Tony Silva: Understanding parrots is my obsession. PART I

March 29th, 2016 | by LubosTomiska
Tony Silva: Understanding parrots is my obsession. PART I
Tony Silva NEWS

Interview collumn is a very popular part of Parrots Daily News website. What a shame that we haven’t still interviewed our editor, well known ornithologist, aviculturist and author of the new publication Psittaculture Tony. This will be fixed today. We talked with Tony about trends of today’s aviculture, his private collection but also about parrot conservation and hand rearing.


Tony, in the last couple of years you had a chance to attend avicultural conventions all over the world. How do you see aviculture today?

Many critics of aviculture want us to believe that we will follow the fate of the Carolina Parakeet and the Dodo: Extinction. They feel that if we are told that bird keeping will disappear, we will begin to believe this and stop pursuing this passion. I do not buy this argument. On the contrary, aviculture is undergoing a tremendous revival. Interest in bird keeping is flourishing worldwide, with especially important growth in Asia and Latin America.



from the left: Daniel Gowland, Tony Silva and Miguelejoao Cardoso (c) Miguelejoao Cardoso


What about USA and Europe?

In the USA, Europe and the rest of the world the hobby is evolving. Many newcomers rely on the internet for information, rather than visiting bird clubs to hear speakers. This fact leaves many to believe that there is no interest. Whenever I lecture, hundreds of people show up. Many tell me that the time they would devote to attending a club meeting they dedicate to their birds. I also get an average of 30 questions daily from across the world. These come as messages. Many older breeders are still not computer savvy and thus do not experience this evolution of the hobby, which has entered to electronic era.


How will aviculture look like in future?

In the future, I see huge growth in the pet market. I think it is safe to speak for US breeders when I state that there are probably 10 buyers for every chick bred this year. I see this demand as continuing for many years. It is already evident in China, India, Pakistan, Egypt and many other countries. Europe does not yet have this huge pet market, but most trends flow from the USA to the EU and I suspect that in the coming decades breeders across Europe will experience a growing demand from the pet trade. If breeders in Europe can learn from our mistakes, then they should understand that a future pet requires effort, time and training. The future pet must learn that it is a parrot first and not an attachment of their owners—a feathered human as I like to call them. The new pet owner must also understand that bird ownership is a long term commitment. It is analogous to adopting a child that never goes beyond 5 years of age.



Tony with the tame Pesquet’s Parrot (c) David Monroger


If we look at regular age of aviculturists in countries of western Europe, USA or Australia, there are not many young people involved. Do you agree? Are you afraid that this hobby will never be as popular as it used to be in the past?

I believe that young people are getting involved. Martin Papac and yourself are evidence that the hobby can attract the next generation. As I said earlier, I believe the new generation is less interested in attending bird clubs and more interested in obtaining answers to their questions via the media. As an example, during the recent ASI (Avian Society of India Conference) in Bangalore, I asked the hundreds of people in attendance to raise their hands if they had communicated with me via messages. Over 60 people raised their hands. During the day I chatted with many of these individuals. They all gained much of their information through their computers.


Do older breeders play an important role in this?

Of course! If we aviculturists want the next generation of breeders to be passionate, we must willingly share our knowledge. I answer every message I get. Some come from people who keep a Cockatiel or a Budgerigar. These are the future breeders, as we all know that the passion for bird keeping starts with one individual and then expands. Breeders across the globe must become internet savvy and must respond to questions, no matter how basic they are, because the seed has been planted in the person and must be nourished with information for it to grow.



The largest avicultural convention of this year in India (c) Rohit Sharma


At the beginning of this year, you had a lecture at three avicultural conventions – in Spain, the Czech Republic and India. How do you see aviculturists in these countries?

In India the hobby is booming thanks to the significant efforts of the ASI, private breeders and bird clubs across the country. Individuals like Anil Garg, MNJ Sultan, CK Ranganathan and others have reached into their pockets to insure the conferences they hold attract speakers from across the globe at no expenses spared. The bird keeping passion is deeply rooted in India, with many young people showing a high level of professionalism and interest. What impresses me about India is that they will implicitly listen to advice and implement it fully. They want to achieve success and are already successfully breeding species that are not easy, including Palm and Blue-eyed Cockatoos, Red and Blue Lories and Red-bellied Macaws.

In Spain, the interest spans all ages, with about half of those attending the conference being under 35 years of age. There pet ownership is the thriving force. In the Czech republic the hobby is serious and professional.

Czech breeders are magicians with parrots. The conference there attracts breeders who are world class and who want to learn about the latest advances. I think the pet hobby will grow exponentially in the Czech Republic and breeders must prepare to produce birds that are suited for pets to meet this new phase of the hobby.


What role does aviculture play in your personal life today? It used to be a full time job in the past…

I have owned a pet store and was curator at Loro Parque. My income during those years was from the birds directly or indirectly. I slowly learned that I needed a separation between my source of income and my hobby. Today I work for a company in the energy field and keep my birds as a hobby. The birds relief me of the stress from the corporate world. I anxiously wait for the weekend to work with the birds, permitting me to forget things like contracts, workers, legal matters and more that consume me during the week.



Tony used to work in Loro Parque at position of bird curator. In the photo together with the owner Wolfgang Kiessling (c) Tony Silva fb page


For Tony, parrot breeding is just a hobby today (c) Tony Silva


Can you describe your breeding facility?

I have a facility in southern Florida. The birds are kept in flight cages in a planted jungle. I have planted many fruit trees and palms that in the wild provide food for the species we keep. This allows me to provide natural enrichment. I am a perfectionist and thus I try to provide the birds with as perfect a home as possible.


What species do you breed, are you focused on any parrot group?

Some years ago I looked at a project in Indonesia. During that visit, I realized the plight of the native parrots. I became aware that extinction will sweep the Indonesian archipelago as forests are burned or razed for oil palm plantations, the birds are trapped for the local trade (which is massive and terribly underestimated) and the growing and ever more affluent population seeks the same luxuries we take for granted in the USA and Europe, which require a toll on resources. The Indonesian cockatoos and now lories are a great passion as they are doomed in the wild. I also keep macaws, conures and Amazons—three great favorites.



Tony’s facility (c) Tony Silva


What’s your main goal of breeding parrots today?

Understanding parrots is my obsession. I was recently quoted extensively on Facebook when at the Aviornis conference in Spain I stated: „Today I know less than yesterday because when I think I have learned something the parrots teach me how little I actually know“. I can put this into perspective. Twenty years ago if you would have told me conures use helpers, I would have laughed and said they nest only in pairs, chasing away the young once these wean. Today we know that many species retain their young to help them rear their future siblings. I have also seen this in Red-bellied Macaws.

Another example involves cockatoo aggression and plucking. I thought decades ago that it was sexually driven or a result of boredom but today believe that these complex birds have a unique breeding pattern whereby the males burn aggression challenging each other (with no physical contact), thereby leaving the hens on their own. Gang Gang Cockatoos for example are notorious pluckers but when kept multiple pairs to the aviary they leave their feathers alone and breed successfully. My raison d’etre is finding answers to these types of questions.




Title photo: (c) Deepak Raj



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