Canadian Parrot Symposium

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Parrot Keeping in Europe

Jos Hubers

A subject such as the breeding of parrots and parakeets (family: Psittacidae) in Europe could be so detailed that it would occupy an entire symposium. However, I would like to touch briefly on a number of subjects. It is well known that many species of parrots have been kept in Europe for centuries. Until recently, they were indeed 'kept'. However, in the past 15 to 20 years, attention has been placed on their breeding. An important development was the possibility of determining the sex of birds using endoscopy. More recently, export control by the exporting countries has played a role. Stringent protection of endangered species has played another important role. Together, the above have all led to species being bred (sometimes regularly), which at first was rarely achieved, if at all.

In Europe, compared to the United States, the development and feeding of pellets was started later. In the last few years, much attention has been paid to this subject, not only in literature but also in several lectures. Efforts have been made to provide a varied and balanced diet. In the past, a large part of the feed consisted of sunflower seeds, supplemented with a variety of small seeds. Currently, many breeders use other types of food as well. With fruit or nectar eating birds, such as lories (Loriidae) and hanging parakeets (Loriculus spp.), it is more common to supply a complete, premixed food. In the Netherlands and Germany this has been done for many years; in other countries it is becoming more popular.

Proof that many species are being bred with more regularity are the systems of first breedings awards. In several countries different groups give an award to those with a first breeding. However, often only those birds that are of exhibition quality are eligible. This is a pity, because for all kinds of reasons not everyone enters their birds to be shown, myself included. Of the 55 species (or subspecies) of lories which have been bred in the Netherlands, 45 have earned an award because those have been exhibited. With some cooperation, certain less common types should be kept separate. One of those cooperative associations operating at an international level is the E.E.P., or the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme. This is a cooperative association of zoos, bird parks, and some private breeders. The birds are registered by their owners and details sent to the registrar. At certain times, meetings and discussions are held about whether it is or it is not possible or beneficial to exchange certain animals. This is comparable to a studbook, with the difference that the E.E.P. concerns a limited number of (endangered) species. There are E.E.P.s for the Red Vented Cockatoo, Cacatua haematuropygia, the Red and Blue Lory, Eos histrio, and different species of hornbills (family: Bucerotidae).

Studbook systems have been started several times, but in most cases were not successful. In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium studbooks were started for lories, but none of these could be operated long term and eventually failed. Apparently, the Poicephalus species fared better. This actually was started at a European level. Recently several cooperative associations are in existence for all Poicephalus species kept in aviculture. There is also a growing awareness of the need to keep the subspecies pure. For example, more attention is given to the six Meyer's Parrot, Poicephalus meyeri, subspecies in literature, there is usually more attention given to the identification of subspecies than there has been in the past.

A unique system has been initiated in the Netherlands. So far, it is being operated for the lories and it works as follows: participants note the species that they own, not the number or the sex. Everyone owning this species also receives a list of colleagues owning this species. In this way, everyone can simply keep track where a partner can eventually be found, or for outlets for birds. Because the system is simple, and easily maintained, there are many people who are ready to cooperate.

Previously the most common cages were the conventional wooden ones. For the larger parrots galvanised steel was, and still is, used. However, in the past 5 years, a big change has occurred in favour of aluminium. Starting in the Netherlands, because aluminium generally is cheap and the fittings are fabricated there, it is now becoming a common construction material in Germany and in other countries. Anodised aluminium in different colours is also used because it does not oxidise and is even more easily cleaned than ordinary aluminium. Aluminium's biggest advantage in comparison to wood is that it has a long lifespan and by using suitable fittings it can be used to build housing very quickly. All types of synthetic materials are used in addition, for bases for example, selected for their durability and ease of cleaning. Suspended cages are not seen frequently, probably because of climate conditions. Especially when birds can be kept outside, the suspended cages offer many advantages. There is a trend for these cages to be installed in indoor aviaries or birdrooms, in particular by lory breeders.

Very large collections in Europe are quite uncommon. Collections in the United States and South Africa are usually much bigger. Commercial breeding of a species is therefore almost non-existent. There are several obvious reasons. If someone wants to build a large collection, there should be a large piece of property available and no close neighbours. In most European countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, it is very difficult to achieve this. In the Netherlands for example, of the population of 15 million, there are a large number of known bird enthusiasts. The National Association (society) has a membership of 50,000, while the specialist parrot and parakeet associations have more than 7,000 members. This is similar, or perhaps more, than there are in the United Kingdom which has a population five times greater. On average, the collections in the Netherlands are small; often only 5 or 10 pairs are kept. Because of the small number of birds that can be kept, and the large number of hobbyists, there is talk of overproduction of certain species. As a result, in the Netherlands many species command the lowest prices in Europe. As a consequence, there is much export. Many birds go to southern European countries and the Middle East.

The species resources are enormous. Almost all (sub)species known in aviculture are kept and usually successfully bred. This ranges from hanging parakeets to the largest of parrots, i.e., the Hyacinth Macaw, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus. The parrots kept as pets are usually the African Grey Parrot, Psittacus erithacus, (these are sometimes bred commercially for the production of baby parrots) and the Blue Fronted, Amazona aestiva, and Yellow Headed, Amazona ochrocephala, Amazons. Cockatoos and Macaws are generally much less common. There is also a tendency to keep only the commonly bred parrots as pets and not the rare species such as the Moluccan Cockatoo, Cacatua moluccensis, and the Hyacinth Macaw. Sometimes, the latter are viewed more as status symbols.

The area in which there are large amounts of money involved is in the breeding of mutations. On the one hand, this can be a challenge to hobbyists, but on the other, it can be derailed into an area where money is the most important consideration. The amounts involved are sometimes excessive. It can get so involved that the original species threatens to disappear. Good examples are the canary and the budgerigar. The original wild canary is totally unknown to most hobbyists and the wild budgerigar in no way resembles the exhibition "ideal". With the lovebirds (Agapornis spp.), very few pure bred individuals can be found. At the moment, the Ringnecks, Psittacula krameri, are the group doing really well, and are bought for enormous amounts of money. They are even trying to breed the large Alexandrine Parakeet, Psittacula eupatria, through hybridising with mutations.

The South American parakeets are the ones which have been spared the longest. However, because more species have been bred from this group with good results, more mutations have arisen. Among others, there are the Forpus species, the Lineolated Parakeet, Bolborhynchus lineola, and the different Pyrrhura species.

The greater limitations on the imports of wild caught species in recent decades has built up the enthusiasm for keepers to become aviculturists. In Europe, although pet parrots are common, there is a much stronger tendency for most species to be held by potential or actual breeders. This situation will hopefully continue, despite the constant Worldwide changing "trends" in popularity for certain groups of species. Many Psittacine groups have their own dedicated societies or collections of breeders who facilitate the maintenance of these species in captivity for future generations. However, if we are to succeed and provide future generations with these species to admire and enjoy, we must also encourage our future generations to adopt our constantly changing and challenging hobby of psittaculture. This, currently, is proving to be as challenging as breeding many species of parrots!

 


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