ROSELLAS

By Gene Hall
Fortune Glen Aviaries

IFCB 1978

I have been involved for the past twelve years, 1966 through 1978, with the genus commonly known as Rosellas (Platycercus). Indigenous to Australia, they comprise a group of eight species which are quite colorful, not excessively noisy or destructive and fairly willing to reproduce in captive situations. They range from ten to fourteen inches long, medium in body size, and are of the typical parakeet type. They are fairly active, capable of rapid flight and move easily on the floor of the aviaries while feeding or bathing.

All of the species have cheek patches and reasonably long full tails. Hence, the descriptive term “Broadtails” and the feathers of the mantle, back and wings are black with a bordering of another color which produces a scalloped effect. An attempt to describe each species would be lengthy and laborious as all of them are complicated in their coloring. There are many excellent books available containing photographs of them, or better yet, a visit to a collection will be worth a thousand words.

Five of the species come from the eastern portion of Australia, one from Tasmania, one from the northern area and one from the southwestern area. Both sexes are colored alike in all species except for the Stanleys. In some cases very slight differences in color intensity does exist between sexes.

Sexing can be quite difficult unless you are fortunate enough to deal with specimens that show distinctive physical differences. Ideally, the size and shape of the head will often offer clues. The males should have a larger head with plenty of brow or frontal while the hen’s will be lacking in brow or frontal. Nevertheless, a side view study of both is helpful. H. D. Groen in his book “Australian Parakeets” does an excellent job indicating differences photographically. When viewed from the front, the mandible of the male should be larger and broader than that of the hen. As they mature, a close study of their behavior will be most informative with the males quite aggressive with each other. I have not found the wing stripe to be accurate enough to depend on in determining sex. The Stanley shows a definite difference in color with the hen lacking much of the red seen on the male and the yellow cheek patch is smaller and less colorful.

In an effort to understand the needs of Rosellas, I have read all of the publications I could find not only concerning the birds and their behavioral habits but any information regarding their native habitats. With the quarantine regulations permitting their entry in 1968 I was able to obtain good European stock to enlarge the breeding program. Our move to a rural San Diego location from Los Angeles area in 1972 gave us more room to expand, cleaner air, untreated well water, natural open surroundings and, most important, climate like that of their native habitat.

We have bred four species, the Eastern Platycerus eximus; blue, Platycerus adscitus; Crimson, Platycerus elegans; and Stanley, Platycerus icterotis; and recently acquired the Adelaide, Platycerus adelaidae. The crimson or pennant has been our main interest from the beginning and has produced approximately eighty youngsters at the present location.

Because of the area’s temperatures, average lows of 25 and highs of 110, the aviaries are designed without closed shelters or heat. The aviaries are four feet wide and 125 feet long, running north to south and divided into six units ranging from 16 to 25 feet per unit. The shelter end of each unit backs to the north, blocking the cold winter winds that blow down the valley and thus becomes a solid end to the flight behind. The closed sides of the shelter extend 4 feet on the side, allowing a 4 x 4 foot area for nest boxes, feeding arrangements and privacy. The sides of the flight area are 112 x 112 inch welded wire which allows plenty of sun both early and late in the day. During the summer the prevailing winds from midday on are from the ocean ten miles to the west and keep the temperatures quite comfortable. The roof is fully covered, providing good protection from sun and rain but, just as important, limits the visibility of the many varieties of birds of prey in our valley.

Perches of eucalyptus branches are placed on each end of the aviaries, allowing the maximum unobstructed flight, thereby maintaining strength, vigor and fertility. This also allows them to satisfy their emotional need for early and late flights as they might in the wild in their quest for feed and water. The crimsons are kept in the 25 foot flights, and the rest in sixteens. This end on end arrangement of aviaries has eliminated the problems previously experienced and added no new ones except construction costs which has been absorbed by increased productivity. Fighting between males in adjoining aviaries over territorial rights as well as the courting of the other’s hen has been eliminated. Therefore, the pairs must concern themselves with each other without distraction.

