Tony Silva NEWS: How to stimulate your parrots before the breeding season?

May 7th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva NEWS: How to stimulate your parrots before the breeding season?
Tony Silva NEWS
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My daily routine is always the same: I wake up, brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee and then read emails. Each day without failure I receive at least one email asking the same question: “Sir could you provide some tips for breeding.” The questions come from India, Pakistan, Egypt, China, Taiwan, Brazil, across Europe, the US and the rest of the globe. Everyone expects a miracle formula, a simple recipe for success. My response is almost invariably the same.

Parrot breeding cannot be seen as a cooking recipe. You do not add a little of this and a little of that and expect the same outcome. Many variables come into play, including weather, humidity, diet, water quality, housing, the physical condition of the birds and much more. This is why parrots are as valuable as they are. If they bred like chickens, where the science is defined, they would be priced like chickens. They are not and this reflects the fact that breeding them is not as simple as many hope it can be.

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File:Thick-billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha) -two on nestbox2.jpg

A breeding pair of Thick-billed Parrots sitting on the nestbox (c) just chaos. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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When I discuss parrot breeding in a lecture, I define this as being 50% science and 50% the mental well being of the bird. You can provide a pair of birds the best diet, the ideal nest and a huge aviary but if are stressed, bored or mentally feel that conditions for success are poor and they will simply not breed. Likewise, provide a mentally challenging environment where enrichment is provided on a daily basis and there is little stress but the diet is poor or the water quality is suspect and contributions to subclinical illness and breeding will be evasive. It is the sum of the total that contributes to success. When I see a chick in a breeder´s collection I am viewing the result of that sum total.

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So let me discuss the elements for success.

Healthy birds will breed; ill birds will not. It is that simple. Insuring that the flock enters the breeding season without any illness is important. I personally observe each one of my birds daily. This is the step that follows reviewing the daily influx of emails. We take random cultures of the flock and pay particular attention to hygiene and water quality. We make sure the water the birds receive is better than that normally available in a home. The bowls are scrubbed daily and cleaning in an ongoing activity. I point this out because I have often visited collections with very poor breeding results. When I forced the issue, cultures of the water and birds were taken. The results invariably showed a mass growth of gram-negative bacteria. In some of these collections results improved a thousand fold when hygiene and water quality were addressed.

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Diet is another extremely important component for success. Diet must also be seen as species specific; it is impossible to have a diet that is identically the same for every individual in a diverse collection; the diet can only be the same if all of the species bred have a similar dietary requirement, but very few collections specialize in just a few species. Diet must also be varied depending on time of year and on the location of the breeder. Allow me to explain.

In south Florida, our winters are benign. We may get a few chilly days but the sun will invariably rise and warm up the environment after a few days at most. We thus do not need to provide our birds with a fatty diet every day in order for them to produce the energy necessary for maintaining the body warm. On those few chilly days, we do provide some seeds even to species prone to obesity, including Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus and Amazons, but that is all.

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A breeder in the Czech Republic on the other hand has harsh elements to cope with if the birds have access to the outdoors in winter or if the shelter is not kept warm enough on cold days. They will need to provide their birds with a diet overall much higher in fat in winter in order for the flock to cope with the elements.

In south Florida, we normally give a spartan, low fat diet to the birds in winter, except when the mercury drops. We do this for two reasons: to stop all breeding, so that we can take a break from the intensity of hand-rearing, and to prepare for a dietary change before the onset of spring. The Czech breeder cannot follow this regimen. That breeder can reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables in winter to lower the moisture content in the food during winter but he or she cannot drop the fat content intended to create a dramatic change in spring to prepare the birds for breeding.

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File:Sunflower Seeds Kaldari.jpg

sunflower is very rich in fat content

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Why do I regard this fat variance important? Many years ago I collected crop contents from adults and chicks in South America to better understand elements that trigger breeding. In every case the parents nested when certain fat rich foods became available. This fatty food was fed to the chicks. Subsequent work by Donald Brightsmith and Juan Cornejo have shown identical results.

In south Florida, the winter diet we feed most of our birds maintenance pellets (which contain a lower protein and fat content), low fat seeds and whole grain bread and nuts, the latter provided to the macaws. Only the Eclectus Parrots receive a varied seed diet; we avoid feeding pellets to this group to deter toe-tapping syndrome, which arises when mineral and vitamin packed foods are fed. Species very prone to obesity receive a parakeet seed blend. We do provide at all times enrichment, which supplements the diet and mentally challenges the birds. The birds also receive some vegetables. This can include Royal Poinciana pods, palm seeds and Moringa oleifera branches, amongst other items.

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Immediately after New Year´s day, the diet changes. We switch to breeder pellets, which are higher in fat and protein. We also begin to offer large amounts of vegetables, especially those rich in beta-carotenes; these include pumpkin, carrot and yellow sweet potatoes, which are steamed to break the fibers and make the nutritious elements more available. We also provide steamed broccoli, green beans, beets, cauliflower and anything else that may be available locally. Greens are also provided. We offer cooked brown rice with scrambled egg, whole grain pasta, cooked pulses (especially garbanzo beans, which the birds readily take) and fruit, especially tropical varieties including guava, mango, carambola, papaya, some varieties of banana that are not very sweet, Hog plum and other locally produced fruit. We also provide some temperate fruits like apple, grapes and peaches, though there are used only out of necessity. I invariably select the tart varieties or feed them before they are very ripe.

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File:The Pesky Parrot - Vernal Hanging Parrot (9654098096).jpg

In the wild parrots often consume fruits before they are fully riped. (c) Vipin Baliga. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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My intention with fruit is to provide them before they are fully ripe, much as they would be eaten in the wild. (Wild parrots compete with mammals and other birds for fruit, so eat these before they are ripened to eliminate some of the competition. Because of this, those fruits tend to have a low sugar content and even toxic alkaloids, which the birds nullify by eating bark or other elements. Commercial fruits tend to contain very high levels of sugar to make them palatable to the human consumer and this is why we avoid all cultivars except those that are tart.)

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READ THE SECOND PART OF THIS ARTICLE ON THE NEXT THURSDAY!

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Title photo: Jardine’s Parrot (also known as the Red-fronted Parrot). Two in a cage with nestbox. (c) TJ Lin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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One Comment

  1. Andrew says:

    Thank you for this very helpful article.
    You mention giving poinciana seed pods to your parrots. This tree is commonly listed as poisonous to birds. Do you know why?
    I was planning on planting one next to my Eclectus aviary to provide some shade. Would you consider this a safe thing to do?
    I’d be grateful to hear from you.

    Andrew
    Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

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