Lovebirds are reasonably priced and colorful small parrots. Originally from Africa, nearly all lovebirds are captive bred. These birds, the Peach Faced, Agapornis roseicollis, in particular, are raised in a large number of color mutations. Easily bred, Lovebirds are a great choice for anyone who wishes to start in the hobby of raising birds.

Nutrition is no problem at all. Any fortified parakeet or Cockatiel seed mix satisfies these little fellows. A parrot mix will also be accepted. Pellets are very good and are designed to be complete diets. Spray millet, honey sticks, and fresh greens are all valuable as supplements. Corn, just like you eat yourself, and apple are also enjoyed. Health grit and cuttlebone must be before the birds at all times in order to supply calcium. A good vitamin mix tops off a balanced diet.

Lovebirds are very active, requiring a relatively large cage for their size. A minimum size for a pair would be twenty-four inches by eighteen inches square. When shopping for a cage, be sure that the birds cannot stick their heads between the bars. If Lovebirds become startled and pull their heads back in suddenly, choking and very likely death can be the result. Lovebirds use the regular wooden parakeet nest box. If you want your birds to start a family, make sure that the cage is big enough to put the nest box inside. Some cages have a special trap door so that the nest box can be installed
on the outside.

Lovebirds are one of the very few parrot type birds that build a nest. An elaborate basket will be woven inside the box. Provide corn husks, weeping willow branches, or palm fronds. Be sure that nothing has been sprayed with any toxic chemicals. Lovebirds carry material to the nest in their beaks or tucked between the tail feathers. Fresh vegetation is best, for the moisture provides a proper humid environment for the eggs.

Alas, it is very difficult to tell the male lovebird from the female. This seems to be a problem for the lovebirds as much as for the bird breeder! Any two lovebirds, when caged together, will build a nest, and, as much as possible under the circumstances, go through all the other motions involved with producing a family.

If a ‘pair’ has been together for months and no eggs are seen, strongly suspect that you have two males. The average nest size is four eggs. If you consistently have a larger number of eggs in the nest, two hens are the solution to the mystery. No matter how much patience the birds have, these eggs will never hatch. Hens can lay eggs without the benefit of a male, but the eggs are not fertile.

Lovebirds, despite their name, are not friendly birds. With the most productive pairs, the male is very often constantly harassed by the hen. Never put lovebirds in the same cage with any other kind of bird. If the bird is too large to be killed outright, they will attack the toes of the other birds. This results in painful and mutilating injuries. If you let your birds, large or small, out of the cage, be certain that they will not stand on top of the lovebirds’ cage. Surely, the lovebirds will try to chew off the toes of the trespasser. This tragedy is a possibility with any of the hookbills. For lovebirds, assault is a specialty.

In a small to medium-size cage, be careful when housing groups of lovebirds together. Caution must be observed with both groups of the same or mixed lovebird species. If the birds are placed in the cage at the same time and if they have elbow room, all will be well. Introducing a new bird can be a problem. The original birds might kill the newcomer. If breeding is a goal, only single species should be housed together.

The two most commonly seen species are the Masked (Agapornis personate) and the Peach Faced Lovebirds. The extremely beautiful Blue color variety of the Masked is as available now as the normal form.

The Peach Faced lovebird comes in many, many different colors. The color breeding and genetics of this bird is a specialized branch of aviculture. The Lutino and the Pied Peach Faced Lovebirds are two of the most frequently seen color variations. The Lutino is one of the most attractive birds in the world. Now inexpensive, they sold for over a thousand dollars each less than ten years ago. The pied birds have yellow splashes mixed in with the green. The Cinnamons are also very pleasing to the eye. The Blue mutation, though not attractive by itself, gives us the pretty Albino, when combined with the Lutino mutation.

The Masked Lovebird is classified as one of the eye ring species. This terminology refers to the prominent white skin around the eye. We encounter one other eye ring species, Fischer’s (Agapornis fischeri), from time to time. There are other species and mutations of lovebirds, some extremely rare.

Different species of lovebirds interbreed with no problem. Crosses between the species that have the eye ring and the Peach Faced are not fertile. The babies will be healthy and attractive but will not be able to produce young themselves. Crosses, hybrids, are a very bad idea in any case. All birds should only be bred as pure species. The haphazard production of hybrids must be condemned, for it degrades the pure species and confuses other breeders.

If hand-fed as infants, lovebirds make very good tame pets. Hand-rearing the baby bird establishes a bond between it and humans. If your lovebird is not tame when you buy it, don’t expect to be able to tame it. You can teach lovebirds to talk, but it is a very difficult task. A tame lovebird, with plenty of human company, can be kept by itself. Though these birds enjoy company, it is a superstition that they will die if kept alone.


The bright colors of the parrots, the fantastic display of the peacock, the silent flight of the owl, indeed, the flight of any bird, all depend on feathers. A bird without its plumage is a contradiction, having lost its essential nature. A bird’s very life relies on feathers, for they insulate. A bird without feathers must be kept in a heated environment, or it will die of exposure in short order. This is easy to imagine, for who has not relied upon goose down to keep warm in a cold climate. Scientists speculate that feathers originally developed from reptile scales to help maintain body temperature. This occurred millions of years before the feathers bestowed on birds the ability to glide and then to fly.

The molt is a normal event in the life of a pet bird. Some birds, canaries in particular, replace all feathers during a few weeks. This generally occurs in late summer. Most other pet birds drop and regrow a few feathers all year ’round as a normal course of events.

A canary without a regular molting season, one that, instead, seems to molt constantly, is said to be in a ‘soft molt.’ This is a stress on the bird’s system. It is also a leading cause of the failure of canaries to sing. Softmolt is brought about by constant fluctuations in the temperature and, especially, the number of hours of light that the bird gets. Keep the cage covered from dawn to dusk all year ’round. Make sure the cage is not in a drafty location, or too near a radiator or other heater.

A great deal of protein goes into growing a feather. This is one of many reasons that all birds must have a balanced diet. Seed mixes must be vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched. Special molting, conditioning, and nestling mixes are also sold to increase the percentage of protein in the diet. Pellets and other processed foods have been formulated as complete diets. Whatever balanced diet that you choose, supplement it with small amounts of any healthy fruit or vegetable that you eat yourself. This is important for variety.

There are a several illnesses that are associated with feathers and the molt. In some canaries, most often Glosters and Norwich type birds, the feather will remain ingrown and develop into a ugly mass. Your vet is able to easily remove the lump. Unfortunately, it will often eventually grow back. Though unsightly, and certainly a discomfort to the bird, these malformed feathers are not life threatening.

Now we come to the bane of bird keeping. For years breeders of parakeets were troubled by occasional outbreaks of young birds that would continuously lose their flight and tail feathers. Often, they would eventually grow more or less normal feathers. Sometimes the bird would never grow proper flight or tail feathers. In some instances, the parakeets continued to lose the feathers and would die. With the birth of modern avian medicine, similar afflictions were studied in cockatoos and other birds. It is now known that the disease psittacine beak and feather disease, or PBFD for short, is a serious viral disease. Though not contagious to humans, it can spread to other birds. With cockatoos, the first symptom is the loss of the feather dust. What this means in practice is that the normally gray and dusty beak will now appear black and polished. Loss of feathers is the next stage of the illness. NEVER buy a cockatoo that shows any of these warning signs. Be extremely careful of exposing a healthy cockatoo to another bird, particularly a parakeet. The actual transmission of the disease is not well understood. Simply having the dust of the feathers of an afflicted bird on your clothes might doom your pet to a horrible death!

Ragged plumage and feather plucking have many causes, Sometimes it may indicate that the bird is ready to mate. An overly amorous or a hostile cage companion may be chewing or the plumage. Here you would either let nature take its course or remove the offender, depending on the situation.

Mites and lice, small parasites, are known to harm the feather. Though usually too tiny to see without a magnifying glass, they may be present it large numbers. Your pet shop supplies many effective products to combat these vermin.

Nutrition is of the highest priority in the development of the feathers. Be sure that your bird is getting a diet that contains all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and protein.

The most common cause of feather plucking is simply boredom. Parrots in particular are highly intelligent fellow beings. In nature, they travel over wide distances in flocks each day foraging for food. You must make every effort to support the psychological needs of your pet. A larger cage and more toys are the obvious first things to try. Sometimes it may help to place the cage within sight of a window so your bird may see out. Don’t put the cage right in the window, for the heat from the sun and drafts might result in illness. Also keep security in mind. If your bird can see out, then a potential thief might see the bird!

A bird that becomes a habitual feather plucker is very hard to help. These unfortunates might be helped by having another bird for a companion. This is no surefire cure. I saw a Nanday Conure that was as naked as a chicken in the oven. The owners of this pitiful bird would spend every weekend at the casinos of Atlantic City, leaving the bird completely alone. When placed with other birds, Blackjack, as the conure was named, not only kept plucking himself, but started to ‘undress’ his cagemates as well!

If a bird continues to pull out its feathers after every effort has been made to entertain it, a veterinarian skilled in birds should be called in. Sometimes the bird is reacting to an allergy or to some ailment. No matter the cause of the problem, restraining collars and bad-tasting sprays are not of much help.
Birds love to bathe and should be given every opportunity to do so. For the smaller birds, special bath dishes are sold. Lories also love to take baths. Take the bath dish out when the bird is finished. You don’t want the bird to drink the soiled water. A bird that does not bathe might be nervous in new surroundings. Give him a chance to settle down. A few small pieces of lettuce in the water may help him to make up his mind to take the plunge. The cage bottom might have to be changed after your pet is done splashing around.

For the large parrots, a daily spraying with any of the good bird bath products will keep the bird clean. You don’t have to soak the bird down. A gentle misting will be all the bird needs to look his best. Never spray cockatoos or cockatiels with an oil-based product. This can damage the powder of these birds’ feathers.

Marvelous Macaws


Among the best known of all birds, the marvelous macaws fascinate both pet owners and bird breeders. Extremely intelligent, these birds quickly learn to perform dozens of tricks. This showmanship puts them in the forefront of any troop of trained parrots. As a symbol of the South American jungles, macaws are often displayed in television shows, movies, and advertising.

These birds, the largest of the parrots, are also very good talkers. What they lack in perfection of intonation they make up in sheer volume. Macaws imitate human words in an extremely nasal manner. Despite this drawback, they quickly learn a large vocabulary. Macaws don’t hesitate to show off their verbal proficiency at every opportunity. Nonsense conversations are a specialty. From a distance, it may seem as if several people are engaged in a conversation. You might believe that they are sneaking into your home. Upon investigation, it is learned that the macaw is producing all the sounds. The bird is reciting gibberish syllables with rhythms mocking human speech.

As in most of the parrot clan, the macaws definitely seem to be aware of what they are saying. ‘Hello’ is used only as a greeting. I had the pleasure of caring for an especially outgoing Green Wing Macaw, Mr. Oz. Oz, though tame with his original owner, greatly enjoyed biting me.

In an attempt to interact with him, with less blood being shed on my part, training sessions were scheduled. The first command was ‘up’. I would open the cage door and wait for the macaw to come out. A handheld perch was then placed under his chest and gently lifted. At the same time I would say, hopefully in an awe-inspiring tone, `Up’. Mr. Oz very quickly learned his lesson, climbing onto the perch when requested. In addition, whenever he wanted to come out of the cage, he started to yell, ‘Up!’ He had begun to associate ‘Up’ with coming out to play. Imitating the word was also learned. Mr. Oz also had the ability to vary the intonation. If his request was not immediately granted he would continue to repeat, ‘Up, Up’, but now pleading instead of commanding. This macaw, in a rudimentary way, was not just `parroting,’ but actually using language. Mr. Oz, like all other macaws, is extremely intelligent.

The loud voice of a macaw must be taken into consideration before purchasing the bird. Macaws easily live to be eighty years old.

Of the large macaws, you will most often see five species: the Hyacinth, the Blue and Gold, the Scarlet, the Green Wing and the Military. The Hyacinth Macaw, at nearly three feet, is the largest parrot. Extremely intelligent, beautiful, most often gentle, and rare, this macaw is very desirable. The Blue and Gold, Scarlet, and Green Wing are all extremely colorful. The Military, being basically green, lacks the gaudy colors of the other giant macaws. In personality it is the same as the others. Hybrids, crosses between species, are also very common as pets.

Macaws are large, powerful birds. Biting through a two by four piece of wood is as easy for a macaw as biting through a piece of celery is for us. Though not vicious, they often are very willful. Even confirmed biters will not bite a human as hard as the massive beak allows. A macaw delivers a good nip or pinch. As soon as it sees that it is causing pain, the macaw stops. Macaws bite people to establish dominance, not to injure.

Green Wing Macaw

My aunt worked in the store when I was caring for Mr. Oz. At least once a day, she would have her mind on other things and would back into this macaw’s cage. Oz would, like a bolt of lightning, swing down and nip my aunt on the derriere! Screaming, she would threaten to murder the macaw. Mr. Oz was always unperturbed. He would actually drown out her yells with his own imitation of human laughter.

Even a hand-raised baby goes through an adolescence. During this time the owner must treat the macaw with love but at the same time be firm. The bird has to learn that biting will not be tolerated. Never hit the bird. Abuse of animals or people on any level is deplorable. If your bird nips, immediately put it back in its cage and walk away. The macaw will soon learn that when it attacks a person, it will only be ignored.

Since macaws are so intelligent, their psychological needs are as important as their physical needs. Macaws are big, active birds, so they must have cages at least five feet long by five feet high by three feet wide. The only exception would be if the bird is allowed out all day, only being put in the cage to sleep. Unless your macaw is under constant supervision, this is generally not possible. Furniture, woodwork, and walls will be demolished. The bird could also injure itself with windows, mirrors, and electric wires. The best idea is to purchase the largest wrought iron cage. Toys are also important.

Macaws need things to chew. Their minds must be kept occupied. Buy only bird-safe toys. Offer nuts in the shell to your macaw, Breaking the shell is a healthy diversion. Replace the toys from time to time. Birds, like children, are always made happy by a gift of a new toy.

Manzanita wood perches are best. This attractive material is too hard to be turned into sawdust by a macaw. Though slightly more expensive than regular perches, replacement is not necessary. In this way, the value of the manzanita perches is realized and money is quickly saved.

The basic diet is a good enriched parrot mix or pellets. Macaws need a lot of fresh food. Many healthy items that you eat yourself are very good, except for chocolate or avocado. Corn, grapes and cooked beans are especially good. Some experts believe that macaws should have more protein than other parrots. Again, whatever protein source that you eat yourself, meat, dairy, or tofu, will be very good for the bird.

Don’t feed any bird monkey chow, dog foods or cat foods. These items are generally made of low quality or even tainted ingredients. When soaked, the kibbles and chow always become rancid and bacteria-laden. This spoilage happen under refrigeration, too! No matter what, other animal foods are just that — designed for other animals. Birds have their own special nutritional needs.

Macaws love nuts. Give only one per day, for nuts are high in fat.

Sometimes a macaw develops a fondness for a single food. If they are allowed, these bird might over-indulge and suffer indigestion. If your bird likes a certain item very much, don’t let him stuff himself. Give the favorite in a small amount as a treat or as a reward.


(Research conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Tropical Forestry, Southern Forest Experiment Station, U.S. Forest Service.)

By James W. Wiley

Puerto Rico Field Station
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

The Puerto Rican parrot (Amazons vittata) was once abundant throughout Puerto Rico and on at least 3 of its 4 satellites. Within 500 years of Columbus’ “discovery” of the West Indies, the species had plummeted to the edge of extinction with only 13 birds left in the wild by 1975. Many complex factors and events have figured in the species’ decline. Habitat loss was an obvious cause (Snyder 1977, Wiley 1980), however, several other, more subtle factors became increasingly important as populations dwindled. It has taken a team of biologists many years to determine the sources of the parrot’s problems and to develop techniques for reversing the decline (Wiley 1980, Snyder et al. ms.). As a result of this research, the wild population has more than doubled in the last 7 years and there is now reason for cautious optimism that the species may yet be saved.

A captive Puerto Rican parrot research program has been essential in the recovery of the species. In this paper are described some aspects of the captive program and how it forms an integral part of the research and management of the wild Puerto Rican parrot population.

From its inception the Puerto Rican parrot research program has been envisioned as consisting of two components: the study of the wild population, and maintenance of a captive flock. It was planned that these two components be closely integrated, with the captive flock supplying additional parrots for bolstering the existing wild population in the Luquillo Forest and, in the future, for re-establishing populations in other areas in Puerto Rico where the parrot has been extirpated. The captive flock also serves as insurance against a wipeout of the species by a natural catastrophe such as a severe tropical storm or disease.

After population surveys of the wild birds revealed less than 30 parrots in the wild in the late 1960’s, study of the wild population was intensified and an all-out effort to get birds into a captive program was begun. A news media campaign was launched to locate any existing captives in Puerto Rico; the Puerto Rico Zoo was persuaded into contributing their two parrots to the program after many years of non-production (they turned out to be two females), and attempts to trap parrots out of the Luquillo population began. In 1972, two wild parrots were captured but since then, to minimize the impact of removing parrots from the wild, only eggs or chicks have been taken. Between 1973-1975, ten eggs or chicks were transferred from the wild to the aviary. Thereafter, parrots (n=4) were removed only to add new genetic material to the captive flock (which at a minimum of 8 different or partially different family lines now represents all existing breeders in the wild plus some no longer known to survive) or where an egg or chick could not be saved in the wild (e.g., parrot chick heavily infested with larvae of the warble fly Philornis (Neomusca) pici). From 1973-1982, fifteen eggs and chicks have been added to the captive flock of wild nests. Of these, eight would have undoubtedly been lost without intervention.

Currently, all known captive Puerto Rican parrots (n=17) are housed at a facility that serves both as an aviary and a field station for biologists on the project. The two story concrete building is in the heart of the Luquillo Forest for convenience in studying the wild birds and to facilitate manipulations between the wild and captive flocks. The Puerto Rican parrot flock is quartered within the building for security against human vandalism and the tropical storms that threaten the island yearly. Af lockof Hispaniolan parrots (Amazons ventralis) is maintained in an aviary annexed to the main building. The field station has facilities for incubation and brooding, food storage and preparation, and isolation and treatment of sick birds, as well as a well equipped wood and metal working shop and apartments for staff.

