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Hyacinthine Macaws: Their Care and Captive Breeding Today
Keeping and breeding the Hyacinthine Macaw has been one of the greatest joys of my life and has certainly been one of the highlights of my bird breeding career.
These lovely creatures, measuring from thirty-six to forty inches in length and possessing a beak that can crack Brazil and Macadamia nuts with great ease, are some of the sweetest and gentlest of all the macaw species.
Although a tame Hyacinthine Macaw makes a wonderful pet, any birds currently in captivity should be considered for future breeding stock.
Status of the Hyacinthine Macaws today
The Hyacinth is decreasing in numbers both in the wild and in captivity. The natural range of this species of macaw is limited to a wetland in Brazil called the Pantanal, with a small group of families having been seen in eastern Bolivia and in northwestern Paraguay. This is thought to be seasonal migration. (Ridgley 1981)
Not a typical rain forest bird, according to the noted scientist Dr. Paul Roth, who has spent many years tracking and counting these birds, they live instead on the edge of the great forests, sharing their habitat with the equally large Green -wing Macaw (Ara chloroptera) and the vibrant Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao).
Importation has been a serious problem for this wonderful bird. As articles were written about the mellow behaviour of the animal and the importers brought the birds through quarantine legally into the pet market, the numbers in the wild decreased.
In the year 1916, when visiting the Mato Grosso valley, a pair of scientists (Roosevelt and Rondon) declared these birds to be abundant in nature. When it became known that these giants of the bird world were also gentle and loving they quickly became much sought after as a pet. This very fact created, like a two-headed monster, the interest of bird breeders who saw dollar signs, as well as breeders who would assist the animal in reproduction to assist the species. It is an unfortunate fact that the worldwide interest that we as aviculturists have in the birds can be one of the determining factors for the survival of the species in the wild. With this in mind, our aviary has never purchased a bird from quarantine stations. I am safe in saying that there are less than five thousand of these big beautiful birds left, in the wild and in captivity combined, as we attend this conference this weekend.
Soon the race was on to obtain breeding stock. We too looked in every bird publication and every newspaper to obtain our breeding stock when it became clear to us that the birds were rapidly disappearing from the wilds and might be in need of human intervention.
Many birds that were imported came into the pet trade carrying a number of bacterial and nematodal problems.
Dormant Psittacosis became active in many of these wild-caught birds and many died of these bacterial infections.
Many birds were subjected to man's inhumanity to animals while they tried to mold the birds into a living room entertainment centre. Little consideration was given to providing the bird with a large enough living space and the ensuing physical problems were many:
-- Arthritic joints from sitting on a level perch (the weight of this bird requires that he be able to live on an uneven surface and walk around on the ground).
-- Improper diet created birds that had gout or kidney problems (the needs of this bird do not include a high protein diet as thought by many a few years ago).
-- Thin sickly animals were found that were not given nuts in their diet (an absolute necessity for the health of this bird).
These birds have been imported into the United States as late as the early eighties, when an importer brought into the country a group of approximately two hundred birds. These birds, after exiting the USA-required quarantine, were sold around the country, like the commoner macaws, to the people who regularly purchased from the quarantine stations: pet stores as well as breeders.
Some years later, the birds were being offered in local newspapers all over the country for resale, as people found that they were unable to tame the wild-caught macaws as easily as the other wild animals that they were accustomed to dealing with. This proved to be a bonanza for the breeders. The birds were very happy to be put back into a family situation. These birds are now being bred prolifically throughout the country.
The legal trafficking in the Hyacinthine Macaw has fortunately come to a close, but the interest of the general public as well as the avicultural community is still active. While this is a fact it is necessary for those of us who breed birds to find places in our aviaries and to help these birds continue to exist. I need not tell you that every bird you breed leaves one in the wild, for we are all aware that the trapper still exists. And while the governments of the countries of origin are unstable, the smugglers will still find a way to move the birds out of their natural habitat.
Breeding the Hyacinth Macaw in captivity
The Hyacinthine Macaw, while far and away the largest of the macaw species, does not require much larger breeding accomodation than does the Green-wing Macaw or the Scarlet Macaw.
