Avian Expert Articles

Parrot Breeding Biology In The Wild & In The Home

green-winged macaws in wildAs I gaze out the window into a sea of white snow, my mind drifts to the macaws of Brazil. On my recent trip to see the parrots of the Pantanal, the hot humid weather is far removed from the frozen Midwest and Eastern part of the U.S. right now. I drift in thought to when we landed in a light rain in Campo Grande Brazil, how it was so warm and humid. It was spring in the southern hemisphere, and the trees and plants were blooming. With these signs of spring, it was a great time to watch the macaws and other parrots breeding and raising their young. We had a great day with Neva Gueddes and her staff as we watched macaws breeding and raising young in the city. Neva is credited for saving the hyacinth macaws in the wild and now is looking at getting macaws to breed and raise their young successfully in the city. Her ideas and research can be used for many species of birds around the globe.

Puzzling Nest Cavity Selection

But there we were, enjoying the day with Nivea, as we learned about wild macaws in the city. One thing that struck our group was what the birds chose for nesting cavities — mostly palm trees that were broken off fairly high. This made for a great nesting cavity, except it was open to the elements and rain could flood it. There must be drainage, as we did not see water in any of the tree nesting cavities.

Additionally, blue-and-gold macaws were also able to make the transition from palm trees with broken tops to pine nest boxes. The interesting thing was where they chose their nesting cavities regardless of type. One nest box was near the entrance of a park, while another was outside the entrance of an office building, and the last one that we visited was in the middle of a traffic circle … certainly not what we would expect! Quiet and lack of activity was NOT the ticket for any of these successful blue-and-gold macaw parents. So why did they choose spots with high human traffic?

The most likely answer is that this was a great strategy to keep intruders away from their chicks. The human activity would scare off predators that wanted to snatch them off. One of those culprits is our bird friend linked to Fruit Loops cereal — the toco toucan, which will eat young parrot and macaw chicks. I did enjoy watching toucans in flight with that long bill giving them an odd shape. The bill is very light but, with their short wings, they would flap rapidly in the wind, which gave them a comical appearance.

Nest Box Differences

We also had the unique opportunity to view inside of several of the next boxes of our city blue-and-gold macaws. The nest boxes were very neat and well kept, except for one hen. Neva said that this hen was a first-time mom. There were some feces in that nest box but not in the others. But in those with chicks, there were no feces. This is because the parents chew the inside of the palm tree nesting cavity or the box to create wood shavings. These chewed wood pieces are constantly being added so that the chicks are constantly being elevated from the feces. What a great idea for keeping the nest clean!

We viewed a few nests with chicks, and the size difference was striking between chicks in the nest and between nests. However, the new mother hen only had eggs with no chicks. All of the chicks that we viewed had full crops and were very healthy. Part of the team’s data collection was to record weights and take measurements in order to track successes and failures to better understand how to make these wonderful birds successful in today’s world.

Are You Mimicking Breeding Season & Don’t Even Know It?

And what can we gain from the information that Neva’s team is generating? We, as parrot owners, can understand more about breeding behavior and what we need to do to avoid giving our birds signals that indicate breeding and wanting to be the mate. Those signals tend to get us in our relationship with our birds in trouble!

For example, in the wild, male parrots often come with warm food to regurgitate into the crop of the hen sitting on the eggs or chicks. And what do we humans do? We come with warm food, to the ultimate nest box to give a large amount of food in a bowl. That ultimate nest box is the cage that we covered at night. Not a good idea. And then there are the environmental conditions — warm with humidity in the air and with an increasing light cycle. We do that by keeping the lights on at night and turning them on in the morning. The pineal gland of the parrot registers light of any type — from the refrigerator light on when we open the door to the light of TV late into the night. All that is light to the pineal gland. So, we need to think about that when we choose where to put our bird’s cages.

And we also need to think about food choices. If you’re a parrot, lots of choices makes one think of spring and getting ready to raise your chicks. So we need to watch out for those factors that signal breeding. While we want to give our birds a variety of foods, we need to be mindful of the signals we might be sending our birds. Those are all important factors in our relationships with our parrots. We need to be wiser and more thoughtful in our approach with them.

When we look up into the skies in the Pantanal, we are privileged to see a number of magnificent macaw species breeding and nesting successfully. That is, in part, due to humans learning about their natural biology and to then altering various factors to allow them to be successful in the wild as well as in the city. Many times, it relates to providing them the proper environment to raise their young — from nest cavities to wholesome food. Protecting their environment also protects us — clean water and air are part of those precious resources that we all need.

And so with spring supposedly in the air and Valentine’s Day around the corner, we might want to think about our true Valentine’s gift. This might be a gift for the birds — the wild ones in the Pantanal or for keeping our natural resources safe at home for our companion birds. As we know — we are all in this together!

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