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Successfully Breeding Amazons in Canada
by Brian Eddy
The strong personality of the Amazon Parrot makes it one of the most challenging but rewarding of all Parrots to breed.
There are many factors that can contribute to the successful breeding of these very interesting Parrots. I will try to outline in this presentation what I feel are some of the most important ones.
Selection and Bonding of Breeding Pairs
Simply putting two birds together will not insure that you will obtain satisfactory results.
Careful selection of your breeding stock requires: Patience, Time, Money, and a certain amount of good luck.
Having the birds DNA or surgically sexed is very important.
My best success has been in selecting two very young (under one year) birds from good breeding stock, and letting them grow up together. In this way you will usually obtain well bonded, healthy breeding stock. In most cases these pairs will breed at a younger age then wild caught birds and can make very good parents.
If you have two older (wild caught) birds that have been together for more than one year and show no indication of bonding, then separate them and try rematching them with other mates as parrots are not too unlike people in their likes and dislikes.
The Need for an Annual Veterinary Checkup
Many breeders are disappointed each year because their birds do not lay eggs or they are infertile. We think we are doing all the correct things when we enrich their diet, increase the light hours and give them more baths to stimulate them to breed.
We then sit back and wait for the birds to do the rest. Many times we are disappointed with the results. We blame the birds with incompatibility or any other excuse we can think up to justify the lack of results. Most breeders visually check their birds and, satisfied that their birds look pretty good, assume there is no reason why their birds shouldn't produce young.
We think that our birds are well because they look well. We must remember that birds are very adept at hiding any indication of illness and this is why we should from time to time have them tested.
Two years ago I experienced what I considered were poor breeding results so I decided to have an aviary check up.
My DVM Dr. Rick Axelson and I discussed how we were going to test the birds and decided that to be sure of the birds' health we would do three tests.
They consisted of :
The doctor also performed a visual check of the birds for weight and a check of the choana and a check of the vent for possible papilloma. In all cases the birds appeared to be normal.
The CBC indicates possible changes in the red and white blood cell count and total protein . An increase in the white blood cell count indicates a possible bacteria problem.
The results came back in about one week and they were very interesting. The DVM gave me a computer printout on each bird which I added to my computerized records for future reference.
The first pair, a magnificent Tres Marias pair, had not given me fertile eggs for three years and I was almost ready to sell them. They were originally from Florida and I found out after that they had not produced for their owners there either. The cloacal swab showed that the hen Cuca had Escherichia coli (3+) and Klebisella (2+). The male had E.coli (2+). Most, but not all, of the other birds had varying degrees of E.coli. They could be treated with a number of medications including Baytril.
The birds were treated with Baytril over a period of 10 days in January and went to nest in March and April and as a result all seven pairs tested produced fertile eggs.
The year before they produced 9 babies and the following year they produced 28 healthy babies with some pairs double clutching. The total cost of this checkup was less than the selling price of one baby.
Dr. Axelson explained that all birds have some levels of E.coli but if it is higher than usual it could prevent birds from breeding properly.
In examining everything I do with the birds in the aviary we came up with some possible causes.
I give the birds a special bean mix made up of several types of beans and to this I add twice a week sprouted mung and chick peas in order to give them live food and stimulate them to breed in the spring. I rinse the sprouts with hot water twice a day while sprouting. It is possible that I did not kill all of the bacteria.
I now wash them in very hot water which not only kills any possible bacteria but releases more of the vitamins.
Yes, breeding results are important, but most important to all breeders should be the health and well being of their birds. That is why a good annual DVM checkup is important.
A Successful Healthy Diet
One of the most important things we do as aviculturists and pet owners is to try to feed our parrots correctly. I would like to share with you a diet that I have developed over a period of years and have found successful.
There are as many different diets for parrots as there are bird owners. I make no claims here to either be an authority on bird diets or to say that mine is the best. I will say that it works for me.
I vary the diet so that the birds do not become bored with their food, as it is one of the most important factors in their lives.
The one absolute claim that I make is that just as we humans would not want to live our lives on one single "complete food," so we should not expect intelligent parrots to do so either.
