Rosemary Low tells us more about breeding Parrots and conservation.
I ended my last blog by writing:
“… throughout the tropics, deforestation, mainly for agricultural purposes, has already greatly reduced countless Parrot populations. Wise use of many Parrots already in captivity will be crucial for their survival. This means avicultural emphasis should be on the original wild type – and not on mutations.”
Fanciers and Aviculturists
Broadly speaking, I would divide bird keepers into two groups: fanciers and aviculturists. The fanciers concentrate on type, colour and mutations and the aviculturists are only or mainly interested in breeding birds of the original wild type.
Aviculture has much to offer conservation. Breeding mutations gives nothing positive in this respect. Many people keep birds for the sheer enjoyment that these wonderful creatures provide, which is fair enough, but a significant proportion have no interest in conservation.
Breeding bird mutations is such a popular section of the hobby that it seems to have expanded in the UK to outnumber the rearing of wild-type birds. Proof is easily found in the advertisement columns of bird magazines.
This is not surprising because during the past 30 years or so the number of mutations in popular bird species has increased to a remarkable degree. Bird magazines devote a lot of space and images to the subject, perhaps at the expense of more practical or useful advice.
However, I would like to remind bird breeders of the negative impact of what is now a strong bias towards mutation breeding – certainly in Europe and probably increasingly in other regions.
The more mutations established in a species, the more devotees it will attract, often at the expense of other members of the same genus. The perfect example is that of the Pyrrhura Conures.
Thirty years ago eight species were regularly bred in the UK. Now only one, the Green-cheeked, is bred in large numbers – because of the many mutations which have been established in the past 25 years. In other members of the genus, few mutations have appeared. The Crimson-bellied (Pyrrhura perlata), is the only one of the four species in the IUCN Vulnerable (VU) category that is reared in reasonable numbers. VU means that it is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
The closely related Pearly Parakeet (P.lepida) was once reared in good numbers but has nearly gone from aviculture; however this is due to the popularity of the more colourful Crimson-bellied. This is unfortunate because it has been in the VU threat category since 2012 and is known to be declining due to habitat loss, real and projected, despite its large range in northern Brazil.
Another Pyrrhura, also classified as Vulnerable, is the Blue-throated (P.cruentata) which also used to be reared in fairly large numbers, but is now hard to find. No one is suggesting that individuals of these species bred in Europe would be used for reintroduction projects if the need arose, Both species can be reared in registered breeding centres in Brazil, in that event, but it still seems regrettable that aviculture is losing them.
The Black-capped Conure (P.rupicola) is another species in avicultural decline. In 2012 it was placed in the IUCN Near Threatened category (of conservation concern and close to qualifying for a threat category).
There are relatively few breeders in Europe who take a serious interest in this genus, most rearing them for the pet trade. I must mention one, Horst Mayer, from Germany. He has been parent-rearing these birds since 1997 and has bred well over 500, of 15 species, often with two pairs of each.
Now he specialises in three closely-related, mutation-free species (www.horst-meyer-vogelzucht.de). Specialists who breed wild-type birds over the long term are making the biggest contribution to aviculture, in my opinion.
Usually their task is far more challenging that breeding mutations because multiple colour forms are established only in easily-bred species.
So what other reasons are there for not applauding the emphasis on mutations? First of all, consider the quality of the birds produced. They are unlikely to be as strong as the wild type and might have serious physiological defects. It is well-known that red-eyed birds have poor eye-sight.
It is not known if this condition affects mutations with normal eye colour. However, it is worth noting that a captive-bred melanistic Barn Owl at a falconry centre in Essex was found to have poor sight compared with normally coloured birds.
Of course, many bird populations in the wild are carrying genes which enable them to produce offspring with different plumage colours. However, the fact that few of these individuals survive very long shows that these genes are not favourable for their survival.
I would aim serious criticism at those mutation breeders who strive to introduce a mutation into a different species by hybridising. Examples are pairing mutation Ringneck Parakeets with Alexandrine Parakeets (Psittacula eupatria) and Rainbow Lorikeets with Scaly-breasted Lorikeets (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus). There is never a responsible reason for hybridising and in these cases the only reason is to generate high income from “new” mutations.
Hybridising has also happened with various species of Lovebirds (Agapornis), to the degree that pure-bred and mutation-free birds are hard to find. This is especially regrettable because several Lovebird species are now endangered by habitat loss and degradation in Africa.
In recent years, and especially in recent months, environmental crises have grabbed the headlines, making more people than ever before aware of the threats to the environment, to wildlife and to the human race.
Hopefully, it will result in more bird breeders becoming interested in the fate and conservation of birds in their natural habitats. And in supporting conservation projects in some way, however modest.
More on the Glossy Cockatoo
In a previous blog I drew attention to the devastating impact of bush fires on Kangaroo Island, off the southern coast of Australia. The fires started on December 20. This 4,400km² (1,700 square miles) island is the only home of the southern sub-species of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus). This subspecies is now extinct on the Australian mainland. As it feeds almost exclusively on the seeds of the drooping she-oak eucalypt, it is highly vulnerable to habitat loss.
In 1995, when there were only about 150 cockatoos, a very successful recovery programme began. By protecting nest hollows from predatory possums, erecting artificial nest- boxes, and planting food trees, conservationists helped cockatoo numbers increase to nearly 400 by 2016.
It is believed that 50-60% of the Cockatoo’s habitat was affected. It could be ten years before the burnt stands produce enough food to support the Cockatoos. Flocks typically maintain well-defined territories, so the situation is very serious.
Furthermore, at least 90 of the 150 plastic nest-boxes erected by the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery Program could have melted or been deformed by the heat.
Emergency efforts are underway in the eastern part of Kangaroo Island, which still holds patches of she-oak woodland Cockatoos could use. Concerned people have volunteered to install nest-boxes on their own properties to encourage breeding.
There is one story of hope. In January 2020 Carol and John Stanton lost their home in the fire. Several years ago they had erected an artificial nest made from adapted storm drain piping at the edge of their garden. The Cockatoos became used to the Stantons and would watch them without fear.
This year the female laid her single egg not long after the fire. Mike Barth, who oversees the island’s conservation programme climbed up to the nest on April 29, while the parents were out foraging. He ringed the chick with a stainless steel ring, number 0601.
The Cockatoos’ priority in other areas might be finding enough food to stay alive. If you would like to donate to the appeal to help this and other species whose habitats have been seriously impacted by the fires, visit