An excerpt from Tony Silva’s new release; Psittaculture - fully revised
Text by Tony Silva, photos by Simon Degenhard
For the person intent on breeding, my recommendation is to enter aviculture by acquiring a pair of Cockatiels Nymphicus hollandicus or Budgerigars Melopsittacus undulatus. Once experience has been gained and one starts enjoying being in the ranks of aviculture, other species can be acquired. I always try to discourage a beginner from purchasing a pair of macaws or cockatoos, even the smaller species in these groups, as their first pair of birds, given that these species are noisy, destructive, sufficiently intelligent to train their owners (such as by calling incessantly, throwing the cage contents about, or shredding newspaper used to line the cage bottom, to which their owners respond by rushing to the cage) and have peculiar idiosyncrasies that combined may prove overwhelming for a beginner. Proper care, breeding and hand rearing can be learned less painstakingly with the smaller Cockatiel, Budgerigar or Agapornis species. Look no further until you have amassed experience.
Once preliminary experience has been gained and you are ready to expand your collection, be just as choosy as when purchasing your next pet bird.
Some parrots can be nigh impossible to breed; some of the common amazons (e.g. the Mealy Amazona farinosa) and even some of the lories (e.g. the Purple-naped Lorius domicella) can test the patience of the most competent aviculturist. Other species - like the three species recommended as your first pair of birds - can prove outright prolific. Green-cheeked Conures Pyrrhura molinae breed and rear their young readily and do not require special diets.
However, the ease in which a species breeds does not necessarily correlate with the ease of keeping them. A case in point is the fig parrots (Cyclopsitta and Psittaculirostris ssp.), which are about the size of a lovebird and breed readily but almost invariably the young perish before fledging, usually as a result of some dietary deficiency. A breeder trying to rear fig parrots can become frustrated beyond reason by this type of failure. Imagine a person with no experience but with the financial means to acquire a pair of these birds and having clutch after clutch perish? They would soon become discouraged and in the worst scenario may commence neglecting the birds. Some cockatoos, including the Ducorps’s Cacatua ducorpsii, Moluccan Cacatua moluccensis and Red-vented Cacatua haematuropygia, may not prove to be particularly difficult to breed, but aggression on the part of the male, even in successful pairs that have produced young on countless occasions, may result in the female being maimed or killed. The reason for such behaviour is not precisely known, but it is a problem that will be faced sooner or later by a cockatoo breeder. Experience will allow the recognition of subtle signs that may prevent the hen from being injured or murdered. Green-cheeked Conures never cause this type of problem. Their young are easily hand reared after they are a few weeks of age, allowing the novice to learn this technique. The pair will require only a cage and nest - not a large flight that takes up considerable space and a special nesting box as in the cockatoos to permit the hen to escape through one entrance when a bellicose male enters through the other. Sun Conures Aratinga solstitialis solstitialis and Senegal Parrots Poicephalus senegalus will also breed readily and can be incredible teachers of bird behaviour, breeding and rearing of young. These birds also mature quickly - the larger parrots can take many years and this long spell can prove frustrating to the beginner anxious to see results.
When looking for a pet bird or future breeders, try to obtain the youngest individuals possible; if acquiring wild caught birds, age may not be discernible and then one has to rely on the observations of a clinician during laparoscopy, an invasive method used to distinguish gender in monomorphic birds (i.e. those species that exhibit no outward differences between the sexes), or the seller, if he or she has experience; with captive bred birds of known provenance, genetic sexing can be used to determine gender.
Young birds are preferred because they adapt readily to changes. They are not as likely to stress from the care routine you will provide (which may be considerably different from that which they are accustomed to), diet you will feed, or the environment they will be housed in. They will mature under your husbandry routine. If the family has a dog, its bark will not cause the female to emerge from the nest when she is incubating. A mature pair reared in a home without a dog may be so stressed by the unusual sounds that the hen will abandon the nest on hearing the first bark. The same applies to the presence of children, music from the radio, or even a doorbell. In the case of a pet bird, undesirable actions may be entrenched and part of the daily behavioural routine. Imagine bringing a screamer into an apartment complex? Or acquiring a bird that swears continuously for a household with small children? Or even purchasing a bird that is accustomed to being let out of its cage the minute it hears someone? Once forged, to erase these behaviours will require special training, patience and some degree of luck; sometimes the bird just cannot be changed. In contrast, a young bird probably has not learned such behaviours and can be properly trained from the onset.
There is a trend, which fortunately is disappearing, whereby young, unweaned birds are sold for pets. A professional breeder with experience would know what to expect, but imagine a beginner with no experience looking into an incubator holding a nestling macaw that is laying on its back (a normal posture when startled), or having a baby with crop stasis because of bacterial problems caused by inadequate hygiene, or the baby dehydrating from throwing up because the formula it was fed was too cold or contained the wrong solids-to-water ratio, or even worse, having the chick die because it was forced to eat formula that was the wrong temperature and which in the struggle entered the lungs, causing it to asphyxiate? I have received countless calls from emotionally distressed individuals that were experiencing one of the innumerable problems that can arise with a nestling parrot being hand-reared. All invariably regretted having purchased the bird.
Young birds need to be reared and weaned by an experienced person; the seller may well allow a buyer to visit and watch or when the baby is older to become part of its daily life, but taking it home before it is fully weaned is a different matter.
Young also need some interaction and expert care vital to their future well-being. A young bird removed from the nest and sold to someone with only a bag of dry formula, syringes for feeding and some written instructions not only stands a great chance of perishing from inadvertent mistakes, but if it survives may be traumatized to such an extent that it will become an inferior pet.
Carefully consider all options – age and traits typical of the species and even its needs - before making a purchase. Haste should never give way to well researched consideration. Remember: Once you purchase the bird, it may not be accepted back by the seller should you change your mind or decide that it was not the correct choice. The bird, if well cared for and depending on the species, may well be in your home for the rest of your life. Make the correct choice and you will receive unqualified love and much pleasure for decades to come.
Footnote: The intention behind Psittaculture is to help you make the correct decisions and to provide the guidance necessary for success. I have called on some 40+ years of experience as a basis and then have, whenever possible, referenced the opinions and experiences of others; there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the proverbial saying goes, and my goal is to describe all of the possible methods. Use this book as a reference manual and it will aid you in finding success in keeping one or many pet birds or in breeding a broad array of species.
Baby Scarlet Macaws
Blue and Gold Macaw
Wild colour and cinnamon (middle) Bush Budgies - Budgies are the perfect species to begin with.
Male Red-browed Fig Parrot
Sun Conures breed well and are easy to care for, but can make a lot of noise
Turquoise Green-cheeked Conure
Yellow-sided Green-cheeked Conure