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Breeding Parrots for Posterity and Pets
Parrots have been attractive to man for hundreds of years but only recently are we beginning to see our responsibility to them. Many have been kept chained to a stand or perch and as recently as the 1960s I saw imported birds with several links of chain attached to a leg.
The great land mass which is Australia is home to many wonderful Cockatoos, Parakeets and Finches.
So far I think that country is less spoiled by man than most other habitats. The diversity of species is possibly because of the tremendous variety of habitats; I find it very exciting to explore, and observe the differing types of terrain from desert to rainforest. Each time I visit there is more to see, always enhanced by the colorful lively, cheerful chatter of the birds.
An Avicultural haven?
Seeing the great expanses where avians can select their food, makes me marvel at their tolerance to man, who with some ingenuity has been able to persuade these beauties to reproduce in captive conditions.
Then one thinks of the great diversity of parrots that live in Mexico and the islands in the Caribbean. These are gradually losing their habitat to man. One sees deforestation as man seeks pleasure and pastimes; Cancún Island comes to mind. Some years ago, ignorant of what was happening, there was I on a small boat crossing the strip of water en route to Cancún when out of nowhere a Jumbo jet appeared and landed.
We were shocked, as we had hoped to see the parrots that had lived there for hundreds of years. Of course we were disappointed, as we returned to the mainland.
Many of the smaller parrots raid agricultural land, but understandably the farmers also struggling to get a living shoot them.
South American birds are also under threat; we constantly hear of their plight as man seeks hardwood, minerals and oil. I have seen first hand the decimation of vast forests, and the subsequent burning.
Sadly much of the land taken to grow crops is poorly managed, and not very fertile, leading to more deforestation.
Our great chance
So we aviculturists have a great opportunity to preserve the species; regrettably I feel the challenge is a great one. Sadly some species will succumb, but with the knowledge aviculturists now have to hand we must behave responsibly and do a worth while job.
Veterinary medicine has so improved and it is easy to establish a bird's gender, so on with breeding parrots responsibly. That is a very important issue; our credibility is at stake.
In recent years the value of established breeding pairs together with good husbandry has been realised by clear thinking people who have been rewarded by nests of healthy youngsters.
To maintain viable stock it is essential to have genetic diversity but the temptation to breed from closely related birds is a real one especially in situations where it is difficult to obtain an alternative. Inevitably and unfortunately this leads to self destruction. This has been well documented by the scientific community.
It is very hard to forgo such temptation but conservation means little unless certain criteria are adhered to. The right action will not always fill the pocket with gold. The indiscriminate production of birds will bring about short term gain.
So many artificially raised youngsters are not typical of the parent stock. In nature anything that is not 100 per cent will perish long before it reaches maturity, so species are protected, and remain virile and true to type. In commercial units much that is produced cannot reproduce; it does not take long to breed out what in nature is a natural function.
The hybridising of species is a crime in the eyes of the serious aviculturists who are aware of the need to conserve nature as it is. I have proven that if we give our breeding parrots enough space, some privacy around the nest site, and a good diet, all will be well.
For myself when I need new stock for a change of blood, I find it difficult to purchase typical species that have not been imprinted by man.
Wherever possible I buy from a friend whose birds are prolific breeders, something for everyone to consider; poor stock is not worth considering. If we feel we want to do something worthwhile for conservation, surely specialization is the way to contribute most to our chosen cause. The artificially produced parrots that never have contact with their parents are losing favour with the majority of thinking aviculturists.
There is now a realisation that parent raised stock is far and away superior to the unnaturally raised pretender.
To many it is unthinkable that some people use their parrots as egg machines taking everything the parrots lay to feed the incubator, then artificially raise and imprint everything.
Of course there will be times when one has no alternative to hand raising, one just has to get on with it. It is somewhat easier nowdays as specially prepared diets are available; this labour intensive job is very demanding, especially in the early days. The balancing of heat and humidity requirement is of paramount importance, in order to induce growth so vital to avoid stunting.
There are times when the incubator is of great importance as a back up to keep the embryo alive.
With the coming of Probiotics our task of hand rearing has become easier; to be able to add a combination of bacteria, enzymes, electrolytes and vitamins from a dry pack is a great advancement.
Good as they are we are aware that their development is not as good as parent raised stock; if chicks have enjoyed even a week in a natural nest their development will be helped considerably.
