like macaws, pionus parrots, or conures. In fact, it seems a pair of Hawk-headed Parrots would much rather spend a great deal of their time side by side. With their mates, they preen and feed each other which is believed to strengthen their bond. Though we don’t know if these parrots are monogamous, many experts classify them as being dedicated partners. Frankly, there has not been too much research on them and most of the data about their breeding habits comes from captive specimens.

During the breeding season, the female will find a hollow tree to nest in and the pair will guard it vigorously. Once the female has laid eggs, the male will fly about the forest looking for food until the chicks are old enough to be left alone, which then the female helps partake in foraging to feed the chicks. It is an exhausting undertaking that can take roughly 10-12 weeks until the babies are weaned. Once weaned, the babies stay with their parents and learn about their environment. As they become independent many will venture off and the cycle is repeated.

When the parrots are not side by side, they spend their day looking for food. These birds are acrobatic and can be seen hanging upside-down eating fruit, berries, blossoms, seeds, and leaves. When not foraging, some will find a large branch high in the forest canopy emitting loud calls that are either contact calls, territorial calls, or mating calls. Their vocal ability can be loud at times and their song like calls can easily cut through the dense forest.

Hawk-headed Parrots in Captivity

These flamboyant creatures are not as popular as most parrots in captivity for many reasons. The main reason though is attributed to their difficult breeding habits and the myths conjured up by inexperienced bird owners.

At one time these birds were imported into the United States with no regulations. Unlike other parrots such as Brotogeris parakeets, macaws, or conures these parrots were never brought in large numbers. Rather, smaller shipments were made and accepted. Perhaps it was their elusive nature that made them difficult to trap? Whatever the reason, there were few breeders who did purchase them and spent a great deal of money obtaining pairs for breeding purposes.  Even then, once established in captivity the demand has never been large.

Of the two species found in South America, the Brazilian Hawk-headed Parrot remains a difficult, if not impossible specimen to come by in the United States. Those that did enter the country came so accidentally as they look so similar to their cousins from the north that they passed through customs. Those that did make it were placed into breeding programs and never thrived. With little genetic diversity and difficulty breeding these birds dwindled and are truly a rare site in the pet trade.

On the other hand, the smaller species from the north is somewhat abundant in captivity today. They have gradually made their way back and there is now dedicated breeders looking to keep this species abundant. Many breeders have come together and shared their knowledge and secrets of successful breeding. In doing so, now many pet owners are enjoying these marvelous creatures.

So where is the best place to find a Hawk-headed Parrot? The best place would be to look at bird shows, online classified ads, and newspapers. They can be difficult to find in pet stores as many now have been put out of business by larger retail chains who are now focusing on selling smaller birds like parakeets, lovebirds, or cockatiels.

A good place to also find a Hawk-headed Parrot would be a bird adoption agency. Many Hawk-headed Parrots need a loving home.

Hawk-headed Parrots as Pets

These birds make wonderful pets. Though they have received a bad rep in the bird community as difficult parrots, many owners of Hawk-headed Parrots will rightfully debunk this myth. These birds are not for those who have never owned a parrot as many become standoffish if ground rules have not been set from the get go. The best pets are those who have been hand fed, who have had time to imprint on their owners, and are gently molded into wonderful companions thorough positive reinforcement.   Most owners who proclaim these species to be difficult are those who have not worked with birds in general. When the bird seeks more independence and becomes sexually mature, unprepared owners are often surprised and don’t know how to deal with such changes.

If the bird should start biting, it is important the owner move their hand back and ignore all biting from their parrot. Their beaks should never be flicked, the birds should never be wobbled, or they should never be sprayed with water. If the bird becomes aggressive it is better the bird be distracted or placed back into his cage without a fuss from the owner until the moodiness has passed. There should be no scolding or eye contact too when naughty. Hawk-headed Parrots don’t understand our forms of punishment. Some of the cruel tactics mentioned above only create fearful birds that will most likely become aggressive and will resort to biting if dealt with improperly.

Over time, the bird will settle down and become a loving companion. Those who have been molded into wonderful pets will become clownish acrobatics, and a joy to be around.   They will spend countless hours with their owners’ reading books, watching television, or lounging about. They are very comical creatures and thrive for their owner’s attention. Many will quickly tilt their heads to the side and fan their napes when they are excited or amused. It becomes comical when it’s repeated over and over.

Many enjoy being petted along their necks. They enjoy being petted so much, that many will actually pet themselves when their owner’s are not present. They are very affectionate creatures, and if bonded to their owners, will tilt their heads down to let their owners know they want to be petted.

Not only are these birds loving, many are moderate talkers that talk clear if worked with. Most talk if encouraged with constant repetition and attention for their vocal abilities.

All owners looking to purchase a Hawk-headed Parrot should think about their future plans before such a bird is purchased. These birds have a long lifespan. In fact, many parrots are often re-homed several times before a permanent home is finally found. For this reason, it is wise an owner plan for children, school, or deaths before such a bird is purchased. Many owners buy these parrots on impulse and unfortunately it is the parrot who pays the price. Many owners soon find themselves re-homing due to their loud contact calls, constant care, destruction, or aggressive behavior.

