Small Hookbill Care Sheet

Published Nov. 29, 2023
Meyers parrot in tree

In This Article

Species Overview

Small Hookbill Species Overview

Named for their powerful, hook-shaped beaks, small hookbills are members of the parrot family that range in size from parakeets to small macaws. Learn all about the basic care needs below for a variety of small hookbill species, including: 

  • Caique 

  • Meyer’s parrot 

  • Pionus parrot 

  • Red-shouldered macaw 

  • Red-bellied parrot 

  • Senegal parrot 

Small hookbills vary greatly in their temperament and appearance, depending on their breed: 

  • The caique (pronounced kah-eek) is a small parrot native to South America. Caiques have bold, color-blocked plumage, with a combination of green, black, yellow, and orange feathers. Black-headed and white-bellied caiques are the most common color varieties. 

  • Meyer’s parrots are native to Africa. They have gray heads, bluish-green bodies, and yellow tails. These birds are known for their quiet, laid-back personalities. They tend to bond closely with family members and can be quite affectionate.

  • Pionus parrots are slightly larger than other small hookbill species. They are native to Central and South America and can be found in a wide variety of colors including blue, green, brown, and white. When stressed, Pionus parrots are known to make a repeated hissing sound. 

  • The red-shouldered macaw (Hahn’s macaw) is a small macaw species with a green body, bluish-green head, and red feathers underneath their wings. Red-shouldered macaws are kind-natured, social, and clever. 

  • Red-bellied parrots are known for their active, playful dispositions. Though these parrots tend to be quieter than other hookbill species, they still have high energy levels and need daily interaction with their pet parents. 

  • Senegal parrots have yellow-orange chest feathers, dark green bodies, brownish-green heads, and bright yellow eyes. These striking birds tend to be calm and docile, making them popular pets. 

Hookbills can live up to 30 years or more with proper care, meaning that choosing to care for one is a rewarding and lifelong commitment. 

Small Hookbill Characteristics 


Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

15 to 30+ years depending on the species 

Average Adult Size 

9–14 inches from head to end of tail, depending on species 



Minimum Habitat Size 

24” L x 24” W x 30” H for one caique, Senegal parrot, red-bellied parrot, or Meyer’s parrot; 30” L x 30” W x 36” H for one red-shouldered macaw or Pionus parrot 

Hookbill Handling

Hookbills may bite or nip at humans on occasion, especially when feeling excited, confused, or threatened. With their sharp beaks, hookbills can inflict significant injury if they bite, and children should never be left alone with a large hookbill. 

Pet parents should not yell at a bird if it bites them. By giving attention to the behavior, they will encourage it and increase the chance of it happening again. Instead of reacting to the bite, they should put the bird down (in a pet-safe area) and walk away. This acts as a “time-out” for the bird that teaches them that biting does not get attention. 

Always pay attention to a bird’s body language before approaching or handling them. If the bird has pinned eyes, flared tail feathers, or is lunging, they may be warning you that they are upset, stressed, or afraid and could bite you. 

Hookbills squawk, chatter, and can even learn to mimic human words and phrases.

Small Hookbill Supply Checklist

To keep a small hookbill happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • A roomy habitat (at least 36” L x 24” W x 48” H) 

  • High-quality small hookbill food 

  • Cuttlebone/millet holder 

  • Treats 

  • Habitat paper or other paper litter 

  • Food and water dishes 

  • Variety of wooden chew toys 

  • Variety of perches 

  • Misting spray bottle 

  • Grooming supplies 

  • Play gym 

Small Hookbill Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

The minimum recommended habitat size for a single adult hookbill depends on the bird’s size as an adult.  

Smaller species (including the caique, Senegal, red-bellied, and Meyer’s parrot) should be housed in an enclosure that’s at least 24” L x 24” W x 30” H. Larger species (such as the red-shouldered macaw or Pionus parrot) need a habitat that’s approximately 30” L x 30” W x 36” H or larger. The habitat should be large enough for the bird to stretch and flap its wings comfortably. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

The spaces between the cage’s bars should be ¾ inch apart or smaller to prevent the bird from escaping or getting his head or limbs stuck. Habitats must also lock securely to prevent escapes, as parrots can use their strong beaks and tongues to open unlocked habitat doors. 

Most commercially sold habitats are made of stainless steel or powder-coated metal, which are both safe for birds. Homemade habitats or any habitat made with wood or galvanized wire are not recommended. These materials can expose birds to potentially toxic chemicals that can cause serious medical problems if ingested. 

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Hookbills are social creatures that love feeling like part of the family. Pet parents should place their hookbill’s habitat in an area of the home that gets a lot of traffic to keep the bird stimulated and entertained. Birds should not, however, be housed in kitchens, as fumes and smoke can be toxic to birds if inhaled. 

Hookbills need daily time outside their enclosed habitat. Birds must also be supervised whenever they’re outside of their habitat. Be sure to close any open windows and doors, cover mirrors, and turn off ceiling fans. 

