Canadian Parrot Symposium

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Breeding the Amazing Amazon Parrots

Gail J. Worth
Aves International



Amazon Parrots are all New World species occurring in Central and South America, Mexico, and many Caribbean Islands. Prior to October 1993, when commercial importation of wild-caught birds into the United States came to a halt, many thousands of hand-feeding baby Amazons were imported annually. With this huge influx of imported baby birds to satisfy the pet market, there was very little incentive for U.S. aviculturists to work with the more common species in an earnest effort to breed them. Now that this supply of babies as wall as adult breeding stock is no longer being imported, it is imperative that aviculturists work with the common as well as the rare Amazon species to establish captive self-sustaining populations. Although the Amazon parrots can be a bit of a challenge to breed, the rewards of working with Amazons are great.

Factors that contribute to the success or failure in breeding Amazons include age, health and compatibility of breeding stock, caging, type of nestbox provided, diet, climate, and aviary management. Amazons are not exceedingly picky about exact conditions for breeding and have been known to reproduce in a number of varying situations. However, there are some conditions that can be manipulated that can perhaps afford a better chance for success.

Choosing breeding stock is of utmost importance. Although it is tempting to purchase proven pairs, this is not always the most prudent thing to do. Certainly there are some really good proven pairs offered for sale from time to time. Just as often, an aviculturist will sell a pair that is indeed proven but has been producing well for several years and has now slowed in production or has developed bad habits such as breaking eggs or killing chicks. Be sure you can trust the seller of a proven pair and always ask for as complete a history on the birds as is possible to obtain. In previous years, most pairs set up for breeding were wild-caught adult stock of usually unknown age and history. We had no way of knowing if a particular bird had been pair-bonded in the wild and if it had ever bred before. Such birds often took years to settle down and repair in captivity. Today there are domestic, unrelated birds available in all of the more common species as well as many of the rarer ones. Many Amazon specialists such as John & Pat Stoodley in the U.K. and Jim Murphy in Washington State in the U.S. have bred Amazons to several generations. We are finding that domestic birds are breeding quite well in captivity. In general, domestic birds have the advantage of usually being of known age. Young domestic birds are full of eggs and will have a long breeding future ahead of them. Amazons are naturally quite excitable and aggressive. Caution should be exercised when introducing two birds as aggression is a possibility. It is best to house the birds in adjoining cages for a while and then put them into the intended breeding cage at the same time. Thus neither bird has a chance to achieve prior dominance in the breeding cage. Domestic birds can be introduced at a young age to reduce the chances of aggression. It is always a good idea to have any prospective breeding stock seen by an avian veterinarian. Birds should be screened for bacterial infections, psittacosis, vitamin A deficiency, and other tests that your veterinarian might recommend.

Amazons will breed in a variety of cage sizes and configurations. There are cases of two pet birds breeding in a small pet cage ranging to birds breeding in very large flights. Since Amazons tend towards obesity in captivity, providing a large enclosure where flight is possible and encouraged will result in better conditioned and healthier birds. Many aviculturists use suspended flights for Amazon breeding. A suspended flight with dimensions of six to twelve feet long, three to four feet wide, and three feet high is sufficient for most Amazons. The suspended cage should be as high off the ground as is possible as the birds are less nervous and more likely to breed if perches are above human eye level. Whatever the cage size, I feel one of the most important aspects of caging is to separate Amazon pairs from sight of other Amazon pairs. Pairs became very vocal during breeding season and these calls might serve to bring other pairs into breeding condition so within hearing distance is probably beneficial. Pairs housed side by side without sight barriers will often become overly aggressive and could cause fighting in the pairs. Aluminum sheeting is ideal for separating adjoining cages.

I recommend that nestboxes be constructed of wood. I do not like metal nestboxes as they are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. I think chewing of the wooden box prompts the birds to breed. Although the nestbox will have to be replaced periodically, I still prefer to use wood. Using thick plywood to construct the box, will reduce somewhat the frequency that the nest box will be to be replaced. A box with dimensions of twelve inches by twelve inches and two to three feet tall is appropriate for all but the largest Amazon species. Increase the dimensions by one or two inches for the largest species. An entry hole should be located high on the box and should be four inches in diameter for most of the species and five inches for the largest species. Pine shavings several inches deep should be placed inside the box. An inspection hole on the nestbox rear should be located a few inches above the top of the shavings. The nestbox should be hung as high as is possible in the flight. If hung on the outside of the cage, the box will last longer as the pair will chew the box less