As the breeding season approaches, the males begin the courting calls which stimulates the entire group which all are close enough to hear but unable to see. These long units are separated by 20 feet which are planted to limit visibility of other units and provide natural surroundings. This has resulted in a greater percentage of pairs working. The end of the flight being solid has put an end to broken necks caused by flying into wire as previously experienced in flights with wire ends.

The seeds provided are on a free choice basis: straight canary, small finch millet, large proso millet, hulled oats, safflower, sunflower, flax and niger (or thistle) and poppy (or maw). A small portion of the whole wheat bread, apple and cooked feed corn are offered daily. The seeds are all offered in dishes and feeders approximately three feet above the floor, and the bread, apple and corn fed on the floor as these birds enjoy running about the flight looking for food. Granite grit and natural cuttlebone are also placed in each flight. Regarding the feeding of greens, we feel that only home grown greens are to be considered safe. The many insecticides used today are either directly sprayed on the plants or are included in the fertilization process, and all must be considered as unsafe. Home grown swiss chard and New Zealand spinach maintain themselves for years without additional planting and the birds thrive on a small amount of these dark greens. Grated carrot is of great benefit and readily acceptable. Vitamins in some form are considered to be beneficial when added to their diet. The above is a practical diet from a nutritional point of view and is not time consuming. More elaborate diets can be fed, but unless it is possible to be consistent it is not always practical. Fresh eucalyptus growth is provided weekly and seems to provide medicinal effects both internally and externally as well as emotional satisfaction. We have not experienced external parasites since this practice was introduced. Leaves of the blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, seem to be most satisfactory for this purpose. Entry into the flights is only necessary once a week to feed. The bread, apple and corn can be supplied without entry, and the water is changed daily from the outside. Thus, daily servicing is minimal, providing the birds with almost total privacy and freedom from stress. During the breeding season the area is closed to all but those attending to their needs on a daily basis.

The boxes furnished for nesting are of the grandfather clock type, have proved successful and are constructed from 112″ plywood, 12″ x 12″ and 24 to 48″ deep. The greater the depth, the longer the young seem to stay in the nest to mature and so are not apt to go to the floor when they fledge. The entrance hole is 3″ in diameter and 6″ from the top. A 6″ porch 2″ below the entrance hole is used rather than a perch. It allows room for the birds to sit by the entrance hole and does not become loose as a perch quite often does. As we are all aware, loose perches can be the cause of infertile eggs. The inside of the front of the nest is lined with 1/2 x 112 wire for access to the bottom of the nest. Nesting materials include a mixture of dirt, pine shavings and old eucalyptus leaves placed in the bottom of the nest to a depth of 12″ in a 48″ box. This mixture is soaked with water in late January and is ready for the hen in the middle of March. The hen will dig a depression in this mixture about 4″ to 6″ deep. She will lay every other day. Clutches usually number four to eight eggs. Incubation takes approximately eighteen to twenty-one days with the hen doing the setting. She will generally leave the nest twice daily to be fed by the male and for water. At hatching time she will leave the nest to bathe, returning to the nest quite wet, which adds moisture to the nest site. Soaking the nesting material in January is also an aid to this end. As the moisture softens the eggshell, the young are better able to escape in good time from the shell. Hens generally set fairly tight until the young are a week or more old, at which time she will leave for longer intervals. The young are fully covered with white down and cluster together. As our practice is never to disturb them at this point, it is quite often impossible to ascertain the number of young present. At approximately ten days of age the pin feathering starts and the chicks separate from this cluster.

Up to this point the male feeds the hen who, in turn, enters the nest to feed the young. By the time the chicks are two weeks old, we generally find both parents at the feed station and entering the nest to feed the young. The young will fledge at about six weeks, depending on the weather and size of clutch. It is best to leave the young with the parents for six weeks after fledging if the male will allow. This gives them a time to be thoroughly independent and the parents to imprint behavior traits. We have found that the longer the young are left with parents, the more satisfactory the results are when they are used as breeders. Our pairs have double clutched every year except 1977. The month of June, which is generally cool, was quite warm and the birds did not return to nest as in the years before.

