Basic Information Sheet: Pionus

Pionus spp.

Scaly-headed Pionus

Natural history

Pionus spp. parrots are native to regions of Mexico, Central America, and/or South America. The specific range varies with the species (Table 1).4-7,13,15,18

Table 1. Geographic range of select Pionus parrots 11,13,15,18
SpeciesSouth AmericaCentral AmericaMexico
Scaly-headed parrot (Pionus maximiliani)Northern Argentina, through Bolivia and Paraguay to eastern Brazil
Bronze-winged parrot (P. chalcopterus)NW Venezuela,
western Columbia, Ecuador, NW Peru
White-headed parrot (P. seniloides)Mountains of western Venezuela through western Columbia into Andes in Ecuador to NW Peru
Dusky parrot (P. fuscus)Extreme northern South America, including SE Venezuela, Guyana and NE Brazil
Blue-headed parrot (P. menstruus)Northern South America (Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, SE Brazil, N Bolivia) except the AndesCosta Rica, Panama
White-crowned parrot (P. senilis)East coast of central America to Costa Rica and western Panama Eastern Mexico (mainly Caribbean slope)


Class: Aves

Order: Psittaciformes

Tribe: Arini = New World parrots

Family: Psittacidae

Blue-breasted parrot (Pionus reichenowi)

Blue-headed, blue-hooded, or red-vented parrot (Pionus menstruus)

P. m. menstruus

P. m. rubrigularis (smaller, duller blue, some have red on throat)

P. m. reichenowi (deeper, more extensive blue coloration; horn-colored beak)

Bronze-winged parrot (P. chalcopterus)

Dusky or violet parrot (P. fuscus)

Red or coral-billed parrot (P. sordidus)

Scaly-headed (Maximilian’s) parrot (P. maximiliani)*

Subspecies vary mainly in the color of their upper breast

P. m. melanoblepharus (upper breast mainly darker blue)

P. m. siy (reddish purple)

P. m. lacerus (bluer reddish-purple)

Speckle-faced or plum-crowned parrot (P. tumultuosus)

White-headed, white-capped, or Massena’s parrot (P. seniloides)**

White-crowned parrot (P. senilis)

*Maximilian’s Pionus is a reference to Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, a nobleman and naturalist who explored southeastern Brazil in the early 19th century.21

** The white-headed or Massena’s parrot has sometimes been described as a subspecies of the plum-crowned parrot: Pionus tumultuosus seniloides (Warden). Some, more recent classification schemes list the white-headed parrot separately as P. seniloides.2

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List describes the blue-headed parrot (P. menstruus) population to be stable. The blue-headed parrot is common in a wide range of habitats over an immense area.15,18 Unfortunately, the populations of many other Pionus spp. are decreasing (Table 2). Although many species have a Red List assessment of “least concern”, the blue-breasted parrot (P. reichenowi) is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.14

When compared to other South American parrots, Pionus spp. are not as common in the pet trade 3, however the blue-headed parrot (Pionus menstruus), white-crowned parrot (P. senilis), dusky parrot (P. fuscus), and bronze-winged parrot (P. chalcopterus) are relatively popular companion birds in the United States.3,4,6,16,22,24 The scaly-headed parrot (P. maximiliani) is also fairly common.7,16,18,22,24 Other Pionus spp., such as the red-billed parrot (P. sordidus), speckle-faced parrot (P. tumultuosus), and white-headed parrot (P. seniloides), are relatively uncommon to rare in aviculture.16,18

Physical description

Pionus parrots are often described as “small Amazon parrots” because of their stocky builds and often short, square tails.4-7, These medium-sized parrots have a prominent, featherless cere, and a relatively large bill.3, Compared to some psittacine species, their coloration is often quite subdued or subtle, however, under bright lighting, their feathers shimmer with iridescence. Many Pionus also have large, bare eye rings and all species possess bright red undertail coverts.4-7,