The basic food is Hagen™ high protein pellets, available at all times from gravitational hoppers. The water dishes are changed twice daily and are washed and disinfected.
Note: If the birds were only on pellets then I would probably feed the maintenance lower protein pellets.
Each day the birds get something different along with their pellets. They get either fresh vegetables, or fruit, or a treat of seed and nuts . Three times a week their main meal is a special bean mixture. Occasionally, they will get extra treats such as well cooked chicken bones or beef bones, which they delight in ripping apart for the marrow.
Greens and Vegetables
Greens and vegetables should form an important part of the Amazon diet and can include:
Avocado is the one vegetable I would not recommend as there is some question whether it is poisonous to birds.
During the long winter months here in Canada it is important for the birds to have "live" green food, so I give them sprouted mung beans or chick peas twice a week. Beans of any type can grow bacteria so I take special steps in preparing them.
Preparation of Sprouted Beans
I start by washing the mung beans (probably the most nutritious of all the beans) several times, the last time in very hot water (140 degrees F..
They are then put in a bean sprouter and are kept in the dark for 2 to 3 days, being washed twice daily. Just before feeding I microwave them for 15 seconds and then sprinkle with Nekton™ S vitamins.
The birds love their sprouted beans, and it is rare that they are not all gone in a few minutes. All food is removed after about four hours, whether eaten or not. This live food is particularly important leading up to the breeding season and helps condition the birds at this time.
The sprouted beans are not fed during the summer time when lots of fresh veggies are available.
I feed a lot of well washed dandelion from my back yard (the lawn is never sprayed) . I try to get as much of the root as possible. I also feed Swiss chard, parsley, carrot greens, kale etc.
Amazons have a tendency to put on weight so greens and veggies can help both to keep them trim and to supply a number of vitamins, especially the very important vitamin A. It is particularly important for the hens during the egg laying period.
Getting your Birds to Eat Greens
When people tell me that they have trouble getting their birds to eat vegetables, I tell them to attach them at the perch level and the birds will pick away at them out of curiosity. Before you know it they will be eating them.
Another good way to get them to eat veggies is to process the veggies in a food processor and mix them with the bean mix. Please persist in trying to get your birds to eat their veggies.
My birds get fruit at least twice a week depending what is in season. The variety includes apple, grapes, orange, mango in season, along with melon, and plum—but no cherries as the pits can be toxic (fruit tree branches, except cherry, make great perches).
Amazon Bean Mix Recipe
Try to purchase as many different types of beans as possible. The following beans are a must:
Wash them three or four times, then soak overnight. Change the water once more so that it is at least two inches above the beans, add a pinch of salt then bring to a slow boil, taking off the scum as required.
Let this simmer for about twenty minutes and then add the following:
Let the whole mixture simmer for another 15 minutes and then add things like:
When it is finished cooking (about ten minutes more) I add some bits of pineapple and papaya. Keep in mind that you may have to add more water as you progress and also make sure you start with a big enough pot as everything swells up.
The above can be varied by adding different spices, or beef bouillon rather than chicken. Fast freeze the above in suitable portions for the birds.
The other thing that happens in our family is that my wife takes off shopping whenever I take over the kitchen to make one of my "famous batches."
When I sell a bird I always supply enough to the buyer for the first month along with the recipe and an address where to buy the raw materials.
To serve: Thaw in a microwave and heat. After heating add mixed veggies and at least one fresh vegetable—chopped broccoli, chopped rapine or kale, a processed carrot or chopped dandelion greens. I add Nekton S vitamins just before feeding.
The above sounds a bit involved but not only do the birds love it they do very well on it. You can generally tell this by the condition of their feathers and by how happy they appear to be.
I have had no trouble introducing this to new parrots that have only been fed seed, and their condition improves tremendously in a very short time.
This can cover just about anything that you eat with the exception of junk foods. My birds love well cooked chicken bones, and pasta is a favorite. I also give them 12 grain bread during the breeding season.
