Plain parakeet Brotogeris tirica, copyright Ben Tavener.

Belongs within: Psittacidae.

Little green parrots
Published 19 March 2024

The continent of South America is justly renowned for its parrots. The Neotropics are home to an abundance of parrot species, all of them now recognised as belonging to the subfamily Arinae. Among the most famous of the arines are their larger representatives, such as the macaws and the amazons. Less attention has devolved on some of the smaller species, but these are certainly not without their charms. Consider, for instance, the green parakeets of the genus Brotogeris.

Orange-chinned parakeets Brotogeris jugularis, copyright Liam O’Brien.

Eight species of Brotogeris are recognised from lowland forests of northern South America and southern Central America (Ribas et al. 2009). They may also be found in open country adjacent to forests, so long as they still have access to the tree hollows in which they nest. The centre of diversity for the genus is in the Amazon basin, home to the canary-winged parakeet B. versicolorus, cobalt-winged parakeet B. cyanoptera, golden-winged parakeet B. chrysoptera and tui parakeet B. sanctithomae. The orange-chinned parakeet B. jugularis has a more northerly range between Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. The yellow-chevroned parakeet B. chiriri ranged centers on the southern half of Brazil. The grey-cheeked parakeet B. pyrrhoptera has a localised range in Ecuador and northern Peru, and the plain parakeet B. tirica is endemic to the Atlantic forest of southeastern Brazil.

Cobalt-winged parakeets Brotogeris cyanoptera, copyright Gary L. Clark.

Brotogeris species are smaller parakeets, averaging about twenty centimetres in length, predominantly green in coloration with moderately long tails. They have horn-coloured bills with a relatively long upper mandibles. Brotogeris and related genera lack the uropygial gland at the base of the tail that, in other birds, secretes oils used in preening. This lead Collar (1997) to question how often these parrots bathed, but Gillis (2003) described canary-winged parakeets Brotogeris versicolorus in captivity as keen bathers.

Grey-cheeked parakeets Brotogeris pyrrhoptera, copyright Carlos Viteri.

Like other parrots, Brotogeris species are sociable and travel in vocal flocks (the names of a number of species appear to refer to their calls). Their diet is mostly flowers, fruits and seeds. Brotogeris species have been identified as seed dispersers for some plant species—something of an oddity among parrots, which usually act as predators rather than dispersers of seeds (Collar 1997). Nesting, as noted above, typically takes place in hollows in trees, though some species may also nest in termite mounds. Where clutch sizes are known, females typically lay from three to seven eggs at a time.

Canary-winged or white-winged parakeets Brotogeris versicolorus, copyright shrike2.

Though loss of suitable breeding habitat has caused declines in some areas, most Brotogeris species are not currently regarded as under notable threat. The only exception at present is the grey-cheeked parakeet B. pyrrhoptera which has the most localised range in the genus and has been most impacted by collection for the captive bird trade. Around the mid 1900s, Brotogeris species were commonly kept as cagebirds, and feral populations of canary-winged parakeets have become established as a result in Peru, Puerto Rico and the continental US. However, in more recent decades they have become rare in captivity. Most captive birds were historically sourced from the wild (often taken from the nest as chicks and raised by hand) and the genus has a reputation for being difficult to breed in captivity. As the wild-caught bird trade has declined in recent decades, subjected to strong restrictions by countries in the Americas, the little green Brotogeris have been left to carry out their lives in their native habitat.

Systematics of Brotogeris
<==Brotogeris Vigors 1825 [Brotogeryini]B94
    |  i. s.: B. gustaviRN72
    |         B. tuiSS66
    |--+--+--B. chrysopteraJT12
    |  |  |    |--B. c. chrysopteraRN72
    |  |  |    |--B. c. chrysosemaRN72
    |  |  |    `--B. c. tuiparaRN72
    |  |  `--B. cyanopteraJT12 [=B. jugularis cyanopteraRN72]
    |  `--+--B. jugularisJT12
    |     |    |--B. j. jugularisRN72
    |     |    |--B. j. apurensisRN72
    |     |    |--B. j. chrysopogonFS55
    |     |    `--B. j. exsulRN72
    |     `--B. pyrrhopteraJT12
    `--+--B. sanctithomaeBKB15
       |    |--B. s. sanctithomaeRN72
       |    `--B. s. takatsukasaeRN72
       `--+--B. tiricaBKB15
          `--+--B. chiririBKB15 [=B. versicolor chiririRN72]
             `--B. versicolorusJT12
                  |--B. v. versicolorusRN72
                  `--B. v. behniRN72

*Type species of generic name indicated


[B94] Bock, W. J. 1994. History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 222: 1–281.

[BKb15] Burleigh, J. G., R. T. Kimball & E. L. Braun. 2015. Building the avian tree of life using a large-scale, sparse supermatrix. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 53–63.

Collar, N. J. 1997. Family Psittacidae (parrots). In: Hoyo, J. del, A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds) Handbook of the Birds of the World vol. 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos pp. 280–477. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.

[FS55] Felten, H., & J. Steinbacher. 1955. Zur Vogelfauna von El Salvador. Senckenbergiana Biologica 36 (1–2): 9–19.

Gillis, L. J. 2003. The beautiful Brotogeris. Watchbird 2003 (First Quarter): 19–21.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444–448.

Ribas, C. C., C. Y. Miyaki & J. Cracraft. 2009. Phylogenetic relationships, diversification and biogeography in Neotropical Brotogeris parakeets. Journal of Biogeography 36: 1712–1729.

[RN72] Rutgers, A., & K. A. Norris (eds.) 1972. Encyclopaedia of Aviculture vol. 2. Blandford Press: London.

[SS66] Sclater, P. L., & O. Salvin. 1866. Catalogue of birds collected by Mr. E. Bartlett on the River Uyacali, Eastern Peru, with notes and descriptions of new species. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1866: 175–201.

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