PARROTS


A passion that became our job....
I finally decided to talk about our venture and give out infos concerning our activity in South Africa (SA) that I still miss terribly today:

Breeding psittacines,

having raised them in captivity for 16 years with my husband!

The culprit who started the whole thing:



 This breeding facility was no joke! We had about 1000 parrots (exclusively hooked beaks and seed eaters, no Lories) breeding pairs and youngsters altogether, 65 different species, and about 400 aviaries and suspended cages (Nogel-style, for those who know!)

To start with, one has to know that Flora and Fauna are subject to strict regulations established by the Washington Convention or C.I.T.E.S.,
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
Without going to far into details, and being only interested by Fauna and parrots mainly, here are summarized the 3 main appendices:

Apendix 1: near-extinct
species

Submitted to a very strict regulation and are not allowed to be exported out the country of origin, unless specific exceptions. Only 2nd generation animals bred in captivity are allowed to be moved with a microchip and/or the breeding facility ring.

Appendix 2: endangered species
  A pre-determined quota, defined by each country can be exported. In order to be moved an animal must necessarily be issued from a breeding facility and have its microchip or ring.

Appendix 3: common species
Their trade is controlled by much simpler regulations.
 

The following pictures are not very good, unfortunately, being argentic, but they are produced here as a testimony!

  Our activity:
We established the P.B.C. (Parrot Breeding Center), half an hour from town, in Joburg's green belt with very few neighbours, parrots being very noisy in the morning and between 16:00 and 17:00 pm, feeding hours naturally! Some youngsters were allowed to accompany the feeders, perched on the trolley handles, and could have "conversations" with the aviary birds! One of those even taught the Happy Birthday song to some of her neighbours!

Blue & Gold macaws, Ara ararauna
To cut a long story short, let's just say the birds we got were first collected in the wild as chicks in the rain forest tree trunks by the "campesinos" (farmers) in need of extra money to survive, then weaned only to be sold to exporters. These farmers live in a house, usually it is just one large room where people and animals live together in close proximity. Only the middle generation is away in the fields during the day so the parrots, chicken and snakes...) are left with the elders and the babies. We got this a resume through what our parrots were saying, some crying like babies, others talking like they were reassuring the latter, etc... One even called out " Vaquero, vaquero", which means "cowboy"!

Scarlet macaw, Ara macao
So the birds used to learn Spanish or Portuguese first before learning English from the exporters with whom they could stay from several weeks to several months before being exported.
The funny thing is that one cannot see a parrot "speak" ... The sound comes from a split membrane at the bottom of the oesophagus and resonates a bit like a drum. That is where the sound comes from! They do not need to articulate and can easily eat at the same time. So at first it wasn't easy for us to determine who said what, but in time we knew them well individually!

Palm Cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus goliath
 Hyacinth male, the female is sitting in the nest!
Since we were officially a Bird Park, we use to work narrowly with Nature Conservation with the back thought of reintroducing some birds back to their natural habitat, situated in the tropical and equatorial areas, provided it was saved and preserved from vicious destruction. Illegally imported birds were confiscated and brought to us and even the main zoos would entrust us with some of their own parrots on a 50/50 % agreement. Exchanges for new blood happened too, once in a while.

Red-browed Amazon (A. Dufresniana rhodocorytha)
the female is brooding here too!
At the time we started, SA was not yet subjected to CITES regulations so we were able to collect  a number of rare species such as Palm Cockatoos, Moluccans, Bare eyed, Goffins... Hyacinths, Militaries, Rubrogenys and many of the minature macaws..., Dufresniana rhodocorytha, Venaceous, Viridigenalis, Autumnalis and several Ochrocephalas..., Queen of Bavarias, Hawk Heads,  Rynchopsitta, Pionus, Pionites a large number of Arantinga and Pyrhurras conures, 10 African species, and many asian parrakeets...


Jardine (Poicephalus gulielmi) hand-raised female.
She was one of the few allowed on the feeding trolleys!
Since over a dozen species became extinct due to human activities, it goes without saying that captive breeding is of prime importance:
  It prevents absurd and wild withdrawal from nature, provides a decent trade of captive and hand-fed birds for the pet market and birds for breeders in need of new blood, and mostly prevents their global extinction.