Table 2. Physical characteristics of select Pionus parrots 1,3-7,11,15,18,20,24
Pionus speciesBlue-headedBronze-wingedDuskyScaly-headedWhite-crowned
Click thumbnail image to enlargeBlue-headed pionusBronze-winged pionusDusky pionus Maximillian or scaly-headed parrotWhite-crowned Parrot
Body weight
(average) grams
230-260 4,18,24
234-295 3
180-210 5,18
265-275 24
180-230 3,6,18,24180-210 7
230-293 3,18,24
180 18
220-230 3,24
cm (in)
Overall Bright green body, deep blue headMostly dark blue-green or blueish-purple; green with bronze backMainly dark, brownish-grayVarying shades of green, feathers are edged with bluish-grayMostly dark green and dark blue
Head Bright sapphire blue Green head; deep blue crown, back of head, upper head; pale chin patchDull blue-gray with red patch at base of the bill and purplish blue chinPrimarily brownish-green head feathers edged in gray to blue creating a subtle “scaly” appearanceDark blue with white forehead and crown
Dark colored with red-pink patches at the base on either side of the upper billPale yellow Dark gray with a yellow patch at the base of the upper bill Most birds having a two-tone or mottled beak: yellowish horn turning to dark gray at the base, pale tipYellow or pale-colored
Eye ring Blue-tingedBare pinkish eye ring becomes dark peach to pink-orange (coral) in adults PaleLight coloredWhite to pale pink becoming pink-orange (coral) in adults
Ear covertsBlackDark blue to blackBlack with streaky pale patch
GreenDark blue
ThroatBright sapphire blue with a pink-red base White throat patch above variable pinkish-red patches; upper neck is deep blue
Indistinct or streaked dusky white to pinkish collar
Bluish-purple band running across ventral throat
White patch
BreastUpper breast is green, tinged with olive brown and blue edging Upper parts of breast dark blue; pale pink to dark peach and orange on upper breast
Brown barred with wine red or reddish-blueBecoming lighter and more bronze-brown along ventrum
Dark green (upper breast) to bluish green (lower breast)
Undertail covertsBright red tipped with greenBright redPurplish red
(tail feathers are also red below with a blue band)

Bright red Pinkish-red
TailCobalt blueBright violetGreen
WingsGreenDark bronze-green with iridescent aqua blue underwing covertsBlue flight feathers with iridescent silver blue underwing coverts
Green with bronze shoulder patches in some individuals Olive shoulder patch

Juvenile Similar coloring with much less blue, some red on forehead Less colorful than adults, dark blue-green with paler brown upper wing coverts, may have some red on the forehead and under the chinLess obvious patches on the cheeks, may have some red on forehead; little or no streaky patch on neck; green on secondaries as well as flight feathers coverts
Less extensive blue on throat, less distinct margins on head Narrow white band on forehead, green head faintly tinged blue; yellow-green undertail coverts chin, throat, breast/ yellowish-green undertail coverts

Normal physiologic values

Lifespan25-40 years, maximum 13,16,23
Puberty1.5-4 years 16
Body weight (average), grams 18Coral-billed or sordid parrot
White-headed or Massena’s parrot
Plum-crowned parrot250
See Physical Description above


MusculoskeletalAs seen in other members of Order Psittaciformes, the Pionus parrot possesses a zygodactyl foot with two toes pointed back and two toes pointed forward.
GastrointestinalThe normal Pionus spp. bill is longer than most other parrot bills, extending almost to the base of the lower bill or gnathotheca.3,13 The upper bill or rhinotheca also has a distinct notch.3

As seen in other members Order Psittaciformes:

  • The tongue contains intrinsic muscles.

  • The craniofacial hinge of the beak is a synovial joint.

  • Ceca are absent.

  • The gall bladder is absent.