The proximity of the field station/aviary to the wild parrot population has been vital in handling emergencies and other situations often encountered. Damaged eggs, eggs salvaged from wild nests where cavities have become excessively wet, or where the nest has been threatened by predators (e.g., rats Rattus rattus, pearly eyed thrasher Margarops fuscatus) have been maintained in aviary incubators or under captives until the nest hollow has been fixed, the predator threat thwarted, or egg repaired. Chicks with injuries, parasite infestations, or feather damage have been treated at the field station until their condition has been corrected then returned to the wild nest.

The field aviary has allowed us to add another dimension to our work with the wild parrot population: the employment of a surrogate species in preventing wild Puerto Rican parrot nest failures, a technique that will be explained in more detail later.

The strategy of employing surrogates or “guinea pigs” places yet another step in the recovery program for the Puerto Rican parrot and may mean a slowed, more cautious progress. However, by experimenting on a more common species before attempting a procedure on a very endangered parrot, we have avoided mistakes that would have not just delayed the program but would have set it back. Uses we have made of Hispaniolan parrot surrogates include: 1) medication dosages, surgical procedures, and anaesthetic techniques, 2) correct temperatures for artificial incubation of eggs and brooding of chicks, 3) diet, 4) marking for identification, 5) sexing techniques, 6) training hand-raised chicks before placing them into wild nests, 7) fostering eggs and chicks, and 8) release techniques for free-flying birds. Some of these uses will be described more fully below.

The native Taino Indians kept Puerto Rican parrots as pets before Columbus’ visits to the West Indies. The species was a common pet among European colonists on the island and in the 19th century Puerto Rican parrots were well-known in the European pet trade (Russ 1895: 110-111) and probably in zoological collections. Still, there are no records of its breeding in captivity. We, therefore, have had to build our captive program on techniques modified from successful programs for other parrot species.

Between 1970 and 1982, 10 female Puerto Rican parrots have laid eggs, although only 2 of these females have produced fertile ones. A number of events and problems have contributed to the low rate of fertility among pairs (Wiley 1980, Snyder et al. ms.). Puerto Rican parrots are not sexually dimorphic and we have had to rely upon other means for sexing the captives. Early attempts using a karyotyping method resulted in some mis-sexings and subsequent formation of homosexual pair bonds. Thereafter we tried steroid analysis, a then new technique developed by Arden Bercovitz and his co-workers at the San Diego Zoo (Erb and Bercovitz 1980). This method has proven accurate for birds older than one year.

All captives have been randomly taken from the wild; i.e., we did not know the sex of individuals taken as eggs or chicks. Nevertheless, the captive flock’s sex ratio has been strongly biased toward females, resulting in insufficient males to form heterosexual pairs. With the addition of more males to the flock in the last few years, that bias is now somewhat less (6 males: 8 females) and the aviary presently has 6 heterosexual pairs of Puerto Rican parrots.

Behavioral problems of the captives may have led to poor pair bonding. A wild-caught male has not accepted a mate, which is perhaps related to his timidness and aversion to the captive environment. Although we have made efforts to avoid such associations, several hand-raised captives have become imprinted on humans. Some of these attachments are broken after the birds have been established in pairs, but other individuals prefer a relationship with their human handlers probably at the expense of a productive pair bond with their cage mate.

The first fertile Puerto Rican parrot eggs were produced in 1978. Those eggs failed to hatch but each year since we have fledged chicks from the captive flock. Thirty percent (26 of 88) of the eggs produced by heterosexual pairs (n=7) have been fertile. The 2 pairs that have produced fertile eggs have had a fertility rate of 68 percent of eggs laid. Fifty percent of the fertile eggs have hatched and 38 percent have produced fledglings. Seven of the 10 captive-produced chicks have been fostered into wild nests and 3 have been retained in the captive flock.

Since the program began in 1968 we have twice observed wild Puerto Rican parrots produce a replacement clutch after their first clutch was lost. Encouraged by these observations, in 1980 we performed a forced replacement experiment on a wild parrot pair that had been laying thin-shelled eggs for several years. Some of these had been salvaged by repairing thin areas and cracks in the shells. With the onset of breeding season we had also been provisioning the nest with calcium blocks which the female ingested resulting in her last-laid eggs being thicker-shelled (yet still thinner than normal). By inducing the female to lay a second clutch we hoped she would produce more eggs and, because she would have more time to ingest the provided calcium, the later-laid eggs would be thicker-shelled. We removed the pair’s thin-shelled clutch (4 eggs) and the female replaced it with a clutch of 2 eggs, both of which were fertile and thicker-shelled.

Although this technique has obvious value for increasing productivity of the wild population, we know from observations of parrots nesting in the wild it also has an inherent danger in that, rather than recycle after the first clutch ist aken,the pair may shift from an optimal nest site to some other, lower quality site or forego breeding altogether for the year. Nevertheless, in certain cases, and used with care, this technique does appear fruitful for management of the wild population.

Based on these observations and experiments on recycling in the wild population we tried double-clutching experiments on captive Hispaniolan, then Puerto Rican, parrots. We removed the entire clutch, allowing the females to replace it with an additional clutch. Double-clutching experiments have been preformed 4 times with captive Hispaniolan parrots and 7 times with Puerto Rican parrot captives (Table 1). Although the number of eggs in first and second clutches were no different from the number of eggs in unmanipulated clutches (P>0.05 for both species; t-test), there were fewer eggs laid in the second set than in the first set in double clutches (Puerto Rican parrot: x+s.e.first= 3.0+O vs. xsecond7= 2.3+0.4; P<0.05). Hispaniolan parrot: xfirst= 4.5+0.3 vs. xsecond=3.5+0.3; P<0.05). The total number of eggs laid by double-clutched females was greater than that laid in unmainipulated clutches (Puerto Rican parrot: xunmanipulated= 2.9+0.3 vs. xdoubled= 5.3+0.4; P<0.001). (Hispaniolan parrot: xunmanipulated=3.7+0.3 vs. xdoubled= 8.0+0.6; P<0.001). In 1981 and 1982, we conducted a series of experiments to test another technique for increasing egg production. Hispaniolan and Puerto Rican parrots are indeterminant layers so that by removing each egg as it is laid, leaving the nest empty, the captives will continue to replace the eggs, usually to a total greater than that achieved through simple replacement of whole clutches (Table 1). The technique was first attempted on captive Hispaniolan parrots, one of which produced 21 eggs before we stopped the experiment. Again, the sequential removal technique yielded more eggs than unmanipulated clutches (xunmanipulated= 3.7+0.3 VS. Xsequential= 12.5+0.3; P<0.01), although the number produced by this method was not significantly greater than that produced in double clutches (xdouble= 8.0+0.6; P>0.05).

After these experiments, we attempted the technique on captive Puerto Rican parrots, with the same success (Table 1). Puerto Rican parrot egg production increased an average of 179 percent over unmanipulated clutches (xunmanipulated= 2.9+0.3 vs. xsequential= 8.1 +1.1; P<0.001) and 53 percent above the number of eggs produced by double clutching (x5.2+0.4; P>0.05).

Fertility was unaffected by the manipulations (Table 2). Hispaniolan parrot eggs from unmanipulated clutches (xfertility= 89.4%) did not differ from that of eggs in doubled clutches (x = 93.8%; P>0.05) or eggs sequentially removed (x=85.8%; P>0.05). Similarly, unmanipulated clutches of Puerto Rican parrots (xferti I ity= 58.3%) did not differ from that of eggs in doubled clutches (x = 77.3%; P>0.05) or sequential removal (x = 72.5%; P>0.05) clutches. Fertility of eggs produced during double-clutching experiments did not differ from that of eggs from sequential production for either species (P>0.05). In sequential clutches Puerto Rican parrots did show a decline in fertility in later-laid vs earlier-laid eggs (P<0.001). Unmanipulated Puerto Rican parrot clutches and all classes of Hispaniolan parrot clutches had no difference in fertility between early-and late-laid eggs. In addition to the obvious value of increasing the number of eggs, the sequential removal technique has other applications. Egglaying may range over 1 to 1'/2 month span within the wild population and initial laying date shows considerable annual variation. Because of their more controlled environment, the captive parrots' breeding activity may not be cued on the same controls as the wild population during any one year and egglaying may be quite out of phase with the wild pairs. Synchrony between the wild captive populations is critical in fostering eggs and chicks among nests. In our experiments we led captive Hispaniolan parrots through a series of egg removal manipulations then allowed them to sit on their "final" clutches. Although one of these females had gone through 21/2 months of egglaying by the time she was left with eggs, she still sat on her eggs longer than full-term (normally 27 days) and successfully hatched chicks. From these results we arrived at a procedure wherein captive parrots are "primed" into breeding early (i.e., before the wild pairs) by stimulation with the increased day-length of an artificial photoperiod system. Once egglaying has begun, the captives can be maintained in an "egglaying mode" through the sequential removal of eggs. When the wild population begins egglaying, the activity of the captives can be closely synchronized with the wild birds by permitting the caged birds to sit on their eggs. Switches between the populations can therey be made using like-aged eggs or chicks. ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION With increased egg production and problems within the captive Puerto Rican parrot flock (e.g., fewer males than females, behavioral abnormalities), an artificial insemination program would seem appropriateto improve fertility. Until 1981 only limited attemptswere madetoutilize this technique. In 1978 George Gee, a biologist with considerable practical experience in artificial insemination techniques, helped us to train 2 Puerto Rican parrot males as semen donors. One male produced minute amounts of viable sperm which was artificially inseminated into his mate. The female later produced fertile eggs, but the male had also begun copulating with her and our fertilization efforts were probably only accessory. We did not further pursue the development of artificial insemination as bonds within those pairs with behavioral problems seemed to be improving and we had high expectations that normal copulation would ensue. By 1981 reproductivity of the flock remained unchanged and we decided to once more try artificial insemination. Gee again visited the field station and made an intensive effort between 17 February and 12 March to train Puerto Rican and Hispaniolan captives and collect parrot semen. Nevertheless, the endeavor failed. Probably because of disturbances to the flock resulting from the attempt to collect semen, 1981 breeding activity in the captive flocks was set back several weeks and some pairs failed to breed altogether. It became obvious that, if we hope to obtain semen for an insemination program, our captive parrots will require an extensive period of conditioning and training which should begin months before the onset of the breeding season. FOSTERING We have used fostering extensively as a management technique both with the wild and captive populations. Eggs or chicks from one nest are temporarily or permanently transferred to another nest for protection against threats or to encourage breeders to re-cycle. There are also other reasons we may foster eggs and chicks into nests: 1) to provide more reliable care, 2) to allow first-time captive breeders a chance to "practice" on a less-valuable surrogate, 3) to "train" hand-raised chicks to accept care by an adult parrot, 4) to maintain a parrot pair's nest activity after its own eggs or chicks are removed, and 5) to bolster the wild population through fostering of captive-produced chicks into wild nests. Fostering in the Aviary We have removed eggs from under first-time captive breeders when we were uncertain whether the pair would display proper nest attentiveness. Such eggs were artificially incubated or fostered under reliable Hispaniolan or Puerto Rican parrot females. More recently we have taken eggs from captive nests to encourage the adults to re-cycle in double-clutching or sequential removal manipulations. Eggs removed may be replaced with Hispaniolan parrot eggs or plaster or epoxy-covered wooden dummy eggs. We have not allowed Puerto Rican parrots breeding for the first time to raise their own chicks. Rather we have let them "practice" at being parents with Hispaniolan parrot chicks. Once they have proven their proficiency the adults are permitted to raise their own offspring. Artificial incubation is extensively used in the parrot program fora number of reasons: 1) to care for wild-produced eggs that have been salvaged after adults have abandoned them or where a nest is in danger of failing, 2) to provide abnormally high humidity needed to circumvent excessive moisture loss from thin-shelled eggs, 3) as insurance against egg chilling through abandonment by a first-time captive breeder or a proven poor sitter, and 4) to increase captive egg production through forced renesting. Parrot chicks are hand-raised for some of the same reasons mentioned for artificial incubation. Several of the Puerto Rican parrot chicks destined for placement in a wild nest have been hand-raised. Hand-raised chicks may initially be inept at taking food from an adult parrot. This poor coordination between adult and chick may disquiet an adult and further delay feedings of the nestling. To condition hand-raised nestlings to properly interact with adults, several days before transfer to a wild nest we place the chick with an adult captive Hispaniolan or Puerto Rican parrot. This contact allows the chick to become skilled in taking food from an adult and such "trained" chicks are more quickly accepted by wild adults than untrained chicks. Fostering in the Wild We have added captive-produced Puerto Rican parrot chicks to wild nests to augment production by the wild population. Such captive-produced fosters have been used to replace a clutch or brood lost at a wild nest or to bolster the brood size at an active nest. In experiments conducted at 2 wild Puerto Rican parrot nests we learned that the normal brood size of 3 chicks can be artificially increased to 4 with no apparent negative effect on chick growth, development, or fledging success. Manipulation of eggs and chicks in wild nests has become a regular strategy in the Puerto Rican parrot recovery program. Every effort is made to keep nests active, as a nest failure one year could cause a pair to abandon that site for the next year's breeding effort. Each year between 1969 and 1979 one wild pair ("South Fork") consistently changed its nest site after failing to fledge chicks whereas the pair reused the same nest in the years following successful breeding seasons. There are few adequate natural nest sites in the parrots' range (Snyder 1977, Wiley 1980) and abandonment of a suitable site might result in the pair adopting a suboptimal site in subsequent years. Thus, when problems arise, we have attempted to retain a pair's interest in the optimal site by manipulating nest contents. When it is necessary to transfer eggs from wild nests to the field station, dummy eggs are substituted rather than risk moving real eggs from the aviary or another wild nest through the forest to the nest in need. Puerto Rican parrots will sit on eggs several days beyond the normal incubation period. Therefore, a wild chick hatched at the aviary can be kept under observation at the field station for 3-7 days before replacing it in the wild nest. This gives us the opportunity to determine that the chick is in good health, and has the further advantage of the chick being older and better able to comfortably withstand its return trip to the wild nest from the field station. If difficulties occur during the brooding period we have made switches of like-aged chicks from other wild nests or from chicks produced by the captive Puerto Rican flock. If the problem is such that the resident chick cannot be replaced in the nest at a reasonable age it may be shifted to another wild nest, if one is available, or retained in captivity and the fosters allowed to fledge. Some of the manipulations become quite complicated; e.g., situations that require simultaneous switches at 2 or 3 nests. Before we had the Hispaniolan parrot flock or the captive Puerto Rican parrots began producing chicks, switches could only be made by transferring chicks from one wild nest to another. At times there were no chicks of the appropriate age. At other times, when it was necessary to remove whole broods of 3 chicks from a nest, we had only one chick to foster into the nest. After the problem was corrected we reversed the switch, going from one chick back to the 3 resident nestlings. Adult parrots show little reluctance in accepting these switches during the nestling period provided the exchange is not made the last 2 weeks before fledging. Within that time span we found there was difficulty in fostering alien chicks into these nests although once the resident chicks were replaced they were accepted. Probably there was some communication process by then that allowed adult recognition of the alien chick(s) as not their own. In cases we judge too dangerous to permit Puerto Rican chicks to remain in the nest, we have used captive-produced Hispaniolan chicks to bear the brunt of the danger until the threat has passed, at which time the Puerto Rican chicks are replaced in the nest. Hispaniolan chicks therefore serve as "stand-ins" to maintain adult Puerto Rican parrot interest in the nest. For example, a wild Puerto Rican parrot pair laid a thin-shelled clutch in 1979. Since it had laid far earlier than other wild pairs or any of the captive Puerto Rican parrots, we had no Puerto Rican chicks to foster into the nest to keep the adults' interest after the eggs went beyond full-term incubation without hatching. Fortunately, a pair of captive Hispaniolan parrots had laid just after the wild Puerto Rican pair. When the wild pair showed signs of desertion, we prematurely force-hatched a Hispaniolan chick (something we would not have chanced with a Puerto Rican chick) and exchanged the still-wet nestling for the dummy eggs in the nest. The chick was immediately accepted (the female barely left the nest for several days) and held the nest active until a Puerto Rican chick was avaialble to substitute into the nest. In another situation, the resident adult female was injured and failed to return to the nest area for several days during which time the male had to intermittently brood the small chick and alternately forage for periods of up to 2-3 hours, thereby leaving the chick uncovered. Rather than risk losing the chick to chilling or predation, we substituted a similar-aged Hispaniolan parrot chick into the nest. We had to supplementally feed and occasionally warm the chick in the male's absence as the female was still missing and he was unable to care for it normally. Later in the season a pair of non-nesting Puerto Rican parrots moved into the residents' territory and took over the nest site. The resident male was only able to sneak into the nest to feed and cover the chick during those periods when the aliens were engaged in other activities, resulting in further degredation of the chick's care. There was no way we could justify replacing the resident Puerto Rican chick into the nest, but we maintained the nest active through the worsening crisis and the pair returned to the site to breed the following season. We have used breeding pairs of captive Hispaniolan parrots in experiments to determine how far we could go with manipulations of nest contents. In one trial, a female Hispaniolan parrot housed with an immature male was led through a series of manipulations wherein she first brooded her own infertile eggs, then a series of replacement eggs from captive Puerto Rican and Hispaniolan parrots and also wild Puerto Rican parrots. Because she was regressed through younger and younger eggs, the female sat on eggs much longer than the normal incubation period. She was eventually allowed to hatch chicks (eggs pipped under her but were removed to an incubator for hatching) and permitted to raise nestlings. She was progressed and regressed through several ages of Puerto Rican and Hispaniolan chicks from various sources but finally experienced a 33 day spurt in development when we replaced a 34 day old chick with a 67 day old one that fledged the following day. Still the female maintained excellent care of all eggs and chicks throughout the 8 switches. Although we do not anticipate having to perform such extensive manipulations on wild parrots it is reassuring to know the extent to which parrots can be pressed. RELEASE OF FREE-FLYING BIRDS A high priority of the Puerto Rican parrot recovery program is to find ways to release free-flying birds. As there are only from 3 to 4 wild Puerto Rican parrot pairs nesting each year we have already experienced the problem of having more chicks produced by captive pairs than there were nests available in the wild for fostering and we have been left with no sensible alternative other than retaining these "excess" young in captivity. Furthermore, we eventually plan to re-establish Puerto Rican parrot populations in areas of Puerto Rico where the species formerly occurred. This will entail the release of captive-produced chicks where no nesting birds exist and thus no opportunity for fostering. It follows then that before release of free-flying Puerto Rican parrots can be made in either the Luquillo Forest or other parts of Puerto Rico there is need to develop techniques that achieve an acceptable survival rate and produce birds that become a part of the wild population. .In 1982 we performed experimental releases of captive-raised Hispaniolan parrots in southwestern Dominican Republic. Ourstudy area was in a mountainous region still inhabited by populations of wild Hispaniolan parrots. Birds for the experiments were from 2 sources: 23 were raised at the Puerto Rico Field Station aviary, and 13 were donated by the Parque Zoologico Nacional ("Zoodom") in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. All of the Puerto Rico Field Station birds and most of the Zoodom parrots were at least partially hand-raised. The birds ranged in age from fledglings to 5 years old; age classes were equally represented in the experimental groups. Parrots were released in 2 experimental groups (18 birds per group): non-conditioned birds and pre-conditioned birds. Before release the non-conditioned parrots were maintained in an aviary at the study site. They were supplied prepared foods similar to those to which they were accustomed in captivity and were not provided with natural foods from the area. After 3 to 6 days they were carried in windowless boxes to an unfamiliar site, distant from the field aviary, and force-released as a group. These birds were not given the option of returning to a field aviary for shelter nor were they subsidized for food. The pre-conditioned birds in the second group were held in a field aviary in full view of the eventual release area. We supplemented their accustomed prepared foods with fruits and seeds naturally occurring in the area to give the birds experience in identifying and handling native foods. After 9 to 12 days of conditioning the birds were allowed to leave the field aviary at will. They could return to the structure for shelter, and food and water, which we provided daily. This group was gradually weaned from human-supplied foods as they began foraging in the surrounding forest. All birds wore plastic wing tags that were color coded to release group and individually coded with symbols and numbers. In addition, 18 birds (9 birds per release group) were fitted with radio transmitter collars. Movements and activities were monitored from 3 lookout towers in emergent trees on hillsides overlooking the release valleys as well as from several ground stations throughout the areas. Behavior of the birds in the 2 groups was dramatically different. The non-conditioned parrots dispersed immediately from the release site, displayed little flock cohesion, and demonstrated aberrant foraging behavior. Several recaptured parrots had lost considerable body weight; by day 7 after release, 6 birds in this group had lost an average of 48.0+8.4 g (17.9% of pre release body weight). There was no difference in survival among age classes at day 5 after release (X'=3.260, d.f. = 4, P>0.05) and day 13 (X2 = 2.965, d.f. = P>0.05), although sample size was small.

