What to Know About Parrotlets

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 29, 2022

You may be familiar with the large, talking green bird known as a parrot. There's another parrot type called parrotlet, which is much smaller than the birds you’re familiar with. Parrotlets can also talk and be taught tricks. Their intelligent nature makes them great pets for families

Parrotlets have humanlike abilities to talk and can be pretty talkative. Studies have shown that they first learn how to speak from their parents, similar to how human babies learn to talk.

These little birds are so interesting and make great pets with the right environment and care.

Parrotlets are small but fearless. Their mighty behavior earned them the nickname “pocket parrot”. The birds are very smart and can get into trouble when they’re unsupervised out of their cage. Like other pets, they need enrichment activities, which often happen outside the cage. 

Make sure you keep an eye on them with other animals because parrotlets are territorial. They can act out against other birds and should be physically separate from other birds in your household. You’ll also need to monitor how they interact with other pets

An interesting thing about these birds is that when they fly and flap their wings, they’re moving them in small whirlpool-like movements. They use this type of wing movement to save energy for other activities. Their evolved wing flapping helps them spend more energy on foraging in the wild and increases their survival rate.

Parrotlets are beautiful birds. Their striking colors, intelligent yet playful demeanor, and long lifespan make them a top choice for pets. 

Parrotlets generally live long lives. The typical parrotlet lifespan is between 15 and 20 years. However, in captivity, some parrotlets have been known to live for up to 25 years. The lifespan varies, but they typically live longer than pets like cats and dogs. 

Parrotlet colors. The most recognizable parrotlet is primarily green with shades of yellow. This parrotlet would be the female. Male parrotlet colors include striking blues on their wings, back end, and heads. There are various types of parrotlets, so they’re typically identified by their colors. The females can be harder to identify due to the subtle detail differences.

Parrotlet types. Seven species of parrotlets exist. These are some of the smallest types of parrots. The seven parrotlet species are: 

  • Green-rumped
  • Pacific
  • Blue-winged
  • Spectacles
  • Mexican
  • Sclater’s (Dusky-billed)
  • Yellow-faced

Of the seven parrotlet types, many have other subspecies. These birds are mainly found in South America. This includes countries like Columbia, Brazil, and Venezuela. The only parrotlets not from South America are the Mexican parrotlets native to northwestern Mexico and the Tres Marias Islands. 

Another parrotlet characteristic you need to be aware of is their vocal range. When they’re learning to speak, they don’t know their limits. Some species of parrotlets can learn words they hear without being taught. They’re able to pick up on certain words and phrases. 

This means they need to be taught limits and learn the owner-pet dynamic. Parrotlets can learn up to hundreds of words, and their high-pitched voices are easy to understand.

Caring for a parrotlet can be a little tricky. They need constant supervision when not in their cage, they require routine medical care, and they also need playtime and a well-rounded diet. 

Keeping your parrotlet’s wings clipped is essential. This is something you can get done at the vet. Clipping their wings doesn’t impact their overall ability to fly, but it does restrict their likelihood of flying off and escaping or roaming around in dangerous situations. 

A proper parrotlet diet consists of pellets, low-fat seed mix including millet, barley, and greens, and fresh vegetables, grains, and fruits. Your bird’s diet should be about half fresh vegetables and fruits and half a mix of pellets and low-fat seeds. 

Some fresh food options for your parrotlet include:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Banana
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green leaves
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Seed grasses

These birds also need access to clean, fresh containers of water. It’s important to refresh their water at least twice a day. 

Caring for your parrotlets also includes giving them plenty of toys to play with. Most enjoy leather toys or wood and rope toys. They need something they can climb on and play with. 

There are some things you need to make sure your parrotlet avoids. Avoid giving your parrotlet access to ceiling fans, sandpaper-covered perches, cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated wood shavings. It's best to always supervise your parrotlet around other pets and children to make sure no one gets hurt. 

You’ll also want to keep your bird from being poisoned by toxic houseplants and pesticides. Human foods like chocolate, avocado, and salt can harm parrotlets.

These tiny birds need plenty of room to roam around and play. If you have one parrotlet, they need a cage big enough to make space for their toys, food, and water. Make sure the bars aren’t spaced out more than a half inch. You don’t want your bird's head getting stuck in the cage. 

Give your parrotlet a space to perch that’s comfortable for their feet. You can buy natural wood perches made out of eucalyptus or manzanita. Don’t use sandpaper because it can cut the bottom of their feet. 

Parrotlets don’t need direct sunlight. To make sure they’re comfortable in their cage, make sure they’re out of the sun and away from any cold drafts. At nighttime, make sure their cage is covered to give them total darkness. They need at least 12 hours of dark a night.

Parrotlets might be the perfect choice if you're looking for a bird to add to your family. They're best on their own since they can become possessive and act out against another bird. 

Just because they live in solitude doesn't mean they're not playful creatures. They have a lot of energy and can spend hours playing in their cage. That's why they need plenty of space to swing, climb, and forage around.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
The Alaska Bird Club: “Bird of the Month: May 2009.”
American Federation of Aviculture: “Identifying Forpus Parrotlets.”
Animal Humane Society: “Parrotlet care.”
Audubon: “A Tiny Parrot Wearing Goggles Is Teaching Scientists How Birds Fly.”
Science: “Parrotlet Chicks Learn Their Calls From Mom and Dad.”
Science Advances: “How birds direct impulse to minimize the energetic cost of foraging flight.”
World Parrot Trust: “Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus).”

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