Miguel A. Gómez Garza: my most valuable success is the first breeding of Maroon-fronted Parrot in the world

February 26th, 2015 | by LubosTomiska
Miguel A. Gómez Garza: my most valuable success is the first breeding of Maroon-fronted Parrot in the world
Breeding
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What’s your relationship to parrots? Just a hobby, full time job?

As a veterinarian, I have been working with parrots since I graduated from the university, not only in the medical aspect but I also study their ecology in the wild and their husbandry and reproduction in captivity. Now, I have a private veterinarian clinic where I attend psittacines mainly, but I also consult other kind of birds, reptiles and wild and exotic mammals.

Do you have your private collection or do you care for birds in some facility?

I have kept and bred many different species of parrots on my own, but I actually spend more time in being a consultant in different breeding facilities and institutions. What I like much is to study the parrots in their habitat, so this way I can know their needs better when they are in captivity, so I do not have much time left to keep a breeding facility of my own.

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Miguel with two Hyacinth Macaws.

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As a veterinarian, you are specialized in birds only?

Even though, as a veterinarian my area of expertise is birds, I consult many other species of animals.

Your clients come only from Mexico or from other american countries as well?

Most of them are from Mexico, although occasionally I advice different parrot collections in Texas or South America.

Where have you studied, do you still work there?

I finished college in the Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia of the Universidad de Nuevo León, Mexico. I am actually studying a doctorate degree in Animal Science with the topic “Evaluation on the health of confiscated parrots in Mexico destined for reintroduction programs“. I am also teaching Exotic Animal Husbandry to college students at the same university.

I’ve heard you are a great ornithologist in the field. Which locations are your specialization? Do you travel a lot? Are you focused on some specific species?

Even though I have observed parrots in the wild in four continents where they live, I have specialized in studying the wild Mexican parrots in my country, Mexico. This has enabled me to travel several times through all the corners of Mexico, including the islands where they lives, like Tres Marías and Socorro. I have always been surprised about the little information the public has at hand about the wild life of the parrots they have as pets. It is an obligation for me let the public know the importance of these birds in their different ecosystems. My area of expertise are the Mexican species of parrots, although I must confess that I have very much enjoyed observing in the wild species like Imperial Amazon (Amazona imperialis) in Dominica, Echo parakeet (Psittacula eques) in Mauritius or Ultramarine lorikeet (Vini ultramarina) in the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. I remember when I observed for the first time African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) in the wild in central Africa, a very common species in captivity. It is fascinating.

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True Tres Maria Amazon, Miguel has studied this species in its natural habitat for several years. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Do you participate on any research?

The parrots of Mexico requieres continued research. We still have much to learn about thelife in the wild of each species and subspecies. If we want to protect them in their habitats we have to understand their needs. It is not by feeling sorry how we will be able to save the endangered parrots, but knowing them more and working with them. I am also doing lab work with the DNA of confiscated mexican parrots, focusing in detecting possible diseases in clinically healthy parrots that will be returned to their habitats. I am also doing research with other researchers about the embryonic development in parrots and studying parasites in wild birds, among other things.

Do you participate on any conservation projects?

Yes, I collaborate with different institutions. I have been a custodian for many years of parrots that have been confiscated by Mexican authorites. I very much like the topic of environmental education as an instrument for conservation. In this lies the future of many species. I think that captive breeding not only keeps the genetic material of the threatened species, but also plays an important role in avoiding the capture of wild parrots for pet trade, this is why we have to support it. Another thing I am also very passionate of is returning to the wild confiscated parrots due to illegal trafficking. I am also working with a new foundation in Mexico dedicated to rescue and rehabilitate confiscated wildlife, Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.

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Can you write more about parrot projects?

I am now making a sanitary protocol of liberation for confiscated parrots, that will be the basis for introducing completely healthy parrots to their habitat. The gregarious habits of the parrots make them highly susceptible to transmission of diseases. We must not release parrots only because we consider they are clinically healthy without before doing lab tests. On the other hand the main objetive of the foundation on which I am working is there habilitation of wildlife, so it’s a pleasure to work with them.

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Aratinga brevipes, Miguel considers this bird as separated species. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Could you describe breeding of parrots in Mexico?

In 2008, new law became valid in Mexico which totally prohibits the trade of native Mexican parrots, including those bred in captivity. This discouraged the breeding in captivity of Mexican species in the country. Currently, small and large breeding centers are mainly focusing on breeding exotic species that can be suitables for pets. This works in helping to reduce the demand of chicks collected illegally in the wild, thus the task of these breeding facilities is very important. The breeding of Mexican species is actually done in non profit institutions. There are also some facilities that breed little known exotic species, which helps in mantaining these species in Mexican aviculture.

Can you tell us more about your facility?

Personally, I only keep few parrots. I like they breed of course, I even place nests for the parrots that live as pets in my house. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to have as much breeding pairs as I would like to.

