Rosemary Low tells us whether you are a caring breeder or not.
Most of us are well aware of the fact that Parrots are intelligent creatures whose needs and emotions are not so different from our own.
Parrots don’t like staring at the same boring wall every day. Pet birds don’t like a monotonous diet.
They don’t like being denied access to rain and to the early morning sun.
Parrots don’t like living with a partner with whom they are not compatible.
They do like being removed from their breeding cages at the close of each season to fly in a large aviary with the same or related species.
They relish a food tray which contains an assortment of items that are varied from day to day. They feel sorrow when they are separated from a much-loved partner; they feel proud and protective when their young ones leave the nest.
Birds kept in the home feel jealousy when another is introduced into the household and they grieve at the loss from death of the person to whom they are bonded. Worse still, they suffer when they are moved on because someone has lost interest. When owners sell or give away a companion bird, how deeply do they think about the impact it has on the bird? Many Parrots suffer inhumane treatment — usually not intentional – because the people responsible for them never consider their needs and emotions.
Most people believe they are caring for their birds to the best of their ability yet, in reality, they have too many birds in their care, and too many species. We tend to treat all members of the same genus as though they have precisely the same requirements, often not taking into account their differing dietary needs, nesting requirements or housing preferences.
This is especially the case with food. We should be studying the needs and preferences of each pair, not each species. We can feed them and care for them as individuals only if we have a limited number of birds. If it is impossible to know each individual, breeding results suffer, except with the smallest and most free-breeding species.
Even then, in a large collection the most obvious factors that prevent breeding, such as a nest entrance which is too small could be missed. With just a few birds, each one gives enormous pleasure and is treated like an individual. If there was just one rule that could be applied to Parrots kept for breeding purposes to improve their well-being it would be that no person was allowed to keep more than fifteen pairs.
I suspect that today, compared to the mid-1980s to 1990s, a much larger percentage of Parrot keepers would fall into this category except for prolific species that can be kept several pairs to the aviary, such as Cockatiels and some Lovebirds.
There are comparatively few large collections now, also fewer people breeding the larger Parrots. One reason for this is that unless you have a large property or you are a farmer, the space does not exist to keep a large collection in good surroundings.
Unfortunately some people keep breeding pairs in garages or in other unsuitable environments. If the pairs do not have access to outside enclosures, their health will suffer over the long-term, also the quality of young produced.
A newspaper item published in 2012 stated that in the UK the incidence of rickets (bone disease) — something not seen for decades has increased greatly because children spend so much time at computers or games consoles. They do not have enough exposure to sunlight for Vitamin D to be synthesized. The same happens in birds.
Rickets is a metabolically induced bone disease in growing animals, resulting in deformities in the skeleton. Affected birds will be deformed for life. Calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D deficiencies also cause the beak to become soft and pliable.
It always saddens me when I hear of people breeding African Grey Parrots in their garage. This is one of the species most likely to be affected with rickets (osteodystrophy). Sadly, a large number of deformed specimens are produced. It does not matter how much calcium you give a breeding pair or a chick being hand-reared, without exposure to sunlight or Vitamin D3 added to the diet to aid its absorption and phosphorus in the correct proportion to calcium, chicks with deformities are likely to be bred. It is easy to provide this as calcium supplements also contain these two important elements.
Nigel Harcourt-Brown, the well known vet in Yorkshire (also a Parrot breeder) urged his clients to have some young Parrots x-rayed each season. His experience showed that a shockingly large percentage of young (especially Greys) had already suffered bone fractures.
In a large collection it can be difficult to manage every pair to ensure that their calcium and Vitamin D3 intake is adequate. Few foods contain significant quantities of calcium so a supplement, combined with vitamin D3 to aid its absorption, must be supplied.
Powdered supplements added to the food, especially eggfood, are most suitable as Parrots drink little water and, in any case, in water additives of calcium in syrup form usually sink to the bottom of the water container. I know of many people who give calcium supplements to their birds, especially important for Grey Parrots in home or aviary, who add this to the drinking water. In many cases a vet has told them incorrectly that this is how the supplement should be fed.
One of the biggest causes of breeding failure is the death of hens due to calcium deficiency. This is very sad and unfortunately it happens regularly which is one reason why there are so many “Wanted female…“ advertisements. Other breeders believe that as their birds eat cuttlefish bone they do not need to offer calcium in any other form. This is certainly not true of most Parrots kept permanently inside houses or buildings.
Now back to the subject of keeping Parrots inside garages, and to breeding them in small cages. I am at a loss to understand what pleasure a keeper gets from this, also his or her lack of concern for the poor quality of life these birds suffer.
I understand the policy of cage breeding inside a building because it is less time-consuming and takes less space. Also, because the breeding season can be manipulated, for half the year there will be no breeding birds to attend to. In my view, this is acceptable only if they can fly in an outdoor aviary, possibly as a flock, when they are not breeding. In this way they experience a more natural existence, especially in species, such as Cockatiels and Amazons, which would naturally flock together outside the breeding season.
One never really gets to know some species when they are kept permanently in small spaces where they cannot fly, forage on the ground or bathe in the rain. For example, Kakarikis are almost invariably bred in quite small aviaries despite the fact that they are among the most restless and active of all Parrots.
When you see them in a really large aviary and watch them scratching animatedly in the leaf litter on the floor, alternately running and flying, never still for a second, you realise how alien are the conditions under which they are normally kept. Unfortunately, few can keep these parakeets in enormous aviaries but it would not be too difficult to provide them with hours of amusement by covering the cage or aviary floor with leaf litter.
Find suitable cages here.
Birds kept in buildings are sometimes managed (with lighting and feeding more generously to induce breeding) so that they lay during the winter. By synchronising the breeding of pairs, there is a greater potential to foster young, rather than hand-rear any that cannot stay with their parents.
My experience of hand-rearing Parrots, over a period that spanned more than 30 years, led me to believe that under optimal conditions (good diet and good health), parent-reared young are superior to those that are hand-reared. Acquired young, parent-reared birds can also make good pets. Unfortunately the buying public has become almost brain-washed to believe that only hand-reared young Parrots make good companions.
I mention this because so many pairs are deprived of the knowledge of rearing their own young to fledging, which is surely the most fulfilling and natural experience that captive birds can know. It is also the best way in which we can enrich the lives of aviary birds.
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