In contrast, the pre-conditioned birds displayed good flock cohesion, normal feeding behavior, and no immediate dispersal. The group members had a high survival rate and eventually integrated into wild parrot populations. As in the non-conditioned group, there was no difference in survival among age classes (X2 = 0.178 for day 25, X2 = 1.448 for day 55; both P>0.05, d.f. = 3).

Although these results are preliminary, they are encouraging and suggest that controlled releases of captive-produced parrots can yield acceptable numbers of birds that will survive and integrate well into the wild environment.

Future research goals of the Puerto Rican parrot program include: 1) development and incorporation of an artificial insemination program for the captive flock, 2) further refinement of release methods, and 3) development of remote monitoring techniques.

Workable methods of obtaining viable semen from captive Amazona parrots will be determined, first using Hispaniolan parrots. Once suitable methods are developed we will incorporate an artificial insemination program into the Puerto Rican parrot propagation project. By inseminating the extra females and females of infertile pairs a substantial rise in fertility among the captives is anticipated.

We will be continuing the experiments on release of captive-raised parrots. A primary objective is to achieve release techniques that minimize parrot association with humans; i.e., methods of raising and handling chicks to obviate problems of post-release association with humans. We will investigate the use of aversion training to dissociate parrots from humans and also in developing parrot avoidance responses to other predators.

Further work will be conducted toward devising a suitable telemetry package for use on free-flying parrots, especially an attachment method reliable enough to withstand the rejection attempts by parrots but allowing the transmitter to drop off the bird after it has served its purpose. Techniques of monitoring radio-tagged parrots from fixed and mobile stations in the dense, montane rainforest of the Luquillo Mountains are to be improved.

Erb, L., and A.B. Bercovitz. 1980. Fecal steroid analysis: non-disruptive technique for psittacine encocrine studies. pp. 65-77.
In R. F. Pasquier (ed.) Conservation of New World parrots. Int. Council Birds Pres. Tech. Bull. No. 1.
Russ, K. 1895. The speaking parrots: a scientific manual. L. Upcott Gill, London.
Snyder, N.F.R. 1977. Puerto Rican parrots and nest-site scarcity. pp. 47-53. In S.A. Temple (ed.) Endangered birds–Management techniques for preserving threatened species. Univ. Wisconsin, Maidson.
Snyder, N.F.R., J.W. Wiley, and C.B. Kepler. Ms. The parrots of Luquillo.
Wiley, J.W. 1980. The Puerto Rican amazon (Amazons vittata): its decline and the program for its conservation pp. 133-159. In R. F. Pasquier (ed.) Conservation of New World parrots. Int. Council Bird Pres. Tech. Bull. No. 1.




By Dr. Romuald Burkard

ICFB 1983

Although parrots have been kept in captivity for centuries in Europe, only a few species have a long breeding tradition. Thereto belongs all the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulates Shaw), different lovebirds (Agapornis spp) some Australian parakeets (Neophema, Psephotus,Platycercus etc.). Since 1950, the number of aviculturist has increased steadily and the successful hatch of many other species became more an everyday occurrence like the one of the King Parrots (Alisterus scapularis Lichtenstein), Redwinged Parrots (Aprosmictus erythropterus Gmelin), Superb Parrots (Polytelis), Ringneck Parrots (Barnardius), Roseringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri Scopoli), Parrotlets (Forpus) etc. Still others are being bred by specialists from time to time with the San Diego Zoo being among most successful ones. Here I mention the Lories and Lorikeets (Loriidae), the Cyanoramphus, Tanygnathus and Eclectus of the pacific distribution, the Grey Parrots (Psittacus) and Poicephalus of the Afro-Asian distribution as well as many species of the south american distribution like Macaws (Anodorhnchus, Ara) various Ara tinga, Conures (Pyrrhura), Brotogeris and Amazons. A third group is very seldom kept and even more rarely successfully bred. These include the Fig Parrots (Opopsitta and Psittaculirostris), the Cockatoos (Cacatuinae), Kea (Nestorinae), the Horned Parkeets (Eunymphicus), some species of Lories like the rare Collared Lories (Phigys solitaries Suckow), the Vini species like the Blue-crowned Lory (Vini australis Gmelin), and the Tahitian Lory(Viniperuviana Willer). Rarely bred are the Lorikeets like Charmosyna and the Neopsittacus which are very different from the other Lorikeets.

In this paper, I summarize some experiences I have gathered from breeding more than a hundred species of parrots during thirty years. Examples are taken from Lories and Lorikeets. The outstanding book by Rosemary Low about these species contains many interesting facts. Perhaps I can add to her information or go a bit more deeply into specifics.

My experience in breeding Lories of the following species is based on successes and failures (for failures are of great importance for understanding and analysis).
• Chalcopsitta duivenbodei (Duivenbode’s Lory)
• Chalcopsitta cardinalis (Cardinal Lory)
• Eos Bornea (Red Lory)
• Trichoglossus ornatus (Ornate Lory)
• Trichoglossus haematodus rubritoriquis (Red-collared Lorikeet)
• Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus (Rainbow Lory)
• Glossopsitta goldiei (Goldie’s Lorikeet)
• Lorius chlorocercus (Yellow-bibbed Lory)
• Lorius garrulus (Chattering Lory)
• Phigys solitarius(Collared Lory)
• Vini australis (Blue-crowned Lory)
• Charmosyna palmarum (Palm Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna multistriata (Striated Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna placentas (Red-flanked Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna pulchella (Fairy Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna papou (Papuan Lorikeet)
• Charmosyna johnstoniae (Mount Apo or Johnstone’s Lorikeet)
• Neopsittacus musschenbroeks (Musschenbroek’s Lorikeet)
• Neopsittacus P. pullicauda (Alpine Lorikeet)

As with all parrots, the following factors are of great importance for breeding lories:
1) Living space, the appropriate captive environment, the aviary or the cage.
2) Socialization, beginning with mate slection and including the rest of the population sharing the same living space.
3) Feeding including that at hatching time and beyond.
4) Physical health and also mental health.
5) Influence of man.

For this paper I will concentrate on living space, socialization and feeding. A veterinarian would be more competent to discuss health. Influence of man on the breeding successes is more a philosophic item or a human-psychological question. Man, that means the curator, should make as little influence as possible. The bird understands much more of its breeding business than the best ornithologist and the most zealous curator.

Living Space (Biotope)
Today, it is believed that an aviary should as near as possible mimic the natural living space of a bird. This often appeals better to us than to the bird in captivity.

Surely, the natural biotope provides indications of what is required. However, in captivity we may proceed on the assumption that the bird accommodates itself, and that it will not be affected by other inhabitants, for example by mammals.

Thus, the aviary is an “abstract biotope” to which the bird adapts. The bird does not consider the aviary a prison but is seeing it as its natural territory.

With lories (as with other birds) the following are of importance:

A. The size of the aviary: This differs from species to species. The familiarity with the curator has great influence. Some examples:
The Chattering Lory (Lorius garrulus), if tame will breed in a cage of one square meter. The same is valid for the Eos bornea (Red Lory). However, the much smaller Charmosyna pulchella (Fairy Lorikeet) hatched at my place in an aviary of only 4 meters of length and 4 m of outdoor flight, hence 8 m of total length. In smaller spaces, he regularly abandoned the eggs or the youngsters. However, its close relatives, the Charmosyna multistriata and Charmosyna placentis are breeding in cages measuring two meter long, half a meter high and half a meter deep. These cages can be divided; the nest-box can be separated by inserting a wall. This permits control as soon as both parents are out of the box. Above all, it permits cleaning the youngsters every week. This is necessary because the adults smear nectar on their head while feeding. However, it was not necessary to clean the Charmosyna pulchella although they receive the same diet.

The Charmosyna papou, although bigger than the pulchella, seems content with an aviary of two square meters. But they are easily susceptible to disturbance whereas with a length of three to four meters they would breed more quietly.

From these examples, and others from my experience, I can deduce that the dimensions of the aviary have to be adjusted to the species and the familiarity of the birds. There is no general norm. When choosing the dimensions, one should consider the criterion of security of the breeding pair. The pair has to feel safe and not threatened. The flight distance measured from the curator/spectator to the nest-box is indeed decisive.

B. The aviary’s outfit; There are many people who believe that the best outfit for an aviary is a biotope true to nature. This may be right – but mainly for the spectator and less for the bird itself. The following criteria seem to me as being much more important:

1. Hygiene demands that the aviary should be kept clean especially when keeping lories and lorikeets. The floor covering should be easily changeable. The walls and perches will need to be cleaned and changed. The feeding dishes will also need to be changed daily if possible. Remains off ru it, nectar, and also droppings which contain a lot of sugar form the substratum for fungus and bacteria that soon infect the bird. An irrigation system has many advantageous as it will wash off a great deal of dirt. Above all, this is advantages if the floor consists of gravel where the water can drain off, thus preventing birds from coming in contact with the dirt.

2. Most Lories, and especially the Lorikeets, need flight space: (Charmosyna, such as the Fairy Lorikeet, Neopsittacus, like the Musschenbroek’s, even more pronounced than Trichoglossus, like Swainson’s Lorikeet, or Chalcopsitta like the Cardinal Lory). Lories with a shorter tail need less flight space (Chattering Lory or the Yellow-bibbed Lory). Those prefer enough cimbing possibilities. Flight space and climbing possibilities can easily be obtained by choosing the right branches and arranging them properly. The person who has seen a Musschenbroek’s or an Alpine Lorikeet, a Palm Lorikeet (Charmosyna palmarum) ora Collared Lory(Phigys solitaries) climbing in the branches will be shocked to see perches only arranged horizontally in an aviary just as if only domesticated budgerigars were living in it.

3. Many, especially less tame Lories need a hiding-place, a sheltered corner. At the San Diego Zoo, where lory keeping is exemplary, we may watch the Tahiti Blue Lory (Vini peruvian) which is especially fond of the dense bushes. The feeling of safety and shelter can also be given by dividing the indoor and outdoor space. A nest-box is often used as a simple hiding-place when no other sufficient hiding-places are available.

Generally, lories are social birds. However, there are great differences from genus to genus. Unfortunately, the social behaviour has been very little studied so that I have to rely mostly on my own observations which again rely also on too few systematic comparisons. Permit me, the promoted sociologist (who is only practicing ornithology as a hobby like a “bird farmer”), to work here with some sociological criteria. These are partially identical to the concepts of modern ethology. I would like to outline four cases of social behaviour. This does not represent a final typology but simply four cases which are typical for the corresponding species.

1. The Yellow-bibbed Lory (Lorius chlorocercus) and the Cardinal Lory (Chalcopsitta cardinalis) demonstrate a behaviour of close pair bonding and of little inclination to form a larger group. Both are extremely aggressive toward third member of the same species. This occurs even before breeding maturity. Both species transfer this aggression to the curator during the hatching time by attacking vehemently when one enters the aviary. And these are birds which during non-breeding season are tame. Even during the hatch they will take a delicacy off the hand – though only if one stands outside the enclosure. To these paired individuals it must be added that voice contact between one pair releases a “contact-cry” of neighbouring pairs. It seems that these aggressive territory-defenders are stimulating other pairs to mark their own territories through cries.

2. Trichoglossus forma hierarchical group. The first observations showed that in a swarm of Swainsons’s Lorikeets or Red-collared Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) only one pair of young of the group could be reared successfully each time. In my aviary, this was also the case in a swarm of Green-naped Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus massena). My friend, Prof. Vinzenz Ziswiler of the University of Zurich was interested in this phenomenon. S. Ulrich in “Biology and Ethology of the Trichoglossus haematodus massena Bonaparte” studied it and examined it closer. Distinct rank orders could be observed (alfa-pair, beta-pair ect.). This means that these Trichoglossus know each bird individually and establish higher or lower ranks respectively through stronger or weaker fights (hacking, biting, pursuing). As soon as this rank order is established, they live peacefully except from the hacking (mostly ritual). Such an organized society with their hierarchy and behaviour seems to be natural for these species. However, when examining these birds in nature, only limited conclusions are allowed. In nature, only at certain times are the birds occupying close space together and have to respect the rank order. During hatching, for example, the beta-pair will get out of the way of the alfa-pair to be able to organize an undisturbed family life. (If only the modern sociologists with their fantastic recommendations for mankind would learn form the birds!)

3. The partial hierarchical group. It seems that the group of Goldie’s Lorikeets (Glossopsitta goldiei) is less strict and rigid. The determination of a hierarchy is less violent, and more than one pair is breeding on little space. In my aviary, six pairs are living in an indoorf light of three and a half square meters and an outdoorflight of four and a half square meters. Up to three pairs are hatching at the same time. However, from time to time we have to handfeed a youngster after fledging because of neglect by its parents. It is not possible to incorportate them afterwards into the swarm as they will be pushed away.

4. An anonymous group of any lory species where the individuals do not know each other and therefore no hierarchy can be established is not known to me. It seems that these anonymous masses are reserved for other parrot species, for example for certain cockatoos -(and above all for human beings on mass-demonstrations who imagine themselves as being so “intelligent”).

An interesting aspect of concern is that of pair-formation. Many breeders believe that lories and lorikeets are easy to pair. This may often be true. However, we often have the experience that it does not come about so easily. For some reason pairs may not harmonize. I do not know of any systematic investigation about this and therefore I only can referto two examples.

The Papuan Lorikeets belong to a species which are not easy to breed. This is usually the case with all Charmosyna. At my place, pairs which were in the swarm are breeding quite good. The cock displays by raising elegantly his head and uttering a long-extended almost melancholy call. The pupils also get narrower. When they crawl over each other and play together like cats on the floor, one can presume that they have become a pair. I have a pair I put together artificially to see what colour would be produced from the mating of a red cock with a black hen. This could not make out definitely to which female the characteristic mating call of the cock was sent because, in the neighbouring aviary, more Papuan hens were flying. In three clutches, the eggs were infertile. Here, the marriage seems not to be entirely to the desires of the breeder. Now, only one thing is left to try: To find out which female in the neighbouring group with which the cock is still in love. The cock himself was living in this group when he was young and it seems that he remained faithful to his early love.

The second example involves the Yellow-bibbed Lories from Heinrich Bregulla from which we could acclimatize two assumed cocks and a hen. After three years, the only pair (perhaps the only pair living nowadays in captivity) did not seem to breed. I therefore exchanged the cocks. The new male was interested in the selected female. She, however, remained passive or avoided him altogether. I also could not hear the synchronous duet-singing which is characteristic for this species. After some months I rechanged the cocks. There then occurred calling, a duet, a dancing, playing and a mutual hopping; then they perched themselves head first side by side. This pair became the strain-parents of my group including today three pairs and three young birds.

It would be too hasty to forma generalized theory from these two examples. Nevertheless, one can see that with lories a female and a male may not become a breeding-pair and that also a certain faithfulness is existing here. Certainly, it is more troublesome to identify strongly-bonded pairs in a swarm than just to combine two birds. But usually this is worth while. I had this experience with the Musschenbroek’s, of which only pairs identified from the swarm have been successful breeders.

It would be worth studying specifically the very manifold mating-behaviours of the different species. I charged Ruth Landolt, Zurich, with such a study in my aviary. I am quoting two examples of her work:

Mating-behaviour of Charmosyna multistriata
The Striated Lorikeets have a very tight pair bond. Particularly during the mating period, the partners move together at the same time for eating, for stretching themselves, for cleaning their feathers, for investigating a new thing in the aviary, etc. They often are perched so closely that they are touching one another and are preening each other. During the active period and while they are in mating-mood, I could hear from the birds a high, clear sounding cry. One bird utters this cry when the other one withdraws a little, and the partner replied most of the time uttering the same cry. I am designating this cry as “contact-cry.”

The Striated Lorikeets emit a second, also clear-sounding and loud cry during mating. The female and the male sit parallel or antiparallel side by side, puffing out the belly feathers, contracting the iris and making all movements synchronously. They stretch themselves over the back of the partner, slowly moving back and stretching in front of the partner, moving back again and stretching again over the back of the partner, and so on. With each stretching movement they utter a mating-cry. If the intensity becomes high, the birds shortly lift off the wings from their body and strike them back again while doing each stretching movement. During these rocking movements, the tongue moves rapidly forward and backwards in the half open beak and sometimes it moves laterally outside along the border of the under-beak. This is a ritual element of behaviour from feeding; during beak cleaning, one can regularly observe how the tongue moves laterally along the borders of the upper- and under-beak to remove remains of food. A similar behaviour has been rw,02 observed by S. Ulrich et al. (1972) as characteristic in the mating-behaviour of Trichoglossus. They designated this behaviour as “let its tongue dart.” I could observe the shy lories only from a distance of 3 meters and therefore I can not say if they also utter spitting sounds and the clear mating-cries during the rocking movements as known from the Trichoglossus species. More observations with the help of a miscrophone installed on the cage wall are necessary to clarify this question.