 

Pennant Rosella (Australia)
A quick word about parrots as pets:
It is true many people do not know how to handle parrots but they must be taught by the seller. It could also be said that many people should not be allowed to keep dogs or cats since they bring them up badly, confusing them with human beings!
A parrot needs not be walked on a leash several time a day! Care-wise, all it takes is cleaning the cage 3 or 4 times per week, give them daily fresh water in a clean bowl and fresh food: different seeds (sprouted when possible), fresh fruits and veggies. It is a huge advantage for people alone in need of companionship or elders and invalids. Parrots are extremely intelligent and cuddly, if brought up the right way, and thus can be the best of pets.
All right but... one must know a few things!:
They are seriously monogamous as many others birds, and a pair stays together until one dies... which implies that when in the company of humans, they get attached to one person quite exclusively and can become very aggressive toward other members of the family in order to "protect their relationship to their human being"! Actually if you understand you belong to them, you've got it!


* * * * * * * * *
It is a generally accepted idea that males do get attached to woman and vice versa, but that is is not the case! The attachment to man or woman depends essentially by whom the young has been brought up! So the breeder should be very careful to let several persons (including children when possible) hand-feed the chicks and handle them often, even between feeds.
Also to avoid loosing the bird, it is wise to clip a few remiges (the long wing feathers) leaving the first 3 and cutting off 7 or 8 of the following ones... on both wings!
The beak grows permanently so it needs trimming daily. This is why they are so destructive. They must be provided with branches and toys. Also with age, the claws overgrow and need to be trimmed, just like cats'.
For those who have a "screeching" parrot, have a spray handy and do not hesitate to spray the bird immediately as it starts screaming, with the jet to the strongest. Aim at the head or beak: it can not harm them but they hate it. After some time, just the sight of the spray will deter them! You will have achieved a miracle and... a charming companion!

* * * * * * * * *
Some pluck... and that is the one thing so frustrating and very difficult to stop, once the habit has formed. Just like a child biting off his or her nails, they feel frustrated by something the owner has to figure or jealous of some other pet or a new human presence. They are exclusive by nature and will not share readily a relationship with a newcomer. Against this problem there is not much one can do except maybe, with no guaranty, a change of environment, new toys, outdoor distractions... under tight surveillance (they are very good climbers!).

Generalities:
About 370 species of which 86 genera make up the order. Some can out live humans. The record to my knowledge is an Cockatoo in an Australian zoo that lived to about 100 years old! But usually, they live up to about 50 years old in good conditions.
The largest being the Hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) from Brazil and the smallest probably: Micropsitta pusio the Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot from New Guinea.
 Their feet have the particularity to have 2 fingers in front and 2 at the back like chameleons and probably for the same reason: get around tree in branches to get to their food! Their beak is both a tool to break seeds and nuts and a weapon to fight. They moult at least once a year before the breeding season, some times twice. They do not breed every year in the wild contrary to captive pairs (if they are strongly bonded) that can provide up to 3 clutches.

In captivity:

Larger parrots will lay only 2 to 3 eggs the size of a small hen's but some, such as the black Cockatoos only one. Medium sized parrots (Amazons, Greys, Pionuses...) can lay up to 4 eggs, unusually 5. Parakeets can lay 6 to 7 eggs but not every chick will make it unless some are removed into an incubator!

* * * * * * * * * * *
A good pair of macaws can breed in captivity as many chicks in one year as will survive chicks from one pair in the wild in their whole life: they have many enemies, man being the worst!
In order to get good breeding pairs, we use to "free" several marked males and females in a large aviary and let them choose each other, them remove the first pair and introduce them together to their new breeding home, and so forth until the last pair. The nest is placed under cover at one end, easy to get to for checking and cleaning and or removing eggs or chicks, feeders and water bowls at the other end. At the nest end, cages or aviaries were well protected from the next to avoid breeding problems caused by birds fights.
Aviaries 5 to 7 meters in length were provided to the larger species, up to 4 meters for medium sized birds and suspended cages for the smaller parakeets and love birds. The feeders were slid into curved wire to prevent the birds tipping the dishes!