People tell me that their birds do perfectly well on seed and pellets. I reply that proper nutrition will do a lot for their bird:
We still have a lot to learn about the diets of these very intelligent, loving birds and we should all keep an open mind and strive to learn more about their diets and nutritional requirements .
Aviary Set Up During the Breeding Season
The cages are 4 feet long by 3 feet high by 2 feet wide. They are hung from the ceiling with waste catcher trays about 8 inches below, covered with newspapers which are changed daily. The floor is ceramic tile.
Each flight has a swing out feeder for water and food which is both quick and easy to service as you do not have to intrude on the birds. Each cage has a gravitational feeder for pellets.
The perches are a combination of natural branches and perches made from hard wood pallets. At the back is a breeding platform 14 inches down from the top and 24 inches wide.
Fresh Air System
There is a special air exchanger that brings air from outside, filters it and distributes throughout the room and exhausts it out again. This eliminates bird smell and most of the dust. It is heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer. There are two windows that are opened every day even in the winter for additional fresh air and are left open the rest of the year.
A central vacuum system permits cleaning the room with no noise and picks up spilled food and any dust.
I use two types of nest boxes. For most of the pairs it is 14 by 14 by 24 inches. The second one (for more aggressive birds is a Z type.
I do not leave my nest boxes up all year. They are put up in mid February and taken down again in August. This prevents hens from spending too much time in the box.
Both types are metal with wooden floors. I find them much easier to work with and easier to keep clean.
It is very important that during the breeding season cages are separated with a visual barrier to give the birds lots of privacy.
I do not permit anyone in the aviary at this time.
Lighting is Vita light 4 foot tubes that are on timers. I create winter conditions in the two months leading up to the breeding season by gradually reducing the light timers to 11 hours. Starting in mid January I start increasing the light by 1/2 hour per week until they have 14 hours of light. At the same time I increase their baths and their diet.
The combination of more light—more baths—and a richer diet tells the birds that all the conditions are there to start laying eggs.
Incubation of Eggs
The question is: Should I pull the eggs or leave them with the hen and let her do it naturally?
Birds for thousands of years have been successfully hatching and brooding eggs so why should we humans "try to reinvent the egg."
I think many of us struggle with this and I am inclined to agree with the late John Stoodley and let the hens do it naturally. This also reduces the work and stress on me and in most cases the hens do a much better job. However having said that there are times when you have a very aggressive male and you have to pull the eggs if you want to save the babies.
Basic Equipment Required
Now let's look at the equipment needed during the breeding season to properly care for incubation, hatching, brooding and hand feeding babies.
Most bird magazines carry many advertisements for all of the required equipment. There have been great advancements in this area.
Remember this: the cost of the required equipment is again probably about the price of the sale of two or three baby Amazons and will pay you dividends when required.
Incubators: I use two incubators and once the breeding season starts I keep my large Lyons incubator on line all the time as it takes one or two days to set them up properly. I use only distilled water and change my wicks weekly.
The Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator I use for hatching and for keeping the new born in for the first two days. This is also a very good incubator unit if you require another incubator with a different hatching temperature.
Three Brooders: I use one Intensive Care Unit and one regular brooder. The chicks are transferred from the Brinsea incubator after the second day to the ICU. After the first 10 days they are transferred to the regular brooder. Note: I always put in extra (wire covered pans of water for extra humidity in the brooders.
The third one is what I call a critter pen brooder. This is very large plastic container used in the food service business. The top has many holes for ventilation and I put a floor of 1/4 inch wire with a bit of water on the bottom. This is rinsed out twice a day to keep the chicks clean.
Microwave: A small microwave oven can be obtained for less than $100.00. A most useful unit for heating and reheating foods and formulas. Be very careful when using the microwave to stir your formula or other foods as there will be hot spots which can burn the chicks. I always check my formula and heated microwave food with a good thermometer.
Two or Three Very Good Calibrated Thermometers: I put extra thermometers in both my incubators and in two places in my brooders as temperatures can vary from one side to the other.
Three or Four Sizes of Feeding Syringes: I use a different one for each batch of chicks.
