Breeding of the Northern Rosella. PART II

December 11th, 2015 | by Jim van Reyk
Breeding of the Northern Rosella. PART II
Breeding
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Read also the first part of this article:

Breeding of the Northern Rosella. PART I

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Pair No. 4 are fairly recent arrivals (Apr 2011) and arrived via a breeder in Alice Springs. By the look of feathering when they arrived, as promised, they were quite young. This pair has now matured, bonded very well and have a lot of blue smudging to the chest/abdomen and fair amount of blue margining to the mantle as well. They had a “trial run” about early August last year so I am hopeful that 2014 will see at least one nice clutch from them.

I also scored another “pair” off a contact in the Towers in late May 2011. She had got them as juvenile birds, kept them for about fourteen months and whilst they were compatible, they had never shown signs of going to nest. They were bought as a true juvenile pair, however they were not leg rung and did not come with DNA certificates. I did a quick check a couple of days later and neither bird showed any trace of an underwing stripe. I promptly drew some blood for DNA, banded them with split rings, and as I had guessed, they were two males. I was not overly concerned as they again, were very well priced, and began the lookout for a couple of young hens. These two males are the NT sub-specie.

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A New Pairing

About twelve months down the track I managed to track down a mature hen. Did not waste any time haggling about price and she arrived up here in May 2012. I figured the best way to sort out a partner out of the two spare males was to put her in a flight within good visual distance of the two males (who quite compatibly shared a flight) and look out for any signs of pair selection. Within a week or so the hen would cling to the wire facing the two male’s flight, and she would call out to the boys. Fortunately the two males were fairly easily identified and it wasn’t long before one of them would respond to her calling with a bit of tail wagging and chatter in return.

I caught up the “non responsive” male, transferred him to the flight with the new hen, and moved her in with her choice of partner. I was a bit apprehensive as I wasn’t sure how much “ownership” the selected male may have had in his flight. My concerns were quickly resolved as within minutes he was sidling up to her, tail wagging and bobbing his head and trying to offer her a feed. She must have been just as eager as within about six weeks, she went to nest but as expected, all four eggs were clear. She basically double clutched and laid three and hatched one so I now have another fertile pair. The spare male headed off up to the Tablelands.

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Northern Rosella with intensive black coloration around the neck (c) Lubomir Tomiska

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Northern Rosella Breeding – General

Recorded in the wild as from about May, which is well and truly the end of the wet season, through to late July/August. This is understandable as the wet can bring cyclonic winds as well as an excess of wet weather and I’d guess that they have adapted to the provision of abundant food and of course the cooler temperatures that a Northern Autumn/Winter brings. Among our Northern Rosella breeding pairs, one pair, (the mixed sub-specie pair) will start the feeding routine in March, and by early to mid Apr the hen has begun to lay and incubate. The other two pairs that have bred and fledged young have been more conventional commencing in June to early August. To date, only one of mine has double brooded.

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Northern Rosella Breeding – Regional

Most of our young have been sent out of our area; a couple to far NQ, but the majority to collectors/breeders well south of us. It is with that in mind that I have included housing and breeding of the Northern Rosella (Platycercus venustus) in regions other than ours.

In the West, Bob P has a number of pairs that generally commence breeding in their “winter” months, July and on into the spring. Bob is approx. 30K East of Perth and some of his pairs do double clutch and Bob mentioned that one pair even triple clutched. Bob’s birds are housed in relatively large conventional aviaries that run east west with the open end of the covered area facing east to pick up early sunlight in cold weather.

The breeding aviaries are in banks of twenty, the individual aviaries in each bank that house Northern Rosellas (Platycercus venustus) and a variety of other species are 4.5m long, 1.2m wide, 2m high with a covered area of 1.8m to the rear of the flight. Dividing partitions between aviaries are double wired. Two nest boxes are offered, one facing north and one facing south and hung on the walls of the sheltered area. Nest boxes used are 200mm square by 600mm high and 150mm square by 450mm high.

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Coloration can be variable in Northern Rosellas, this female has almost completely blue cheeks. (c) Lubomir Tomiska

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Mick Geftlick has quite a number of pairs and breeds the Northern’s with quite some success, in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. The birds are housed in conventional aviaries that are 4m long, 1.5m wide, 2m high with a fully enclosed area, floor to roof, for half the flight. This is to provide privacy and protection from the very cold prevailing winter winds. Mick has had pairs breed in all months except February, but generally, September is when the majority of pairs will begin the mating ritual.

Mick prefers “tight” fitting natural logs as opposed to the more conventional vertical box. Mick suggests that the logs do provide a better insulation for the early breeders than a plywood box and with Mick’s success; it is food for thought in the colder climates. Like me, Mick had a fairly poor 2013 season however there is always this year to look forward to!

Marg Clarke lives on the shores of Lake Eacham, one of the many picturesque regions of the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Qld. The summers are quite warm but the winters are quite chilly with o/night temperatures of 2 to 4 degrees. The cages for most of her collection are in a brick bird room or more correctly, reasonable sized house. This provides quite a nice microclimate for winter breeding.

The Northern Rosellas (Platycercus venustus) are housed in conventional flights, one is 3.3m long, 1m wide and 2m high and the other is 3m long, 1.4m wide and 2m high. The floors are of a small coloured rock over a concrete base.  Marg’s pairs have bred in March, June, July, August, and also in October. Two to three chicks have been successfully fledged from these clutches. Both pairs have double clutched albeit with a reasonable gap between clutches, something mine are yet to do. Marg’s Northern Rosella feeding regime includes a large variety of vegetables and fruits alongside a combination of small parrot mix and Harrison’s and Pretty Bird pellets.