In my opinion, the diet fed to breeding Amazons is the most important factor in their management. Amazons in the wild do a great deal of flying, usually in large flocks over great distances. A few years ago I was fortunate to observe a mixed flock of large Amazons flying quite high at daybreak on the east coast of Costa Rica . Several hundred birds flew over heading south. They were flying so high that I could not identify the species but I think they were Salvin's Red-lored and Blue-Crowned Amazons. An innkeeper told me they were flying south to raid crop fields near the Panamanian border which was quite a distance away. They flew back the opposite way in the late afternoon and did so daily according to the innkeeper. Flying such a distance to feed obviously would keep a wild Amazon in tip-top shape without any excess fat. In captivity, not only do we bird keepers deliver the food to the birds' door, we often provide a diet that is much richer and that contains more fat than the natural diet of the species. This results in an obese bird with markedly reduced chances for breeding. In their native habitats, Amazon Parrots not only raid farmers' fields but also eat a large variety of seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, leaf buds, flower blossoms, and other natural foods in great variety. Of course we cannot duplicate a natural diet, but we can provide a diet that is rich in variety and full of fresh foodstuffs that are as natural as possible. Many people feed their Amazons a dry pellet diet with some additional vegetables or fruits and feel this is sufficient. In my opinion it is far better to feed a diet based on grains, vegetables, and sprouts. Our diet does contain some pelleted food also, but only as one ingredient of many. It takes a little more work to prepare this fresh diet but the results are worth it and we owe it to our birds to give them the best diet that we can provide. We use a variety of grains and pulses including red wheat, brown rice, lentils, corn and several types of beans and peas. These are boiled for about thirty minutes and then allowed to cool. To this we add a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. These include corn on the cob, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans and peas in their hulls, squash, kale and other leafy greens, apples, oranges, melons, papaya, grapes, and plums. We boil root vegetables such as carrots, beet root, sweet potatoes, and yams and add these chopped after they are cool. These roots contain a lot of carotene which is very important in the Amazon diet to prevent vitamin A deficiency. Another important addition to the Amazon diet is sprouted seeds. We use a sprouting kit produced by China Prairie Farm of Garberville, California which provides a large variety of seeds, an additive for the sprouting water that will retard spoilage and fungal contamination, and a powdered vitamin/mineral additive that contains eighty-eight trace minerals and is colored green from the spirulina blue-green algae that it contains. The birds love these succulent sprouts and they provide excellent nutrition as well as the variety that these intelligent birds need to prevent boredom with their diet. A pelleted avian diet of your choice can be added to this mix of grains, vegetables, fruits, and sprouts for a balanced and interesting repast. Occasional feedings of cracked nuts in their shells will be enjoyed by Amazons but should not be fed on a daily basis. Amazons need to be monitored so that they do not become obese as this will lessen chances for breeding success.

There is not much we can do to change the climate or weather that can influence Amazon breeding other than to move to a different climate. Most Amazon species come from a tropical or subtropical climate and thus high humidity and rain are elements in these birds' natural environment. We can, however, use a misting system to afford these birds the opportunity to bathe frequently as they do in nature. Artificial lighting can be manipulated in indoor breeding situations that can mimic the change in seasons. Gradually increased photoperiods can bring the birds into breeding condition. I do not have much experience with this technique as our Amazons are bred in outdoor aviaries in Southern California. Our winters there are wet and chilly and the summers are hot and very dry with little or no rain and low humidity. Our birds are triggered by the spring rains and the lengthening days and begin breeding in the early spring, sometimes as early as February. Most species are finished laying by early June. Clutch size varies with the species and the particular pair but most average three eggs per clutch. If eggs are pulled for artificial incubation, some pairs will lay two or more clutches of eggs per season. For some reason my rarer species such as Amazona xanthops (Yellow-faced Amazon) and Amazona collaria (Jamaican Yellow-Billed Amazon) never double clutch. If eggs are pulled, I recommend leaving them a full two weeks under the hen if possible and putting the eggs into a quality incubator. This gives you the best odds of success in hatching the eggs. Of course some pairs will not sit well or will break or eat eggs so these should be pulled immediately after laying. We often foster freshly laid eggs under dependable setting hens for two weeks before removing them for artificial incubation. The excitable Yellow-Napes are prone to breaking their eggs and these are often fostered to calmer Double Yellow-Headed hens. If eggs are set in an incubator at day one, I recommend hand-turning them for the first few days as vibrations from artificial turning devices can kill very young embryos. We use a Petersime incubator and do not use the automatic turner at all during incubation. All eggs are turned five times a day and incubated at ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit. Incubation is twenty-six to twenty-eight days for most species. Chicks are relatively easy to hand-feed and grow quickly, fledging at about eight weeks and weaning at thirteen to fifteen weeks of age. I do not believe in pushing chicks into weaning and offer three hand-feedings a day to weaning chicks. Fresh corn on the cob, apple slices, cooked grains, sprouted seeds, pellets, and spray millet are offered to the weaning chicks.

Management of the collection is a big factor in long-term success. If a pair of birds just does not seem to be compatible, consider repairing them. Many successful Amazon breeders flock a group of prospective breeders, allowing the birds to naturally choose a partner. If you do not have the time or patience for this, try switching partners from two nonproducing pairs. Be careful of aggression when repairing Amazons! It is best to remove them all from the breeding cages for a while and then introduce the new pair to their breeding cage together. Do not be too hasty to separate a pair that do not produce the first breeding season. If there is one thing I have learned working with birds, it is patience. Pairs often take a while to settle down and pair bond. Clear eggs are common with new or young pairs. Give a new pair two or more breeding seasons together before considering repairing them.

Working with Amazon Parrots is very exciting and rewarding. There are many quite beautiful and rare species available but it is important for aviculturists to work with the more common species as well. Whatever Amazon species you choose to work with, be assured that it will be an exciting venture. There is a high degree of interaction between Amazons and their keepers, many parrots learning to speak and mimic sounds. I have a high level of attachment with my breeding Amazons and have greatly enjoyed working with this challenging and rewarding group of birds.


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