There are a few guidelines that I would like to offer to the would-be breeder of the Hyacinthine Macaw.
The cage should be made of material with openings no larger than one inch square. A larger link would permit your breeders to potentially put their head through the links and be unable to return it to the cage. The jaw line of these birds is quite wide and their nature inquisitive.
The cage should be double the width required for your birds to stand side by side on a perch and raise their wings fully. That is, the wing span of the average Hyacinth Macaw is about 36 inches; thus the birds standing side by side with outspread wings equal 72 inches or six feet; therefore using our formula this cage should be no less than 144 inches or twelve feet wide. The length of the cage should be at least this same figure. The reasons for giving this formula rather than just telling you to make the cage twelve feet square will become obvious when we talk about the birds' copulation pattern.
The floor of your aviary should be cement. The Hyacinth Macaw loves to get down and stalk around menacing imaginary playmates. While grass may have an appeal to the aviculturist we must remember that it cannot be sterilized and the birds could pick up nematodes (worms) from this natural foundation.
All perches should be natural wood, preferably very hard wood so that they do not require constant changing. The birds will chew them. The perches should be uneven in size as this helps prevent arthritic joints.
A large nest box about 40 inches long and 20 inches square should be placed high in the aviary. The entry opening should face the front of the cage. The Hyacinthine Macaw wants to sit on her eggs and still see what is going on around her, so as we do not want her to leave her eggs we make this entertainment easy for her to obtain.
In the back of the box will be the aviculturist's view door. Thus while the assistant is feeding at the front of the cage and has the full attention of the birds out of the front door, the aviculturist can open the back of the box and check on the eggs and/or chicks. This opening will also enable you to remove a chick, band his leg and return him to the nest while the parents are occupied with their morning meal.
Specialized feeding of the Hyacinth Macaw
The Hyacinthine Macaw has a diet that differs from that of the average macaw in that they are primarily nut eaters. The palm nut most preferred by the Hyacinth Macaw (actually the endosperm of one of two palm species) is preferred often to the exclusion of all other forms of food. One of the biological peculiarities of this bird is that they are able to consume enormous amounts of fatty foods without getting artheriosclerosis as other birds of their size would. Indeed we find that a high fat diet is REQUIRED to raise healthy youngsters of this species. But do not despair; you will be able to get them to eat almost anything.
Just mix your vegetable mixture together with a pelleted diet -- we use Pretty Bird Maintenance Diet -- then mix this together with the beloved nuts.
Given in this manner, the birds will be forced to get the other food on their beaks when they scrounge through this gooey mess for their nuts, and later, when the nuts are gone and hunger pangs bring them again to the food tray, they are willing to 'give it a go' as the Englishman says, and soon they are eating all you will give them. Later then you can separate the food types, mixing the Pretty Bird half and half with any large hookbill mix and placing this in the nut dish.
Preparing for the Youngsters
Whether you make the decision to let the parent birds raise the chicks or you have decided to take the eggs and incubate and hand feed from day 1, now is the time for you to set up a nursery situation so that you will be able to help the family if called upon to do so.
A hand fed baby versus a parent-fed bird
There are many who believe that hand feeding a bird will preclude his interest in raising a family of his own in a breeding facility. While we have found this to be true with many a cockatoo, I can tell you from our own experience that this is not the case with this particular animal. Our own hand raised birds lived in our living room for a period of about three years, when they became an annoyance with their constant copulating. This at times can be very loud -- though happy -- sounds. They had to be put in the breeding facility, and my husband, the previous pet connection, barred from entering to play with them. They quickly (at about four years old) became parents.
This year we are now raising two of their young and they raised one. Unfortunately they disciplined the baby by biting all of the toes off one foot, and threw him out of the box. We feel he was in the way of the next nest of eggs which we are now incubating.
Mechanical or parent incubation
It is the habit of our aviary to take the first eggs, incubate in the Humidaire or the Grumbach incubator and hand raise these chicks, and let the parents incubate, hatch and raise the second clutch on their own.