Hookbills are comfortable in average household temperatures from 65 to 80 F. Pet parents should be cautious of extreme temperature changes. Keep habitats off the floor and in a draft-free, well-lit area that’s not near an air conditioner or accessible to other pets, including cats and dogs.  

Pet parents should make sure that no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, lead-based paints, galvanized metal, or other potentially toxic materials. All these materials can cause serious medical issues if ingested. 

Habitat Mates 

Small hookbills should be housed alone, as they are territorial and will fight other birds in their habitat. Never house different species of birds in the same habitat. Hookbills can only be kept in pairs if they are a bonded pair, and if the habitat is large enough.

Pet parents must take precautions before housing more than one hookbill in the same habitat. Males and females housed together will likely breed and lay eggs. Birds must be introduced to each other slowly, in neutral territory, and under close supervision to ensure they are compatible. If two birds fight, they need to be separated.   

Hookbills that are housed alone must have regular time to socialize with their pet parents and exercise outside of their cage. Without enough interaction, hookbills will become unhappy and engage in harmful behaviors like feather-plucking. 

While outside of habitats, birds must be supervised to ensure they don’t injure themselves or interact with something that could harm them.  


The bottom of a parrot’s habitat should have a removable metal grate so droppings can fall below the bird’s feet. Pet parents should line the tray at the base of the habitat with habitat paper or other paper-based bedding. This will help keep the environment clean and minimize dust. 


Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to produce vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium. Glass windows filter out UV light, so placing their habitat next to an indoor window is not enough. Instead, birds can get natural UV exposure by spending time outside in an escape-proof cage each day. Birds should never be left unattended while outside and should not be placed in direct sunlight. 

To supplement UV exposure, pet parents can shine a full-spectrum UV light designed for birds on their hookbill’s habitat for 10–12 hours each day. UV lights should be about 12–18 inches from where the bird perches. Replace lights every six months, as their potency wanes over time. 

Décor & Accessories 


Pet parents should add perches of assorted sizes, heights, textures, and materials to their parrot’s habitat so that the bird can exercise their feet and prevent pressure sores from developing on their soles. 

Perches should be ½ inch to 1¼ inches in diameter. If a perch’s diameter is too wide, the bird will not be able to grip it properly. This can lead to falls and other serious injuries. 

Concrete, wood, braided rope, and natural branches all make suitable materials for perches. Sandpaper perches and sanded perch covers are not recommended because they can cause painful abrasions on the undersides of a bird’s feet.  Gravel-coated perches should be avoided because they are abrasive to birds’ feet, and birds can pick off the gravel and ingest it. 

Do not place perches above the bird’s water or food bowl—waste droppings will land there. 

Food and Water Dishes

Dry food, fresh food, and water should all be offered in separate dishes. Water dishes should be large enough for the hookbill to bathe in. Dishes should be washed and rinsed thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial growth. 


Parrots are known for their intelligence. To keep birds mentally and physically stimulated, provide your hookbill with an assortment of toys for exercise and entertainment. Without adequate stimulation, bored birds can develop harmful habits, like screaming and feather-plucking. 

The safest toys are those made of paper, cardboard, wood, or plastic that’s too hard for parrots to chew. 

Foraging toys are a necessity, as they will help satisfy a hookbill’s natural urge to gnaw, forage, and chew. 

As hookbills are known to be stressed by changes in their habitat, new toys should be introduced one at a time. Rotate toys regularly to prevent boredom. 

Ensure that toys are securely attached to the inside of the habitat. Birds can unscrew the C-clamps that are commonly used to hang toys if they aren’t secured properly, which can lead to injury. 


Cuttlebones are an excellent way to supplement calcium and other trace minerals in a bird’s diet. Calcium is a vital nutrient that helps keep birds’ bones, beaks, nails, and feathers strong and healthy. 

A cuttlebone holder can help keep a bird’s cuttlebone in place and prevent cuttlebone debris from falling outside the cage. 

Small Hookbill Cleaning and Maintenance

Pet parents should spot-clean their hookbill's habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. Substrate, bedding, and habitat liners should be replaced at least once a week. 

Only use cleaning agents formulated for pets when cleaning your parrot’s cage, as a bird’s respiratory system is sensitive to aerosolized fumes. 

To clean a small hookbill’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the bird to a secure environment (such as another habitat or travel cage) in a separate air space. Remove any old substrate, bedding, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Use a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories.  

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate, bedding, and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the bird to the clean habitat. 

Perches, dishes, and toys should be replaced when worn or damaged. Pet parents should swap old toys with new ones regularly to prevent boredom. Birds are creatures of habit and are sometimes stressed by change, so toys should be introduced one at a time. 

Small Hookbill Diet and Nutrition

Small hookbills thrive on a varied diet of pelleted food, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and the occasional treat. Birds should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

Pet parents should never share food from their mouths or plates with their parrot. Human mouths have microorganisms that can cause illness in birds. 

