Fall is a big deal at our aviary and on the 26th and 27th October we will be hosting our 2nd annual ParrotFest. We love Halloween around here so we are turning this year's event into a spooky one. Come in costume and receive a free toy for your bird!
At our aviary, we have many “store birds”. Some of these birds are our pets, some are rescues and some are birds that simply thrive in a bustling environment such as our aviary. The majority of our birds live with others of their own kind. Some are in pairs and some live in more of a community setting in a large, walk-in style cage. This is the story of one of our pairs of Macaws, Kirby and Suzie.
Eight years ago, I got my first Macaw. The baby was called a Harlequin Macaw. Harlequins are not a naturally occurring species in the wild. Instead, they are a hybrid between two nominate species (Greenwing + Blue & Gold). Sometimes hybrids occur intentionally and sometimes they are accidents. Much like in the dog world, mixing two different breeds of dogs has its advantages and its drawbacks. When it comes to parrots, ANY pro-creation and addition to the population is a big check in the win column. Sadly, most species of parrots, including Macaws, are endangered and some are even extinct. Poaching, habitat destruction, being hunted for food, and many other threats are all contributing to the decline of the wild population of Macaws.
Since Kirby is a store bird, he is around many other Macaws everyday. One of those Macaws is called Suzie. Suzie is a Military Macaw, which is one of the smaller species of full-size Macaws. Suzie is roughly 11 years old (her exact age is unknown as she was not a bird that was originally from our aviary). Over the last couple of years, Suzie made attempts to gain the companionship of several male Macaws living in our aviary. Even though she is a pretty girl, Suzie’s advances towards the boys were usually met with anything other than what she was looking for.
One day early this spring, all 7 of our resident Macaws were hanging out on the playground in the middle of the bird room. When it came time to put everyone away, we noticed that Kirby and Suzie were perched together and preening one another. Mutual preening, or “allopreening”, is usually a sign of affection in the world of birds. When preening, parrots let their guard down and are susceptible to predation. Preening activities signal a level of comfort and relaxation and is rarely observed when a bird is scared, nervous or under any level of stress.
In the spring, Kirby didn’t live in the big walk-in cage with the other Macaws because he can be rude in group situations, particularly toward the other male Macaws. So, when we noticed that he and Suzie were dating, we decided to try them together in Kirby’s cage. Moving in together is a big step, for parrots and humans alike. Suzie was initially confused by her new accommodations, but within a couple of days she had made herself at home. Kirby and Suzie were now a happy couple and going steady.
Although we breed several different species of parrots here at our aviary, we have never attempted to breed Macaws. The main reason is because of a lack of space but also because we had no true pairs to set up for breeding. Macaws take up a lot of space and when breeding, they need a nest box the size of a wine barrel. So when we noticed Kirby and Suzie starting to mate on a regular basis, we didn’t think much of it. Parrots are hard to breed even under ideal circumstances, let alone when not set up specifically for the purpose of breeding.
Despite all odds, Kirby and Suzie were determined to have a family. Well, Suzie was determined, Kirby just went along with it. One morning in early September, we came in to the store, turned all the lights on and went around the room doing checks on everyone like we always do. When we got to Kirby and Suzie’s cage, we found quite the surprise! Suzie had laid an egg overnight on the bottom of her cage! Over the next few days, she laid two more eggs for a total of three.
The eggs were surprisingly small, smaller than even a regular chicken egg. They were bright white and shiny. Because there was no nest box on her cage, Suzie laid her eggs on the bottom of the cage on top of the grate. Unfortunately, one of the eggs received a crack and was not going to develop or hatch. In an attempt to save the others, we decided to put the two remaining eggs into our incubator to give them a chance at hatching. Suzie was mad that we took her eggs, but after a few minutes was back to eating and playing and seemed relieved that she didn’t have to camp out on the bottom of her cage to sit on the eggs. We promised her that we will get her a proper nest box one day soon so that she can have the chance to raise babies herself.
So into the incubator the eggs went. Then the waiting began. The incubation period for Military Macaw eggs is 24 days. It is longer for Harlequins (because they are larger) but since Suzie was the mother, we went with the incubation period for her species. As the days progressed, we could see both eggs developing and veins started to become visible.
Three days before the eggs were due to hatch, the incubator stopped automatically turning the eggs. From this point on, we watched the eggs closely for signs of pipping (this is when the chick breaks through the shell of the egg). During these three days, we realized that one of the eggs had stopped developing and unfortunately was not going to hatch. While we were upset to discover this, and did not know what went wrong (mother nature rarely tells), we knew we had to focus on the remaining egg and get ready for the impending hatch day.
On Friday, October 5th, we were here late working to prepare for our ParrotFest event. Before we left, we checked the egg and noticed that it had started to pip. Once this happens, a chick will usually hatch within 24 hours. We anxiously walked into the nursery Saturday morning, turned on the lights and peered into the incubator. What we saw was truly amazing and maybe even a bit of a miracle. There was a tiny (compared to the other babies that hatch here maybe not so tiny), naked little chick laying in the tray of the incubator. His egg shell was kicked off to the side and he was sound asleep. We quickly scooped him out and put him into an already heated brooder to keep him warm.
Over the next week, Tammy got up every two hours (all night and all day) to feed this amazing little bird. He put on weight and grew at a rate we have never witnessed in a baby parrot before. We started trying to come up with names, but since we don’t know the gender it proved to be a challenge. Then our friend Mark said to us, “call him Kuzie!”. The K is from Kirby and the rest is from Suzie. So, the name stuck and now the baby will be called Kuzie…no matter what the gender turns out to be.
