Hand rearing a Red-crowned Parakeet at Auckland Zoo


T he Red-crowned Parakeet ( Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) is a native New Zealand species. The Maori name for New Zealand Parakeets is kakariki (meaning "green"). They are similar in size to Cockatiels, and are predominantly bright green in colour, with a crimson crown and eye stripe, as well as a crimson splash behind each wing, and blue outer edges on the outer primary flight feathers. For a parakeet of its size (25-28 cm, 70-80 g), the kakariki has extraordinarily long feet, which it uses to good effect in climbing and gripping its food. The bill is stout and heavy (particularly in the male) for crushing hard seeds.

Once widespread in New Zealand, this species is now predominantly found on offshore islands free of mammalian predators, although small numbers occur in heavy forests in parts of the North Island, and they are widespread on Stewart Island. Due to their habits of feeding on the ground (on off shore islands, they can be observed grazing on seeding grasses), and nesting in holes close to the ground, they are particularly susceptible to predation, especially by cats, stoats and ship rats.

In February 2002, I received a 10 day old chick from a private breeder, in order to hand rear her to appear at school group sessions at the Zoo, with the aim of teaching children about the plight of this and other native species.


The TLC brooder was used for the duration of the hand-rearing process and hygiene was relatively easy to maintain, through regular use of Avisafe disinfectant and hot water. The base of this brooder can be removed to facilitate cleaning. Use of a towel for padding and a


container to hold the nestling also helped to keep the brooder clean. Equipment used for formula preparation and feeding was rinsed in hot water and soaked in a mild bleach (Sterinova) immediately after feeding. After not less than one hour, sterilised equipment was removed from the solution and thoroughly rinsed before being left to air dry.

The hand-rearing formula used was KayTee Exact bird-rearing formula. This is a general-purpose hand-rearing formula, suitable for a range of species, including most parrots. Spoon feeding was used throughout the rearing process (syringe feeding was tried at first but the chick resisted this quite actively). Feeding was done on a flat surface with a clean tea towel to provide a non-skid surface for the chick. Tissue paper and cotton buds dipped in warm water were used to gently clean spilled food from the chick, and these were discarded after use.


The accompanying hand rearing chart gives full details of daily feed intervals, volumes and number of feeds. Initially, the formula consistency used was a sloppy mix, similar to thin yogurt. From Day 15, the formula was thickened slightly and by Day 19, formula had been thickened to the consistency of tomato puree.

No major feeding problems were encountered during the hand rearing process and the chick took readily to spoon feeding right from the start. The first feed was initially offered at o6hoo-o6h3o and a final feed was given between 22:30- 23:00. However, she consistently fed reluctantly first thing in the morning, and took larger feeds in the afternoon and evening, so the first feed was adjusted to between 06:45-07:30. Daily formula intake


started to fall from Day 33, as the chick prepared to wean. Formula feeds were steadily reduced over the next few days as she started to eat solid foods, and were discontinued altogether from Day 45, as the chick was readily self-feeding and had lost interest in the formula.


The chick was initially placed in a small tub, which, when lined with toilet paper, provided plenty of support and warmth. A small square of flannel was provided as substrate to allow a gripping surface for the chick's claws and to prevent foot splaying (this was subsequently replaced with rubber non-skid matting, which provided a better gripping surface). A towel was used to line the brooder and prevent the tub from sliding around when moved. By Day 30, the chick needed more space, so the tub was removed and she was given access to the whole (lined) brooder. The brooder temperature was initially set to approximately 29 C. From Day 14, temperature was lowered approximately 0.5 C daily, down to 20.6 C by Day 38 (average daily temperatures are shown in the accompanying hand rearing chart). One problem encountered was the effect of ambient temperature on the brooder temperature. As hand rearing occurred during summer, ambient daytime temperature was generally 20-25 C, but was occasionally as high as 30 C. At times, it was necessary to partially open the brooder door, and use a fan to lower the temperature, especially after a hot car trip home in the afternoon. However, the chick was never observed to experience any discomfort as a result of temporarily raised temperatures.