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a small hookbill includes a high-quality pelleted food formulated for small parrots; a nutritionally complete and balanced pelleted food should make up 60–70% of a parrot’s diet. 

Use the manufacturer's instructions to determine how much food should be given daily. Uneaten food should be discarded and replaced before each feeding. 

Fruits and vegetables may be offered in limited quantities (no more than 30% of the bird’s total diet). Parrots enjoy and can safely eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including:

  • Berries

  • Melons

  • Papaya

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Bell peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Pea pods 

Red, yellow, and orange-colored fruits and veggies have higher levels of vitamin A, which are crucial to keeping a bird’s skin and feathers healthy. 

Uneaten fruits and vegetables should be discarded after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

Table food and treats (including seed) may be fed in limited quantities (no more than 10% of the bird’s total diet). 

Fortified seeds and millet can be fed as a treat. Parrots remove the hulls of seeds before eating them, so pet parents do not need to give them an insoluble grit supplement to help them grind down whole seeds in their stomachs. 

Fresh, clean water should be changed daily.  

Do not allow hookbills to ingest avocados, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol. These ingredients are toxic and can cause death or serious illness. Pet parents should also avoid treats high in salt or fat. 

Small Hookbill Grooming & Care

Pet parents with birds should avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with a nonstick coating such as Teflon™. Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PFTE releases colorless, odorless fumes that can kill pet birds if inhaled.  

For pet parents interested in wing clipping:  

  • Wing clipping temporarily prevents a bird from gaining lift and flying away.  

  • A properly performed wing trim allows a bird to sail safely to the ground without lift.  

  • Only a trained professional or someone who has been taught how to trim feathers should clip a parrot's wing feathers. Improper trimming can cause severe injury.  

  • When done correctly, clipping the outermost “flight feathers” can help keep birds from flying away and injuring themselves.  

  • Before trying to trim a bird’s feathers, pet parents should consult an avian veterinarian for help.  

  • Wing clipping must be repeated every few months, as feathers grow back.   


Water dishes should be large enough for a parrot to bathe in. Pet parents can groom birds that do not regularly bathe themselves by gently misting them with warm water from a clean spray bottle a few times a week. 

Nail Care

Nails must be trimmed on an as-needed basis, which can range from every few weeks to every few months. Nails should be trimmed by a trained professional, avian veterinarian or someone otherwise trained to trim birds’ nails to prevent injury. If bleeding occurs, a styptic powder can be used to stop the bleeding quickly. 

Most birds will not need their beaks trimmed, and their beaks should stay in good condition with daily use. Underlying conditions, such as liver disease or deformity from trauma, can cause abnormal beak growth and must be addressed by an avian veterinarian. 

Small Hookbill Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Small hookbills should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. A transport carrier or cage should be used and pictures of their cage, diet, and supplies at home can be shown to the veterinarian as part of the exam. The carrier may be covered for protection and stress relief as needed.

Signs of a Healthy Small Hookbill

  • Bright, social attitude with regular vocalizations

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean nostrils

  • A symmetrical, intact beak that closes appropriately

  • Intact, clean, bright feathers

  • Clean, smooth feet

  • Full and equal range of motion of wings

  • Consistent droppings

  • Clean and dry vent/cloaca

When to Call a Vet

  • Eye discharge or swelling

  • Nasal discharge

  • Wheezing or sneezing

  • Rapid breathing

  • Overgrown beak or fractures to beak, especially overlong “hook”

  • Feather plucking, bleeding feathers, uneven feather growth

  • Constantly fluffed feathers

  • Favoring a foot or open sores or lumps

  • Limping, unwillingness to use a limb or wing, or holding a wing abnormally

  • Moist feathers around cloaca or any discharge from cloaca

  • Runny, liquid, or abnormally colored droppings

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting or regurgitating

  • Not vocalizing

  • Head tilt

Common Illnesses in Small Hookbills

  • Feather picking or other anxiety and/or boredom related behaviors

  • Psittacine beak and feather disease

  • Diarrhea

  • Yeast (candida)

  • Polyoma virus

  • Overgrown beak

  • Chlamydiosis

  • Trauma

  • Heavy metal toxicities

  • Teflon toxicity

  • Cancer

Small Hookbill FAQs

What are small hookbill birds?

Small hookbills is a term that encompasses small parrot species known for the hook shape to their beak that allows them to handle tough seeds and fruits with precision and a large bite strength. Hookbills vary widely in size, and separating them by size can correlate with some personality traits, speech patterns, and general appearance.

Which birds are hookbills?

Hookbills are any small birds in the parrot family, such as parakeets and cockatiels, which have a hook shape to their beak.

Is a parrotlet a hookbill?

Yes! These little guys are in the parrot family and have a small, hooked beak, making them a small hookbill.

Is a budgie a hookbill?

Yes. Budgies are very common and popular hookbills.

Featured Image: ROBERT STYPPA/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health