The aviary birds were provided with different sprouted seeds, such as Sorgum, wheat, sunflower, linseed... and seasonal fruits, mostly yellow (for their high vitamin A content), veggies and cooked corn the whole of which was sprinkled with highly proteinate Spirulina (for the Cyanobacteria mainly cultivated in California, Hawaï and West Africa).

Sexing the birds:
Laparoscopic surgery, also called minimally invasive surgery (MIS), is a modern surgical technique in which operations in the abdomen are performed through small incisions as compared to the larger incisions needed in laparotomy. Advantages of such a procedure are numerous. They include reduced pain due to smaller incisions and shorter recovery time. It also allows to see the sexual organs in the abdominal or pelvic cavities and the general state of other organs, lungs included. Major infectious problems (bacterial and/or fungi) can then be treated without delay.

Incubation:
The largest eggs (large macaws and cockatoos) are incubated for 28 to 33 days depending on the species and 18 to 20 days for the smallest (love birds, cockatiels, budgies) weather by the mother (fed by the male) or inside an incubator. During the critical time of incubation, the egg must loose about 16% of its weight before the chick's birth.

Artificial Incubation:
We have always privileged natural incubation when possible but for different reasons this can not be the case. Parrots remain exotic animals!
The advantages are many:
Give a chance to neglected eggs, induce the pair to go down again and provide the breeder with a second or third clutch... the latter being left to parents until at least 3 weeks of age (or weaned if the young are meant for future breeding). We were lucky enough to count on a few foster pairs to raise other chicks for the first week (a must for the colostrum provided by the adult foster mother).
Inside the incubators (Grumbach from Germany), the temperature remained precise and constant to a 10th of a °C, around 37.1 or 2, so as the humidity.
We noticed that the only thing missing to the embryos was a natural mother's energy infiltrating through the shell. This is why some chicks have more difficulties hatching in artificial conditions than others! This observation led us to get a few disease-free bantam hens to brood up to 3 days before hatching, but only for the larger macaws and Moluccan cockatoos with stronger shells. Thy were than transferred to the incubators. This did work well!

Incubateurs Grumbach
Psittacine eggs have to rolled laterally on bars fixed on a sliding tray from left to right and backward, preventing the embryos to get stuck to the inner membrane.

Inside the incubators, the sliding plateau

From hatching to the 10th day:
The first 3 days are crucial. The best for the chick is being fed with the colostrum's mother: it contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease, as well as being lower in fat and higher in protein than ordinary milk. But it is not the case when artificially incubated.
 
Scarlet macaw ready to hatch
 RINGERS lactate was first given for an energy boost!

The first week, the chicks were kept in the English AB incubators converted to brooders for their temperature precision and this was progressively reduced to 35,5 °C. At this stage they were fed every 2 hours at night, often more during the day, again depending on the species with an imported powdered food from the USA.
After that, they were transferred to our home-made brooders, heating bulbs at the back, and the feeds was progressively thickened and reduced to every 3 hours.

2 different models of home-made brooders: both worked well!
Inside one of our brooders: young conures,
nearly ready to leave the brooder.
 It goes without saying that the rooms were tiled up to the ceiling and disinfected daily!
The young must be handfed for about 3 months, more for Moluccans and the larger macaws (Green wings and our Nicaraguan Scarlets: over 40 gr at birth!). As soon as the feathers pin out of their sheath and cover the duvet, they are ready for the weaning cages, suspended on the room's wall and the weaning stage begins with fruit dishes and later sprouted seeds. A perch and toys were then provided. At feeding time, all the cages were opened and the babies could interact and play together and even climb onto my shoulders, claiming hugs and scratches! The best time of the day, for me too!!

Young miniatures macaws (Illiger and Yellow collared)
  Jendaya conures
Yellow collared macaws, weaned but begging for more, just in case!

Bibliography about parrots is vast, but here are he reference books we used:

*    PARROTS of THE WORLD

Joseph M. FORSHAW
Illustré par William T. COOPER

2nd Edition: 



3rd Edition:
 
*   AUSTRALIAN PARROTS

Joseph M. FORSHAW
Illustré par William T. COOPER



*   PARROTS, their care & Breeding
par Rosemary LOW



*   CLINICAL AVIAN  MEDECINE & SURGERY
HARRISON & HARRISON
(Saunders)