A Good Disinfectant: I use an Amway product call Pursue.
First Did Kit: This should include things like Q-tips, a small pair of sharp scissors, a good pair of tweezers, and a magnifying glass.
Reference Books: Two of my most important pieces of equipment in my aviary are two books:
Care Instructions: I put up a list of care instructions and various temperatures required in the nursery to remind me of the various information required for hatching chicks. I find it very useful when I am busy with hatching chicks to have it right at my finger tips.
Temperatures that are critical:
Dry Bulb Temperature......99.1°F (+ or - .02°)
Wet bulb Temperature......82°F (+ or - 0.1°)
Increase to 85° plus after pip.
The humidity element in hatching Amazon chicks is probably one of the more critical areas and depending on the part of the world you live in can effect your hatching success very much. In general I have found that most of my problems come with having too much humidity.
Pipping — 24 to 48 hrs after draw down.
Hatch should take place 24 to 72 hrs. after pipping.
To Assist or Not to Assist
There are times when it is necessary to intervene in the hatching process, but "when?" is the question. Many of us tend to do this too early and we either kill the chick or spend a couple of very stressful days wondering what to do next.
Brooding Temperatures After Hatch
I have found that the chicks seem to take their formula better at the higher temperatures. Above 110°F you will burn their crops and below 100°F they will tend to either not take it or it will not pass through the crop properly.
I again stress the importance of having a good thermometer
Feeding Schedule for First Week
Day 1: Pedialyte only for 1st two feedings
Day 2 and 3: 50% Pedialyte 50% Ensure Plus
Day 4: Thin formula
Note: Do not mix the Pedialyte or Ensure with the formula.
Feed every two hours for the first week. (I do not feed after 11 PM but start again at 5 AM.)
Most people use one of the many very good commercial formulas available for hand feeding.
1. Should double in 3 to 5 days
2. Should double again between days 7 and 9
3. Should double again between days 11 and 14
Special Separate Baby Room
All of the incubators and brooders are kept in a separate baby room. This room is equipped with stainless steel sinks, refrigerator, microwave and a deep freezer for the frozen packs of bean mix. It also has a special water filter.
Once the babies are at the flight stage the room is turned into a flight room. It is not uncommon to have 20 or more little "whizzers" going back and forth trying out their flying and lining up like little jets for their nightly feeding. I feed formula to only those who seek it at this stage.
In the summer time I put the youngsters outside in a 12 foot flight.
Because we travel so much we have a full security system monitoring the whole property.
Special Diet for Parents Feeding Their Babies
I give my baby feeding parents an enriched diet which consists of the bean mix and I cut up pieces of 12 grain whole-wheat bred and mix it in. I also add to this some of the commercial hand feeding formula.
I make sure that they are never out of food to feed the babies and only remove it just before the lights go out.
I do not feed any seed for the first month to the parents as it could possibly be too hard to digest when fed to the babies.
When parents are feeding their babies I feel it is important to vary their diet a bit so they do not get bored with the same food day after day. I do this by processing into the bean diet things like fresh greens and broccoli and slightly cooked carrots (this releases more of the Vitamin A).
Weaning of the Babies
This is the most challenging time in breeding Amazons. It requires a great deal of patience and time and is a very difficult time for hand reared babies.
There is a very good article written by a friend of mine, Mr. Dennis Saydak, on this subject on my web page: http://www.members.home.net/beddy. He talks about Abundance Feeding and the patience required to successfully wean your babies into well adjusted healthy youngsters.
Breeders have a responsibility not to sell an unweaned baby as a potential pet. I have heard of some real horror stories of pet owners who have either had a baby with an impacted crop from formula fed too cool or a burnt crop from formula fed to hot. The money that they may have saved in buying a "cheap" baby is more than spent at the DVM trying to correct the problem, and in many times the chick dies.
Cheerio cereal is their first solid food. They get a bowl of it in the brooder at about three weeks or when they get a few feathers. They play with it and nibble on it in the process.
Their next food is a primate (monkey) biscuit soaked in hot water and heated in a small microwave. I then introduce my bean mixture diet but it is processed and made easy for them to eat.