RespiratoryAn interesting characteristic of Pionus spp. is the Pionus “snarfle, snuffle”, or wheeze, which is exhibited when individuals become upset or frightened.3,16 This display can be misinterpreted as a clinical sign of respiratory disease, but these clinical signs disappear when the bird once again feels safe and secure (see Behavior below for additional information).16,22,23

Pionus possess a prominent naked cere.3

As seen in other members of Order Psittaciformes, the right and left nasal sinuses communicate in Pionus spp.
IntegumentaryPionus parrots have a distinctive musky (or sweet) odor, that often becomes more prominent during the breeding season.3,16 It has been theorized that this odor serves to attract insects to the nest.16

The uropygial or preen gland is absent in the Pionus parrot.19

See Preventive Medicine (below) for grooming tips.
ReproductiveTo the human eye, Pionus spp. are sexually monomorphic.

The age of sexual maturity ranges between 1.5-4 years.16 The breeding age is approximately 3-5 years for blue-headed, scaly-headed, and dusky parrots.4,6,7 Breeding occurs one to two times per year.16

Both male and female birds may cannibalize young in the nest when the parents are visually threatened by larger neighboring species or if the parent birds are stressed by too-frequent nest-box inspection by human care takers or by the presence of predators or vermin.22
Pionus parrot neonatology vital statistics 4-7,16,18
SpeciesClutch size (ave) Incubation (days)Weight of newly hatched chick (g)Fledging (weeks)
Scaly-headed3-4 7
4-5 18

Dusky 424-2699-10


A healthy diet for a companion Pionus parrot should consist of a formulated diet, supplemented with fresh, vitamin A-rich vegetables and some fruit.22 If table food is offered, the owner should be particularly cautious of dietary fat intake.22 Clinically, these birds are similar to Amazon parrots as they may be prone to obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and other adverse effects associated with high dietary fat.22

A study of free-ranging scaly-headed parrots in Brazil found their diet consisted mostly of native seeds (70.4%), followed by flowers (20.3%), corn from farms near their forest habitat, and fruit pulp.12


Although the enclosure should be as large as possible, at minimum, a Pionus parrot should be provided with a medium-sized parrot cage measuring at least 50 x 60 x 100 cm (20 x 24 x 40 inches).16 Bar spacing should be 2.2 cm (7/8-in) for most Pionus species.16 Smaller birds, such as dusky parrots and white-crowned parrots, should have no more than 1.8 cm (3/4-in) space between bars.16

Bathing is a favorite activity and daily misting, showers, or baths is recommended.



Pionus parrots tend to have a gentle disposition.3,13,16,23 Pionus have a reputation for being relatively quiet, or least less noisy than larger parrots, but of course Pionus spp. are capable of making loud vocalizations, particularly during the early morning and late afternoon hours or during the breeding season.4-7,16,22,23 Males are believed to be more vocal than females.16 The dusky parrot is also thought to be the noisiest of Pionus spp.3

Pionus also tend to be shy birds.4-7,13 They are often nervous in a hospital setting but are generally not as aggressive or territorial as mature Amazon parrots.17,22

Pionus parrots are relatively independent companion birds.16 They usually do not seek or accept a large amount of handling or cuddling.16 The scaly-headed parrot is believed to be the most sedate or easy going Pionus species.16 The white-crowned parrot (Pionus senilis) may be the most aggressive Pionus spp., requiring a more experienced owner.3,16

As with most psittacine birds, aggression may be more likely to occur during the breeding season.16 An aggressive Pionus may ‘strut’, fanning its tail feathers and raising its head feathers as it slowly stalks back and forth.16 A bird exhibiting this display may bite if approached.16

Response to stress

Pionus parrots are unique among parrots in their response to external stressors.16 When frightened or upset, Pionus produce respiratory noises that can be misinterpreted as snorting and snuffling, wheezing, rattling, hyperventilation, or dyspnea but these signs resolve within minutes when the stressful stimulus is removed.3,16,22 These sounds can be disconcerting for even the experienced avian veterinarian 3, but there should be no nasal discharge or other physical signs of disease.22 This respiratory noise is also produced with the mouth closed.17,23


Pionus parrots are considered intelligent birds but they are not considered the “best talkers”.13,16,23 These birds tend to mimic household sounds or repeat words in a somewhat garbled fashion.13,16 Pionus spp. may also speak in “an exceptionally soft voice”.16 Among Pionus spp., scaly-headed, dusky, and white-crowned parrots are often considered the best talkers.3


Pionus may be restrained by holding the head between index and middle fingers. Support the body with palm of the hand as well as the thumb and little finger. Beware of the Pionus “snuffle” (See Behavior above).


