The Psittacara Parakeets

A general overview over the genus Psittacara

Red-throated Conure (Psittacara holochlorus rubritorquis)

"Psittacara" is the "new" Latin scientific genus name among parrots, which since spring 2013 you have had to get to know if you are interested in wedge-tailed South American parakeets (or Conures). The background for this is that the genus Aratinga, for many decades, served as a form of "collecting genus", where science originally placed a large number of different parakeet species when there was doubt as to where they could or should be classified.


Originally, the Aratinga genus was even considerably more extensive than it is now, as - to name just a few examples - the actual Conures (Pyrrhura), the Golden-plumed Conure (Leptositttaca) and the late Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis) had been alternately placed in this genus.


The American ornithologist James Lee Peters published the "Check-list of Birds of the World" in the period 1931 – 52 (often simply referred to as "Peters' Check-list"), and his classification of the Aratinga genus otherwise remained largely unchanged for over 70 years. Until quite a few years ago, the Aratinga genus also included the Golden Parakeet, which has since been classified under its own monotypic genus called Guaruba. The Golden Parakeet is thus today known under the Latin scientific species name, Guaruba guarouba, although you can still see some aviculturists offering these birds under the outdated - and thus erroneous - species name “Aratinga guarouba”.


Over recent years, scientific efforts have continued to collect, analyze and build up new knowledge about the different parrot species and their mutual kinship. New research has, in line with the fact that new technology has been made available, including various forms of DNA sequence analyses, meant that previous perceptions of how the parrot order (Psittaciformes) is structured and interrelated have had to be revised.

With the publication in the spring of 2013 of the new version of the world's leading scientific taxonomy for birds, "Howard & Moore, Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World", science has taken the consequences of this new knowledge and has, among other things, moved the group of the largest Aratinga species, which are characterized by having predominantly green plumage with larger or smaller areas of red feathers - especially on or around the head - to an independent genus named "Psittacara". These are wedge-tailed parakeets such as Red-masked Parakeet (Psittacara erythrogenys), Mitred Parakeet (Psittacara mitratus), White-eyed Parakeet (Psittacara leucophthalmus), etc. - a total of 25 species and subspecies (divided into 10 species and 15 subspecies, of which 1 is extinct), which then independently form one of South America's most species-rich genera.

Photos of Lesser Cordilleran Parakeets (Psittacara wagleri minor)

All these parakeets are therefore no longer considered to be part of the Aratinga genus, which today have become a small genus only consisting of the following 6 species:


  • Dusky-headed Parakeet (Aratinga weddellii).
  • Nanday Parakeet (Aratinga nenday).
  • Sun Parakeet (Aratinga solstitialis).
  • Sulphur-breasted Parakeet (Aratinga maculate).
  • Jandaya Parakeet (Aratinga jandaya).
  • Golden-capped Parakeet (Aratinga auricapillus).


The Aratinga genus will perhaps become even smaller next time Howard & Moore release a new version of their taxonomy as the Dusky-headed Parakeet probably will be categorized in another monotypic genus, Gymnopsittacus, with the new Latin scientific name, Gymnopsittacus weddelli. In addition, the Golden-capped Parakeet (Aratinga auricapillus) will perhaps be divided into 2 subspecies on the same occasion.


On closer inspection, this separation is actually well understood, as the species that now make up the Psittacara genus visually differ from the species that have remained in the Aratinga genus, i.a. by:


  • That - as already mentioned - they have a predominantly green plumage with larger or smaller parts of red feathers especially on or around the head (in the case of a single species, however, bluish feathers instead of red),
  • That they are quite a bit larger and stronger built than the Aratinga species such as e.g. The Sun Parakeet (Aratinga solstitialis), and
  • That their beaks - in addition to being larger than all the Aratinga species - are in all cases bright (horn-coloured) and not dark.