Mating-behaviour of Charmosyna placentas subplacens
The Sclaters’ Lorikeets are accommodated in a cage of 160 x 50 x 60 cm like the Striated Lorikeets.They are extremely susceptible to disturbance and are shy. Therefore, the following observations are only beginnings for recording the mating-behaviour.

For the Sclaters’ Lorikeet it is observed that the pair sticks closely together and that both partners often carry out the same activities. During mating female and male sit side by side and carry out alternately the same movements. While emitting a sharp-sounding dissyllabic cry (“gri-gri”), the female or the male is rapidly stretching itself forward and moving backwards slowly again, then jerks forward and moves backwards again. During these movements, the bow plumage is being vertically raised and the ventral plumage puffed out. The iris is contracted and gleams intensively orange or yellow. After such a rocking sequence, the pair often flies in front of the nest-box. Male and female alternately put first the head into the nest-box and then slip into it fora few minutes. After the rocking sequence, twice copulation attempts followed.

There are many recipes for feeding these nectar-eating birds. In the book by Rosemary Low you will find very good advice. Each breeder does it in a different way. I believe two things: First, there are different methods which are right, and secondly there are differences from species to species. Principally, I offer different type of food separately and leave it to the birds to choose among this hors d’ oeuvre what is wholesome to them. I believe that they generally know better what they need than we curators. I interfere only in special cases (fatty degeneration, illness etc.).

As we know, the lories and lorikeets take nectar of blossoms and with it pollen and small insects as their staple food. Most species also consume fruits. Heinrich Bregulla, German ornithologist, to whom I owe many seldom kept species, observed on Mindanao Island (The Philippines) how the Mount Apo Lorikeets eat wild (or weed-grown) sunflower seeds. These Mount Apo Lorikeets also eat them in captivity.

The Musschenbroak’s Lorikeets and the close related Alpine Lorikeets are special in regard to feeding: their staple food consists of seeds, dry and germinated (sunflowers, millet etc.), fruits, insects (mainly mealworms) and very little nectar.

In the following, I describe feeding in general and during the rearing in particular. Normally, a menu in my aviary consists of items given separately.

a) The nectar mixture is made very watery in liquidizer. It has the consistence of a soupy mixture. It contains a mixture of five-cornflakes (millet, wheat, corn, oat, rye), Babyfood, two to three fruits (apple, pear, orange, banana etc.), Dextrose, vitamins and spinach, chard or salad which is added twice or three times a week because chlorophyl stimulate the photochemical processes.

b) The protein nectar mixture has the same ingredients as mixture (a) but yoghurt, a protein powder (hydrolized bone-meal) or a raw egg are added. The birds are free to choose between the protein-poor or protein rich mixture. Sometimes they prefer this one, sometimes the other one. It is typical for many lories to prefer the variation. The sensitive lories like the Charmosyna species receive sometimes milk in a separate dish.

C) Fruits are offered daily, mostly two to three different kinds. Charmosyna take relatively little fruit. They prefer cut-up grapes. Cardinal Lories, Yellow-bibbed Lories, but particularly the Musschenbroeks’ and Alpine Lorikeets are fond of a lot of fruits. The fruits are offered separately. Some fruits (for instance, apples, papaya) are very suited for cleaning the beak and the surrounding feathers from food remains.

d) Grains are taken by most species especially if germinated. Charmosyna, the Goldie’s Lorikeet, the Collared Lory and the Palm Lorikeet are here the exception as far as I could observe. Some species as the Yellow-bibbed Lories very much like the seedlings of wheat and sunflowers.

e) Mealworms, particularly the white ones, are offered as livefood. Sometimes, they also take livefood that can be purchased for trushes, etc. I also offered fly-maggots but these were not popular. It seems as if the lories do not trust these moving insects. The consumption of mealworms differs. Charmosyna (Papou, Fairy, Striated, Pleasing) take none or only a few; the Yellow-bibbed Lories feed quite a lot when rearing young and the Musschenbroek’s, up to thirty pieces occasionally during rearing. They only squeeze the content and let the mantle fall to the floor. The young birds of the Gold ies’Lorikeets did not take any until I could get them accustomed to soft white mealworms. It is obvious that they need them for rearing young, whereas outside the hatching time they do not eat mealworms, or only a few of them.

When rearing young, the lories and lorikeets modify their menu plan, if the curator gives them the chance to it. Generally, it can be said that the selection of protein rich food increases and towards the end of rearing, it decreases again. This varies from species to species. Some prefer protein rich nectar or milk, other prefer insects. This is also the reason why I feed separately and leave the choice to the birds, However, more work is resulting from it, but the successful rearing of the seldom-raised Goldie’s Lorikeet, Yellow-bibbed Lory, Collared Lory, Blue-crowned Lory, Pleasing Lorikeet, Striated Lorikeet, Fairy Lorikeet, Papuan Lorikeet, Musschenbroek’s Lorikeet rewards my additional efforts, and those of my chief curator, Marcel Sem, as well as of the curators Vito Mare and Brigitte Wirth.
Anyone reluctant to make this effort should not keep lories or lorikeets no matter how much he likes the beauty of the forms and colours, the manifold behaviour and the playful nature of their movements.

Forshaw, Joseph M., 1973 “Parrots of the World”
de Grahl, Woflgang, 1973 “Papageien unserer Erde”
Immelmann, Klaus “Im unbekannten Australian”
Iredale, T., 1956 “Birds of New Guinea”
Landon, Alan H., 1973 “Australian Parrots in Field and Aviary” Low, Rosemary, 1977 “Lories & Lorikeets”
Rutgers, A. and Norris, K. A., 1972 “Encyclopaedia of Aviculture” Wolters, Hans E. 1975 “Die Vogelarten der Erde”
Ziswiler, Vinzenz, Guttinger, Hans Rudolf, Bregulla, Heinrich, 1972, “Bonner Zoologische Monographien, No. 2”

The AUK, Journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union Avicultural Magazine, Journal of the Avicultural Society
(Great Britain)
Cage and Aviary Birds, England
The CONDOR, Journal of the Cooper Ornithologists’ Society, USA The EMU, Journal of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union Gefiederter Freund, Switzerland
Gefiederte Welt, Germany
The Grassfinch, Magazine of the Australian Finch Society IBIS, Journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union
Journal fur Ornithologie (German Ornithologists’ Union) Der Ornithologische Beobachter (ALA, Switzerland)
Die Vogelwarte, Germany


By Dale R. Thompson

ICFB 1983

Significant advances have been made in the science of breeding psittacine birds during the past few decades. Of the approximately 330 species found in the wild, the majority have been kept in captivity and many of these have been bred. But the establishment of a population large enough to perpetuate a particular species in captivity has been rare. Also, these birds must be able to adapt to a captive environment to ensure their survival. This has been accomplished in only a few genera that include: the Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulates), Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), some Lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis and Agapornis personate) and the Indian R i ng neck (Psittacula krameri). As of of the beginning of the 1980’s, I believe that only about 25 species are reasonably close to being added to this list; they are included in the genera Neophema, Platycercus, Barnardius, Psephotus, Polytelis, Cyanoramphus and one species of Aratinga. This means that aviculturists have not understood the complete reproductive requirements for the majority of species. It is not that we are totally ignorant, for the majority of all psittacines kept in captivity have been reproduced at least on one occasion. It appears that the only guarantee of keeping psittacine birds in captivity indefinitely, is to make successful reproduction of all species our goal.

Stress is the single greatest deterrent to long-term captive reproduction of psittacine birds. A wild-caught bird is subjected to a wide variety of stressful situations from the time of capture to its arrival at its new home. Often inhumane methods of capture are used. Overcrowding is the norm; it exists at the time of capture, during transport and in quarantine stations. In addition, a bird must learn to adapt to a completely new diet, climatic changes and to the stress of human contact. Stress can cause medical problems to arise, such as illness and injury. Some birds appear to handle these stresses with relative ease, but most are affected very adversely, even though this may not be clearly noticeable at the time. There are additional stressful situations in captivity that can affect breeding. For instance, birds that are too confined or overcrowded can exhibit territorial behavior. Keeping stress minimal will enhance breeding in the long run.

When birds are first acquired for a breeding program, a quarantine period is imperative; it reduces the risk of introducing disease into an established breeding facility. During this time every new bird should be tested for transmissible diseases, especially Psittacosis and Newcastle disease. Other tests may also be run to help evaluate the general health of the bird, such as tests for internal parasites and pathogenic bacteria. This could prevent serious problems from the outset.

Choosing birds that will become the best breeders can be difficult. Based on the author’s experience, the first choice would be a hand-reared bird that has not become imprinted on humans. When hand-raising birds that are to be used for future breeding, one would not isolate them from other birds and try to keep human contact other than that required for care to a minimum. After weaning, the young bird should be placed back with others of its own species as soon as it is possible. This type of bird is already acclimatized to the environment and will accept a broader variety of foods. The greatest advantage is that it is not as easily stressed around humans, unlike wild-caught birds. Even the most high-strung species are calm in the aviary if hand-reared. They will not run into walls if surprised and don’t hide in the nest box continually, as wild-caught birds, such as the Moluccan Cockatto (Cacatua moluccensis), are apt to do. After several years of observation it has been seen that hand-reared birds will breed sooner and more readily than those brought in from the wild.

Because the male bird is calmer, hand-raised parents produce a higher percentage of fertile eggs and these birds make better parents themselves. Obviously it is best to keep your own babies for breeding, or to purchase hand-raised young. These birds all-too-often end up in the pet trade and it is especially disheartening to see rare species being sold as pets.

If a hand-reared bird is not available, the next choice would be a bird reared in captivity by its parents. The off-spring of species difficult to breed usually shows a marked increase in their willingness to breed in captivity. This has been done for generations with most of the Australian parakeets, and is now being done with many of the larger species. However, many of the larger species may take a minimum of four years to become sexually mature, and the aviculturist must be willing to wait for this.

The third selection would be a wild-caught bird kept long enough in captivity to allow it to adjust to its new environment. We usually use birds that have been in captivity for years and often kept as pets. During the time it takes for the bird to adjust it will be approaching sexual maturity and its general condition can be evaluated.

After birds are selected for breeding, their sexes must be determined. Since most psittacine birds are not sexually dimorphic, often-unsuccessful attempts have been made to determine sex by beak differences, body size and behavioral characteristics. Several years ago veterinarians developed a surgical technique for sexing birds through a procedure known as laparoscopy. A fiberoptic endoscope, an instrument originally developed by physicians for viewing the interior of the human knee, is used to determine the bird’s sex and whether or not the bird is sexually mature. Laparoscopy also allows the doctor to evaluate the condition of other internal organs.

After the bird’s sex has been determined, a common procedure for identification is used by placing a tattoo in the wing web of the bird. By convention the right wing is used for males, and left is used for females. Leg banding is another form of identification, however, most available bands can cause serious problems if the bird crushes the band around its leg. The most successfully used band for the larger psittacine birds has been the stainless steel band. (Available from Donna G. Corp, 4903 N. Ardley Drive, Temple City, CA. 91780.) Even with this type of band it is important to choose the right size and fit it correctly.

Sexed birds must then be placed in housing that will be conductive to breeding. Each species’ individual requirements must be considered when deciding on the type of housing to use. Basically there are two set-ups commonly used: cages and flights.

Flight breeding is the most commonly used method. Flights are built in many sizes, but most commonly they enclose an area that is long and narrow. Flights used for breeding usually are large enough for a person to enter standing up and the sizes depend on the needs of each species. The flight sizes vary greatly. They are all usually from 91 cm (3ft.) to 122cm (4ft.) in width but lengths can vary from 183cm (6ft.) to 9.1 m (30R.). Many of the larger Australian parakeets, (Barnardius, Alisterus, Aprosmictus, Purpuracephalus, and Polytelis) need the longer flights. The width is not as important as the length, as the length is important for flying.

Cage breeding has risen in popularity in the 1980’s. Cages differ from flights in that they are smaller in area and suspended above the ground. They are usually made completely of wire. This allows fecal matter and old food to drop through the cage floor to the ground. Cage construction costs less than flights, and cages can be moved more easily. The main problem with cages is that aviculturists tend to make cages too small for the birds to exercise.

Maintaining birds at their peak condition is necessary. Birds in captivity such as Amazons (Amazona) have a tendency to become overweight. This can be countered through diet control and providing enough room for exercise. Overweight females may have problems with egg-binding, while too-fat males will simply not breed and infertile eggs will be produced.

At this point, the science of reproduction has really just begun. Placing each bird with a compatible mate is one of the key elements in successful breeding. There area couple of ways to accomplish this, depending upon the species. Most psittacine birds are paired by the keeper and placed into a flight or cage. However, compatibility is not guaranteed by this method. I believe that letting each bird choose their mate is the best method because it dramatically increases the chance of getting a compatible pair. This method is called pair bonding. Several birds of both sexes are placed together in a large flight. Within this group the birds will pair off, and each pair may then be placed in a flight or cage for breeding. Good compatibility between the pair is a major step in breeding the many parrot species from the very common to the more difficult-to-breed species.

Placement and size of nest-boxes are important factors in encouraging a pair to nest. Since most psittacine birds prefer privacy, the opening to the nest-box should be faced away from human traffic and the sides of cages should be solid. When different breeding pairs of the same species can see each other, males may become aggressive and fight with their own mates because they are unable to drive off the other males. If flights or cages have been built without solid dividers, it is important to place double wire between them and seclude the nesting area with solid partitions. The double wire keeps the adjacent pairs from chewing toes through the wire. It is also important not to place known aggressive parrots of the same species in adjoining flights. I n almost every species nest-boxes may be placed in the flights or may be placed on the outside of the flights with a hole cut out in the flight wire to allow the birds to enter the nests. In cage breeding, the nest or nests are usually placed on the outside of the cage. Even birds of the same species may choose to nest in different areas in the cage. When setting up nests, it is best to have more than one available to them. They can be placed in several areas. The most common being one under the sheltered area of the aviary, one in the middle and one at the opposite end. Also some parrots have a preference of which direction the nest is facing, so the box may have to be switched to a different wall.

The size of these boxes varies according to the size of the species The shapes can be vertical, horizontal or slanted. Each pair of birds should be offered a choice of two shapes initially. Some of the materials used for nest-boxes include wood, oak barrels, palm longs and metal drums. Wood is a common choice, since psittacine birds are destructive, it is usually best to use thick wooden planks 10cm (4in.) thick. Since this is not always available, wire or metal sheeting is sometimes used to line the inside of the nest-boxes, but birds may work the edges loose and injure themselves. Formica can be another alternative Since the entrance is usually the first place of bird chews, it should be covered with metal sheeting. Parrots prefer to be as high as possible, so I place nest-boxes and perches near the top of the cages to give them a feeling of security. However one group of parrots, the macaws, will apparently nest at any height, including ground level. All deep nest boxes must have a stable ladder placed inside them from the nest material to the entrance or the bird may become trapped and be unable to get out.

A small door should be placed near the bottom of the nest-box. This entrance is used for inspection of eggs and chicks and for adding nesting material. The nest material used by aviculturists varies greatly. The most common materials used are pine and cedar shavings. Fine sawdust should not be used as it may enter the mouth and eyes of the babies. Combinations of material including shavings, peat moss, sterilized potting soil and top soil are commonly used. This is used mainly with the hopes of increasing humidity. All of the above have been used with success, but it is important that one checks for fungal and bacterial growth within the nest. This can be very detrimental to both the parents and young. It must be noted that parrots can regulate the humidity around the eggs with their bodies.

When building artificial nests, it is important to try to simulate the nest conditions found in the wild. Most birds prefer a confined nest with a small entrance hole.

The incubation period for most parrots is between 16 and 20 days; usually the larger the bird, the longer the incubation time. Aviculturists are not certain if there is a difference in the humidity requirements of egg of tropical and desert species, or of species found at low and high altitudes. Some incubating parents can adjust the humidity in the nest by soaking their chest feathers in water to dampen the area around the eggs if needed.

It is often necessary to remove eggs from the parents and artificially incubate them. This is done when the parents do not incubate well or break their eggs. Most guidelines for artificial incubation come from the poultry industry and pigeon fancy and the exact temperature and humidity requirements of the psittacine egg are not yet known. Temperatures may vary during the course of incubation and they almost certainly vary from species to species. No long-term studies of the natural incubation requirements have been completed at this time.

In the last few years, aviculturists have moved toward lowering the artificial incubation temperatures for parrot eggs. The usual 37.5°C (99.5°F) dry bulb and 30.0°C (86°F) wet bulb temperatures is now in doubt as being the optimum for all species. Several aviculturists have tried dry bulb temperatures of 36.9°C (98.5°F) to 37.4°C (99.3°F) and are getting good results. The present lack of data on optimum artificial incubation temperatures and humidities is a great detriment to aviculture. With the new technology and equipment available in the field of electronics, we should be making quick progress toward filling these information gaps.

The young of all parrots are altricial upon hatching. That is to say, they are blind, helpless and totally dependent on their parents. Occasionally the parents do not feed their young well and these must be removed for hand-rearing. This is often true of first-time parents who then feed-subsequent clutches well. It is best to allow them this learning experience and remove the babies only if necessary.

Removing babies from the nest often encourages the parents to lay an extra clutch in the same season. Hand-reared young are very calm in temperament when weaned. I feel it best to allow the parents to raise their own young fora short initial period before removing them, as the babies gain weight more quickly in those critical first two to three days when parent-fed. I n the later stage, the babies can be hand-fed equally or better than in the nest. Exact reasons for this are still unknown. The optimum age to remove babies from the nest varies with each species but is usually between ten to twenty-one days of age. If pulled too early the baby may not have that good start from his parents but if pulled too late, may proved more difficult to hand-feed and later, to wean.

The most challenging aspect of hand-raising is that of newly hatched babies, for they are hand-fed from day one. These are babies that have been hatched in the incubator or by the parents that are destructive to their babies for some reason. Hand-rearing day old babies has not always been done with a high percentage of success. For one thing, they miss getting the bacteria from the parent’s crop lining. A high-quality, nutritious formula is a must but also necessary are good handling techniques. Abundant time and patience are required for hand-rearing, but it is a most rewarding and advantageous aspect of aviculture.