Use a 25-gauge needle and 1 to 3-ml syringe to draw blood from the right jugular vein. Collection of up to 1% of body weight is acceptable in healthy patients.

Important medical conditions

Non-infectious disease

As in Amazon parrots, obesity or malnutrition is a common disorder in Pionus spp.4-7,16,22 Hepatic lipidosis may develop, which can progress to cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver.22

Like any neotropical parrot, Pionus parrots are also susceptible to respiratory aspergillosis.4-7,16,22

Infectious diseases

Depending on environmental conditions, sinus infections and chronic upper respiratory disease can be common, particularly when the diet is deficient in vitamin A.4-7,22 Bacterial, fungal, and mycoplasma infections are all common causes of chronic upper respiratory diseases in Pionus parrots.22

Like other New World psittacine birds, Pionus spp. are susceptible to Chlamydophila.4-7,16,22

Reported conditions

  • A non-Candida albicans species, C. krusei, was identified in six birds exhibiting clinical signs associated with diarrhea, regurgitation, and melena, including one white-crowned parrot.9
  • Mycobacteriosis involving the gastrointestinal tract is reportedly seen with greatest frequency in Pionus and Amazona species.10
  • Fatal proventricular dilatation disease was described in one captive scaly-headed parrot in Brazil.8
  • Prior to 1992 when psittacine birds were commonly imported (or smuggled) into the United States, avian pox virus was a very common finding in Pionus parrots.4-7,22
  • Avian polyomavirus infection is often fatal in pre-weaning aged chicks.22
  • Feather damaging behavior 4-7
  • Toe necrosis 4-7

Preventive medicine

For additional information, visit the review article Grooming Companion Birds and the RACE-approved webinar recording Flight Mechanics and Ethical Concerns.

  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings: avian polyomavirus and chlamydiosis.
  • Determine the origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Birds housed in large groups or aviaries are at higher risk of Pacheco’s disease virus and use of the vaccine may be indicated.
  • The avian polyomavirus vaccine is recommended for breeding populations.



1. Avibase. Blue-headed parrot (Pionus menstruus). Avibase web site. Available at Accessed June 25, 2022.

2. BirdLife International. Species factsheet: Pionus seniloides. BirdLife International IUCN Red List for birds. 2022. Available at Accessed on June 25, 2022.

3. Briscoe JA. The basics of pet parrot taxonomy and temperament. Proc Annu Conf Association of Avian Veterinarians; 2007.

4. Clubb S. Blue-headed Pionus. Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics website. Available at,and%20adults%20are%20dark%20brown. Accessed June 26, 2022.

5. Clubb S. Bronze-winged Pionus. Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics website. Available at Accessed June 26, 2022.

6. Clubb S. Dusky Pionus. Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics website. Available at Accessed June 26, 2022.

7. Clubb S. Maximilian’s Pionus. Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics website. Available at Accessed June 26, 2022.

8. Donatti RV, Resende M, Ferreira FC, et al. Fatal proventricular dilatation disease in captive native psittacines in Brazil. Avian Dis. 2014;58(1):187-93. doi: 10.1637/10588-061013-Case.1. PMID: 24758135.

9. Donnelly KA, Wellehan JFX Jr, Quesenberry K. Gastrointestinal disease associated with non-albicans Candida species in six birds. J Avian Med Surg. 2019;33(4):413-418. doi: 10.1647/2018-419. PMID: 31833310.

