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Dear Parrots magazine,

Natural Parrot keeping

One of the reasons I love receiving my current issue of Parrots magazine is to turn to the up-to-date news out of the Loro Parque Foundation. The work this organization is doing borders on phenomenal, witness their astounding success with the Brotogeris genus, one of my favorites and a particular weak spot in the past avicultural achievements of the USA.

The latest news update article about this year’s breeding season left me with some deep reflection. Especially since it was poignantly juxtaposed nigh three pages away from my recent “Philosophy Beneath Natural Parrotkeeping” story.

I could not quite comprehend how a rare Spix’s Macaw hen (Bonita) would be allowed to lay five clutches of three eggs, each during a period of last autumn to this spring. That’s fifteen infertile eggs in roughly eight months from an unproven little girl, less than five plus years old.

We prefer that if our hens lay an infertile clutch, they should be allowed to set that group of eggs for weeks until they get bored of the process and abandon them, as would no doubt happen in the wild. Then we make necessary adjustments and wait a year for the young birds to mature and learn before trying again. To keep taking away the clear eggs and encouraging the teenage ‘bride’ to lay three more, is counter-productive to the long term maturation of the pair of birds - fertilization being primarily a male responsibility.

When a strange and unrelated duo of fertile eggs from another macaw were placed in Bonita’s box, she hatched them and continued to feed them satisfactorily. The writer then concluded, “The perfect breeding behavior of the Spix’s Macaw female shows once again that those which are hand-reared from the egg and properly socialized can be good parents.”

I would differ with the description “perfect breeding behavior.” Laying five clutches of infertile eggs, then being given fertile eggs from another species, which of course the hen hatches, baby-feeds appropriately, and begins to raise, is hardly perfect breeding behavior.

Many experts concur that there are fewer problems getting an incubator or early-pulled and hand-fed female parrot to do her ‘duty’ when breeding years roll around, and invariably, our young mothers will lay eggs and set upon them, then hatch them. It has always been our hand-fed male parrot offspring that have the hardest time readjusting from being raised only by humans. The boys may grow up to be bullies, fully human impressed, wimps, uninterested in their own species’ wives, or entirely too dominant at the food dish to ever become ‘perfect breeding behavior’ cocks. It may take many years natural training to straighten out such dysfunctional male birds.

If LPF “hopes for fertile eggs” next year, I would suggest they discourage the hen from laying over and over and over again, and put more emphasis on preparing and facilitating the courting cycle of the male Spix’s. There is always a chance, that given time and patience, he can learn the necessary actions. It might be advantageous to place the young pair in a cage visually open to a lovingly bonded and proven older Spix’s Macaw pair, in order that the young boy observes and learns how it is appropriate for a macaw to treat his hen.

Also, it is a good idea to never give a full dark nestbox to a very young pair of parrots, say these Spix’s when they were three or four years old (this time frame was not mentioned in the article). A hen old enough to lay eggs does not equate to a pair of macaws old enough to be good parents, and cycle after cycle of infertile egg laying can become a psittacine habit with little or no sexual interaction by the two birds.

Laying five clutches of eggs and then being given someone else’s eggs to hatch and feed must certainly be hard on any young hen. That equates to roughly forty or more continuous weeks in nesting mode and in the dark!

I remember some of the ‘olde time’ aviculturists in the USA, and their consulting veterinarians, warning me that, each laying hen has only a certain number of eggs in her lifetime.” And also, “If the parents don’t raise them, they don’t get raised.”

The second point in the article that gave me consternation was the explanation that a very elderly pair of Purple-naped Lories had an infertile clutch of eggs and then laid a second clutch and hatched a single chick, but it was taken away from this pair of lories and moved to the hand-feeding Baby Station. In our old hookbills, we seldom let the pairs lay every year, instead opting for every third or fourth year for strength and health reasons. We consider any chicks from an imported or aged parrot to be precious in their gene pool, certainly in such a rare species.

We also believe that the decades of experience inherent in such frequently wild-trapped psittacines is invaluable – as such would never choose to remove any newborns from their parents’ care in hopes of getting more production with another clutch of eggs or two. This effectively dooms any single chick to ‘orphan’ status. A 30ish year-old Purple Naped Lory male would likely have much to teach its infrequent young – perhaps the last chicks it will ever father.

It is understandable that the breeding of extraordinary species to build up populations is a positive effort for the conservation of those species. However, numbers alone do not constitute the total breadth of ‘in-captivity’ conservation. We like to think it is also essential to conserve the innate characteristics of those threatened species. As such, having confidence and belief in the parental chick-raising wisdoms of your wild-trapped and imported breeder parents, is of prime concern. They have so many subtleties to instruct both in the nest and during the youth of the fledgling, that it is a shame to consistently take so many initial hatches-of–the–year (arguably the strongest babies in multi-clutch pairs during a season) and move them to a baby nursery. The stress this places on the parent parrots, who of course strive to replace the foiled nesting, cannot be calculated by we humans.

I commend LPF for their noteworthy successes this spring and the “rings on 600 young parrots.” Personally, I would also love to read the Loro Parque monthly update which focuses on a Spix’s Macaw chick or Purple Capped Lory chick, which was egg laid, birthed, hatched, fed, fledged, weaned, and socialized for a year or so with its parents, and even perhaps an older wild-born auntie or uncle or two—to the avoidance of any time whatsoever spent in that human run ‘baby station.’

I would ask that Parrots magazine show my e-mail comments to the appropriate staff and request a ‘LPF Letter to the Editor’ to be printed for balance sake and to help clarify for the readers of this publication.

EB Cravens - Waiohinu, Hawaii



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