Every baby hatched is first swabbed on his navel with a dilute Betadine solution, weighed, and assigned a computer number to reflect his parentage, date of hatch and weight. Then a microbiology slide is made using Gram's stain and looked at for the presence of possible pathogenic bacteria. If found, the bird is housed in an isolation chamber with a constant temperature of 98 degrees.
The complete set of microbiological plated material is used to detect the type of bacteria the bird is carrying and the necessary steps needed to make the bird well.
When we know that the bird is not carrying a pathogenic bacteria he is then put into our nursery with the other babies.
Note: Many bacteria not thought to be life-threatening to most Macaw species, i.e. Gram positives such as Streptococcus and Staphylococcus can be life-threatening to the Hyacinthine Macaw. Serious steps must be taken when handling the eggs and the babies as human hands can be a contributing factor to transference of the bacteria mentioned.
In many instances a good healthy pair will double and even triple-clutch and last year we had one pair that had five clutches, the last baby being born on Christmas Day. We were not even aware that they had eggs. They fed the baby beautifully and on the first of February we took a gorgeous bird from the nest.
When your birds are being given the opportunity to lay more than one time each year, the diet should be high in fat: lots of Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts and coconut fed on a regular daily basis.
The water is not usually used to vitaminize the birds; however a bird that lays more than two clutches is taking the nutrients directly from her own bone and muscle tissues and we then add Nekton E and Nekton S to the water on a daily basis, and once a week these pairs are given a calcium supplement (that is water soluble) called Neo-Cal Glucon. All the food is sprinkled with Dicalcium Phosphate powder after the second clutch is hatched.
We at Allen Aviaries have been known to foster an egg with another parrot when the parent birds are known to throw eggs out of the box or kill babies. However, it is more common with us to foster other eggs beneath our Hyacinthine Macaws as they are exceptionally good parents as a general rule. Many a rare cockatoo has been left with the Hyacinthine Macaw for the duration of the incubation process and taken just prior to hatching. Great care must be taken however to note the day the Hyacinth has laid her eggs as she will incubate only for the period of time it takes her egg to hatch (generally 29 to 30 days). Thus she will leave the fostered egg to chill if her time cycle is finished.
Feeding the chicks
These birds are not difficult to raise as hand fed nestlings but a few changes in the diet that you might be feeding your nestlings could be necessary.
Diets fed to the general psittacine baby should be fairly low in fat content with a proper balance of protein. Many hand feeding formulas on the market today are good diets for the other psittacine species, i.e. cockatoos, eclectus, conures, mini-macaws etc. Some I can mention that we have found to be of benefit are Kay Exact, Pretty Bird Int., Tropican (Hagen), Roudybush. However, for the Hyacinthine Macaw, whose parent birds in the wild would be eating a diet consisting mainly of the palm nuts (Yamashita 1986), a diet known to have about 12 - 14% fat content is necessary. The only food on the market that is formulated with the Hyacinthine Macaw in mind has been put together with the Pretty Bird International Company.
Michael Mastey, a concerned bird owner-lover himself, was kind enough to work long and hard and listen to what we told him about the birds' apparent needs, and come up with this version of his formula for our beautiful birds. At last, freedom from grinding! The research being done at this time by this progressive company has the assistance of noted veterinarian Dr. Susan Clubb.
The brooders now being used by Allen's Aviaries are human isolettes (Ohio Mfac. Co.). The temperature and humidity controls are in the front of the unit with a water well refill in the front of the unit as well. A built-in temperature guage on the face of the unit makes keeping the temperature correct a simple matter. The Hyacinthine Macaw seems to have a higher than normal (for other macaws) need for humidity. The parent birds in the wild make their nests near the river banks; therefore the humidity in our brooders is about 40% for the first few days of their lives. Then it is dropped to about 35%.
A second thermometer on the surface upon which you have placed your bird's container is always a good backup.