Our early work with incubators, when we had to build our own to get the reliability required to hatch parrot eggs, was a most exciting time.
Never in our wildest dreams did we forsee the artificial situation that we have today; sadly I feel some responsibility, having shared our early findings.
There were no ready made chick foods on the market so we had to improvise. We soon realised one could foster parrots; often one hen would raise three species, one group being removed to the brooder whilst the pair fed another.
It may seem that it is a lot for the parents or foster parent to do, but in nature the parents have to fly and seek food where in aviculture abundance is provided.
Our decision to foster was not taken lightly, as so many stories had been told about parrots being bad parents; however like so many poor tradesmen the blame was placed indiscriminately.
We soon saw the potential of our proven pairs, trusting them with rare species' eggs, and substituting others until they proved their parenthood. With experience we soon understood the needs of our parent stock, and regarded most failures as lack of understanding on the keeper's part. The main reason for nesting failures is over density of stock, resulting in lack of territory, resulting in insecurity.
One knows in nature how a pair has to win a nest site, defend it and try to ward off intruders; small wonder they are unsettled when crammed into high density situations.
I have long since believed that the competition for nesting sites in nature is one of the reasons for the higher rate of fertility in nature, but I am also aware that pairs are together by choice: self selection, not a shot- gun wedding.
Once the young emerge from the nest, we must consider their future: will they go into a breeding collection or be sold as pets? If the latter is their destiny then as soon as they are self-feeding it as well to rehouse them, into a unit where human contact can be encouraged. Most newly hatched chicks have a wonderful innocence, trusting their keeper one should not push them and lose their trust. Once separated from their parents it is easy to encourage feeding from the hand.
Hopefully the young parrot will not be denied its given right of flight; sadly so many suffer this fate, but please think how we would feel if we were denied the right to walk.
The number of self mutilated birds I am sure would decrease if wing clipping ceased. To me flight is so important; I well remember personally delivering two macaws to a bird park. Firstly they were crated as per regulations, then on to an aircraft for a few hours; once we arrived at their destination they were housed, not too well, and I arrived to see them next morning and released them from an inadequate cage. They flew in large circles before landing on my shoulders with obvious delight at my arrival. I decided to stay for a few days to effect a handover to their new owner. Being naturally raised is something we believe is essential if we are going to preserve species as nature intended; their growth will not have been stunted or their bone structure deformed.
The caring birdkeeper can take pride as the results of his or her labour, of supplying the best nutrition available, are there to admire.
Aviculture has a wonderful opportunity to supply pets for companion birds, and breeding stock for the future survival of rarer species. So common sense must prevail and endangered species should not be offered as companion birds no matter what inducement is offered. To the dedicated conservationist the sight of a Hyacinth Macaw as a performing crowd pleaser is a criminal act.
We must preserve our credibility if we are to be respected as a group. It was once envisaged that reintroduction of stock back to nature would be possible, but with so many diseases amongst captive stock would this be a wise thing to do?
Surely our main aim should be to take the pressure off natural populations, by breeding and supplying stock at reasonable prices to responsible people wishing to share our pleasurable hobby.
Happily, responsible organisations are investing in quality field work, to help preserve species in their natural environment; it is something in which we can all participate, but be aware: make sure you are not financing someone's vacation.
There are many people that are opposed to the keeping of captive birds, preferring birds to become extinct rather than live in captivity in all its forms, from pet cage to the really large concern.
Often I feel our days of privilege are numbered, we must not give these people reasons to attack our interests.
Surely we wish to be known as dedicated bird keepers, or breeders who have researched our field of study and made a positive contribution to aviculture.
I would not care to keep my collection under hostile relations with reactionary groups, and the unfavorable opinion of the masses. For some time Zoos have come under heavy scrutiny and have to make many changes to become acceptable to the public. We must follow suit if we are to keep respectable and keep the support of non bird keeping people.
At our sanctuary a breeding bird will be with us for many years and during that time it is cosseted and housed with an accepted partner; it will receive veterinary care, good food and a spacious flight free from adverse weather conditions.
I recall a visit to Sweden, a country that has severe winters, and to my astonishment I was shown what I believe to be one of the world's most productive groups of Hyacinth Macaws. The housing was spacious, affording good flight length and protection from the severe elements. Contrastingly I saw fine collections housed in basements, where Amazon parrots had generous accommodation.
So all we need to do is to chose the species that we have the space to accommodate.