It is impossible to feed most captive parrots the food they would eat in the wild. Those that naturally eat seeds, seeding grasses, wild berries and fruits are the easiest to convert to a captive diet. Specialized feeders, such as lories and lorikeets, must have special attention to their dietary needs, and they take much longer to adapt to captivity. Usually a nectar substitute is given along with a variety of fruits.

Most parrots are given various dry seeds as the primary element of their captive diet, and sunflower is the most commonly supplied. Unfortunately, some birds will eat sunflower to the exclusion of other foods and although it is a perfectly good seed, an exclusive diet of it is nutritionally unbalanced and may lead to overweight parrots. To remedy this, daily attention should be paid to their diet and they can be given a limited supply of high fat content seeds. Or, sunflower can gradually be replaced with safflower which is very similar nutritionally to sunflower but much smaller. A parrot would have to work longer to consume an equal amount. Eliminating sunflower has the advantage of encouraging sampling of a greater variety of foods offered and hopefully result in a better-balanced diet. We have successfully placed almost all species of large parrots on a sun-flower-free diet, including Amazons, African Greys, Eclectus, all species of Cockatoos and the miniature and medium-sized macaws. In addition to seed in the captive diet, a great variety of fruits and vegetables can be offered and in fact this is absolutely necessary with some species (Eclectus Parrot, Fig Parrots, Pesquet’s Parrot). Monkey chow and dry dog food help to supply needed proteins and vitamins. Supplements of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, should be given. Most seeds contain a large amount of phosphorous, so supplementary calcium is essential to maintaining the physiologically correct calcium/phosphorous ratio. Natural or cultivated foods, free of poisons and pesticides, can be made available to the birds, such as berries, eucalyptus branches with buds and leaves, hawthorns and natural greens, like chickweed and dandelions. Germinated and sprouted seed can be given but care must be taken that fungal growth does not develops and possibly be consumed by the birds.

There are many types of nectar foods for non-seed eating parrots and they are composed mainly of liquified fruits and vegetables, with vitamins and mineral additions. A source of protein should also be mixed in the food of the common nectar feeders. The nectar diet can also be used to feed other species as a supplement (Swift Parakeets, Lathamus discolor; Fig Parrots, genera Opopsitta and Psillaculirostris; Hanging Parrots, genus Loriculus; and the Eclectus Parrot).

Many parrots can subsist on a seed-only diet but if the goal is reproduction, seeds are not enough. Breeding birds should be at peak condition to want to breed at all and to produce healthy offspring. Diet can also help bring parrots into their breeding cycle at the right time of year.


(1) Lories and Lorikeets (Family Loriidae)
This group of parrots is characterized by a special adaptation of the tongue f or nectar feeding. The tip of the tongue has long papillae which extend in use, giving the name, “brush-tongued” parrots. In the wild, they feed on pollen, fruits, buds and small insects, in addition to nectar. Therefore, in captivity, other foods should be offered, along with the prepared nectar.

The San Diego Zoo has been working with a great variety of lories and lorikeets for several years. A source of protein is added to their basic diet of cane sugar, fruits, vegetables, boiled rice, bread and of course, nectar. Human protein/vitamin concentrates, such as Super Hydramin (Nion Corp., Los Angeles, CA) are fed.

There are many species of these birds native to the high altitudes of New Guinea and these consequently adapt well to cold climates in captivity.

(2) Cockatoos (Family Cacatuidae)
As a general rule, the male of many of the cockatoo species can become very aggressive toward his mate during the breeding season, especiallythe Moluccan; Major Mitchell, Cacatua leadbeateri; the Lesser Sulphur-crested species, Cacatua sulphurea; and the Sulphur-crested species, Cacatua galerita. This may occur even in reproducing pairs that have previously raised young successfully. Disaster may result if male is ready to breed and the female is not. He will try to drive her into the nest and if she does not respond favorably, he may injure her seriously by biting heron the base of the upper bill. Be wary of this if you have an older male with a less mature female. If this may be the case, be sure to remove the nest-box from the aviary until she is more mature or provide extra nest-boxes along with shelter in the form of tree limbs high in the aviary so that the female may escape from the male if she needs to.

The Galah, Eolophus roseicapillus, is usually the earliest species to nest in captivity and eucalyptus leaves are a favorite choice of their nest material.

(3) Fig Parrots (Genuses Opopsitta and Psittaculirostris)
Fig parrots have been brought into captivity only during the last few years. The difficulty of establishing them is proven by only one successful breeding on record at the time of this writing. Very little is known about their natural history, i.e., diet or nesting habits in the wild. These parrots (and many of the tropical species of lories and lorikeets) take an unusually long time to become comfortably settled in captivity, probably due to the extreme dietary and climatic changes. However, many of them that have made it through several seasons in captivity then go on to live for many years and this contributes to the author’s opinion on the slow acclimation of these birds and the patience needed to breed them. Nest-boxes should not be set up in the first year of captivity as this may add intolerably to the stress of a new diet and environment.

Instead, the birds should be given minimally one full year to settle down before any breeding is encouraged. Both single pair and colony breeding of fig parrots have been attempted with an equal lack of success. As they are seen in pairs or small groups in the wild, I feel they should be isolated in pairs in the aviary. These birds have a tendency to become egg-bound, perhaps because of cold temperatures, a definite factor in this condition. They prefer to nest in captivity following their natural cycle, which unfortunately means breeding during the winter in the northern hemisphere. A climate-and-humidity-controlled room may be used advantageously with this group.

(4) Pesquet’s Parrot (Genus Psittrachus)
It must be noted that this uncommonly kept parrot does not eat seeds and if they do accept it at all, it is usually hulled and mixed with a soft food. Soft food is a must for these parrots and this can consist of soaked dog or monkey chow, read or sponge cake. It can be soaked in water or in a nectarwith avitamin/mineral powder mixed in. Additionally, as wide a variety as possible of fruits and vegetables should be offered. Yams were the key food in acclimating a group of these birds at the Los Angeles Zoo in the 1970’s. The first successful breeding in the U.S. took place there in 1980. (Personal communication – Mike Cunningham, Curator of Birds, Los Angeles Zoo)

(5) Eclectus Parrot (Genus Eclectus)
The female in this highly dimorphic genus is the more dominant of the pair. Serious attacks generally do not occur, but great care should be taken when placing adults together. It is ideal to allow two young birds to grow up together. If possible, the male should be older than the female and not the reverse. After working with these parrots for many years with a result of over eighty young produced, they still present a challenge to this aviculturist. The main problem in breeding Eclectus is infertile eggs, because the female often becomes so dominant that the male fears to approach her for mating. This can go on for years. Observation of the birds’ disposition toward one another is very significant and we have taken up to nine months with the introduction period. Methods include placing the female and male in adjacent cages or by placing the female in a small cage within a flight occupied by the male. The very best way to achieve optimum compatibility is by observing pair bonding within a large group of birds, still a rare opportunity at best. I have seen some females that have never accepted a mate in either an individual or group situation and these simply may not be useful in a breeding program.

Another note of interest is that the Eclectus parrot will nest during the southern hemisphere breeding season. Almost all pairs, including captive-bred birds, will bred in the wintertime in the northern hemisphere, so precautions against the weather must be taken at that time.

(6) Australian Parakeets (Family Psittacidae)
This group of parrots are among the most commonly bred in captivity but some observations can be of use. Many species, and mostly those found in the northern part of Australia, will breed earlier than the rest and nest-boxes should be placed in their aviaries early. Also, some provisions may be needed in very cold climates to heat the bottom of the boxes to keep the babies from freezing. Several species of note in this group include the Red-rumped Parakeet, Psephotus haematonotus; Many-colored Parakeet, Psephotus varius; Hooded Parakeet, Psephotus chrysopterygius dissimilis; Golden-shouldered Parakeet, Psephotus c, chrysopterygius; and Northern Rosella, Platycercus venustus.

In some of the species (Hooded Parakeet, Golden-shouldered Parakeet) that may nest in termite mounds in the wild, a tunnel can be added to the outside of the nest-box to encourage them to nest. This tunnel of wood need not be over 1 5cm (6in.) in length but it darkens the entrance hole, thus simulating the termite mound.

(7) Kakarikis (Genus Cyanoramphus)
These parakeets originate from New Zealand and it is important to note that they become distressed in heat and prefer cool weather. One should breed them through the cool months and extra shelter should be added in the summer if they are on eggs or young.

(8) Macaws (Genus Ara)
Ever since the endoscope enabled aviculturists to sex macaws, there has been a dramatic rise in the reproductive rate of this group of birds. Most macaws will pair bond easily and then become very compatible. It must be noted that one must know the sex of each bird when several are placed in a large aviary for pair bonding. Macaws are among the few parrots that will form pair bonds between individuals of the same sex. This is not very common, but certainly will not result in offspring.
I personally believe the number of macaws reproduced will increase dramatically in the next few years, not only because of surgical sexing but because of their bonding nature and lack of aggression toward each other. For this reason, I feel there will be many more macaws reproduced than cockatoos.

Macaws aggressively defend their nests when on eggs and/or babies. This defense is aimed at human interference and may result in breakage of eggs or injury of young as the adults do not leave the nest when disturbed. It is best to keep human intrusion to a minimum and to supply a door to block the adults from returning to the nest when checking eggs or young.

(9) Amazons (Genus Amazona)
Amazons and other groups of large South American parrots (Pionus and Pionopsitta pileata) tend to become sedentary in captivity. They may become overweight and their diet must be monitored so that seeds and other fatty foods are kept to a minimum. Cage breeding has proven very successful in reproducing this group of birds. The lack of large Amazons reproduced in captivity may be due to the lack of effort to breed them, for great numbers are imported from the wild and used for the pet trade. Amazons are another group of parrots that may break eggs in their nest, because of their aggressive nature toward humans during the nesting cycle. Often this aggression is transferred to the female when the male becomes highly agitated and one must beware of this.

(10) Conures (Genuses Aratinga, Pyrrhura, Enicognathus)
Consures in general have not been raised in good numbers until recent years and many species were only bred for the first time in the past five or ten years. I feel this is true, not because they are necessarily difficult to breed, but rather because no one has made a serious effort to do so until recently. Hundreds and thousands of conures were imported into the U.S. in years past, making them cheap and easily obtainable, and most went into the pet trade. However, many species are not now being imported and hopefully it is not too late to see them breeding successfully in captivity.

Many species have now been successfully reproduced in single pair breeding situations using the cage breeding method. The young, when hand-raised and kept back for breeding, have bred very well and much sooner than wild-caught birds. The more colorful conures are now being commonly reared, but still many of the less colorful ones are not being avidly worked with by any aviculturists.

In the past few years, strides have been made in many areas in reproducing parrot-type birds in captivity. Modern techniques are just now being utilized, especially in avian medicine and in safe, surgical sexing of birds. We are still lacking in depth knowledge in the critical area of artificial incubation requirements. Communication and dissemination of knowledge in the avicultural world must be a constant goal.

We may be very close to the time when many parrot species will not be available for aviculturists to work with. So many genuses and species are already sadly lacking in captive numbers, and there is little hope that this condition will change. Cooperation among aviculturists and individual specialization among the parrot groups will soon be a must.
Success for the future will depend on the dedication of all aviculturists everywhere. They will need patience, hard work, cooperation and most of all, they will need a keen appreciation and knowledge of their birds’ needs.

Bates, J., and R.L. Busenbard. 1969. Parrot and Related Birds. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Jersey City, New Jersey City, New Jersey.
Berger, A.J. 1977. Fitness of Offspring from Captive Populations. In Endangered Birds, Management Techniques for Preserving Threatened Species. 315-320 University of Wisconsin Press.
Berry, R.S. 1975. Precarious Perch for a Parrot. Animal Kingdom. Oct./Nov. Pgs: 25-30.
Clements, J.F. 1978. Birds of the World: a Checklist. The Two Continents Publishing Group, Ltd., New York.
Forshaw, Joseph M. 1977. Parrots of the World, T.F.H. Publications, New Jersey,
Harrison, Greg J., D.V.M. Endoscopy as a Means of Pairing Birds. The A.F.A. Watchbird, Vol. VIII, Number 1. Feb./March., 1981. pg. 6-8.
Lendon, A.H. 1973. Cayley’s Australian Parrots in Field and Aviary, Sydney. Angus and Robertson.
Low, Rosemary. 1980. Parrots, Their Care and Breeding. Blandford Press Ltd., Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom.
Low,, Rosemary. 1977. Lories and Lorikeets. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, New Jersey. Noegel, R. 1979. Amazon Husbandry. The A.F.A. Watchbird.
Pasquier, Roger F. (ed.) 1981. Conservation of New World Parrots. Proceedings of the ICBP Parrot Working Group Meeting. St. Lucia. 1980. Smithsonian Institution Press.
Thompson, Dale R. 1981. Techniques in Psittacine Aviculture, Proceedings of 30th. Western Poultry Disease Conference. University of California, Cooperative extension.


Founder and Director
Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary

ICFB 1983

“The best way to know life is to love many things.” Van Gogh

The amazons covered in this paper are only those species and subspecies we have in our collection, and, for the most part, those we have researched in their island habitats, Our program began in 1965, and therefore pioneered the captive breeding of Caribbean amazons as a means of conservation. At that time, there were no existing pairs being worked with in captivity with the idea of conservation as a goal. Few zoos or aviculturists seemed to be aware of the serious plight facing these parrots. It was my privilege to grow up having Cuban Amazons as pets. Various neighbors also kept several of the island species which I enjoyed viewing. It would indeed be a tragic loss if these beautiful and unique parrots vanish from the earth. They must be saved for posterity.

In the past two decades, we have witnessed the continual decline in populations of West Indian parrots. Attempts by those of us who have lived and worked in the islands to stem this downward trend have been negligible. The eventual destruction of the separate species and subspecies within their native habitats may be attributed to four major causes: human population explosion coupled with poverty; habitat destruction; natural disasters and political uncertainty. The islands’ human populations, for the most part, are comprised of “Third World” peoples. They are emerging from centuries of oppression and will not tolerate anything standing in the way of their economic progress. Natural resources, such as their forests, mineral deposits, wildlife, climate and beaches, are going to be utilized. The laws now protecting the parrots will ultimately be set aside as growth and development advance. Even today enforcement of these laws is often ignored.

On restricted island land masses, the inhabitants must resort to clearing the parrot’s habitat for their homes, farms, and livestock. As tourism and industry encourages development along the coastline, local residents are forced inland. People so acquainted with extreme poverty, and who have had little or no instruction in conservation, will not place the parrot’s welfare above their own necessity to survive. To those of us who have spent considerable time in the West Indies researching not only the parrots but the mood of the people, it is increasingly evident that the immediate solution to saving many of the amazon species is through captive breeding programs. We can no longer permit our selves to indulge in romantic dreams of large flocks of parrots flying free in their native habitats. Such wishful thinking must be replaced by more practical methods. Therefore, captive breeding sanctuaries remain the only alternative to their eventual extinction.

Life Fellowship has proven that these and other rare amazons, if given proper accommodations and diet, adjust well to a captive program. They seem perfectly willing to breed year after year and their offspring respond by breeding even more prolifically than their wild caught parents. Unfortunately, Life Fellowship is still the only organization to successfully breed any of the Caribbean Amazons on a regular basis. Life Fellowship has achieved seven first (World) captive breedings of rare and endangered amazons. Two species and two subspecies have been second generation captive bred and this season (1983) should see third generation captive bred being accomplished.

Our approach calls for establishing other captive breeding sanctuaries. Since 1976, offspring from our facility have been placed with aviculturists and institutions that have proven their expertise in avian husbandry. However, in this endeavor the small may succeed where the great have failed, i.e., the aviculturist may achieve what the great institutions have not. It has been Life Fellowship’s precarious position to be the only organization to date faced with a large surplus of captive bred endangered West Indian amazons, and likewise to have the singular existing experience in placing such offspring on breeding loan with aviculturists and institutions. It is my sad duty to point out that the institutions have had high mortality rates and have failed to breed from the offspring we placed with them. The aviculturists, however, have lost only one single bird entrusted to them, and on one occasion have bred from our captive reared young. From these limited findings, we have to conclude aviculturists no doubt stand a better chance for successful captive breeding programs. If so, today’s aviculturists will become tomorrow’s conservationists where many species of birds are concerned. In their hands may reside the hope of long term conservation by captive breeding. Over the past decade aviculture has matured into a science. It is a study of man’s love for the responsibility to avian life.

In order for aviculturists to maintain a captive breeding program with endangered amazons, the current restrictions must be lifted to permit the captive raised offspring to be sold. This will offset the expense incurred in a captive program and provide incentive to continue breeding large numbers of these beautiful and much sought-after amazons. I fully recognize this calls for bold new thinking. In the past conservationists have frowned on the idea of marketing these birds. But if it takes placing a monetary value on them to encourage continued captive propagation, then we must consider this alternative. Many zoos that have been successful in breeding various endangered animals have had to curtail their breeding simply because there has not been enough demand by other zoos for their captive bred offspring.

Too long we have left the aviculturists out of conservation. We must take bold and imaginative measures to incorporate and utilize their vast expertise and resources in saving these birds. By abolishing the present fear of having endangered species confiscated, the aviculturist can feel free to join the captive breeding endeavors and thus aid in keeping the stud book up to date on the various existing blood lines.

If through captive breeding we can forestall the extinction of the species, perhaps the time will come when men will learn to live and prosper together. When man is able to contact all forms of life pleasantly, with consideration, with the heart of a helper, and the mind of a student, he grows. When man evolves to his rightful heritage, other life forms will receive appropriate consideration and natural habitats may still be found where captive bred specimens can be set free and have no fear of being driven from the face of the earth. We should consider such reintroduction feasible only when man is prepared to face his responsibility toward other forms of life.

CUBA AND THE ISLE OF PINES (A. L leucocephala and A. L palmarum)
Largest of the Antilles, Cuba and the Isle of Pines are prime examples of the parrot’s habitat destruction. Bota (1957) lists only two provinces with sustaining viable populations of leucocephala; the extreme western tip of Pinar Del Rio and the opposite end of the island in Oriente Province. Ina letter (1980) Adelina Munoz, Director of the Captive Breeding Program for the Institute of Zoology, Cuba, advised me there were no longer any parrots to be found in Pinar Del Rio and none sighted in recent years on the Isle of Pines. Palmarum is therefore possible extinct in its native habitat.