10. Fitzgerald B. Common gastrointestinal diseases of companion parrots. Wild West Veterinary Conference 2018.

11. Forshaw JM. Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2010: 274-277.

12. Galetti M. Diet of the scaly-headed parrot (Pionus maximiliani) in a semideciduous forest in southeastern Brazil. Biotropica. 1993;25(4):419-425.

13. Grindol D. Stop and smell the Pionus. Bird Talk Dec1999: 46-47.

14. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Pionus. IUCN Red List. Available at Accessed on June 12, 2022.

15. Juniper T, Parr M. Parrots: A Guide to the Parrots of the World. Bloomsbury. London: A&C Black Publishers; 2001: 194-196.

16. Leck SL. What every veterinarian needs to know about Pionus parrots. Exotic DVM. 2001;3(2):38-40.

17. Lightfoot TL. Avian behavior in the animal hospital. Western Veterinary Conference 2002.

18. Low R. Parrots in Aviculture: A Photo Reference Guide. Pickering, Ontario: Silvio & Mattacchione & Co. 1992: 238-245.

19. Meredith A. Avian dermatology – non-feather plucking diseases in birds. Proc UPAV/AAVAC 2013. p. 174.

20. Myers S. Aviculture of Pionus parrots: breeding, care and personality. AFA Watchbird Sep/Oct 1996: 26-27.

21. Noll MG. Prince Maximilian’s America: The narrated landscapes of a German explorer and naturalist. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis). University of Kansas. Lawrence, KS. Available at Accessed June 25, 2022.

22. Rich GA. Syndromes and conditions of parrotlets, Pionus parrots, Poicephalus, and mynah birds. Semin Avian Exotic Pet Med. 2003;12(3):144-148.

23. Spadafori G, Speer BL. Birds for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing; 1999.

24. Warden M. Pionus parrots: One of aviculture’s most underrated treasures. AFA Watchbird. 2009; 36(1-2):31-35.

Further reading

Harcourt-Brown N. Development of the skeleton and feathers of dusky parrots (Pionus fuscus) in relation to their behaviour. Vet Rec. 2004 Jan 10;154(2):42-8. doi: 10.1136/vr.154.2.42. PMID: 14758829.

Holsback L, Lahm Cardoso MJ, Fagnani R, Constantion Patelli TH. Natural infection by endoparasites among free-living wild animals. Rev Bras Parasitol Vet. 2013;22(2):302-6. doi: 10.1590/S1984-29612013005000018. PMID: 23778826.

Kabakchiev C, Laniesse D, James F, et al. Diagnosis and long-term management of post-traumatic seizures in a white-crowned pionus (Pionus senilis). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2020; 256(10):1145-1152. doi: 10.2460/javma.256.10.1145. PMID: 32364458.

Kabakchiev C, Plattner B, Beaufrere H. Surgical treatment of cranial thoracic masses in a white-capped Pionus and yellow-headed Amazon. Proc Annu Conf Association of Avian Veterinarians; 2018: 455.

Lallo MA, Calábria P, Milanelo L. Encephalitozoon and Enterocytozoon (microsporidia) spores in stool from pigeons and exotic birds: Microsporidia spores in birds. Vet Parasitol. 2012;190(3-4):418-22. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2012.06.030. Epub 2012 Jul 3. PMID: 22853863.

Lowenstine LJ, Joyner K, Fowler M. Lymphoplasmacytic encephalitis, myelitis and meningitis in a group of Pionus spp. parrots. Proc 34th West Poult Dis Conf 1985. Pp. 25-28.

Morales A, Sibrián X, Porras FD. Survey of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) in Guatemalan neotropical psittacine birds. J Avian Med Surg. 2021;35(3):325-332. doi: 10.1647/20-00042. PMID: 34677031.

Roth, Herman Josef, Westerwald und Amerika–Prinz Maximilian zu Wied: Jäger, Forscher, Reisender. Montabaur: Verlag der Museen des Westerwaldkreises, 1995.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Pionus. LafeberVet web site. July 17, 2022. Available at