According to The Howard and Moore ”Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, Vol. I, 4th edition", from spring 2013 (as well as the latest version 4.1 (August 2018), "Errata and Corrigenda to Volume I", the genus Psittacara thus consists of the following species and subspecies:


The above information about the length of the individual species comes from from Joseph M. Forshaw's "Parrots of the World", however the length information for Psittacara strenuus is from the World Parrot Trust (



1) The taxonomy, the Howard and Moore "Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" is a gigantic scientific work that contains all kinds of bird species and subspecies in the world. This taxonomy is published at intervals of decades. World-leading scientists, researchers, field observers, ornithologists, etc., carry out ongoing analyses, investigations and research which demonstrate changes in the established taxonomy on the basis of new - evidence-based – scientific research results, but which, however, due to the publication intervals of the work, may take many years before it is included in a new edition of the “Checklist”. The research results will only be able to be included in the "Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World" once they have been scientifically validated, i.a. after proven scientific research, peer-to-peer reviews, etc. Such new research results have apparently been published in the form that Psittacara acuticaudatus acuticaudatus with associated 4 subspecies has been separated from the Psittacara genus in its own new, monotypic genus, the Thectocercus genus, so that the species henceforth has the scientific Latin name Thectocercus acuticaudatus spp. At the time of writing, I am not aware that the scientific basis for this change has been scientifically validated, etc. Therefore, this species is included in this article on the Psittacara genus.



BirdLife International's uses the 3 different threat categories:

  • VU = Vulnerable.
  • NT = Near treated.
  • LC = Least Concern.

Red-masked Parakeet (Psittacara erythrogenys)

The representatives of the Psittacara genus are generally characterized by being medium-sized, slender parakeets of up to approximately 40 cm in length (depending on the species/subspecies) with a long wedge-shaped tail, which is why it would be appropriate to designate the genus as "wedge-tailed" parakeets. They have a relatively large head and a very strong, usually wide - horn-coloured - bill. The upper beak has, to varying degrees, a large or small tooth cut and with small round nostrils in a narrow cere, whereas the lower beak is wide and flat and straight cut in front. The cheeks are feathered, but as a rule the species have a wide naked eye ring. The wings are quite pointed, and usually as long as the wedge-shaped tail, and they reach a little beyond the root of the tail. The tail is evenly tapered with roughly equal distances between the tips of the six pairs of tail feathers. The primaries are quite long compared to the secondaries.


The sexes look mostly the same, but the females generally appear to be somewhat more muted in colour, just as the areas with the red feather parts (where these are present) are smaller.


As something very conspicuous for this genus, both sexes have a very upright sitting position and do not rest on the metatarsal nor the tarsus.


The Psittacara genus is native to Central and South America as well as certain surrounding islands, especially in the Caribbean Sea. In nature, the various species and subspecies live in many different biotopes, which include both lowlands and mountains in subtropical or tropical areas. The birds typically live in high, dense forests, but can also be found in lowland forests, coffee plantations, etc.

Photos of Green Parakeet (Psittacara holochlorus holochlorus)

White-eyed Parakeet

(Psittacara leucophthalmus leucophthalmus)

Greater Cordilleran Parakeet

(Psittacara wagleri frontatus)

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

(Psittacara finschi)

Hispaniolan Parakeet

(Psittacara chloropterus chloropterus)

All Psittacara species are extremely noisy. They have an extremely penetrating voice, which they use very diligently, so that even the sound of the Salmon-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) in affect fades into the background. It is precisely the birds' very powerful voice that has made them less common among aviculturists over the years. Therefore, their distribution in human care is not as large as the number of species actually warrants. It is a pity, as this very great disadvantage is - in my opinion - completely offset by the fact that all these birds have a very lively and exciting behaviour, which is only rarely experienced among the Asian and Australian parakeet species. In some places, in older poultry literature, you can read that their screams diminish over time as the birds become more familiar, but this is something that I have yet to experience.


In my opinion, these species have mostly disappeared among aviculturists in the Nordics and Northern Europe. In Denmark, especially the Red-masked Parakeet (Psittacara erythrogenys) and Blue-crowned Parakeet (Psittacara acuticaudatus spp./ Thectocercus acuticaudatus spp.) were quite widespread back in the 1960’s, but this is by no means the case anymore. On the other hand, some of the Psittacara species are still seen in southern European countries and in South America, where they are kept as pet birds in small cages, as they are very easy to learn, and even are able to learn to imitate human language, and like to be petted and stroked over their plumage and carried around sitting on their owner's shoulder.


It is historically conditional that you mainly see the Psittacara species in the Latin - including not least Spanish-speaking - countries kept as pet birds, as there is a link back to the colonial era, when Spain in particular was a major colonial power. Already centuries ago, Spain carried out overseas trade after they had ravaged the "new" world through bloody conquests. Nowadays, the Psittacara species have been supplanted by some other - also noisy - but more brightly coloured South American parakeets, typically the brightly coloured Sun Parakeet (Aratinga solstitialis) which over recent years has become quite popular among aviculturists that are interested in the South American parrot species.