Gradually things like chopped apples, greens, broccoli and chopped 12 grain bread are added. Pellets are introduced first soaked and heated and then in dishes and then from the gravity feeding hoppers.
Babies waste a lot of their food by playing with it but that is a big part of weaning.
Care and Training your Parrot:
The Serious Part
It is very important for you to establish the ground rules as early as possible, and here are a few of the most important:
To Clip or Not to Clip: If your bird is not clipped, never, never assume that it is so tame that it will not fly away when sitting on your hand or shoulder outdoors or near a door if it is open. If something scares it or if there is a strong wind it will fly and in most cases will not come back. If you do take it outside unclipped have a good grip on its toes. Please see my web site for a complete article on how to find a lost bird.
Teflon Cooking Utensils: Be very careful, when you cook with Teflon utensils, not to let them burn, as they will give off deadly fumes. Birds are more sensitive to fumes than humans. Canaries were long used by miners to detect poison gas leaks before they became fatal to humans.
Aerosol Sprays: Many of these are poisonous to birds, so be very careful when using any of them. It is probably safer to move your bird when using them.
Poisonous Plants: These have been listed many times in bird publications, but if in doubt do not have plants around your birds. An on-line listing can be found at upatsix.com. Choose Frequently Asked Questions, then Hazards.
Biting: Boy this is a tough one. Anyone who owns a parrot has been "stapled" at least once!
Yelling and Screeching: If you want a parrot for a pet then be prepared to accept some noise twice a day, morning and evening. It is not acceptable for it to be noisy all day or if you are not around to entertain it. You can overcome this in several ways:
Rest: Many people keep their birds up too late at night then wonder why they get cranky. They should be put to bed not later than 7 PM in the winter and 9 PM in the summer. This does not mean you have to leave the room they are in, as they will be quite content if their cages are covered. These intelligent birds are creatures of habit and if you teach them good habits when young they will carry them into adulthood. The same thing applies when you are training them to talk or playing with them. Their attention span is short and they can get "nippy" if pushed.
Keep on Learning: Parrot magazines have articles every month which deal with every aspect of training your bird. The Internet now has many good web sites where you can pick up useful information from some of the world's best bird behaviorists.
The Fun Part
Amazons not only love to play but are rated the most reliable talking parrots. The challenge is not only to help them but to have fun while doing it. Here are a few suggestions.
Talking: Amazons just naturally like to mimic us humans and can learn to sing and are capable of learning hundreds of words. I find that they learn better from a women's voice with lots of enthusiasm and expression. Let me stress again that when you are working with your bird its attention span is probably about 10 minutes. It is better if you plan several 10 minutes lessons a day than one long one.
Toys and Tricks: Amazons love their toys. Simple toys that they can chew and swing on are the best. Be careful of toys with any soft metals and also be wary of placing toys where the bird can get hung up.
Social Play Time: This is the time when your bird should want to be held by you and fly to you and, if trained when young, it will be the favorite time of the day for both of you. My Tresi loves to hold on to a hand-held branch then turn over on her tummy to be tickled and scratched. This is where you and your bird should develop a mutual respect and where you should be able to hold any part of its body. However, Amazons especially are independent creatures with their own desires and moods. Try to be sensitive enough to your bird's "body language" to pick the time of the day when you are both in the mood for interaction. One bird will drop everything else to interact with his human companion. Another will resent being interrupted while playing with a toy or eating or when tired.
Head Scratch Time: Most birds love to have their head scratched. This is another excellent time to teach them to talk.
Special Food Treat Time: I use this time to hand out to each of my over 50 Amazons a (high quality) peanut or a piece of apple, which they all love. When I walk into the aviary and say in a loud voice, "IT'S TREAT TIME!" they get very excited. I hear most of their vocabularies including, "THANK YOU." This is also a good time to really look at each bird to see that all is well with them.
Tips on Marketing Your Baby Parrots
So now you have some baby parrots but you are not quite sure just how you are going to sell them. I hope these tips will not only help those people who are trying to sell their babies, but also show potential customers what they should expect when they purchase a pet.