This subspecies was first (World) captive bred at life Fellowship in 1975. Ourfive original specimens were cage pets, three of which were past thirty years of age when we received them. To date (1982) we have hatched and reared twenty-one young. Twelve of these are second generation captive bred. Maturity is reached in four to six years. This small flock of twenty-six specimens may represent the last hope for this brilliantly colored subspecies. They appear to be captive bred nowhere else.

The Isle of Pines has been deforested to make way for citrus groves and twenty-five schools catering to students from “Third World” countries. The nominate species is being regularly bred by us and in east European countries. Life Fellowship has the only captive breeding colony in the United States apart from one of our captive bred pairs on loan to an aviculurist.

In twenty years we have witnessed seventy-five percent of the remaining virgin forest of Cuba being destroyed. If this is the case on the largest Caribbean island, what may we expect from smaller islands, many of them looking to Cuba for their example. The Cuban Amazon is protected by law but these laws are not enforced. Young may still be purchased by visitors in market places in Havana.

GRAND CAYMAN (A. /. caymanesis) AND CAYMAN BRAG (A. /. hesterna)
Caymanensis is making its last stand in the central and eastern portion of Grand Cayman. Development is literally driving it from the islands. In 1971 when we first started our research with this parrot, it numbered approximately 400. Today its estimate is perhaps half that number of less. On small islands, sightings may easily be duplicated in different areas. It was first (World) captive bred at Life Fellowship in 1974. We have reared to maturity forty-five specimens. Eleven of these are second generation captive reared.

Hesterna inhabits the smallest land mass of any amazon. The Brac consists of approximately twenty-five square kilometers. Members of our staff and I have lived on this island for three months each in order to cover an entire year of seasonal observation. In 1974, we estimated there to be 150 specimens. In 1981 the estimate was below 45.

BONAIRE (A. barbadensis rothschildsi)
Though often not included, this subspecies from the Netherland Antilles deserves attention and should be classed as a West Indian Amazon. It is due to Rosemary Low’s research and captive breeding program with this little known parrot that many have of late become interested in obtaining specimens for breeding. Such was our case. We received our first specimens of this and the nominate species in 1979. Though we hatched three chicks in 1981, it was not until 1982 that we succeeded in a first (World) captive breeding of three of the species and one of the subspecies. The four were reared to maturity.

Since we innovated the suspended aviaries in 1969, we have achieved an increase in breeding success. This is partly due to the fact that his type aviary keeps the birds from acquiring parasites contacted on the ground and from the security and psychological well-being experienced by the birds that soon learn they are protected from entry into their confined world. Such security is exhibited by the fact that even wild caught birds soon tame down in the knowledge they are not going to be molested. We seldom remove a bird from its aviary more than once a year unless some emergency demands it. Today our styled aviaries are being used with success by many leading aviculturists and zoos. All have reported increased breeding results and less parasite problems.

Diet is, of course, very important and we are constantly upgrading our nutrition program which regularly includes protein in the form of cheddar cheese, eggs and dog food. A good knowledge of vitamins and minerals and the use of living foods such as sprouts, greens, and fruits, in addition to an assortment of seeds, have played an important part in keeping the birds healthy and in breeding condition.

However, one of the primary reasons for continued breeding success is privacy. We simply do not allow visitors into our breeding area. The birds readily accept those they are familiar with but become noticeable irritated and upset when a stranger enters. Another necessary ingredient is humidity. Our aviaries are located in the remnants of an old Florida rain forest which supplies the required humidity and gives the birds the necessary natural environment conducive to breeding.
Conservation by captive breeding is the only sure immediate solution to eventual extinction of endangered psittacines. We at Life Fellowship have proven a successful program of captive breeding can be implemented. There is no reason, short of closed mindedness, why these threatened birds cannot be saved if all concerned are willing to work together for the common goal of preservation.

Berry, Robert J. 1976. Precarious Perch for a Parrot, Animal Kingdom Oct./Nov., pp. 25-30. Bota, Silvia. 1957. Se Extinguen Nuestras Cotorras, Romances November, pp. 18-25.
Carraway, Patricia. 1979. The Bahaman Parrot, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 85, pp. 18-23.
English, T.M. Savage, 1916. Notes on Some of the Birds of Grand Cayman, West Indies, Ibis, pp. 17-18.
Forshaw, J.M. 1973. Parrots Of The World, Landsdowne Press, Sidney, p. 534.
Low, Rosemary. 1980. Parrots Their Care And Breeding. Blandford Press Ltd., Poole, Dorset, pp. 473-475.
Klaus,B., Wedde, U. 1981. Amazonen, Horst Muller, Verlag, Walsrode, West Germany, pp. 120-126.
Noegel, Ramon P.1974. Breeding of the Cayman Island Amazon, Avicultural Bulletin, October, pp. 17-28.
1976. The Cayman Brax Amazon, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 82, pp. 202-209.
1977. Captive Breeding of Amazons (leucocephala), Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 83, pp. 126-130.
1978. The Captive Breeding of the Isle of Pines Amazon, Aviculture Bulletin, Oct., pp. 3-10.
1979. Amazon Husbandry, The A.F.A. Watchbird, Vol. VI, No. 4, pp. 10-21.
1979. The Isle of Pines Amazon, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 85, pp. 85-88.
1979. First Catpive Breeding of the Jamaican Blackbilled Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XIII, pp. 265-267.
1979. The Vanishing Yellow-Napes, American Cage Bird Magazine November, pp. 29-32.
1981. World First Captive Breeding of the Cayman Brac Amazon, Aviculture Bulletin, September, p. 7.
1981. Dominican Amazons, Bird World, Aug./Sept., p. 37.
1982. Rare and Endangered Amazons, The A.F.A. Watchbird, Vol. IX, No. 2, pp. 20-23.
1982. We are Hand Rearing a St. Vincent Chick, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 9, 272
1982. First Captive Breeding of the Tucuman Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 8, pp. 233-235.
Paradise, Paul R. 1979. Amazon Parrots, p. 51.
Pasquier, Paul R. 1979. 1981. Conservation of New World Parrots, Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 73-79.
Parkes, Kenneth C. 1963. Notes on some Birds from Cuba and the Isle of Pines, Annals Of Carnegie Museum, Vol. 36, pp. 129-132.
Silva, T. 1982. Comments on the H ispaniolan Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 8, pp. 236-237.
Snyder, N., King, W., Kepler, B. 1981. Biology and Conservation of the Bahama Parrot, Living Birds, pp. 91-113.
Smith, G. A. 1981. Amazon Paarrots, The Parrot Society, Vol. XV, No. 12, pp. 333-337.


By Dale R. Thompson and Linda Barber

ICFB 1983

The successful breeding of exotic birds in captivity has been challenged by the difficulties faced in rearing the young to maturity. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, many birds of the order Psittaciformes were first kept in captivity with some success. Early aviculturists became frustrated by the fact that relatively few young birds hatched in captivity survived. They found that captive pairs were poor parents, and attempts at hand-raising the offspring were often futile. It was through the trial-and-error efforts of a few dedicated aviculturists that the groundwork was laid in the proper techniques for successful hand-rearing.

Serious work in this direction was started in the 1970’s. Personnel at the San Diego Zoo in Southern California were among the leaders in advancing the art of hand-rearing and demonstrating its benefits.

The greatest advantage of hand-rearing lies in the fact that many birds are saved that would otherwise die. Unsuccessful propagation has various causes, ranging from poor incubation to illness in the young. The inability of birds to adapt to captivity and new climatic conditions can also lead to poor incubation and subsequent embryo death. The Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus), a tropical species, may nest in the winter in an adverse colder climate, and incubate without success. Also, some parrots will break and eat their eggs. When these problems arise, the eggs must be removed from the nest and artificially incubated. Brooding problems are also linked to poor adaptation to captivity. Parents may be inconsistent in brooding, resulting in the young dying of exposure. In addition, excitable parents may destroy their chicks if the nest site is disturbed. We remove babies from the nests of breeding pairs who have displayed these types of behavior in the past, or when the young show signs of illness. Those birds that are potentially ill can be observed and treated while being hand-raised.

There are valuable behavioral advantages in hand-raising young parrots. One is the tame and delightful disposition of the baby when weaned. The hand-reared young birds may also make better breeders and parents because they are less stressed by confinement and contact with people. In addition, removal of young soon after hatching sometimes results in the parents returning tot he nest and laying more clutches per year than they normally would. Saving birds and producing birds better adapted to captivity make hand-rearing a worthwhile effort.

Although it is not normal procedure to remove eggs of very young birds on a regular basis, there are times, as explained above, when removal is advantageous. Preferably birds can be left with the parents from ten to twenty-one days, depending on the species. During the early stages of development parent-raised chicks gain weight more rapidly than chicks hatched in the incubator and hand-raised from the first day of age. However, at weaning, hand-reared and parent-reared young are usually of comparable weights.

The ease of hand-rearing a bird is affected by the age of the bird when it is removed from the nest. This is especially true with some of the more difficult species, such as Eclectus Parrots and some species of Cockatoos (Cacatuinae). After hand-rearing over sixty Eclectus we have found nineteen days to be the best age to remove these babies from their parents. We try to avoid very early removal when the birds are the most vulnerable to stress. On the other hand, if removed when feathered, the young birds can be difficult to handle and feed, and weaning becomes more stressful. These birds eventually calm down, but added patience is required on the part of the person caring for them.

The techniques used at Behavioral Study of Birds, Ltd., are offered as guidelines. We work with over sixty species of the Psittaciformes order, mostly the larger species, such as Macaws, Cockatoos, Eclectus, Amazons and African Greys. We have developed techniques based on our own experience and have also used or modified techniques of other successful aviculturists from around the world.

We take many factors into account when arranging the proper set-up f or the care of a bird after it is removed from the nest. Young that are partially parent-reared and removed at an early age are placed in a brooder box at a temperature appropriate to their stage in development. Older birds that are sufficiently feathered are removed from the nest and placed directly into a cardboard box. All hand-reared young are kept in a temperature-controlled room that is maintained between 21 degrees – 27 degrees C (70°-80°F).

One-day-olds are placed in a brooder box and kept there until they have wing feathers and some feathering over the back. This brooder, designed at our facility is a wooden box measuring 61 cm x 31 cm (24in. x 12in.), and 28cm (11 in.) in height, A lid that completely covers the top offers access to the brooder, and there are several 1.5cm (1/2in.) holes at both ends to allow air circulation. There is a 15cm x 36cm (6in. x 14in.)viewing window in the front for observing the baby without disturbance. Air temperature is maintained with a heater controlled by a wafer thermostat. The heater is located in a screened off section at one end of the brooder, which prevents contact by an active baby. Increased humidity can be provided by placing a wide-mouthed container of water without a lid inside the screened-off area. This container should be wide because the humidity is dependent on the amount of water surface area. Surface heat is provided by a thermostatically-controlled heating pad covered with cloth diapers, which mimics blood surface of the parent bird. Both air and surface temperatures are constantly monitored and are adjusted according to the baby’s age and degree of feather development. These temperatures are changed several times during the weeks the baby spends in the brooder box. During the first week, the air temperature is kept at 32.2°2C (90°F) and the surface temperature at 34°-35°C (94°-96°F). The surface temperature is gradually reduced until at the sixth week of age or when feathering is complete over the back and wings; the surface temperature will be approximately 29.4°C (85°F). The surface temperature is more critical to the bird than is the air temperature. During the first ten days over-heating results in dehydration, while under-heating chills the bird and decreases its appetite, resulting in reduced intake of food.

When the bird has sufficient feathers over its back and wings to prevent chilling, it is moved from the brooder box and placed in a cardboard box. The box is warmed by an electrical heating pad placed under it. The inside air temperature of the box should be kept no warmer than 29°C (85°F). The heating pad is removed one to two weeks prior to moving the bird into a cage, where weaning takes place.

The inside floor of both the brooder box and carboard box is lined with cloth diapers. We favor diapers over pine or cedar shavings, as occasionally babies will ingest small pieces of shavings, resulting in blockage of the crop. It is also important to check the diaper or cloth for loose threads or holes to prevent entanglement and damaged limbs. Soiled diapers should be changed after every feeding.

As the baby develops a small hole may be cut in the top of the cardboard box, or the top may be left partially open to allow the young bird to peek out. Gradual exposure of the bird to the outside significantly reduces the stress of moving the bird into a wire cage.

When the bird is fully feathered and standing on its own, it may be moved to a wire cage. To provide the bird with a feeling of security and lessen stress, cloth towels are used to cover most of the cage during the first week; these are then gradually removed as the bird becomes adjusted to the open cage. A perch is placed low in the cage to encourage the bird to climb on it. Because young birds are wobbly on their feet, the perch should be large in diameter (relative to the bird’s foot size) and have a flat surface on top. We keep the birds in these cages until they leave the facility or are placed in flights to be used in our breeding program. If a baby is chosen for used in a breeding program, it is best to place it with its own kind as soon as possible after weaning. Some aviculturists place young birds together prior to weaning; however, if a disease problem is present it may spread to the neighboring birds.

There appears to be as many food formulas as there are aviculturists. Most people successfully use one of the many popular formulas or modifications of them. In general, the basis of these formulas consists of a grain, seed, or prepared cereal base to which various other types of foods are added. It is important that the formula used be nutritionally sound, but the additional factors of food consistency, the amount fed, and the frequency of feedings are all important in raising a healthy bird and avoiding digestive disturbances. Selection of these three factors varies according to the species and age of each bird, and whether the bird was partially parent-raised.

Over several years we have experimented with a number of different food formulas. The formula we have experienced the most success with in the many species of Psittaciformes we hand-raise is listed in Table 1. All of the dry ingredients are ground separately, using a hand grinder or blender. After each ingredient is ground, it is placed separately in a sealed plastic container and kept in the freezer. We try to avoid touching the food when preparing ingredients and formula. The consistency of the dry ground ingredients should be fairly coarse. Except for the first few days of feeding, when food is fed watery, large chunks of food can be found in the crops of parent-fed birds. Dry ingredients ground too fine may be a cause of crop impaction. The dry ingredients, along with the vitamins and calcium, are mixed with bottled water to the desired consistency prior to each feeding. The formula is then heated in a microwave oven, and stirred before feeding for even heat distribution. The food is heated to 38°-40°C (100°-105°F); higher temperatures may scald the bird’s crop. Temperatures lower than 38°C (100°F) may cause the young bird to reject the food. The optimum food temperature which stimulates the baby to eat is that at which the parent would feed. We mix only enough formula for one feeding of a group of babies at a time because bacteria can multiply in leftover food and reheating reduces vitamin potency. Any extra food is thrown out.

Aviculturists use a variety of utensils for feeding the formula, such as a spoon, syringe, or soft rubber tube. Spoon-feeding is the most common method because it triggers the feeding response by stimulating the commissures of the beak. Tube-feeding is the method used the least due to the danger of misplacing the tube into the trachea. We use the syringe method because it is easy to measure the amount of food given, and is readily accepted by the baby. With this method the feeding response may be triggered by pressing with the finger and thumb on the commissures of the beak while the palm of the hand is used to steady the bird’s head. Very young birds have soft mouths so it is important to feed on alternate sides of the mouth, as always using the same side may result in curvature of the beak.

For the first few days of life we follow the parents’ method and feed a watered-down version of the same formula through a small syringe (12ml.) while avoiding overfeeding and stretching of the young bird’s crop lining. A baby first entering the nursery is not fed until the crop is completely empty. This is important with all feedings, as old food left in the cop may spoil and not pass through. Extra feedings of warm water may be given if one observes that the previous formula is too thick and is passing through the crop too slowly. After the first few days the bird is fed to the full capacity of its crop at each feeding. Babies up to a week old are usually fed approximately eight feedings per day, determined not by the clock, but when the crop is empty. At five to six weeks of age, the number of feedings is reduced to three per day. During the weaning process, feeding is reduced in the following sequence. The second feeding of the day is eliminated, followed by the first feeding, then the third. At approximately two weeks of age, we switch from a 12ml. syringe with a small tip to a 35ml. catheter-tipped syringe for feeding. This allows us to feed the formula at a coarser consistency.

Weaning a baby is by far the most difficult time in working with the bird. Some birds start to refuse hand-feeding too early, while others prefer formula feeding to eating solid foods on their own. We try to simulate the same procedure in weaning as the parents, and to approximate the time of weaning to the time the babies would normally leave the nest. After fledging the nest, the parent birds reduce the amount of food they feed to their young. The babies then lose weight, enabling easier f light and causing them to be hungry enough to seek food on their own. When weaning begins in our nursery, there is a definite drop in weight which we consider normal. However, weighing the birds daily is of great importance in determining if the bird is losing too much weight and needs supplemental hand feeding.

While reducing feedings a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is placed in the cage where it is easily accessible to the bird. Two of the first foods offered are raw corn-on-the cob and hulled sunflower seeds. From hulled sunflower seeds it is easy for the bird to make the transition to seeds with shells. The use of hulled sunflower may reduce weaning time by as much as one to two weeks and also results in lower weight losses during weaning.

It can be a tremendous help in the proper management of each bird to keep records at all stages of development. We take the weight of each baby every morning before its first feeding. A daily record sheet is used to monitor the weight gain or loss from the previous day (figure 1). We also use the record to note amounts of formula and times fed over a twenty-four hour period (figure 2). The general appearance and condition of the birds, such as abnormal feces, poor feeding response, listlessness, etc. is noted. In addition, normal developmental changes, such as when the eyes open and feathers appear, are recorded to establish norms for each species. This enables us to review our records and determine if a particular baby is normal for his age and stage of development.

Proper hygiene is very important in maintaining the health of young birds. The young are particularly susceptible to disease because they lack the fully developed immune system of the adult. We take many precautions to reduce incidence and spread of disease in our nursery. Visitors are kept to a minimum and no one is permitted to enter the nursery wearing clothes that have been in contact with other birds. The nursery staff handles and works with only the nursery birds, and is excluded from other areas in the breeding facility. The staff changes footgear to shoes worn only in the nursery, and they don clean smocks when entering. Before handling anything in the nursery, the staff scrubs their hands with a brush and disinfectant soap for two minutes. The floor, counters, and various other areas such as the refrigerator handles and the microwave oven are cleaned and disinfected daily. All appliances and utensils used in preparation of the food and feeding are scrubbed and then soaked in a chlorhexidine disinfectant after each use. Food is prepared fresh for each meal and fed promptly after heating.
Behavioral Study of Birds has its own staff veterinarian and medical technologist and maintains a diagnostic laboratory. This allows for the testing of birds on a regular basis. Before any bird is brought into the nursery, swabs from the crop and cloaca are cultured to identify the bacteria present. If potential pathogens are found, the bird is treated with appropriate antibiotics (as determined by drug sensitivity testing) to eliminate the pathogens. This reduces the chance of a new bird bringing bacterial disease into the nursery. The birds are then cultured periodically throughout their development to ensure that they remain disease-free. The water supply and food fed to the birds are also cultured periodically to make sure they are free of pathogenic bacteria as well. To prevent the potential spread of disease from bird to bird within the nursery, the birds are kept in individual cages, and the staff disinfects their hands between handling each bird. Although these steps may seem a bit drastic, since these precautions have been implemented the incidence and spread of disease within our nursery has been greatly reduced.

