Breeding of the Red-bellied Macaw by David T. Longo. PART I

April 23rd, 2015 | by LubosTomiska
Breeding of the Red-bellied Macaw by David T. Longo. PART I

Read also the second part of this article:

Breeding of the Red-bellied Macaw by David T. Longo. PART II


My arrival in Suriname September 2003 was on a flight that comes into Paramaribo only three times a week. This voyage was primarily to find new additional founder stock to increase the captive genetic diversity of species already found in Canada. One of the most intriguing birds I am still enamored with are, against my traditional taste of bright or contrasting colours and appearance, yet are very different compared to the rest of this family of parrots. I have always seemed to side with the unordinary and the red-bellied macaw is as strange as the macaws come. During my visit, I followed Orthopsittaca manilata throughout the northern Amazon rainforest within a kilometre on either side of the Coppenameriver. Their shyness was reflected in their preference to stay in large groups subscribing to the ‘safety in numbers’ theory. The biggest group we found in the days in which we searched and followed them, was between 13 – 17 birds. We encountered the grouping behaviour which adequately justified their paranoid and nervous instincts; they were rarely seen alone.


File:Orthopsittaca manilata -Amerindian Reservation of Santa Mission, Guyana -two flying-8.jpg

Flying Red-bellied Macaws. (c) Feroze Omardeen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.



As we drove along the main east-westbound road, Mauritius Palm (Mauritia flexuosa) trees occasionally appeared alongside the road every several hundred metres or so. This same species of tree is that of which ornithologists report the red-bellied macaw to feed on exclusively. I was also opportune enough to witness manilatas feeding on these fruits as they would drop every five minutes to thump onto the ground just paces from our feet. Upon investigating the dropped fruits, the macaws are evidently demonstrating lack of appreciation for the whole fruit. They take 2-3 bites of the plum sized fruit, then discard it, yet there is still 80% of the fruit left to be consumed. It is not an uncommon behavior seen in many parrots. The seeds beared from Mauritiaflexuosa although oily, have been recorded to have no fat and higher than normal levels of carbohydrate content.

As this diet is unordinary or strange, the whole biology of this species is strange. With the following variables being their high strung temperament, their low fat and high carbohydrate diet; somehow in this relationship, they are able to maintain the required balance between their unique energy requirements and the way they process and burn this energy to satisfy their metabolism. My observations, only when the wild birds come in captivity does this high tension behavior really develop, in the wild they seem very content and calm but wary of any predator intrusions. I like to associate their metabolic relationship to my own; family and friends denote that I eat plenty, mostly that which is high in fat but disappears as promptly as I consume it for my less than average size, never any considerable evidence of food storage despite my large intake.



One one occasion, I did witness manilatas feeding or manipulating fruit on yet another type of palm tree. I am certain they were the Alexandra Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae); these trees are a different family of palms but was tall and thin trunked with the berries hanging in sprays of about 1.5 – 2.5m below the tree’s canopy. The seeds of this palm grow from the top of the palm, similar to the Queen (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and Mauritius palms (Mauritia flexuosa). These berries were anywhere from 10mm – 15mm on average in diameter and mainly black, to deep, dark blue. I have been told by catchers that local species of toucans (Ramphastos tucanus & Ramphastos vitellinus) and other Ramphastid spp. also feed on this berry. There have been little studies in relation to these birds and this tree, I suspect because all the literature states they are exclusive to the Mauritius palm and no one has questioned or theorized outside this. If there happens to be food shortages in certain regions where these palms are less abundant, there may be one reason they will outsource from their natural choice of the Mauritius Palm.

We initially acquired a single bird as a young pet, circa 1996, to begin our breeding program. The first pair we had originally obtained from another Canadian importer in 1999-2000. Their rapid movement burying themselves under each other in the corner opposite where I stood clearly demonstrated they were wild caught specimens. We had a nestbox prepared for them to settle into despite whether or not they would breed; our initial priority was to make them feel secure. We instantly designed and prepared a seed diet of about 20 different varieties. They primarily picked the sunflower, safflower and peanuts from the provided selection. Again, these are odd choices seeing that their natural diet shows little to no evidence of fat content.

As the story went, my assistant Henri was doing normal routine errands in the aviary one Saturday, and we had noticed the new pair had been spending more time in their nestbox, but I did not think much of it. He poked his head inside the nest and saw an egg, he then promptly came inside and told me about the news. I thought he was pulling my leg simply because those close to me enjoy humouring my gullibility. I did not put much stock into his story because it was mid winter and I did not expect they were going to show any signs of breeding until I put them in the backyard in early spring with natural elements and more privacy. He convinced me to follow him into the garage and I checked the nest; after moving the female aside in the nest (she grudgingly left after a good fight) I found 3 eggs. I removed them and blocked the hole to the nest, brought them inside and candled them. All 3 eggs were approximately 10-15 days into development and appeared healthy. I checked on them approximately two weeks later at which point the first one had hatched. I brought the clutch inside to weigh the baby, take photos and to candle the other two eggs. One was seen to be pipping and the other still had a day or two to go. What I was sincerely concerned about was the parents not feeding the baby. I saw no signs of food in the crop, but checked on the clutch again 12 hours later and found they fed the oldest chick and did not worry much about the parents not feeding the young anymore.



David with chicks of several parrot species including Red-bellied Macaws


In February of 2004, our shipment of approximately 12 manilatas arrived on Canadian soil and were all very easily agitated and irritable. During the two quarantines after leaving Suriname, we lost two birds within the first 48 hours in Europe then another within the first 48 hours in Canada. I like to use the phrase, “Look at them the wrong way and they will drop dead on you”, primarily to indicate or appreciate their sensitivity. When caring for these birds, ensure all their needs are met and be cautious whenever moving founder stock to ensure no losses occur. Once we moved the remaining birds to our new facility, we placed them in a 1.2m x 1.2m x 2.4m enclosure, they all moved to the top corner, furthest from human contact. It was quite apparent these reactions were not sufficient enough to keep them content, they continually tried to compete to bury themselves under one another at the very back of the enclosure to hinder from being in our view. We added blinds both in and out of the aviary so they could choose to hide behind them and to limit visual contact when we serviced any aviaries in the room. This was a necessary step to minimize their irritating alarm screeches, maintain a calm nature and ultimately to keep them alive.


author: David T. Longo

Title photo: (c) Sham Edmond. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.



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