Naming Kuzie was not the only idea we had to come up with. Kuzie is what is known as a second generation hybrid. His father, Kirby, is a first generation hybrid (a nominate species mixed with another nominate species). This is where things start to get complicated, when one parent is already a hybrid (Kirby). So in our case, we have one hybrid parent and one nominate species parent (Suzie). When a combination like this occurs, it is considered a second generation hybrid (F2). As if that wasn’t complicated enough, we couldn’t find any documented record of a combination between a Harlequin Macaw and a Military Macaw. We did research, our friends and family did research, and we reached out to some professional organizations like the AFA. As far as we can tell, there was no such thing as a combination such as Kuzie, until now. Absent an already documented name for this type of hybrid, we are calling Kuzie’s species a “Miliquin Macaw”.
So what does a Miliquin Macaw look like? We have no idea. As with a lot of second generation hybrids, the appearance of each chick can vary drastically. Even in a clutch with multiple second generation hybrids, the chicks often look quite different from each other. And sometimes, the chicks look just like one of their parents. That is the case with one of our other store Macaws, Queso. Queso is a “Catablue Macaw” and is a second generation hybrid from a cross between a Catalina Macaw (Blue & Gold + Scarlet) and a regular Blue & Gold. But unless you were well-versed in Macaw hybrids, you would look at Queso and think he is a normal Blue & Gold. There are some very subtle differences about him that you’ll notice if you look closely enough.
As of the writing of this blog, Kuzie is just shy of four weeks old and already weighs over 600 grams. He is definitely on track to outweigh his mother and possible his father (Kirby is a big boy though, so we’ll see). Feathers on Kuzie’s tail and wings are just starting to poke through and show us hints of blues and greens.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned to our Facebook page for Kuzie updates and photos!
-The TC Feathers Crew
A question we are asked frequently at our aviary is how to get a parrot to eat fresh food. We hear of birds that will only eat one or two types of fresh foods and some that won’t eat any. This week’s blog is about how to encourage your parrots to eat more fruits, veggies and grains.
Pickiness in parrots can usually be traced back to their “childhood”. Young birds become quickly accustomed to whatever food they are offered the most and also, to whatever they are offered first. Parrots that are started out on just a seed mix and not offered any variety in their diet will most likely prefer only to eat seeds the rest of their lives. So, if a young bird is not introduced to fresh food during the weaning process, it can sometimes be an uphill battle to teach them to eat it.
Ideally, if you have a parrot that is still in the process of being hand-fed, ask the breeder (or whomever is raising the baby) to introduce some fresh foods. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated and time consuming, just a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some berries can suffice. Of course, the more variety the better, but we’ve found that introducing just a handful of different fruits and veggies is usually enough to give babies the taste for fresh foods, which tends to stick with them the rest of their lives.
Now lets talk about the scenario most of us encounter at some point in our life with parrots. Say you adopt an adult bird or one that was recently weaned. Often, we have no information about how the bird was raised and what, if any, fresh food had been introduced while the bird was being hand-fed. Maybe the parrot hadn’t been hand-fed at all, which makes things even more complicated. Here are some steps you can take to encourage your bird not only to try more fresh foods, but to actually enjoy eating them:
Step one: Know your parrot. Research the species of parrot(s) you have and learn what types of fruits or veggies they actually eat in their natural environment. This doesn’t mean that you can only offer foods that are naturally occurring in your bird’s natural environment. You can offer anything that is bird safe, but starting with what your bird would actually eat in the wild can be helpful when starting your bird on fresh foods.
Step two: Serve it warm. When baby parrots are being hand-fed, or parent raised, the food they eat is warm. For example, if you are trying to get your bird to eat a piece of banana, and bananas are usually served at room temperature, throw it in the microwave or otherwise warm it up (be sure it is not too hot when you serve it to your bird). Often, you will find that your bird will be more curious about a food that is warm rather than one that is cold or room temp.
Step three: Cut it into small pieces. Even if you have a bigger bird, cutting or chopping the fresh foods into little pieces that the bird does not need to pick up with his foot can be a helpful trick. It won’t work for all birds, but it is worth trying. This is especially true if you have bird that is not a “foot eater” (doesn’t pick up food with it’s foot to eat it). Parakeets and Cockatiels are examples of this.
Step four: Try everything you can find. Lets say you have a super picky eater who refuses the 10 different fruits or veggies you have tried so far. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different fruits, veggies and grains you can get locally to offer your bird. Even if you only find 3 fresh foods your bird will actually eat, that is 3 more than he would eat before.
Step five: Never give up. One of the cool things about parrots, and one of the reasons a lot of us have parrots, is that they can live a very long time. That means you have many years to convince your bird that fresh food is actually a good thing. I know of many older, and in some cases very old, birds that have learned to eat fresh foods.
Step six: Get creative. Look up “parrot chop”. Make birdie bread. Mix fresh foods into other foods that your bird loves. Sometimes, tricking your bird into trying fresh foods by accident can be the key to them realizing that fruits and veggies actually taste good. It is kind of like having a toddler, you have to trick them into eating their veggies. The same strategies can work on parrots.
Some of the most popular foods amongst our store residents and personal birds are scrambled eggs, sweet potatoes and yams, butternut squash, mixed veggies, grapes, all types of berries, leafy greens (be careful of those high in oxalic acid such as spinach), brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, legumes, pomegranate seeds, snap peas and edamame. We even have some species who like chicken (weird, but true).
When feeding fresh foods the general rule of thumb is that if the food is not healthy for you, it will not be healthy for your bird. Avoid salt, added sugar and heavily processed foods. Also, NEVER feed chocolate or avocado.
We hope this week’s blog will result in a fresh (no pun intended) outlook on enriching your parrot’s diet and in the addition of some “fresh food converts”.
Thanks for reading!
-The TC Feathers crew