What is the appropriate nest design for our parrots? PART I

January 21st, 2016 | by Tony Silva
What is the appropriate nest design for our parrots? PART I
Tony Silva NEWS
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Read also the second part of this article:

What is the appropriate nest design for our parrots? PART II

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The British aviculturist E.J. Boosey published a book titled Parrots, Cockatoos and Macaws in 1956. This early avicultural work describes the breeding of several species. Information such as diet and nest are discussed. For every entry referring to a nesting box (pages 42, 45, 119-20, 129), the reference is for a standard grandfather clock type—a square box that is deeper than it is wide or long. The general rule, which I still follow for many species, is to measure the body from the tip of the head to the base of the tail for the nest box size.

This measurement is used for the box length and width and twice or three times this dimension for depth. This rule is easily followed and has worked for many years. However, starting in the late 1980s I began questioning the use of the standard nest. Field work conducted over the following years revealed several key points:

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Natural nests are tight

Parrots prefer the tightest fitting, darkest nest possible. This often results in their chick being unable to fledge and becoming entombed in the nest cavity. I will never forget seeing the chick of a pair of Green-winged Macaw Ara chloropterus in a village north of Manaus in Amazonian Brazil. According to the caboclos, they could see the nest across the river from their basic thatched home and intervened when it seemed the chick was doomed; the parents fed their single chick for almost one year and as the chick could not emerge through the entrance– a crack in the tree created by a fallen branch– the caboclos freed the young, but its feather condition was so deteriorated that the chick could not fly.

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It was a house pet and was visited by the parents when it climbed a tall tree adjacent to the house. I have also seen chicks frantically trying to escape the cavity in which they were born, with the parents calling them in an adjacent tree. In most cases had someone not intervened the young would have perished.

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

(c) Just chaos. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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Tree cavity is not the only type of natural parrot nest

Parrots species fall into one of two categories according to their nesting requirements: nest type generalists, meaning that they will accept any cavity available as long as it is dry, dark and often deep, and nest type specialists, which seem to utilize a specific type of nest. No genera falls strictly into one or the other category. As an example, Blue-fronted Amazons Amazona aestiva will utilize terrestrial or arboreal termitaria in northern and central Brazil, openings in cliff faces in parts of Bolivia and Brazil and Prosopis trees in Argentina.

The Red-tailed Amazon Amazona brasiliensis will nest in tree cavities but also in arboreal epiphytes. I will never forget being told by the late Nelson Kawall that he had received nestling Red-tailed Amazons from a nest inside a clump of bromeliads. I laughed. At the time I was too focused on the concept that parrots only nested in tree cavities or termites’ nests. That report of nesting in a bromeliad, once confirmed, started my evolutionary thinking.

At the other extreme are the specialists. Brotogeris prefer arboreal termitarium. If these are unavailable in an area where they have become feral (as in Florida), they accept the next possibility: the rotting base of fronds of Canary Island Palms. I have found countless nests in Florida and not once have I found the White-winged Brotogeris versicolurus or Canary-winged Parakeets Brotogeris chiriri nesting in a cavity, even when available within sight of a roosting flock.

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

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Large cavities are often being refused

Pairs will forego nesting if only a very large cavity is available, as this heightens the concern of a predator entering and devouring the incubating hen, eggs or chicks and thus making the expenditure of tremendous energy to reproduce wasteful. As an example I can citean example from Miami Beach, Florida, where there is a large flock of feral Severe Macaws Ara severus. These birds visit my yard daily and came in flocks daily when the Melia tree had seeds; the tree was a casualty of Hurricane Wilma, which impacted with fierce winds in October 2005.

After Hurricane Wilma passed, most of the dead Roystonea palms the flock used for nesting become unavailable; they cracked, making the fissure too large to contain a nest, or more often were blown over. As the breeding season approached, I could see bitter fights developing between pairs for the scant available cavities. I therefore hung excess nesting boxes that were laying around in Australian pines by a golf course near the house.

Interestingly, the tiniest boxes that had been used by conures were usurped first; the small amazon boxes came second. The two large macaw nests I placed in the pines were inspected but never used. They were eventually taken over by possums and ultimately decomposed. The small boxes all fledged at least one young; the large boxes engendered an aggressive predator.

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

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author: Tony Silva

Title photo: (c)TJ Lin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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