Is parrot hand-rearing natural or does it produce a generation of parrots incapable of themselves rearing young?

March 31st, 2016 | by Tony Silva
Is parrot hand-rearing natural or does it produce a generation of parrots incapable of themselves rearing young?
Tony Silva NEWS

Hand-rearing is a relatively new tool in aviculture. If we accept aviculture as having centuries of evolution—the Roman´s kept parrots and there in evidence from the American Southwest that macaws were being bred in captivity long before the arrival of Europeans in the New World—then the art of hand-rearing is still in its infancy, having been refined by Ralph Small, Ferne Hubbel, Ken Wyatt and some others in California during the 1950s and 1960s; the USA has always been the leader when it comes to hand-rearing. Commercial hand-rearing formulas did not become available until the 1980s. The first brand was difficult to prepare and tended to lump. It produced such poor results that most breeders rejected it over a formula of water and primate chows. Today many excellent formulas are available. They produce healthy young comparable in every way to those reared by their parents in captivity or the wild.



Hand-rearing is not a natural event. The eggs are taken for artificial incubation or the chicks are taken from their parents and reared by hand. The reasons for this are many. Some breeders working with a rare mutation or species want to increase their numbers as quickly as possible. By removing the eggs or tiny young from the parents, they can generally induce the pair to lay a replacement clutch. Hand-rearing can also be used to save chicks that would otherwise be doomed. An example of this is when an inexperienced hen buries the young, or broods them without feeding them, or kills then in order to clutch again. Males can also slaughter their young in order to start the courting and mating process all over. In yet other cases, the parents will feed only the first hatched, pushing the second chick aside to perish.  These incidences of infanticide have all been recorded in the wild and are not an artifact of captivity as some would suggest.

Hand-rearing can produce results comparable to those of young that were parent-reared. Key to rearing future breeders is to rear them in a group and in an environment in which they understand that they are birds. Attempts at humanizing them should be avoided at all cost. Future pets should likewise first be kept in a flock. The intention is to allow the birds to develop flight skills, interaction, flocking and other natural behaviors with others of its kind or other birds. During this critical phase enrichment and toys should be introduced. The objective must be that the bird understands that it is a bird—not a human with feathers. It is the latter birds that become maladapted as breeders and problematic pets.



Vinaceous Amazons together with Golden conures (c) Tony Silva


When properly habituated, the hand-reared bird will have no problem in reproducing and if deemed necessary in rearing their young. In my collection I have multiple generations of Amazons, Macaws, Conures and African Greys Psittacus erithacus that were hand-reared. From the beginning I insured that they were birds; I did not want them to regard themselves as an attachment of myself, where they would scream on first sight me. They breed and have reared their own young. In Costa Rica, Christ Castles has released hand-reared Scarlet Macaws Ara macao for release into the wild. Their rate of survival has been found to be comparable to parent-reared young in the wild.

So the answer is that if you take the necessary steps during rearing—avoid contact with the chicks, except for feeding and cleaning, rear the young in groups, wean them as part of a flock and provide the necessary enrichment for the birds to forage, interact and play as a group much like they would in the wild—you will produce birds comparable to those engendered by their parents.


author: Tony Silva

Title photo: (c) Tony Silva



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