Breeding Hawk-headed Parrots

If an owner wishes to breed Hawk-headed parrots they should be aware these parrots are not as easy to breed as other well-known parrot species kept in captivity. In fact, breeding these creatures might take some research and an owner should expect to run through a few trial and error breeding seasons before a successful breeding season is ever achieved. There are so many factors that create a successful breeding season such as finding a bonded pair, the environment, the diet, and a patient owner. The most important mindset to keep while trying to breed is that it is not impossible, but it may take some time to find the right pair. On a more positive note, once a breeding pair is established, the pair will breed without too much difficulty.

When the female is ready to breed she will choose a nesting box. Some owners find that their Hawk-headed Parrot prefer boot shaped nesting boxes while others swear by rectangular boxes. Whichever box is selected, it is important the female be able to go deep into the box as this is a natural instinct. Once the female feels secure enough she will lay three white eggs, each egg being laid every other day. Most Hawk-headed Parrots will begin the incubation process once the second egg is laid. The incubation is 26 days and the babies will fledge around 12 weeks of age.

If babies are going to be hand fed, they should be pulled around 18 – 20 days and sold when they are fully weaned.

Socialization should begin early and the birds should be exposed to new environments, people, and bird harnesses.

Choosing the Right Cage

These medium sized parrots need a cage large enough to accommodate their acrobatic behaviors. In the wild these birds would be swinging from branches, hanging upside down, or climbing vertical surfaces. With that information at hand, their cage should be a sanctuary that accommodates this behavior. There is nothing more disappointing than watching these creatures confined to smaller enclosures.

It’s important the cage be as large as the owner can afford. Rather than buying several cages throughout the bird’s life, it’s better to make the investment and have one that is durable and sturdy.

If possible, the cage should be powder coated or made of stainless steel. This ensures the cage will last a lifetime, be easy to clean, and will not harm the bird with metal toxicity.

The cage should be large enough for the parrot to turn around, hang upside down, and flap its wings without touching the cage sides. People looking to purchase these exotic pets should know they have strong beaks and can easily bend the bars on flimsy cages. The spacing of the bars should not be too far a part as well to ensure the parrot’s head cannot get stuck too.

A good cage will have a minimum of three doors. One for food and one for water. These bowls should be far apart as the bird will most likely make a soup of water and food. If not changed frequently, bacteria will quickly grow and possibly make the bird ill.

The main door of the cage should be large enough to remove the bird should an emergency arise, be large enough for cage cleaning, and for easily hanging toys.

The bottom of the cage should have a grill to make certain the bird does not have access to spilled food and its droppings. Most grills are roughly a few inches from the ground. Some Hawk-headed Parrots will try to grab items with their feet so owners should be aware of this.

Under the grill there should be at tray for newspaper. Most trays under the grill can easily be slid out which makes cleaning a breeze. These trays should be removed daily and disinfected.

A Play Stand

Selecting the right playstand for your parrot makes all the difference. There are many types available at your local pet shops. For example, some might rest atop the cage, while others might roll around the room. These stands should have bowls for food and water and have plenty of branches so the bird can move about.

These stands are perfect to allow the bird to stretch its wings or forage. A good play area will occupy the bird while the owner is away. These birds enjoy being out of their cage and a play stand is the perfect place to do so.

Feeding Your Parrot

These parrots need a diet that’s natural and organic. If an organic diet cannot be afforded, then all fresh produce should be washed off with warm water to remove pesticides. Foods that are also genetically modified should be avoided as well, especially soy.

These parrots do not do well on junk foods, nor highly processed foods.   These foods contain little nutritional value and are packed with salt. Just like humans, these birds can develop diseases that will shorten their life if given junk food in abundance.

A majority of their diet should be made up of complex carbohydrates that are high in vitamins and minerals. That being said, pellets should only make up roughly a fourth of the bird’s overall diet.   Don’t fall into the trap that pellets are the only food item your bird needs to remain healthy. Those messages are from pet food companies trying to sell their products. Like modern foods, they too are fortified and processed; however, they can be beneficial if given in moderation.

Every day your bird should be given random fruits and vegetables. Fruits such as mango, papaya, kiwi, apples, pears, and oranges are a favorite. If fruits are given whole, then it is important the seeds be removed as many seeds inside the fruit contain toxins.

Vegetables such as dark leafy greens are a must. These dark leafy greens are high in Vitamin A and other nutrients for proper health. What kinds of greens can you feed your parrot? Anything such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, carrot tops, cilantro, or parsley will do. Other vegetables that are enjoyed are carrots, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, or squashes.

Fruits and vegetables are important, but you can also feed your birds brown rice and quinoa. These foods are nutritious and packed with the vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Besides, these complex carbs are perfect foods to ensure these birds get adequate sources of energy.

Also feed your bird whole foods and avoid avocados, chocolate, and alcohol as these are highly poisonous.

If your Hawk-headed Parrot is fed a nutritious and balanced diet, you can well expect your bird to reach into its 40s or early 50s!

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