Rosellas are capable of producing when one year of age. However, we wait until they are two years old before using them for breeding. In doing so, we have not lost hens to egg binding and our males have not been wife-beaters. They also seem to do a better job of raising their young. With the present supply of birds available today, there can be no satisfactory excuse for breeding brothers and sisters as was the practice years ago.

Acquiring stock for breeding purposes must be done selectively with the final results kept fully in mind so seldom is a pair of proven breeders sold. There are times when an aviculturist must dispose of his good pairs, but this is not a common situation. We, therefore, have acquired our share of problem birds in the past, such as the “old and sterile”, wife-beaters, egg eaters, feather pickers and poor feeders. Therefore, the only birds purchased today are in juvenile plumage from stock known to be productive.

When buying domestic-bred birds, this is a fairly simple matter. A visit to the seller not only offers the opportunity to view the number and quantity of the young produced but also a chance to see the parent stock, methods of breeding and management.

When purchasing imports, it’s a bit difficult. I would rather purchase from a large group. It indicates that the source in Europe is productive. It also gives a better choice. In either case (as well as when judging your own young), select only a small number of the group for your purposes as expanding too rapidly generally results in lowering your standards. A small group of quality specimens is far better than a larger group of lesser quality. In making your choice, we suggest picking the hens first. We place great importance on as large a hen as possible, broad in breast and shoulders, good clear eyes, calm but alert and firm in the hand.

Flighty hens are apt to break eggs and step on the young if something disturbs them while on the nest. If possible, choose hens from mothers that lay large cluthes and are successful in raising their young.

The choosing of males is a bit easier. Points of importance are: color and aggressiveness, or vigor. We try to breed size from the hen and color from the male. If the male has excellent color and is also large, so much the better.

Learn to whistle a challenge call and try it on a group of males. The males we choose will not let a challenge go unanswered.

After our choices are made, we place them in flights that are 8 x 8 feet, which allows plenty of room for exercise and growth.

Rosellas continue to grow and develop size up to twenty-four months. We hold them in these flights until they are eighteen months old. By that time, they have chosen mates and become aggressive toward each other and separation is necessary. This is a good time to re-evaluate and cull out those that have not developed to our standards. They are then ready to be moved into the breeding flights and thus will be settled in nicely by the time spring arrives. It should be pointed out that only one pair per flight is possible.

On the subject of medication, the average aviculturist is far too quick to put something in the water. Many birds are lost annually due to over-medication. Even more distressing is the use of incorrect medications in the treatment of ailing birds, which produces negative results. We agree that a well-stocked medicine chest is necessary, one that contains a complete assortment selected by your veterinarian. An excellent veterinarian in our area has become interested in our problems and has undertaken to specialize in birds. We, in turn, supply him with all literature available to us, including tape recordings of meetings and printed matter with the end result of a better program of care available to us. It is, therefore, in the best interests of a serious aviculturist to help interest and inform a veterinarian in your area so that if a real problem occurs he can take charge effectively.

Rosellas are susceptible to internal parasites and must be watched closely. The purchase of a small microscope helps in this matter. With a little practice you can determine the type of infestation and take appropriate action.

We feel that in terms of general management that all too often the aviculturists interfere with their birds. In the wild the many species have developed and prospered on their own and not until man moved in did many of their problems develop. When we place them in a captive environment we alter their lives. It is our obligation to furnish proper and adequate facilities. The birds neither read our books nor attend our meetings, and yet it is they who hold the key to the reproduction process.

A group of ten Rosella breeders will offer ten different methods for successful results. In truth, there is not one secret to success. Meetings are necessary for us all to provide the opportunity to exchange ideas. We cannot read enough. However, I suggest that we spend as much time as possible quietly observing our birds. By doing this, we will often detect things that make them feel uncomfortable. We have all heard of the many instances involving an unproductive pair that upon being moved into a different flight or even sold, went straight to nest and successfully reared young.

Perhaps a bit more time spent watching them would have informed the owner of the source of the problem.

Rosellas are not complicated in their habits, so neither should their management be complicated.

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