Parakeets

by Colin Scott© (Nov 1998) p>

The Brotogeris Parakeets are a family of small 7-9 inch (18-23 cm) South American Parakeets. According to George Smith, who has studied these parakeets both in the wild and in captivity, they can be split into two groups - the 'long-tails', and the 'short-tails'. The 'long tails' include the Canary-winged parakeet (B versicolurus chirfri), White-winged Parakeet (B. v versico/urus) and the Plain Parakeet (B tirica). Two of the 'short-tails' are illustrated on the centrespread - the Tovi Parakeet (B. jugularis) and the Cobalt-winged Parakeet (B cyanoptera).

Other members of the 'short-tails' include the Tui Parakeet (B sanctithomae), Golden-winged Parakeet (jib chrysopterus) and the Grey-cheeked Parakeet (B pyrrhopterus) which we hope to feature in a future article.

The 'long tails' favour more open country and have a higher seed intake in their diet, and should therefore, be easier to feed and breed in captivity The 'short-tails' on the other hand generally prefer dense jungle and have a high proportion of fruit, buds and berries in their fare. Although they can be fed on a fruit diet in captivity, we can only give them temperate fruit such as apple, pears, grapes, etc., whereas wild tropical fruit tends to be much oilier. George also told me that he found the 'short-tails' easy to sex as the cock birds "sing" whereas hens do not. The 'long-tails' cannot be sexed this way and he relies on surgical sexing.

When nesting in the wild, Brotogeris will use a hole in a tree such as an abandoned woodpecker hole, but most prefer to use arboreal termite nests into which they tunnel and excavate their nest chamber, apparently, oblivious to the angry termite guards with their vicious bites. This habit they share with the Red-faced Lovebird (Agapornis pullaria), another difficult species to breed. George Smith also told me how he witnessed White-winged Parakeets tunneling into a mass of dead leaves and epiphytic plants that gather in the tops of palm trees.

All Brotogeris Parakeets are difficult to breed in captivity, which is extremely puzzling as they are very prolific, and extremely common, in the wild. Whether it is an incorrect diet, or unsuitable nest site which stops them from reproducing, I do not know, but if a pair does start they can prove fairly prolific. A pair of Canary-winged Parakeets in the care of Steve Fisher of Norfolk bred 22 young in 5 years. They are long lived - a pair of Cobalts (the cock is nine years, and the hen 10 years old) in my collection have bred again this year

Plain Parakeet

The Plain Parakeet is also known as the All-Green Parakeet. This graceful looking parakeet is attractive, despite the lack of colours. It is probably the least available of this family despite having a wild population estimated in excess of half a million birds. Native to a large area of South East Brazil, Plain Parakeets seem adaptable in their habitats, ranging from canopy and forest edge, to more open cultivated land with scattered trees. They are also found in more suburban areas, including city parks, and are regularly seen in Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro.

The first breeding of the Plain Parakeet in the UK, was achieved by Dr Lovell-Keays Pvhen he reared 4 young in 1914. W T Page then bred 3 in 1918. The first European breeding was in Germany in 1882. Schonbrunn Zoo bred 4 young in the early 1900's, 2 of which were a Blue mutation, and the other two were normal. More Blue mutations were bred, but lost during the First World War. Currently, Blue mutations are being bred in Brazil. This very attractive mutation is similar to the light powder blue of the Blue mutation Indian Ringnecked Parakeet (P. krameri manillens/s) Normal Plains have recently been bred at Loro Parque, Tenerife.

Even though they were captive bred, my pair of Plain Parakeets were very shy and nervous birds. Eventually, the hen laid two clutches of 4 eggs but refused to incubate. Subsequently, a third clutch of 3 eggs, was removed, and hatched in an incubator. One of the chicks died at about nine days, first going off its food, then its skin started paling - both of which are signs of yolk sac poisoning.

Cobalt-Winged Parakeet

The widely distributed and extremely common wild population of the Cobalt-winged Parakeet has been estimated to be in excess of one million!

This lowland species prefers humid non flooded forest but will range into flood plain forest. It is found over a large area incorporating Southern Venezuela, Western Brazil, South East Columbia, Eastern Ecuador, Eastern Peru and North Bolivia.

The first breeding in the U.S.A. was by Fred and Robbie Harris in 1983.

In 1985, Philip and Janet Clarke achieved the first UK breeding, when they successfully reared 3 chicks. They went on to breed several more. I obtained their first chicks and one of these, a cock paired with a hen had had for several years, produced the first second generation English bred chicks in 1987. The Clarke's, due to lack of space, provided cages 2 feet cubed for their breeding pairs. Some heat was available in winter. A 50/50 seed and mixed fruit diet was provided daily with cheese or cooked chicken once a week. Egg food (Cede, and chopped boiled eggs were given when rearing young.

Another breeder told me how he bred his birds in a 6' long cage but they did not start to breed until he enclosed half the cage - where the nest box was positioned - with plywood.

Infertility appears to be a problem with this species. At one time, I had 7 or 8 pairs producing 60-80 eggs a year, but almost all were infertile.