What species do you keep and breed?

During my life I have had the opportunity of having and breed many parrots species, from macaws and amazons of different species to Brotogeris and Bolborhynchus. Figuring out the needs of each species is a challenge, and I love it. The reward is its reproduction.

What’s your way of feeding?

In countries like Mexico where in every store or market around the corner it is possible to find fresh fruits and vegetables at very accessible prices, it is very easy to give this diet to the parrots. I also like to complement their diet with pellets, and depending on the species, with some small or germinated seeds.

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A beautiful photo of a beautiful species, Maroon-fronted Parrot.(c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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What is your opinion about feeding with pellets?

Pellets are a very important part of the diet in countries where fresh tropical fruit is expensive, or where, due to personal activities of the owner, it is easier to offer them. Of course it is very important to offer high quality pellets, just as a part of the diet. I do not recommend a pellet based diet, it would be too boring for these birds that when living in the wild have access to dozens of edible plants of different species. The presence of fruits and vegetables also helps in their digestion.

Are seeds important in the diet of mexican parrot species? What percent of seeds should the diet contain?

Of course they are important for certain genera like Ara, Rhynchopsitta, Aratinga, Forpus and Bolborhynchus; for them it should be contained in up to 30% of the diet. In other genera like Amazona or Pionus, highly susceptible to obesity, I prefer not to give them.

Do you think that tropical fruits are really so important in diet of parrots and can’t be replaced by apples, pears and other kind of fruits available in temperate zones?

I think that if it is not possible to offer imported fruits, these can substituted with temperate climate fruits. Also, in every country you can always find vegetables like carrots, germinated beans or chickpeas which are very good.

Is there any common and frequent mistake which breeders make when breeding mexican parrot species?

Depending on the species, the most common mistake is to give to much fat to the Amazona for example, or the other way around not giving enough fat to the species that do need it. Because of this it is basic to know their biology of each species in particular, it is very important to know their needs.

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Ara macao cyanoptera. Miguel is an expert in recognizing of subspecies of mexican parrots. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Do you hanfeed parrots? Or do you prefer parent raised birds?

When I need the birds for breeding I prefer the parents to raise them.

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How long have you been breeding with parrots?

The number scares me, I think that more than 40 years, I began with budgies being almost a kid, ha ha, ha.

What is your most valuable success in breeding of parrots?

I am passionate about research. I was the first to breed in captivity the Maroon fronted parrots (Rhynchopstta terrisi) and the Socorro island conures (Aratinga brevipes), in 1998. To achieve this I had to first know in depth the needs of each species, so I had to study them in their natural habitat. I did the same with the Tres Marías Amazons. I also succeeded in breed Blue headed macaws (Primolius coulini), and White-headed Pionus (Pionus seniloides), and I think I was one of the first to achieve this.

Could you tell us some details about the biology of the parrots of genus Rhynchopsitta?

Rhynchopsitta are macaws that have adapted to live in a quite colder climate. Few people have stopped to think why Rhynchopsitta is the only endemic genus in Mexico. The reason is simple: the psittacines of Mexico are Southamerican invadors of the pleistocene era, Rhynchopsitta is a clear evolution of the genus Ara. They live in mountains covered with pine forests, in fact, they live in the area with the most diversity of pines (Pinus spp.) in the world. The seeds of these pines are their primary food during breeding season (they breed in the end of summer and fall). They remain in groups throughout the year, even in the breeding season, and have seasonal movements in search for food or better climate.

Why do you think it’s too difficult to breed them?

Undoubtedly an optimal diet is very important in inciting them to breed. They do not like hot weather, they prefer temperate climate. Something that is also very important is that they should be in a group, at least they should hear one another. This gives them security. If we consider all these factors, they are not difificult to breed.

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The nest of Maroon-fronted Parrot. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Why this species is so threatened in the wild. Just because of loss of their habitat?

In Mexico, these parrots are not considered as good pets, people prefer Amazona spp. or Aratinga spp., so the trade of Rhynchopsitta in the country is extremely low. Almost all Thick-billed parrots (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha) that were caught in the past were destined to leave the country illegally, there was a high demand for them in the United States. Actually, the biggest threat for this species is the changes in the forest where they live. The big trees, dead or alive, they need to nest, are being replaced by young trees. Like everywhere in this world, natural areas are becoming smaller and smaller. Maroon-fronted parrot (Rhynchopsitta terrisi) lives in a more restricted and watched area, and because of this its illegal trade has been less intensive. Their nests, in very high cliffs are clearly inaccessible, but the destruction of its habitat does affect them.

You are a field ornithologist so you can compare individual subspecies in the wild. Breeders often discuss differences between individual subspecies, for example those of yellow headed group (ochrocephala, oratrix, …). Could you explain differences between the magna, oratrix and tresmarias properly? Do you think we should consider those birds as different subspecies, species, …?

