Tony Silva NEWS: Aviculture in India

April 8th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva NEWS: Aviculture in India
Breeding
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Mention India to an aviculturist and he will immediately have flashes of spicy food, a colorful, multi religious culture and the TajMahal. None would consider pointing out that aviculture in India is prospering and in many respects is on par with Europe and the US. Indeed when I recently mentioned to several aviculturists that I was traveling to India to lecture, the common question was “Why?” They all regarded aviculturists there as focusing on Budgerigars Melopsittacus undulatus, Cockatiels Nymphicus hollandicus and lovebirds (Agapornis sp.), or to be more precise to be in its infancy and dealing with the most simple of species to breed. After spending 7 days in India, I found that these three species were being bred—but I also saw nestling Palm Cockatoos Proboscigeraterrimus, Moluccan Cockatoos Cacatua moluccensis, many African Greys Psittacus erithacus and many other species breeding successfully. How many aviculturists worldwide are breeding     Eos bornea cyanonothus or Rosenberg´s Lories Trichoglossus haematodus rosenbergi? Not many. They are having success with both of these species in India.

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Tony Silva together with breeders from India

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Indian aviculturists have unobtrusively evolved and are as successful as their counterparts in the rest of the globe. The difference is their level of passion: nowhere else in the world have I seen such a level of devotion. I jokingly told a doctor who keeps birds that I was sure his patients waited if the birds needed his attention. His response was poignant: “You bet they wait!”

When I first spoke to Anil Garg and Mufaddal Tambawala about lecturing at an Avicultural Society of India event, I expected to share my experiences and come back with no knew ideas or concepts. I was wrong. I shared my information but I also came back with new ideas. I believe I can safely also state the same for Rafael Zamora Padrón of LoroParque, who was also lecturing at the same venue.

Several examples must be given.

Male cockatoos of many species can become inordinately aggressive, attacking and maiming or even killing their mates. No one can conclusively identify the cause for such behavior, which is not an artifact solely of captivity—it has been documented in the wild (Peter Chapman pers. comm., 2013).

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Palm Cockatoos

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We aviculturists (myself included) speculate that it is caused by the hyper sexual male wanting to mate with an unreceptive female, who rejects his advances. Such evasions cause him to attack. Others believe that it is a result of pairing a female that is not sexually mature with a mature male, that others of their kind calling incite the males to attack their mates as they are unable to fend off what they perceive is an intruder in their territory, and yet others believe that forcing two ostensibly incompatible birds to live together, each belonging to a different hierarchy level, is to blame. Still other opinions exist.

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Aviculturists worldwide resort to dealing with cockatoo aggression by clipping the flight feathers on one wing of the male; placing the pair in a long flight cage so the fully feathered female can escape the advances of an aggressive male; placing barriers on the side of the cage to force the male to descend to the enclosure floor to reach the female, exhausting him in the process; providing a nest with a double entrance, so the hen can escape a bellicose male blocking one nest access, or bisecting the lower mandible of the male—in this process the lower bill is split vertically on the male—so that biting strength is lost. When I travelled to India I did not believe other means of giving the female an advantage existed. I was wrong. SadiqBhaimia, the curator for the collection belonging to Sultan Jackariya, showed me how he leaves the inspection door on the nests (all located on the inside of the cage) open, so that the female can flee. The advantage over a nest with two entrances is that a male can climb partway into the nest and block the hen escaping. This is not possible if the inspection door is towards the bottom. The hen can quickly escape without giving the male an opportunity to block her exit. The birds have no problem with such a method. I saw Little Corellas Cacatua sanguinea with babies and Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos Cacatua sulphurea incubating eggs.

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A group of Red and Blue Lories

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Dr Derbashis Banerjee and his wife Anindita, both dentists, are absolutely fanatical about birds, as illustrated by an ever conceived plan to expand the farm; I saw multiple banks of new aviaries under construction and heard of plans for continued growth. Speaking to him was refreshing. He knew every species by its scientific name, understood their biology and provided enrichment to the birds. His understanding of lories was such and his interest in the group is so high that I am sure his contributions will start a new era in loriculture.

Every aviculturist tries to provide the best means of exercise for their birds. Dr Banerjee showed me cages with the front perch at eyelevel. The rear perch was at waist level. I had always thought that perches at the same level, one at the front and the other at the rear of the cage, allowed maximum flight cage, but I was wrong. I watched how a pairs of Crimson-bellied Conures Pyrrhura perlata perlata flew down and up, the total flight space being greater by a third. The birds were actually flying more than the cage space allowed. The macaws have cement nest boxes which they must access by flying literally a half circle, as the nests are constructed in the shelter but away from the passageway. The macaws used every muscle in their body to fly from the outside perch and then do a semi circle to reach their nests. This resulted in birds with exceptional muscular development.