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Our Housing

All our Northern’s are housed in North facing suspended flights. The flights are 240cm long, 60cm wide and 90cm high with 12mm square heavy gauge wire and, as with all our suspended flights, very open with minimal sheet protection to sides and back. The top is half mesh and half roofed. The banks of flights are approx. 120cm off the ground, which allows for mowing underneath and is also a convenient height for feeding/catching. All the banks (most are banks of three) are well bracketed to “C” purlin rails and withstood the wrath, albeit the outer edge, of Cyclone YASI in Feb 2011.

Nest boxes are externally hung for ease of inspection/cleaning. A natural log spout with an internal diameter of approx. 70mm pokes through the wire into the flight. The nest box has a “viewing port” on one side that is meshed internally and a flip top lid with an internal removable heavy gauge wire grill just below the top of the lid. These two extras allow nest inspections and also allow removal of chicks for banding and DNA well before they fledge. The nest boxes have their seams sealed with silicone and are painted to provide weather protection.

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Bird with a yellow spot on the head (c) Lubomir Tomiska

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A cage front to both ends allows for ease of feeding/cleaning and replacement of perches. A large water dish is placed to the rear of the flight as they love a bath and a daily refill/flush out is a must. Again, from talking with Bob P, housing the Northern Rosella in this manner is not the norm particularly in the cooler climates, however their natural environment is hot and humid with mild winters and seasonal rain, not that dissimilar to our Townsville climate and the birds appear to be quite comfortable in these flights. The shorter flights of 2.4M in length also means less opportunity for the birds, in particular newly fledged young, to “get up speed” when flying from perch to perch or when startled.

 

Northern Rosella Feeding

Like all other rosellas and native parrots, the staple diet is seed. I use small parrot/peach face mix as a base and maintenance diet and add grey stripe sunflower, racehorse oats (not hulled) and a bit of large parrot mix around the pre and breeding season. I vary the ratio of sunflower from maintenance to breeding, generally doubling the amount of sunflower. They also get a variety of greens, corn on the cob, celery, and silver beet/oriental leafy greens, the odd serving of home brand mixed veggies, sweet potato and a regular feed of sprouted mung beans. With mung beans, I have found that the (human) food grade product is best for long-term use and with storage in airtight plastic buckets; we still get almost 100% sprouting even after a period of well over a year or so. Fruit offered is mainly a slice of apple, a wedge of orange and occasionally, a small slice of rock melon. Being a North Queenslander, mangoes are also a special treat for the parrots and lorikeets. Seeding grasses and the odd green head of sorghum is also given when available. Most of this is from seed that sprouts from under the suspendeds. I follow the philosophy of “pump the green tucker into them at breeding time”. This Northern Rosella feeding routine is also applied to the Blue-cheek Rosellas and a couple of pairs of Aussie ringnecks.

READ  Breeding and biology of the Swift Parrot. PART I

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(c) Lubomir Tomiska

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Sexing

I tend to classify the Northern Rosella as generally being a monomorphic bird. Whilst I can identify the hens in our collection, the identification is only by being familiar with the pairs and their interaction between each other rather than any external visible signs. Yes, the underwing stripe is still probably a reasonable indication of sex in mature birds. But, I figure you have wasted a year or so waiting for maturity when blood DNA testing at about 10 to 14 days, the same time as I ring the young, will give you definitive sexing long before they fledge.

Sexing the young at this early age also allows the opportunity to pair up birds and assess their compatibility well before they reach breeding age. As with most birds, there is the odd occasion where a pair will not bond and it is far better to swap juveniles around than waste a breeding season or two waiting for a bonding that never comes. I have read that they have a reputation of occasionally refusing to form a pair bond. As mentioned before, I have pair bonded adult birds but it took some weeks before I was confident enough to introduce the two in the same flight.

 

Any Special Needs

Whilst we do not generally have the intense wet season of the NT or Kimberly region, our Dry Tropic climate is similar to the Northern Rosellas natural habitat. This is basically why I do not believe that we need to make any special provisions in terms of the housing and/or husbandry for the birds.

Their early start to the breeding season however, would be of concern in the sub-tropics and certainly the temperate zones of the southern States. Breeders down there do have success but I know precautions such as heated nest boxes and protection from the cool/chilly winds is almost mandatory.

Finally, I kind of hope that the Northern’s remain a reasonably rare specimen in captivity, if only to ensure that they remain a true to type species, and that their rarity may also ensure they are not “mutated” into a colour morph that is unrecognisable when compared to the free flying native species.

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(c) Jim van Reyk

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Post Script

As always when you think you’ve got it all worked out, there comes along an incident that re-writes your personal records. About the first week of Dec 2013, our best breeders who are also the preseason starters, must have got a bit amorous over a bit of pre-wet season showers of rain and the hen did her disappearing act and laid four eggs; two fertile and two duds, but a great new years pressie for me anyway. I figure that she is about 8 months too late or 4 months to early so there is every chance she may be the first of our pairs to “double clutch”. Despite the heat, the two chicks are powering on, so maybe by the time this gets to print, they will be fledged and independent!

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Read also the first part of this article:

Breeding of the Northern Rosella. PART I

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author: Jim van Reyk

Title photo: Lubomir Tomiska

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