Considerations in Parent Rearing Roundtable Discussion at AFA Convention 1996


Dale Thompson

What we are discussing here tonight, I feel, has an incredible bearing on just which parrot species will be in our aviaries in the year 2020 and beyond. There are many important things to be accomplished for the success of American aviculture and I feel tonight's topic touches on one of the top three.

With the enactment of the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 (WBCA), the wild-caught birds that we have in our aviaries are much more valuable to us-not in monetary terms but for their gene pools which we must manage well.

This discussion is not for or against artificial incubation and hand-rearing from day one. Rather, I want to emphasize the positive influence of letting breeding pairs parent-rear some of their chicks some of the time. Maybe it should be just the last clutch of the season that you let the parents rear on their own. Such babies will have been taught by their parents and, hopefully, they will also pass this


behavior along to their own youngsters. This learned behavior is a very important tool that we must have in our future avicultural breeding stock.

I feel the more we go toward this direction and goal, the better success there will be for long term reproduction. With some of our parrot species, it could mean the difference whether or not they are with us in the year 2020.

Consider the following statistics and examples of how important it is that we pursue some parent-rearing in our aviaries.

Dr. Grau from the Avian Science Department of U.C. Davis (California), along with Tom Roudybush, did a study on the reproductive habits of the Cockatiel, which is a very simple bird to reproduce. They bred hundreds of birds to several generations in captivity. They took day-one incubatorhatched Cockatiels and isolated them in groups-single males, single females, males and females together, etc.-to see what they would do longterm in their breeding.

The scientists concluded that the isolated, handreared males reproduced


less than 50% of the time. And isolated single males had the poorest reproductive success of all the groups studied. Many times the male bird did just not know how to copulate, let alone know its duty about incubating or feeding young. This, in my opinion, was a fabulous study concerning Cockatiel reproductive needs. This information is especially important as I feel the key to successful reproduction in captivity is the responsibility of the male bird. It is the success of the nest that depends mainly on the female.

We can also, I feel, apply this information to the larger, more difficult birds to reproduce. I have seen the Australian parakeets in the European marketplace since the late 1970s when breeders there reared hundreds of Blue-bonnets, Australian King Parrots, Princess-of-Wales, etc., and were doing a much better job of it when compared with the American results. Over 99% of the European birds were parentreared.

Now, over 25 years later, I have asked myself the question, "How are we as American aviculturists doing with the Australian parakeet reproduction?" I am in no way meaning to be negative, but there is cause for concern. The physical size of our Australian parakeets is shrinking because a great many of us in America are handrearing them. Though there is nothing wrong with this now, I feel we had better parent-rear a future portion of our Australian parakeets so we can increase their size back to what they were originally in Europe. This is especially true with some species such as the Princess-of-Wales Parakeet which has become really small in overall size.

It is also amazing to me how increased numbers of pet female rosellas lack their upper mandible. In my opinion, the reason for this is because they have been handreared to the point where they have lost some of their instinctual breeding behavior. They do not have the right response during the breeding season and will not react correctly to a breeding male. A breeding male "pushes" his female to enter the nest box and many times a handfed female does not respond so the male attacks her, often ripping off her upper mandible. The mandible-


less female syndrome has greatly increased over the past few years compared to what we had in the 1970s and early '80s. Why should we be importing more Australian parakeets (which are on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Approved List) from Europe. Our own reproductive stock should fill our needs.

Regarding larger birds, over the past seven years I have asked, "Has anyone reproduced a captive-reared Moluccan Cockatoo (being F 1 generation) that is feeding babies into the 2nd generation?" I have found several captivebred Umbrella Cockatoos having success, but no Moluccans. I do hope someone responds affirmatively someday.

The great majority of Moluccan eggs are removed from the nest and artificially incubated because the eggs are stepped on by the parents resulting in either being broken or disappearing completely. I feel this problem can be resolved by correct management of the Moluccan's aviary and nest box. It can be done as I, personally, have had several wild-caught pairs of Moluccans hatch and partially rear their babies in the nest.

When you observe a wild-caught Moluccan that "knock, knocks" on the perch with its foot, you easily recognize that this is a "wild" behavior.

Compare that to a handfed adult and you will see a totally different kind of attitude. The greater the difference between what is normal in the wildcaught behavior and what occurs in a handfed bird, the greater the risk of losing the species. I feel that if we are not careful in American aviculture, there will be many years yet of breeding Moluccans and then it will crash. As soon as all of our wild-caught stock quit reproducing or have passed away, the production of this species will go to nothing. We will lose the Moluccan Cockatoo, an absolutely fabulous species. We should be aware of this dire possibility now, so we can respond and hopefully rectify the problem.

We raise most of our psittacines for the pet market. Do they always have to be handfed to make good companion birds?