Old World Aviaries

Hawk-headed Parrots

by Scott Lewis

(Editor's note: We thank Catherine Dobbins for the wonderful photos of her Pickle Bird.) Catherine Dobbins' Pickle Bird

Hawk-headed Parrots, Deroptyus accipitrinus, are native to the Amazon basin. According to Forshaw (Parrots of the World), Hawk-heads inhabit undisturbed lowland rain forests on higher ground and tend to avoid flooded forests, forest margins, and clearings. They feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, leaf buds, and vegetable matter. They congregate in small groups.

Relatively small, Hawk-headed Parrots are 31–35cm long and weigh 190–274g, again according to Forshaw. That is, they are about the size of Timneh Greys but are not as stocky. They are striking birds with buff-white crown and forehead, cheeks brown streaked with white, nape and hind neck dark red edged with blue, green backs and wings, and breast and abdomen dark red edged with blue.

The crest or ruff configuration of the Hawk-head is unique in parrots. When a Hawk-head is excited or angry, the ruff is raised in a fringe that surrounds the back of the head. Hawk-heads are the only psittacines other than cockatoos that have a crest that they can control.

According to Low (The Complete Book of Parrots), Hawk-headed Parrots are not easy to breed. They lay two or three eggs and incubate 26 days. Babies fledge at about 9 weeks. Hawk-heads in breeding situations can be extremely aggressive towards both aviculturists and mates. Hawk-heads have been known to kill mates, even in pairs that appear to be closely bonded. We have observed both males and females in nest boxes that make Eclectus hens guarding their eggs and babies look like fuzzy cuddle bunnies. Open the inspection door and all you see is a crest surrounding a beak trying to eat your face! This potential for aggression should be seriously considered if you are thinking about breeding Hawk-heads. However, a compatible pair of Hawk-heads can be dependable producers and a delightful addition to the aviary.

Although reported to be capable of being extremely noisy, we have not noticed this. We have noticed one of the prettiest calls of parrots with which we are familiar, more like that of a song bird than a typical parrot. However, Hawk-heads do have a shrill cry, which sounds like eeeya eeeya eeeya and carries well. (Note that noisiness is relative. A bird that is not especially noisy to an aviculturist may be perceived as being very noisy by others who don't spend their days with many birds of different species.)Pickle Bird again.

Again according to Low, “Hand-reared young are delightful, as tame Hawk-heads can be endearingly affectionate.” We know of five sexually mature Hawk-heads that are companion birds. Two are reported to be highly aggressive toward those to whom they are not bonded, although they are wonderful with those to whom they are bonded. Three are reported to be friendly with multiple people and other birds. So, we suspect that, as with most psittacines, proper socialization is the key.

Hawk-headed Parrots are relatively rare in U.S. aviculture. Typical breeder prices for weaned babies range from $1400 to $2000.

From owners

Scott Repogle reports: I own four birds. I started with a cockatiel. Then, I purchased a Blue-fronted Amazon. Next came my Maroon-bellied Conure. Then finally, came Renfield Greyson my Hawk-headed Parrot. All my birds are males.

All my birds mean the world to me. Renfield is somehow different, however. When I purchased him about 3 years ago, I had no idea how different Hawk Heads are.

At night Renfield delights in perching on my shoulder sighing with contentment. He soaks in each stroke of his feathers. He will wedge his head between my neck and the back of the chair and "run in place" as if he just can't get close enough to me. Once in a while I'll put him on a perch with my Amazon, and Renfield drives him crazy trying to get ever closer. In fact, my Amazon has to "leap frog" over Renfield to get to the other side of the perch when he has had enough togetherness and needs space.

Sometimes, the sliding door on the food station does not close while I'm feeding Renfield, and he escapes in short order. Or I'll leave the main door to the cage slightly ajar and watch as he makes his exit. I let him think he is pulling a fast one. As soon as he gets out, he makes haste to the other bird cages, never staying on his own. When he is on ground level he acts like a hound dog tearing after a scent trail.

While on his perch he will act like a paranoid clown; jerking up and down, eyes bugging out of his head, head feathers erect while making a mutant sound he picked up somewhere. He'll do the same thing hanging upside down on his bamboo swing and from the inside of his cage, especially when I walk in first thing in the morning.

He does speak but in a garbled fashion. And he seems to enjoy it, or at least the attention he gets as a result. He can laugh like the best of them. His natural vocalizations remind me of shore birds.

Renfield needs and allows me to handle and stroke him without reprisals. He can't wait for me to scratch him under his wings and behind his head. It took a while for him to train me when he was going to bite using the nut cracker he has for a beak. I once stuck my head in his cage first thing in the morning to say hello and was met with a paper punch to the lip. From then on, I have been persistent with him even during the characteristic "hissing sound" he makes when he gets excited. Now, as we have developed our bond and training has had success, I haven't been bitten in a long time.

I assume my little guy is typical for the breed so to me Hawk Heads are a true gift.

Catherine Dobbins reports: I generally take one of the birds with me when I go back to Tennessee to visit my family. This summer it was Picklebird's turn. He just loves me and is the only one of my three birds that I will let sit on my shoulder because of his total lack of ever biting me. He will lie so sweetly on his back for me to nuzzle him and kiss his tummy! He's a little cuddle bird with me.

It's amazing that this little featherpuff made the instant decision that he didn't like most of my family! He was truly fascinating to watch over the week. He's such a conniver and would talk and call to people to try to lure them over to his cage because he wanted to attack them! He will talk more when a stranger is there that he doesn't like than when people he likes are around--just the total opposite of my grey. His behavior seems to be much like that of amazons--you can tell exactly what he has in mind by his flared tail and wings (crest up doesn't tell you his intentions--it's the tail). He would be sitting there in his cage with his crest up, tail flared, wings slightly out, sweetly saying hi, making kissing noises, meowing, saying his name, etc. as he tried to lure his prey over to his cage for the attack! If he was out with me on the couch, he would be intently watching whoever he had selected as his prey and trying to figure out ways to get over to them to attack them. (Jumping over to the computer keyboard or over to a chair to go after them, and if he couldn't get them, he'd bite the nearest object in frustration.) He's fully into the "if you can't bite the one you want, then bite the one you're with" camp. He gave me one of my worst parrot bites ever, which was meant for my sister who was nearby.

I've decided that hawk heads are direct descendants of velociraptors--smart, agile, aggressive on the attack--look at Jurassic Park and you'll see just what Mr. Picklebird looks like on the attack--just like a little velociraptor running across the floor to attack his prey!

Now that we've been home, he's completely back to his sweet self with me. However, after my Tennessee adventure with him (he's been invited NOT to come back!), I would be too afraid to ever have him flighted. He would be a "vicious, kamikaze bird on the attack" if he were flighted because when he was in that attack mode, he absolutely could not be distracted.

Man, they are a "walk on the wild side" and those jungle genes are pretty close to the surface in them! In spite of it all, I just love the little guy to pieces! But I do have a whole new appreciation for the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde potential in him.

A youngster in Old World Aviaries' nursery.

Links to more information on Hawk-headed Parrots:

Lexicon of Parrots

Hawk-headed Parrots

Winged Wisdom Pet Bird Magazine - Hawk-headed Parrots, exotic pet birds - Beautiful & Affectionate Birds

Hawk-headed Parrot

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