They are subspecies and must be kept separated in captivity, of course. The population of Double yellow-head Amazon (Amazona oratrix) living in western Mexico is very rare in captivity, even inside the country. I have visited many European collections and have never seen one there. The green color is different as well as the amount and distribution of yellow color too. On the other hand, Trés Marias Amazon (A.o. tresmariae) is also very rare in captivity. The islands where they live is difficult to reach, so it is almost impossible to take them out, not even visit them. These last ones are very easy to identify because they have a glaucus shade in the bottom feathers of the body, the green color of its body is very fair, with no black scalloping on contour of the feathers. Said in other words, most of Yellow fronted Amazons kept in captivity in Europe and the United States belong to the subspecies of eastern Mexico (A.oratrix magna). It is interesting for me to see that in the last decades these parrots have been selected in Europe for its color, meaning that European Amazona oratrix magna has more yellow than the wild parrots in Mexico.

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Are mexican parrots seasonal breeders? Do all species breed only during certain months in the year or is this specific for individual species? How do you think they are stimuled for breeding in the wild (how is the breeding season started).

All Mexican species are extremely seasonal. The only possible exception are the Scarlet macaws (Ara macao), that even though they are also seasonal (January), they can occasionally breed out of season. The other species never do. The season changes with every species. The southern most Amazona spp. are the first to breed, then Aratinga and Amazona of the north of the country follow (March), then Rhynchopsitta spp. (end of summer and fall) and finally the last to breed are Aratinga brevipes in the Socorro island (November).

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two chicks hatched. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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young birds before fledging. (c) Miguel Gomez Garza

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Let’s talk about your new book. What is the title?

The book is called in spanish Loros de México Historia Natural (The Parrots of Mexico, a Natural History).

Why have you decided to write a book?

México is probably the country with the most tradition and history related with parrots. Few people know that the Aztecs kept and bred parrots in captivity many centuries ago. It is curious that a book about this topic did not exist. Since I began my career as a veterinarian I realized it was very important to make a book about mexican parrots, not only for ornithologists, but also written in a language that would be understandable to the public in general. I took around thirty years to complete it travelling to all the corners of Mexico in search of information. It was a little bit hard because for it, I used my own resources. I finally presented the proyect to the Mexican authorities and they decided to sponsor it.

It’s a book about breeding or an encyclopedy of Mexican parrot species with focus on biological data?

Even though I mention basic brief notes in captivity about some species, the purpose of the book is to make the public know about the parrots in their natural habitat. This way, people who have parrots in captivity can understand them better. I like history very much, so I emphasize inthe importance ofparrotsfor the ancient Mexican cultures, the authors of the descriptions and the significance of the scientific name of each species and subspecies. I also describe their feeding habits, breeding and the function of the parrots in the wild.

You are the only author or are there any co-authors?

I am the only author, but the presentation was made by Michael Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust some time before dying, and the epilogue was written by Rosemary Low, known to all. I am indebted to them.

How long have you been working on this book?

It was a long gestation of a little more than thirty years. This fact allowed me to make comparisons on the status of the parrots, particularly during this time.

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Proud parent. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Proud parent. (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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Can you describe its structure?

The book contains a preface where I describe the way I did the work. Here I also mention the different colaborators and institutions that contributed with material. It is then followed with an introduction. The next chapter talks about the history of the parrots in ancient times, before the arrival of the european conquerors. It is very interesting to know, for example, the relationship between the scarlet macaw and the aztecs or mayas, and the importance that the parrots had with different ancient mexican cultures. The most important part of the book is the detailed description of each species and subspecies that live in México, each one with a scientific illustration and a range map.

Where did you get the photos, all of them are taken by yourself?

Most of the photos are mine. However, photos of different collaborators, mostly Mexican, are also shown.

Can we find some information about differences in coloration among individual subspecies in the book?

Sure, the book perfectly defines the differences between each species and sub species. There is a detailed explanation, a scientific illustration and at least one photo of each one of them.

How many pages does the book have and how many parrot species are included?

The book has 460 pages, including the 23 species and 12 subspecies. All are treated separately.

 

THIS BOOK CAN’T BE MISSING IN THE BOOKCASE OF ANY AVICULTURIST! READ MORE ABOUT BIOLOGY OF MEXICAN PARROTS AND DISTINGUISHING OF INDIVIDUAL SUBSPECIES. ORDER HERE:

carlaolinala@gmail.com

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Title photo: (c) Miguel A. Gomez Garza

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Interview with Mexican parrot-breeder - veterinarian - scientist - conservationist » Mexico

  2. Elizabeth Earle says:

    Wondering if it would be possible to release my pet parrot Benito back into the wild he is a Tres Marias Amazon . I’m 56 he is only 16 since he will outlive me I’m trying to think ahead.

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