1/2 cup Hulled Sunflower
1/2 cup Raw Shelled Peanuts
1/2 cup Gerber’s High Protein Cereal (a) (apple & orange)
1/2 cup Tune-Up’s Myna Bird Pellets(b) fortified with fruits
(apple, peach, apricot, banana, dates, raisin.)
1/2 cup Purina’s #5045 Monkey Chow(c)
1 teaspoon powdered vitamins (Vionate(d), Avia(e), Super Preen(f)). 1 teaspoon Di Calcium Phosphate(g)
(a) Gerber’s High Protein Cereal, Gerber Products Co., Fremont, Michigan, 49412.
(b) Tune Up’s Myna Bird Pellets, Modern Pet Foods Co., Vernon, Ca. 90058.
(c) Purina’s #5045 Monkey Chow, Ralston Purina Co., St. Louis, Miss. 63188.
(d) Vionate, E.R. Squibb & Sons, Inc., Princeton, N.J. 08540.
(e) Avia, Nutra-Vet Research Corp., Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 12601.
(f) Super Preen, RHB Laboratories Inc., Santa Ana, CA. 92705.
(g) DiCalcium Phosphate, Nitro Prod. Inc., Industry, CA. 91744.

Additional References:
Bates, J., and R.L. Busenbard. 1969. Parrot and Related Birds. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Jersey City, New Jersey.
Clements, J.F. 1978. Birds of the World: a Checklists. The Two Continents Publishing Group, Ltd., New York.
Forshaw, Joseph M. 1977. Parrots of the World, T.F.H. Pulbications, New Jersey.
Low, Rosemary, 1980. Parrots Their Care and Breeding. Blandford Press Ltd., Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom.


Figure 1. Average weight gains of eight Macaws
2 Hyacinth Macaws, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus
3 Scarlet Macaws, Ara macao
1 Blue and Gold Macaw, Ara ararauna 1 Military Macaw, Ara militaris
1 Green-wing Macaw, Ara chloroptera


Figure 2. Average amount of formula that is handfed to baby Macaws. Average from eight birds.
(2 Hyacinth Macaws, 1 Blue and Gold Macaw, 3 Scarlet Macaws 1 Military Macaw, 1 Green-wing Macaw)
(*) Number of feedings were reduced at this time.


By Klaus Immelmann

IFCB 1983

In many vertebrates, especially in birds and mammals, knowledge of species-specific characters, i.e. of those features by which members of the same species recognize each other, is acquired by a learning process which is distinguishable from other forms of learning and -since Lorenz published his famous “Kumpan”-paper in 1935 – is known by its own name, imprinting.

In a brief and general way, imprinting can be defined as an early and fairly rapid learning process with a particularly stable result. The best-known examples are filial imprinting, by which the hatchlings of precocial birds learn the characteristics of their mother or their parents, and sexual imprinting, by which the young of both precocial and altricial birds learn the species-specific characteristics which enable them, in adult life, to recognize a conspecific mate (Fabricius 1951; Bateson 1966; Immelmann 1972b; Hess 1973).

Two main criteria have been described in the literature as the principal distinguishing characters of imprinting: its restriction in time, i.e. the fact that this form of learning is possible only at a certain stage during ontogenetic development known as the sensitive phase, as well as the great permanence of the results of this learning process, frequently referred to as irreversible (for review, see Immelmann 1972b).

The present paper does not attempt to present another review of the vast literature on imprinting which has accumulated over the years. It will rather try to characterize this early learning process by reporting details of one particular example of imprinting, the acquisition of sexual preferences in the Australian Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis). This problem has been studied in our laboratory for many years, with emphasis on the two main criteria mentioned above.

In a pilot study we attempted to determine if and how early social experience has an influence on the choice of a mate. This was done in cross-fostering experiments with another species of estrildid finches, the Bengalese Finch (Lonchura striata f. domestica): male Zebra Finches were foster-reared with Bengalese Finches until they had reached nutritional independence. They were then separated from their foster parents and kept in individual cages.

As soon as they were sexually mature, they were tested in a double-choice situation with a female of their own species and a female of foster parents’ species. All males treated in this was showed a clear preference for the foster parents’ species and thus proved to be imprinted on the latter (figs. 1 – 4) (for details of methods and results see Immelmann 1969, 1972a).

Another study was concerned with female imprintability. This seemed to be important with regard to the fact that in the literature on imprinting, there has been considerable discussion as to whether in females, as in males, early experience may influence subsequent sexual preferences. Schutz (1965) published a theory based on his experiments with ducks according to which both sexes are imprintable in monomorphic species, whereas in sexually dimorphic species in which the male has a bright nuptial plumage with distinct color markings some kind of innate recognition of the male plays the most important role forthe female. These assumptions have been modified by Klint (1975), who found that female Mallards do modify their sexual preferences according to early experience, although they do indeed show a genetically determined preference for the nuptial coloration of the male.

Using a slightly different test situation, a multiple choice apparatus (fig. 5), Sonnemann and Sjolander (1977) tested the preferences of 44 Zebra Finch females raised by Bengalese Finches and of 17 controls raised by their own species. They found a clear preference for the males of the foster species in the first group and a clear preference for conspecific males in the control females. They have thus given the first experimental proof of female imprintability in a sexually dimorphic species of birds.

Courtship of Zebra Finches

Figure 1.
Courtship behavior of Zebra Finches. The male (right) advances towards the female along the branch in a privoting dance, turning his feet and body with every jump and singing almost continuously. His tail is twisted towards the female, the crown-feathers are depressed and the feathers of the back and sides of the head are raised, thus making the black-and-white face markings and the chestnut ear-covers more conspicuous. The white belly-feathers are fully fluffed out. The female also turns her tail towards the mate.

A Zebra Finch male foster-reared by Bengalese Finches courts a Bengalese Finch female.

Figure 2
A Zebra Finch male foster-reared by Bengalese Finches courts a Bengalese Finch female.


Figure 3
A foster-reared Zebra Finch male courts a Bengalese dummy in the presence of a dummy of a Zebra Finch female.


Figure 4.
Sexual reactions of Zebra Finch males raised by Bengalese Finch foster parents. The block diagrams give the number of courtship sequences (for description see fig. 1) towards the female of the foster parents’ species (B) and the conspecific female (Z) respectively. The diagram represents the results of twelve double-choice experiments of 30 minutes duration using different females each time. If there is no block above the symbol Z the conspecific female did not receive any sexual reactions at all (from Immelmann 1969).


Figure 5.
Multiple choice testing apparatus. The test-bird, a female Zebra Finch foster-raised by Bengalese Finches is placed in the central, octagonal compartment. Four Zebra and four Bengalese Finch males are presented in eight small cages arranged around the central compartment. A perch in front of each of the satellite cages was provided, with a photo cell arrangement, so that the time spent there by the female could be recorded (from Sonnemann & Sjolander 1977).

In order to test the stability of sexual preferences established early in life, long-term experiments have been carried out with Zebra Finch males which had been reared by Bengalese Finches and, during the pilot study, had already proved to be sexually imprinted on their foster parents’ species. These birds were “forced” to mate with conspecific female: they were kept in a breeding cage with one Zebra Finch female and were provided with nesting facilities. The cages were placed in a room where no Bengalese Finches could be seen or heard, thus depriving the birds of any further contact with members of their foster parents’ species. Most of these males eventually mated with the female and jointly raised one or several broods. After six months they were separated from their conspecific mate and were tested again in a double choice situation as before. The results of these tests revealed the same preference for the Bengalese Finch females as was observed before the period of intra-specific contact (fig. 6) (for details see Immelman 1972a).

This means that the brief contact with the foster parents early in life clearly exerted a longer-lasting influence than did social contact of long-term duration during adult life. Some of the males were left with their conspecific mates for several (up to six) years. When given the choice again, even these males preferred Bengalese over Zebra Finch females. It can be concluded that in adult Zebra Finches the influence of early experience lasts fora period of time that probably exceeds the life expectancy of this species under natural conditions. Sexual imprinting in the Zebra Finch, therefore, is characterized by a degree of stability that justifies the term “irreversible”.

The next study was concerned with the possible occurrence of a sensitive phase for sexual imprinting, especially with its termination.
Using 337 individuals, this study investigated whether the same degree of irreversibility observed in adult birds can also be demonstrated in adolescents. Male Zebra Finches were again foster-raised by Bengalese Finches, but instead of being kept isolated after separation from the foster parents, they were immediately given intraspecific experience by being placed into a cage with several Zebra Finch males and females. Four series of experiments were run with three, seven, 30 and 60 days of intraspecific contact, respectively. The age at which the birds were transferred from Bengalese foster parents to the Zebra Finches varied from day 27 to day 73. The results of this study are summarized in fig. 7. They demonstrate that in adolescent males, in contrast to adults, it is still possible to alter a previously established preference and to “re-imprint” the birds on their own species. The success of such attempts depends mainly on two variables, the age of the bird and the duration of social contact with its own species. If only three or seven days of intraspecific contact are permitted, such contact must begin no later than around the 40th day of life in order to have the chance to exert a permanent effect on subsequent sexual preferences. On the other hand, if 30 or 60 days of contact are provided, changes in preference are still possible if the bird is placed together with con-specifics at a later age (57 or 71 day respectively).


Figure 6.
Sexual reactions of Zebra Finch males raised by Bengalese Finch foster parents before and after six months of breeding experience with a conspecific female. For each male, the left B-Z pair represents the results of the double-choice experiments before, the right pair those of the same number of experiments after the intraspecific contact (all other details in fig. 4) (from Immelmann 1972a).


It follows that the older the adolescent bird is, the more social contact is necessary to change a previously established social preference. In other words, with increasing age the social effort, i.e. the duration of social contact necessary to establish new preferences, increases and this process, as a comparison of the four series indicates, is a gradual one (fig. 8).

The main result of the study, however, is the demonstration of the fact that the sensitive phase for sexual imprinting in Zebra Finches comes to its close very early in life: even in the earliest isolates, before day 30, many individuals proved to be imprinted on Bengalese Finches so strongly that no subsequent change through intraspecific contact could be achieved any more. Between about day 30 and 40, some but comparatively fewer changes still occurred, whereas beyond that age the number of changes decreased rapidly.

An interesting side-result was the discovery of a remarkably large amount of individual variation: Some individuals seemed to be “closed” very early, and even an extended period of intraspecific contact (30 or 60 days) did not result in a change of their Bengalese Finch preference any more. Others seemed to “remain open” for a longer period of time and even brief intraspecific contact (three or seven days) led to a change in preferences. The possible functions of such differences have been discussed elsewhere (Immelmann 1979).


Figure 7.
Sexual preferences of male Zebra Finches raised by Bengalese Finch foster parents and subsequently exposed to conspecific females for three, seven 30, or 60 days respectively. Empty squares represent individuals which, during the double-choice tests, showed a more than 70% preference for Bengalese females. These males, obviously, had retained their preference for the foster parents’ species despite some early and, in case of the third and fourth series, extended contact with conspecifics, which means that their sensitive phase must have come to its close before the day of transfer. The males, represented by squares with a central black dot, in contrast, did show a preference for Zebra Finch females. Assuming that at the day of transfer they also had a preference for Bengalese Finches (in assumption seemingly justifiable on the basis of the results of the pilot study) they must have replaced their primary preference for Bengalese by a secondary preference for Zebra Finches as a result of social contact with the latter. The abscissa gives the age (in days) of transfer from the foster parents to the conspecific females (from Immelmann & Suomi 1981).


Figure 8.
The data demonstrate the effect of both the age and the duration of social contact for determining the sensitive phase: (a) with increasing age (shown here for the 60-day-group) the percentage of changes in preference decreases; (b) an extended duration of social contact with Zebra Finch females (shown here for the birds isolated from their foster partner between 28 and 40 days of age) increases the percentage of change in preference (from Immelmann 1983.)


The study of the sensitive phase for sexual imprinting has subsequently been extended into two directions: The first additional experiment was concerned with the possible influence of continuous social contact with the foster parents’ species: In the previous experiments, there was a complete change from interspecific to intraspecific contact at the day of transfer, which, in some of the individuals transferred at an early age, led to the “re-imprinting” on their own species described above.

In order to elucidate the possible influence of continuing contact with the foster parents’ species one of the series of the previous study (intraspecific contact for 30 days) was repeated with one slight alteration in methods: Instead of providing the foster-reared Zebra Finch male with Zebra Finch females only, it was now placed in a cage that contained three Zebra Finch, but also three Bengalese Finch females.

The results are shown in fig. 9. Despite the fact that these birds had the same amount of contact with the same number of conspecific females at the same age as in the original experiment none of them changed their preference for Bengalese Finches into a preference for Zebra Finches.

No definite conclusions as to the reasons of this difference are possible yet. The most likely explanation is that due to the presence of members of the foster parents’ species the young males concentrate their social activities on them, and although Zebra Finch females are as easily accessible they don’t engage in close social encounters with the conspecific females. As a consequence, their amount of real social contact with the latter is much smaller than in those individuals which are “forced” to direct all their social activities to conspecifics. Obviously, this means one more factor which might influence the termination of sensitive phases, i.e. the duration of “openness” to the influence of new secondary social stimulation. It may be concluded that not only the social subjects themselves but also the “surrounding conditions” may play a role in the acquisition of final, permanent preferences.

The second additional experiment was concerned with a species comparison. It was designed to elucidate whether the phenomenon of a sensitive phase for the acquisition of social preferences is unique to the Zebra Finch or whether in the second species used for the cross-fostering experiments, the Bengalese Finch, a similar situation exists. The study was conducted with Bengalese Finch males which in turn had been fostered-reared by Zebra Finches. The series with seven days of intraspecific contact, for which most comparative data are available, was chosen. The results are shown in fig. 10. They indicate that in the Bengalese Finch, under strictly identical conditions, the period of time during which a replacement of a primary preference through a secondary preference is possible is slightly more extended than in the Zebra Finch. The occurrence of an early termination of the sensitive phase, however, as well as the large amount of individual variation is the same in both species.


Figure 9.
Comparison between sexual preferences of foster-raised Zebra Finch males that, at different ages, were given 30 days of intraspecific contact only (above) and those that were exposed to Zebra and Bengalese Finch females (below) (details as in fig. 7).

In the sexually dimorphic Zebra Finch, in addition to species recognition, there is also the problem of how the sexes can be distinguished. From previous observations, more or less casual ones, it could be assumed that Zebra Finches obviously do not recognize members of the opposite sex by some kind of an inbuilt mechanism but that an early learning process is involved again. Zebra Finch males foster-raised by Bengalese Finches, for example, do court Zebra Finches if no Bengalese Finches are present (see above). But in this case, they court females and males and do not seem to make any distinction whatsoever.

In order to study the possible influence of early experience on sex discrimination we increased the sexual differences in plumage color above the natural amount by working with “wild-colored”, i.e. naturally grey, birds and members of a leucocistic morph of the Zebra Finch which are white in plumage color. Mixed pairs of parents with a white male and a wild-colored female and vice versa were used. The preferences of males and females raised in this way were tested in the usual double-choice or multiple-choice situation respectively.

The results revealed a clear difference between sexes. They showed that males have a clear preference for the plumage color of their mother whereas females prefer the color of their father (Immelmann & Sjolander 1983). Obviously, sons use their mother and daughters use their father as a model for establishing future mate preferences. Thus, in this dimorphic species there is a constraint on the outcome of sexual imprinting which produces different results in males and females, despite the fact that they are reared together by the same parents.


Figure 10.
Comparison between foster-raised Zebra Finch males (above) and foster-raised Bengalese males (below) that were exposed to conspecific females for 7 days (details as in fig. 7).



Table 1.
(a) Preference for wild-colored females in males raised by a white father and a wild-colored mother. Out of 42 males, 29 had a more than 90% preference for wild-colored females, another four males had a more than 80% preference and only one had a preference for white females. (b) The opposite situation: Out of 20 males raised by a white mother twelve had a more than 90% preference for white females (from Immelman & Sjolander 1983).

The mechanisms which might be involved in the sex-specific selection of a model for imprinting are not known yet. One possibility would be that the parents distinguish between male and female offspring and treat them differently. Recent observations by Balda (1982) indicate that there is a sexual dimorphism in the begging calls of young Zebra Finches which might provide a basis for sex-dependent parent-offspring-relations.

Another possibility is that the young in turn react sex-dependently to such behavior from the parents and perhaps also from other birds. More specifically there is a tendency in Zebra Finch fathers to show increasing aggression towards the young as independence approaches, and this aggression might well be sex-dependent, either because the sons are recognized as males or because they respond to aggression in a different way than daughters do. The aggression shown by the father may become associated with him and with males in general, and this could then act as a future deterrent for young males to approach other males. In females, on the other hand, similar tendencies could be overcome bythe courtship of the male, as has already been suggested by Morris (1954).

This paper has attempted, for one particular case of sexual imprinting, to elucidate the variety and multitude of factors involved. They comprise, amongst others, the age of the bird, the duration of its early social contacts, the continuity of social contact with members of the (foster) parents’ species, the possible influence of siblings and the obvious differences between the influence of father and mother on male or female offsprings respectively. Altogether the early acquisition of social preferences which has been thought to be a rather simple early learning process has proved to be a very complex phenomenon, much more extended in time than had been supposed during the early stages of imprinting research and dependent on many more variables than had been assumed originally.

As far as the general implications of the study are concerned, it is of course difficult and dangerous to draw conclusions from data collected on one species to possible parallel phenomena in other species of animals, and it is unlikely, therefore, that all details of the influence of early experience on subsequent social preferences elucidated for the Zebra Finch will be present also in other finches or other species of birds. Pronounced species differences have indeed been described, and they do occur even in closely related species. This refers, for example, to the duration of the sensitive phase for sexual imprinting which has been found to be of longer duration in Gray Lang Geese (Anser anser) than it is in the Mallard (Anal platyrhynchos) (Schutz 1965, 1970) and which, as mentioned above, is slightly longer in the Bengalese than in the Zebra Finch. Similar differences between species have also been found with regard to the relative importance of siblings on the establishment of preferences (see below).