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Aviaries of Debashis Banerjee​

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In my collection, the pairs are all housed in elevated cages. This facilitates cleaning, allows dropped food that can spoil and droppings to fall out of reach and permits me to move the cages periodically, this to emulate the wild where the birds experience different habitats throughout the year. The cages have a large door at the front and another at the rear to allow perches to be replaced. When enrichment in the form of fresh branches, pods, palm seeds and more are provided, the front door is opened to allow them to be placed inside the cage. This door also must be opened to catch a bird. To prevent the bird from escaping, the body must be brought very close to the cage, blocking the entrance. Many close calls occur each year. AnilGarg showed me a solution. His suspended cages have a double front door. They have the typical large door and in the center of the large door a smaller door. This door allows enrichment to be added without risking opening the large door. If a bird has to be caught, the net is quickly placed inside the cage through the large door, which is then closed. The smaller door can then be used to grasp the net and catch the bird. Its small size reduces the risk of a bird escaping exponentially. The door latch he uses is the best I have seen. It seems complicated but is easily used once examined. The advantage is that the birds are unable to open them. The latch is so secure that you do not need to employ wire, clips or even latches to keep the door from being opened.

Anil also informed me of using cumin seeds for a slow crop. One teaspoon of raw seeds are boiled in 50 ml of water for 25 minutes. The water is then used in the formula.

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Anil Garg in front of his new lory enclosures​

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We feed germinating seeds during the start and through much of the breeding season. The seeds are fed at the very beginning of the sprouting process. MufaddalTambawala listened to my procedure and then explained that birds in the wild eat shoots at different stages of development. He provides sprouts on different days with different levels of growth. The nutritional value changes as different components come into play. As he spoke I recalled seeing Yellow-winged Amazons Amazona aestiva xanthopteryx feeding on plant shoots in the wild, the birds feeding on different stages out of choice rather than necessity.

Almost every Indian aviculturist uses dishes that are very shallow. In my collection, we use the standard dishes. I am always after my staff, who tend to overfeed, filling the bowls sometimes to the brim. The shallow dishes allow far less food to be fed to prevent spillage. Preventing over feeding is key to insuring that some species do not become obese (with the sequellae of reduced fertility). I also realized that a bird kept outdoors would be unable to escape though a feeding hatch that is significantly shallower. Needless to say, I returned home with 100 dishes in my suitcase.

Aviculture is ever evolving and it is people that think outside the norm that will take it into the next generation. This process was evident in India. They have had access to avicultural literature but have to deal with problems inherent to their country—for example, cobras and Russell´s Vipers rather than relatively harmless ratsnakes. They have also been neglected by aviculturists overseas. One writer even stated that in her opinion Indians should not be allowed to keep birds because they lack the necessary experience. This clearly demonstrates an absolutely lack of knowledge and a bigoted attitude that only in the west are we qualified to keep birds. That particular individual should visit Indian breeders and then comment. I am sure she would be red-faced at how clean Indian aviaries are compared to her own birds who live in squalor.

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I am ecstatic at the findings in India and am confident that in decades to come, they will take the place of American aviculturists during the 1970s, 80s and 1990s, whose contributions so shaped aviculture worldwide by introducing surgical and then DNA sexing, making hand-rearing an accepted part of husbandry, shifting the focus from Australian to neo-tropical parrots and in introducing such feeding items as pellets.

So to Rajeev Chirimar, Anil Garg, Dr Banerjee, Muffadal Tambawala, Sadiq Bhaimia and others I say thank you for showing me that aviculture is a passion in India and that you are all shaping the new frontier.

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3 Comments

  1. Sadiq Bhaimia says:

    Thank you for the eye opening article on Indian Aviculture. Nice to know that Indian Aviculture is keeping pace with the International standard. Indian Aviculturist have been under estimating themselves.

  2. arun says:

    Yea its true try to visit tamilnadu in india we have more passion in cattle like ox horse and rooster ..pegion etc with all exotic birds .even we dont eat good and healthy food but we serve to them because its a passion yes true passion . rearing all those things with out enough money is very difficult it can be done only because of true passion .

  3. Mitesh Patel says:

    This passion of keeping birds is rising up in all the people of India.
    The above news are awesome.

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