Many of the Psittacara species of those remaining in human care are kept both as aviary birds or pet birds, and in English they are often called conures instead of parekeets, a designation that in my opinion should really be reserved for the genus Pyrrhura.


The Psittacara species are easy to care for and can make good breeding birds once a pair finally is established. They are generally hardy birds that can also be kept in aviaries at low temperatures, but they should always have the option of being able to enter a heated interior during the winter months in the northern hemisphere. They are excellent good fliers and therefore require good space in an aviary.


They quickly become familiar with their owner, when the owner walks around them with slow movements and speaks softly and occasionally gives out treats.


The Psittacara species can be characterized through words such as:


  • Fun.
  • Present.
  • Curious.
  • Attentive.
  • Great personality.
  • Very active.
  • Entertaining.

Bolivian Mitred Parakeet

(Psittacara mitratus mitratus)

It has also not gone unnoticed by Hollywood that the Psittacara species are intelligent birds that can be extremely tame. The world-renowned American film producer and director Steven Spielberg also had an eye on that several years ago. Through his film company, DreamWorks SKG, he back in 1998 published a feature film for the whole family, which was built around one of these species. The film was marketed under the title, "Paulie", and the lead role was played by a Blue-crowned Parakeet (Psittacara acuticaudatus spp./ Thectocercus acuticaudatus spp.). The film demonstrates how intelligent - and funny - birds belonging to this genus really are, although in usual Hollywood style a number of film tricks are of course also used and the main role was probably also filled with several different birds that each know their own tricks.

Even outside the breeding season, there is a close interaction between the male and female in a pair, as they e.g. groom each other's plumage, so also in this area they differ from many Asian and Australian parakeets, which often show much lesser interactive social behaviour.


Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to experience feather picking as a problem among the Psittacara species. It is a problem that has been observed among the various species even before systematic commercial hand-rearing of baby parrots unfortunately became widespread. Many of these birds, who are quite curious by nature and need to investigate everything, develop these habits if they are not offered the right conditions. Instead, the birds are often kept in small cages without any offer of behavioural enrichment, which can give rise to stereotyped behaviour, feather picking and other unhappy habits. All the Psittacara species are by nature very active and have a great need to move and gnaw on everything. With their often proportionately large beaks, they can easily destroy woodwork and perches, just as they also do not hold back from gnawing away at the plaster of a brick wall.


I human care, you rarely see these parekeets staying on the ground of the aviary, which must be attributed to their way of life in the wild, where most species like to stay in tall, dense forest. On the other hand, many of these birds, like another acrobat, prefer to hang up under the net ceiling in the aviary with their heads down, and in this position, they can even consume food, e.g. grapes.


In nature, the diet consists of fruits, seeds, insects. Their nest is usually placed in the hollows of trees. All Psittacara species are distinct rodents and can gnaw large holes in even fresh wood in a short time. They climb deftly and fly amazingly fast and elegantly, but as already mentioned, stay very reluctantly on the ground and do not come there at all if it can be avoided. In human care, it is therefore recommended that their food is preferably placed suspended in the wire mesh of the aviary.


Psittacara species are generally quite well off in the wild, with relatively few species/subspecies under pressure due to habitat loss (biotopes) and persecution due to their attacks on crops, which are the two biggest threats to these birds. The birds are used for local and international trade, but according to BirdLife International, only 12 captured wild individuals were reported in the international trade in the period 1991-1995 for the Hispaniolan Parakeet (Psittacara chloropterus). In the Dominican Republic, the natural home of this species, it has therefore been legally protected from hunting and trapping, but to my knowledge the legislation has not been properly enforced. The authorities have also tried to mobilize the population in relevant areas through education to take a shared responsibility for protecting this species in the wild. On the other hand, according to BirdLife International, the most beautiful species, Mitred Parakeet (Psittacara mitratus spp.), has been the subject of extensive trade since 1981, when it was listed on CITES, Appendix II.

Bolivian Mitred Parakeet

(Psittacara mitratus mitratus)

For a more detailed presentation of one of the Psittacara species - the most beautiful in my opinion - Mitred Parakeet (Psittacara mitratus spp.) - please refer to the article under the "Mini portraits" tab.

This article is accompanied by a number of my own photographs of some of the species/subspecies of the Psittacara genus, and I hope that you will enjoy them.

Jorgen Petersen

Conceived/Updated: 23.11.2014 / 27.01.2024