Despite such differences in detail, however, the great amount of data on imprinting and imprinting-like processes which has accumulated over the years has shown that some general trends of early behavior development seems to be similar in many species of birds, mammals and even fish. One of these similarities is the general occurrence of phase-specificity, i.e. the wide-spread existence of sensitive phases in development during which the social environment exerts a stronger and longer-lasting influence on subsequent preferences than at other times. A second similarity is the fact that, as mentioned above for the Zebra Finch, such sensitive phases tend to occur very early in life. A third general phenomenon finally, is a tendency of sensitive phases to be geared very closely to the duration of parental care in the particular species.
In the Zebra Finch, for example, the young stay close to the nest only for the first days after fledging (which occurs around the twenty-first day of life); later on, they meet with young birds from other nests and form small groups of their own (Immelmann 1962). Because many Australian finches breed in mixed colonies or neighborhoods, these groups may consist of young from different species, and, as a consequence, the young Zebra Finches come into close social contact with members of other species. A brief sensitive phase that brings the learning of species-specific characteristics more or less to a close before the young leave their parents may, therefore, prevent the birds from learning inappropriate social signals form non-conspecifics. It is certainly not by chance, therefore, that the sensitive phase in this species, as our data have shown, is very brief indeed (which in turn makes it an ideal subject for experimental research on the nature of sensitive phases). An example almost opposite to the Zebra Finch is that of the above-mentioned Gray lag Goose, in which the parent-offspring bond is known to last for about ten months and to break apart only shortly before the onset of the following breeding season. For this species, the sensitive phase for sexual imprinting has been found to last at least until the 150th day of life (Schultz 1969).

Such temporal correlation between the duration of parental care and the occurrence of sensitive phases for imprinting does of course have an important biological function: While the young animal is still a member of the family group its opportunities to learn species-specific characteristics (as well as certain features of the environment) are greater than when it subsequently has to live on its own or in much looser groups. Natural selection, therefore, will certainly favor rapid learning during an early sensitive phase which comes to its close before or at the time when the young leave their parents.
Moreover, the very stable result which has been found to be characteristic of early learning may have additional effect: It may serve to terminate some of the essential learning processes before dispersal from the natal area. Such early termination may be important to prevent a major effect of stimuli from other sources at a time when – owing, for example, to deteriorating environmental conditions after the end of the productive season – the animal lives in mixed species flocks and comes in close contact with members of other species. In this case, irreversibility may help to “protect” the preference for the correct species, acquired early in life, from subsequent influence (Immelmann 1975). This has been found to be particularly important in song learning in birds, especially in those migratory species which share their winter quarters with members of other subspecies singing different song dialects. In this case, if singing starts before departure to the breeding grounds in spring, “mis-imprinting” on the “wrong” dialect may occur and has indeed been observed (Baptista 1974).

The rather general statements made above are supported by the results of numerous experimental studies on filial and sexual imprinting in many species of birds (for reviews, see Immelmann 1972b; Bateson 1978, 1979; Immelmann & Suomi 1981) and several species of mammals (Gilbert 1975; Huck & Banks 1980). They are also supported by countless casual observations on hand-raised animals or an individuals which, e.g. in zoological gardens or in private collections, had to be foster-raised with another species (Hediger 1950; Immelmann 1972b; Klinghammer 1973; Sambraus 1978). Under these rearing conditions, many individuals develop sexual preferences for humans or members of the foster species and often refuse to mate with their own species. As in other cases of imprinting, such preferences tend to remain very stable.

From these facts it becomes apparent that the phenomenon of imprinting may also have some practical implications. First of all, it necessarily leads to the conclusion that because of the “wrong” preferences they may create – in addition to several other disadvantages they may have – hand rearing and foster-rearing should be avoided whenever possible.

If, however, in some special cases these types of rearing cannot be avoided at all the following precautions should be observed:

1. The hand- or foster-raised individual should be brought in contact with members of its own species as soon as possible, e.g. as soon as it is able to look for itself and does not need any caretaking by fosterers any more. The earlier such intraspecific contact begins the greater is the chance that the animal will finally develop normal social preferences and other behaviors (e.g. the abilities to form social contacts or to integrate into social hierarchies). The best results can be expected to be achieved if the social contact starts before the age at which weaning occurs under natural conditions.
2. Intraspecific contact should last as long a possible, at least until sexual maturity has been reached.

(The most natural way of providing the young animal with conspecific contact already during the earliest stages of development would of course be to raise it together with siblings. In the vast majority of cases, this does certainly apply and should be observed. With regard to the influence of siblings, however, differences between species again seem to occur (see above). Whereas no immediate data are available for mammals some details have been described for birds:

In four species of pigeons, for example, Brosset (1971) found that siblings “play no role in the determination of sexual choice”. The same was found in color imprinting of domestic pigeons (Warriner et al. 1963) and Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates) (Stamm & Blum 1971). In the Lesser Snow Goose (Ansercaerulescens) both parental and sibling color influences mate choice (Cooke et al. 1976) and in the Mallard, Schutz (1965) and Klint (I likewise found a positive influence of siblings on subsequent sexual preferences.

In the Zebra Finch, finally, very much to our surprise, we have been able, in a large series of experiments involving several hundred male birds, to demonstrate a negative influence of siblings, especially of brothers. The results of this study clearly showed that the more male Zebra Finch siblings a foster-reared male Zebra Finch has the more it will subsequently refer his foster parents’ species, i.e. Bengalese Finches. Female siblings also exert a negative influence although not quite as strong as males (Immelmann 1983).

This strange result does of course require an explanation. It may perhaps be sought along the following line: Young Zebra Finches look different from adults. The biggest difference is in beak color which is black instead of bright red. A positive effect of siblings, therefore, could create the danger that young males also develop preferences for the specific characteristics of immature birds. The function of negative mutual influence at this age, therefore, may be to avoid the formation of such preferences. In those species, on the other hand, in which the young look similar to an adult female, as in the Mallard, mother and sibling imprinting “work together in the same direction” (Klint), and a similar danger does not exist. According to Klint (1978) this might be a reason for the great influence of siblings he found in his experiments. To come back to the practical conclusions, these results show that in those species of birds in which a strong age dimorphism exists and the young look very different from the adults the joint raising of siblings may involve some danger and an early contact with other adult con-specifics is even more important.)

3. In order to prevent the continuation of any contacts with the species of the foster parents, great care should be taken that no members of that particular species are kept in close vicinity (e.g. in the same or an adjacent room). Birds may be able to be in acoustic contact even over a rather large distance, and the same may be true with regard to olfactory contact in mammals.

It is obvious that not all of these actions will be equally necessary or equally successful in all species. It is to be expected, however, that the more of such precautions can be taken the more likely it will be possible to change a social preference for the foster species into a preference for the individual’s own species. Along these lines, laboratory research on imprinting may also have considerable practical utility for keeping and breeding animals in captivity. Its results may be of special importance with regard to the propagation of endangered species and the husbandry of animals for return to the wild (cf. Cade 1980).

Australian Zebra Finches foster-reared by Bengalese Finches show a definite preference for members of the foster parents’ species. This statement applies to males as well as to females. The preference is very durable: In adult males no change could be achieved even through several months of reproductive contact with a conspecific female. In adolescent males, in contrast, a permanent change in preference towards Zebra Finch females is still possible. Its likelihood decreases with age, but increases with the duration of intraspecific contact.

In addition to “species recognition”, early experience also plays a role in the development of sex recognition. In an intra-specific cross-fostering experiment, Zebra Finches were raised by mixed pairs of a “wild-colored” (naturally grey) male and a leucocistic (white) female and vice versa. Their sexual preferences proved to be sex-dependent: males showed a preference for the color of their mother, females preferred the color of their father.

The biological significance of early sensitive phases, the restriction of optimal learning capacities to periods of optimal learning conditions, is discussed. Possible practical implications for foster-rearing practices are described: To raise naturally behaving birds, hand- or foster-rearing should be avoided but, when such rearing really becomes necessary, the bird should afterwards be brought into exclusive and long-lasting contact with its own species as soon as possible.

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Lady Gouldians and other Australian Finches

By Renata Decher-Juden

IFCB Symposium 1983

Foster-parenting Australian finches, the method of letting Society (Bengalese) finches take over or complete the task of hatching and raising another species’ eggs, has been successfully practiced in Europe for decades. It is now becoming increasingly popular in the United States, as commercial and private breeders alike realize its enormous potential to aviculture.

At Behavioral Study of Birds, we presently breed close to 500 pairs of Lady Gouldian (Chloebia gouldiae) and Owl (Stizoptera bichenoyii) finches, with approximately 2,000 pairs of Society finches standing by for fostering. Thus, we are in a good position to study this method in depth. Let me now dispel some of the myths and answer the most-asked questions about foster-breeding.

The most obvious advantage is, of course, that many more babies can be raised out of the same number of exotic finches without ever “overbreeding” the birds. Each bird is given adequate rests between laying cycles, and a full 3-month period is set aside every year to allow for the moulting process and to completely rebuild the birds’ strength before any breeding is resumed. Thus a healthy pair of Lady Gouldians can lay up to 60 eggs per season without undue strain on the female, since she is spared the consuming task of feeding her babies.

As we do not have to rely solely on a good parental instinct in our Gouldians and Owl finches, we can now concentrate on our biggest and strongest specimen birds. This enables us to genetically breed for large size, brilliant color and hardiness, thereby constantly improving the overall appearance and quality of our flock. Species that were once considered difficult to raise, such as the beautiful New Guinea (Noechmia phaeton albiventer) and Australian Blood-finches (Noechmia phaeton phaeton) can now be successfully propagated. New and weak mutations, such as the Fawn Shaftail (fawn mutation of Poephila acuticauda) or White-and Bluebreasted Gouldian, can be strengthened and their survival ensured.

However, one of the most interesting but rarely considered advantages from a purely avicultural standpoint, is the ability to break certain disease and parasite life cycles with the help of foster-breeding. For example, there is, to date, no successful cure for the lung – or air-sack- mite which all too often afflicts the Lady Gouldian finch and can reach epidemic proportions. Tape- and gizzard- worms and certain yeast infections commonly found in Owl finches can prove very hard to eradicate. We have found the incidence of these parasites to be much lower in Society than in Australian finches. Few diseases or parasites are transmitted through the egg, and, since the hatched babies are never exposed to their affected parents, they have less chance of acquiring parental afflictions. If the weaned babies are then kept rigorously apart from their natural parents through adolescence, the entire flock can be replaced with healthy virgin stock.

Another advantage to foster-raising is that Societies require no live food and will successfully raise large healthy babies solely on an egg-based nesting food mixture. We use the following recipe:
To one quart of commercial unseasoned breadcrumbs, add 7-9 hard boiled chicken eggs with their shells liquified in a home-type blender, with one tablespoon powdered multi-vitamins, 1/2 teaspoon di-calcium and one finely ground carrot

The mixture should be crumbly but not soggy. It contains sufficient amounts of animal protein to satisfy any finch baby’s needs and renders the necessity for live food obsolete. At the same time, it provides the breeder with a perfect base in which to administer non-water soluble medications or other supplements should the need arise. The egg food is offered early in the morning and any remains are removed after a maximum of 6 to 7 hours, to avoid contamination by bacteria.

So far, we have discussed the many advantages of foster-breeding. But the question is often asked: “What about imprinting? Will the baby Gouldian not ‘learn’ certain social and mating behaviors from its foster Society parent?” Studies conducted in Germany by Dr. Klaus Immelmann, using Zebra and Society finches, show that a Society-raised Zebra cock will indeed court and attempt to mate a Society hen -IF one is made available. But the same cock, if placed with other Zebra finches without the presence of Societies will successfully mate a hen of his own species and raise a healthy family. Therefore, the only situation where foster-breeding is unadvisable is in a mixed breeding flight that includes Society finches. But since Societies have an annoying habit of “sharing” other bird’s nests, I would discourage their presence altogether in a mixed flight. It has also been established by the same study that the process of imprinting can be partially reversed if the babies, weaned at 6 to 8 weeks, are placed in flights with their own species, out of sight or hearing of their foster-parents. At Behavioral Studies of Birds, we are now successfully raising our third generation of Lady Gouldian and Owl finches, using the foster method exclusively. The original stock was imported from European foster-breeders and other American breeders who have used the method for 10 generations or more and have not encountered any foster-related problems.

Another fear sometimes voiced is the danger of “over-breeding” and depleting the pairs of exotic finches to a point of exhaustion by unscrupulous breeders, thus introducing smaller and smaller specimens to the market. Unfortunately, the same can be true using natural breeding and we must only hope that all breeders will use integrity where the health and well-being of their charges are concerned.

Our method of foster-breeding is herewith presented in detail. All our birds are housed in individual 30″ x 13″ x 12″ cages. These are moulded of white plastic with a removable epoxy-coated wire front, which has several advantages: the cages are well lit, have no sharp corners, are easy to clean and, while still being enclosed from 5 sides, do not present the potential mite problem as as would a comparable wood cage. Seed, water and mineral grit can all be conveniently serviced from the outside, keeping disturbance of the birds to a minimum. Both Lady Gouldian and Owl finches originate from the northern tropical regions of Australia; thus it is essential that an appropriate environment be provided. Ideal temperature range is from 78° to 88°F and a constant relative humidity of 65 to 75% is recommended to keep the birds in good breeding condition. High humidity is also an important factor in helping the chicks hatch. If no natural skylight can be provided, the use of vita-lights is recommended. During the breeding season, the birds received a 12-hour light-cycle. If the lights come on too abruptly out of complete darkness, many birds will be frightened out of their nests, often carrying a baby chick or egg in their clenched claws. To prevent such accidents, we provide low-voltage Christmas lights on a separate timeclock. These come on half an hour before the main lights, to give a smooth transition.

Society finches possess an exceedingly strong breeding desire. It is not necessary to sex the birds, since any combination of two will make a good foster pair, some breeders even preferring two males since no eggs of their own, will require care. Each young pair is first tested with a “trial run” of Society babies to determine just how good a fostering pair they will be, without endangering any Lady Gouldian eggs. If the “pair” shows no nesting desire, or problems arise during incubation and raising, we simply “switch” them with another non-working pair, until we find a compatible team.

We use 5″ x 5″ x 6″ half-open, slide-in wood nestboxes. These can be opened from the back, facilitating nest control, to which, however frequent, the birds do not object. They will accept any kind of nesting material – we have found lawn clippings most satisfactory, though care must be taken to avoid contaminated material (pesticides or dog feces which might carry bacteria.) Almost immediately, the birds will start entering the nestbox. We let them lay a full clutch of their own eggs, or, in the case of two females, 2 or 3 infertile. Specially marked, eggs, placed in the nest will show by their warmth if the birds have started to incubate. They are now ready to accept their foster charges.

Meanwhile, our Lady Gouldian and Owl finches, housed in a separate section of the breeding facility, have been receiving daily rations of our high protein egg food to build up strength and stamina and provide extra calcium. This is continued 3 to 4 days a week throughout breeding season. The same nestboxes are used and additional nesting material, such as long-bladed grasses or 4-5″ long strands of burlap fiber, are placed in the bottom of their cage. This will trigger breeding desire and”coordinate” male and female as they build their nest together insuring against infertile eggs. As long as the eggs are removed, the pair will continue to lay, most hens taking a few days’ rest between each series of 4 to 6 eggs. When the pair has produced approximately 20 eggs, the nestbox is removed, coinciding with the end of a “series.” Deprived of her nest site, the hen will stop laying and enter her 4 to 6 week rest period.

Each egg is recorded so parentage lines can be followed closely and in-breeding avoided. This becomes especially important in small flocks or with mutations such as the Whitebreasted Gouldian. As soon as possible, the eggs are placed with their future foster-pa marked, gently, with a felt-tip pen to differentiate it from any possible Society eggs. These will be removed; they are used as “dummy” eggs or go to the nest of a young, yet unproven, Society pair, thus replenishing our Society flock. We place a maximum of 4 Gouldian or 5 Owl finch eggs per nest. Using a penlight, the eggs are candled for fertility 5 to 7 days after the start of the incubation. Gouldian chicks hatch at 14 to 15 days, Owl finches at 12 to 13 days, each exhibiting the typical oral markings of its species. High protein egg food is now offered daily, starting 2 to 3 days before the expected hatchdate. All egg food cups and water containers must be kept scrupulous clean, as young Goldians especially, are quite susceptible to all kinds of bacteria. Soon the babies can be heard, noisily begging to be fed, a task their foster-parents perform with excellence.

At3 weeks, the babies leave their nest. Gouldian babies will not, as a rule, return to the nest, so the box can be removed at this time to prevent the parents from starting new clutch. Owl finches naturally sleep in the nest, so the box should be left in place another week or so after fledging. The foster-parents continue to feed their charges for another 2 to 3 weeks. The babies can now be observed begging for food each in its own fashion, the Gouldians with their typical “headtwisting” and the Owls with their heads almost touching the cage bottom, lifting the wing farthest removed from the parent into the air.

The babies are fully weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. They are now ready to be transferred into large wire holding flights, out of sight and hearing of their foster-parents. Care is taken to recreate an environment similar to their breeding cage, providing the same or similar feeders and water sources. We cover our weaning flights with a white plastic material to simulate a ceiling, since the sudden “wide open spaces” can prove quite frightening to the fledgling and result in head injuries and shock. A few days prior to fledging sprigs of spray millet are given to the birds; most of them are very fond of this choice food. It is now offered in quantity and can be a big help in smoothing the transition to the flight cage. The babies continue to receive the protein-rich nesting food several times a week all through their first moult — a delicate period in a young Gouldian’s life.

The Society parents, meanwhile, are prepared for their next clutch of foster-babies. This is a good time to clip their nails and give their cage a thorough cleaning. We check for any sign of health problems while holding them. Only choice birds in their prime should be considered for the task of foster-raising – the size and health of future babies mainly depends on them.

We breed our birds nine months out of the year, the 3-month rest coinciding with their natural moulting cycle which occurs approximately from April to June. A ratio of one Gouldian pair to every 4 Society pairs seems to work best for us.

The healthy flocks of beautiful babies raised in this manner speak for themselves. Foster parenting can be an invaluable aid in the ultimate goal of aviculture: to preserve and propagate all bird species in sufficient numbers so that future generations may enjoy them as we are fortunate enough to do today.