A newly hatched Hyacinthine Macaw baby is altricial, which means that it is unable to feed itself or maintain body temperature. Therefore the bird when newly hatched is placed in an incubator in a small flat-bottomed container with a napkin beneath his body. The temperature of this human incubator is an ambient 92 degrees. This is lowered on a weekly basis until the bird is in good pin feather. He is then maintained at about 88 degrees until his feathers are beginning to open, after which he is put in a warm room in a large open container in which he is able to move about comfortably.
When he shows an interest in the outside world by climbing to the top of the brooder, he is then introduced to a cage.
Caution -- a word to the wise!
These big sweet birds take approximately seven months before they are eating on their own well enough to leave the hand feeder. A caution to the would-be owner of one of these lovely creatures: NEVER ACCEPT AN UNWEANED BABY... The Hyacinth Macaw is a very sensitive creature, throwing himself on his back and flaying his legs wildly when seeing a stranger in the nursery.
When going to a new home prior to fledging, the extreme stress that is felt by the bird can result in Gram negative bacteria and Gram positive bacteria becoming a pathogenic threat to the life of this bird.
Hand feeding in the hands of even the most experienced of bird feeders is found to be quite difficult, and many would-be Hyacinth owners looking for a better price have had baby Hyacinths die when sold to them prior to complete weaning.
Sexing baby birds
Every year we are able to raise about 15 to 25 Hyacinthine Macaws. These birds are all sexed with cytology by the Avian Genetics Lab in Bartlett, Tennessee, USA. We then have Dr Scott McDonald, noted veterinarian from Highland Park, Indiana, come to our farm and implant a microchip in the pectoral muscle of each bird.
This tiny chip transmits a number with which your bird can be identified at any time during his life.
From pet to aviary
Cage size in a home situation will be a determining factor in the health of your animal. You should expect to give this Gentle Giant, as they are often called, as large a cage as possible, keeping in mind that he has a very long tail and the need for depth is as important as the need for width.
When introduced to a prospective future mate at a young age, you will find the birds will bond with each other and still be interested in being a part of your family.
We put our pet Hyacinths out into the breeding facility at about three and a half years old. We do not then, ever again, try to make the bird back into a pet; we feel that the ensuing confusion could prove detrimental to his overall sense of well-being. We content ourselves with the 'job well done' feeling when he and his mate make good parents themselves.
We screen those who would own these birds for their potential as breeders and have found a great interest in the world for the keeping and breeding of the Hyacinthine Macaw. Many of our birds have gone out all over the world to procreate the species in other lands. I cannot tell you the satisfaction that this gives the breeder.
We know now, that with the ongoing interest of the aviculturist, that the continuation of the species is assured, and perhaps some day we will all join forcesand become part of a reintroduction program as has been done with a few other species.
Gloria Allen, B.A., is a second generation bird breeder. As a child she watched her mother hand-feeding baby birds, and later kept and bred cockatiels and canaries on a small scale. While birds were an ongoing interest, she earned a living building a beauty salon business, and also raised her three children.
As the children grew and left the house, the time and space to pursue other interests became available, and her interest in bird breeding was re-awakened by her husband's gift of a wild-caught Moluccan cockatoo. He quickly became a part of the Allen family, and Mrs. Allen began to pursue the possibility of breeding these lovely birds in captivity.
The Allen Aviaries now have over 400 birds in their care. The success of this aviary has been largely due to the attention paid to the health of every breeding and baby bird. Returning to college, Mrs. Allen studied microbiology to further understand the actions needed to keep her flock healthy.
Total dedication to the needs of the birds has made it possible for Mrs. Allen and her staff to raise over two hundred babies yearly, and dedication to educating as many people as possible in the methods required to breed these birds has made Mrs. Allen a popular speaker worldwide. In 1990 she spoke at the Second International Conference at Loro Parque.
To her credit is a first breeding award for the Blue-eyed Cockatoo. She is active in the San Francisco Aviculture Association and in many conservation groups with an interest in preservation of psittacine environment and habitat. Mrs. Allen is a willing advisor to anyone who would breed cockatoos or macaws in captivity.