1) Join a Local Club: I think it is important to meet other people who are breeding birds, and of course the way to do this is to join a local club. Take lots of pictures of your birds at all stages then show them to the members so that they will know first of all that you have some baby parrots.
2) Get to know your DVM and especially his receptionist. When you have babies take in pictures and leave them with the DVM's receptionist, letting her know that you want to sell them.
3) Bird Shows: Take part in some of the fall bird shows. This is a good place to show off your young birds.
4) Local Newspapers: Many of the smaller local newspapers would probably send a reporter out to see your birds, if you phone them. Better still, take in some color photos to show them your birds, along with a written page on the history of the birds. If you make it easy for them they may well publish your story and pictures.
5) Local Animal Humane Society: I attend an open house for the local Animal Humane society. People who attend love to see the birds and hear them talk.
6) Photos of Your Birds: Make up a picture story of the birds showing them in various activities such as bathing, playing etc., and paste them on a piece of cardboard so that you have a colorful poster. Try to put in some background about where the birds come from. This can be used in all sorts of places, shopping plaza or your local nursery, to show your birds. (Your computer should be a big help in preparing this.)
7) Catchy Name: Have a good, catchy name for your aviary.
8) Local TV: Many of the local cable TV stations welcome people for their pet programs. I have been on several, along with my DVM, whom I invited to join me. This is usually a phone in program. The DVM takes the medical part and I try to answer the behavior and care questions. Always have at least one of your birds with you, and if tame enough, have him sit on your arm (not your shoulder, of course).
9) Guarantee: Give at least a one month guarantee on the health of your birds. I give three months and have never in 15 years had a problem.
10) Bird Food: Offer about a three months' supply of the bird's food. This will ensure that the baby will be on a proper diet in a critical time. Note: Offer to sell the food after this. You may even end up covering the cost of all your aviary bird food by doing this. You will be offering your customer a good service because your food will be fresh and will also the correct food for your birds.
11) Birth Certificate: Make up a birth certificate for the baby including a color picture and background information on the parents.
12) On-going Consultation: Let your customers know that you will be available for consultation on your bird for as long as they want.
13) Offer free wing, toe and beak care for one year. Note: Most people do not take advantage of this but it does give them assurance and confidence when they buy the bird.
14) Business Cards: Give your customer a business card from your DVM and of course one from yourself.
15) Cages: Suggest the correct size cage for your baby when you sell it.
16) Clean Aviary: Make sure your aviary is always kept clean, especially when you invite people to come to see the birds.
17) Tax Benefits: I would recommend that you look into the tax benefits by consulting with a good accountant. Keep good records on both your costs and your sales. Although breeding is a hobby for me, I feel it is important to run my hobby as a proper small business. You may not make a profit for a couple of years, but the tax benefits should help you.
18) A Good Internet Web Site: The Internet is now one of the best places to show off your birds. Whenever I receive a phone call asking about my birds I refer the person to my web site. I not only have pictures of my birds but all of the information discussed here today to help people with the care and training of their birds. I also link my site to many of the best bird sites in the world. I am delighted that my web site is now in the top 100 bird sites. There are many different Bird 4 Sale sites where you can offer your bird or look for a pet bird from breeders.
Successfully breeding Amazons anywhere takes not only dedication and time, it requires that each of us try to learn as much as we can about these wonderful companions.
In finishing this presentation I would like to dedicate it to two people who dedicated their lives to aviculture:
John Stoodley: He passed away in October of 1999. He will be missed by not only his family but by bird lovers all over the world.
James Murphy: He passed away last November. He founded the Amazona Society. Jim dedicated his life to the study and raising of Amazons.
Brian Eddy (Canada)
Mr. Eddy, founding president of the Parrot Association of Canada, was a champion cockatiel breeder before becoming interested in Amazons. He has traveled extensively to observe parrots—in the wild, private collections, and bird parks—to better understand these complex creatures. He continues to contribute in-depth articles to a number of international publications.