Species Selection - Part I

An excerpt from Tony Silva’s recent release; Psittaculture - fully revised

Text by Tony Silva, photos by Simon Degenhard

"Parrots are a diverse group and there is a species for everyone—the shy, the introverted, the extroverted, the garrulous, the quiet, the meek, the aggressive.

Wolfgang Kiessling, 1992, Speech, International Parrot Convention, Tenerife, Canary Islands."

The order Psittaciformes (or parrots) currently comprises of 386 species if the most liberal interpretation of taxonomy is taken. If a more conservative approach is followed, this number will decrease to 352 species (Juniper and Parr, 1998). Whatever position one takes, the number will never be static but will wax and wane with increasing research and fieldwork or the stance taken by any given writer. This number can also drop if the Glaucous Macaw Anodorhynchus glaucus is indeed extinct as many believe and if the Intermediate Parakeet Psittacula “intermedia” proves to be a natural occurring hybrid as many suspect (Silva, 1989; Juniper and Parr, 1998). Within all of these species, one finds tremendous variation in colour, size and behaviour. Their suitability as aviary subjects ranges from the easy to the nigh impossible to keep alive for any length of time. Their pet potential also varies significantly.

Parrots fall under three behavioural categories, these having little bearing on taxonomy but proving important for the person intent on keeping these birds in captivity.

A few species belong to the non-bonded category, in which contact between the sexes is limited usually to the breeding season. In Psittacula parakeets’ British aviculturist George Smith (1979) succinctly described this behaviour thus:

“The circumspect courtship, with the noticeable avoidance of close contact, perfectly demonstrates [the lack of bonding].

“The first physical contact a male makes with his partner is to preen her nape and the ‘butts’ of her wings: he seems not to preen other areas. This always is a most perfunctory nibbling and cannot groom her feathers. Whenever a courting male approaches his hen he first wipes his beak; almost as if he was taking no chances with her uncertain temper by ‘touching wood’. In preening he stands some little distance and only by stretching his neck to the maximum of his reach can he touch the hen.”

This same behaviour extends to petting. If a bird does not allow its mate to preen it, it will not enjoy being touched; the most that one can obtain from such a bird is getting it to stand on the hand and to talk. Most individuals that purchase a pet bird, however, want to cuddle and bestow considerable affection towards it. A Psittacula parakeet or an Eclectus Parrot Eclectus roratus would not be a good pet for such a person, as they would be stressed being subjected to a contact that evolutionarily they have eschewed.

At the other extreme are the bonded parrots, in which considerable affection is shown towards each other. In Silva (1991) I described this group as follows:

…[The pair bond is] so strong that two birds, irrespective of gender, will spend hours sitting side by side, usually their bodies touching, preening, sometimes feeding each other and mating. These birds make ideal pets; craving affection, they find joy in their owner’s speech and touch. Most of the species available in aviculture belong to this second category. They include cockatoos, macaws, conures (except as indicated below), amazons and African parrots, except for a species of Psittacula parakeet found on the Dark Continent. For a tame individual of these birds, there are not enough hours in a day that their owner can devote to petting, playing and holding them.

The third group falls somewhere in between, though is more inclined towards the bonded category and will tolerate petting. This group includes the Enicognathus conures and Pionus parrots. These birds prove affectionate and seek attention on their own terms and can make perfect pets for the independent person.

For a person seeking a pet bird, the first choice should be the bonded category; the last choice should be from the non-bonded grouping. The latter would be ideal for an individual who is content with watching a bird in a cage or on a stand and who leads a busy schedule; the attention that the bird will need, during which it should be played and petted, will be minimal.

Within each of the three categories, some species are a better choice for a given environment than the others. African Greys Psittacus erithacus do best in a very steady environment; constant changes in their surroundings, new roommates and a continuous flow of visitors tend to make these naturally shy birds even shier, if not nervous and introverted. As aviary birds, Greys like a more secluded location, an amazon, on the other hand, would thrive in