George Smith told me how he had seen a Cinnamon Cobalt-wing being kept as a pet in a native camp in Brazil.

Canary-Winged Parakeets

Another extremely common bird (estimated at over a million individuals) that is widely distributed in Brazil (south of the Amazon River), Paraguay, and North East Argentina. Inhabiting, light open woodland, and drier areas dominated by low thorny trees, up to an altitude of 3,300 feet, (1,000 metres), or more. They are usually seen in flocks of 10-30 individuals, but occasionally, flocks of 100's are recorded. In January, they split up into pairs for the breeding season.

George Smith told me that trappers call this species the Seven Parrot because there are always seven chicks in each nest. These chicks are taken for hand-rearing and exported as tame pets

When I wrote my last article on Canary-wings in the October 1995 Parrot Society Magazine, I stated that despite the many thousands that have been imported over the years, there was probably only one breeding pair in this county. Well, that pair is still going strong having reared 22 chicks

I then received a letter from Colin Stephenson to say that he had just got his pair to breed, making two breeding pairs. Recently, I phoned Colin whilst researching this article, and he informed me that he no longer kept Canary-wings as he had had complaints from his neighbours because the birds were extremely noisy. he housed his birds in a 6 x 3 x 6 feet (1.8 x 0.9 x 1.8 metre) high flight with a 6 x 3 x 3 feet (1.8 x 0.9 x 0.9 metre) enclosed shelter. No heating was provided and the birds were very hardy. Colin found that if pairs were kept in adjoining flights they would squabble through the wire. He once tried two pairs in a large flight but, on the day they were introduced the dominant pair killed the cock and wounded the hen so badly that she died a few weeks later. Colin found that they would only lay if they had a solid bottom in their nest box, and were not at all interested if loose peat or shaving were placed in the box

Steve Fisher also keeps his outside and agrees that they are hardy, fiercely territorial and very noisy. He provides an 'L' shaped nest box which he packs with shavings at the start of the breeding season.

As Colin Stephenson no longer keeps or breeds Canary-wings, I can again sadly state that there is, probably only one breeding pair in this country

Tovi Parakeet

Tovi, or Orange-chinned Parakeets, as they are sometimes called, prefer semi-open arid areas, but are also found in humid forest, mostly lowland, but a few range into foothills up to 2,000 feet (600+ metres). Distributed from southern Mexico, Central American, northern Colombia, and North Venezuela, where they are often seen outside of the breeding season in mixed flocks with Petz Conures (Aratinga canicularis). in the breeding season, they split up when nesting.

They almost always use arboreal termites nests and rear up to eight chicks per clutch. A Blue mutation Tovi Parakeet was seen in a wild flock in Mexico several years ago

The first European breeding occurred in Vienna in 1873. In the USA, Mr & Mrs V Wright bred Tovis from 1934 - 1940 in a large colony of over 50 birds. Colin MacLean-Haxton from the Isle of Skye probably had the first UK breeding in 1988 when he parent-reared 2 chicks.

Alan Moss told me how he used to breed Tovis in 18 inch (46 cm) square by 6 feet (1.8 metre) long indoor cages in a frost free birdroom, as he felt that they were not that hardy. Despite what appears to be a sparse diet of sunflower and apple, his birds always laid at least 5, and up to 9 eggs, all of which hatched and were reared. Egg food was provided when chicks were in the box. Alan found that the cock did most of the feeding and when one of his breeding cocks escaped, the chicks had to be hand reared as the hen would not feed them.

When I bred this species, I had 6 birds (2 sexed pairs and 2 recently imported unsexed birds) in a 6' x 3' x 6' indoor flight. Three nest boxes were provided but all the birds would roost in one box. The two unsexed birds paired up and started laying, so I removed the other four. she laid 7 eggs, 5 of which hatched and were reared. I fed them the same diet as described under 'Cobalt-winged Parakeet', but when the chicks hatched they became extremely destructive to all woodwork in their flight. I though that they may be looking for something and provided meal worms, which they relished, and this stopped them chewing the woodwork.

White-winged Parakeet

Native to Brazil, North East Peru, East Ecuador, and Colombia, this extremely common parakeet is found on river islands and flooded forest all along the Amazon River and its tributaries, on river islands and flooded forest. In 1848 Alfred Russel Wallace was camping on Mexiana Island at the mouth of the Amazon when, and I quote: "All of a sudden ten thousand white-winged paroquets begin their morning song with such a confusion of piercing shrieks as it is quite impossible to describe: a hundred knife-grinders at full work would give but a faint idea of it."

Huge numbers of this species have been exported from Peru into the USA. between 1968 -1974, 262,781 were imported and 1980, 3,070. Feral populations now exist in Florida and Perto Rico from escaped or released birds. There is also a flock of up to 100 birds in San Francisco, California, where they are said to nest in palm trees, tunneling into the bases of fronds that have been cut or broken off.

Despite their long avicultural career, I can find no reports of this sub-species having been bred in the UK.

Acknowledgments:

Margaret Burgess: Janet Clarke: Steve Fisher: Alan Moss: George Smith: Colin Stephenson: George from Aberdeen

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