Breeding the Red - Fronted Macaw© ">(Ara rubrogenys

by Roger G Sweeney. (Dec 1998)

The Red - Fronted Macaw (Ara rubrogenys)The Red-fronted Macaw is a medium sized member of the Macaw family, which reaches slightly over 60cm in length. It has a simple but attractive pattern of colorations with the main plumage colouration being green with noticeable areas of red on the forehead, bend-of-the-wing and underside of the wing. It is when this bird is in flight however, that the underside of the wing colouration can be seen at its most impressive and the species is at its most attractive as an avicultural subject in a large aviary where the birds can be watched in flight. I find this species to be one of the more social of Macaws, particularly when they are young. At Loro Parque a large flight aviary was built in 1994 to accommodate young Macaws that were being kept as intended future breeding stock, the aviary measured 29 metres in length, by 11 metres in width and 9 metres in height.

The main inhabitants of this aviary were juvenile Hyacinth Macaws, Blue-throated Macaw Ara qlaucoczalaris, and Red-fronted Macaws. It was interesting to watch that the young birds of each of these three species preferred the company of their own species, with the Red-fronted Macaws being the most closely bonded group rarely separating any great distance away from the other group members This large flight cage allowed all the birds good flying space and the Red-fronted macaws were seen at their most attractive when flying in their small flock. The Red-fronted macaw is regarded as being endangered in the wild, it is endemic to the central and southern regions of Bolivia, where the remaining wild population is small and its potential is limited by the area of remaining suitable habitat available. One feature of the natural history of the Red-fronted Macaw that is unusual be comparison to most other of the larger macaws for its use in nature of cliff sites for nesting in captivity, both at Loro Parque and in the collection of Antonio de Dios in the Philippines, I have found most birds of this species prefer horizontal nest boxes when provided with a choice. In captivity the Red-fronted Macaw can still be regarded as a relative newcomer to aviculture, it was only as recently as the late 1970's, that the first birds were seen in western aviculture Fortunately these birds proved very willing to breed and the captive population has now greatly increased and become firmly established.

While I was working in the breeding centre of Antonio de Dios in the Philippines, the 1993 breeding season saw numbers of Red-fronted Macaws being reared successfully These birds however proved difficult to sell as the avicultural market for this species seemed poor at the time due to successful breeding already taking place elsewhere in the world For this reason the majority of breeding pairs were left with their own young for parent-rearing, while more common species such as the Blue & Gold Macaw Ara ararauna had their eggs removed for hand-rearing of the offspring as the market for hand-reared birds of this species was stronger. This was an unusual case of commercial market forces having a positive effect on the breeding management of an endangered species, the rarer species of Macaw being left to parent-rear its offspring while offspring of a commoner species were removed for hand-rearing to fill the needs of the pet market.

In spring of 1994, I took charge of the bird collection at Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain. Five pair of Red-fronted macaws were maintained in the collection for a period of more than 10 years with no breeding of this species having taken place. With improvements to their husbandry we achieved the first breeding in the summer of 1994, when a single pair bred and reared young successfully. The following year a second pair also initiated breeding and by 1997 four pairs were breeding successfully. In the four breeding seasons from 1994-1997 (inclusive) 23 Red-fronted macaws were reared at Loro Parque from four bloodlines and the fifth pair had been stimulated to lay eggs in 1997, but these had proven infertile.

Of the five pairs of Red-fronted macaw maintained for breeding at Loro Parque, one pair is maintained on exhibition on a nest box stand while the other four pairs are maintained in aviaries in the off exhibit breeding areas of Loro Parque. The exhibition pair of birds routinely have the flight feathers on one wing clipped at regular time periods and are housed upon an open nest box stand with natural branches attached to the nest box to provide perching. The cages in the off exhibit breeding areas, which house the other four pairs, measure 365 cm in length, 185 cm in width and 231 cm in height. These cages were suspended upon legs so that the base of each cage was around 1 24 cm above the service passageway. The diet for these birds from the period between spring of 1994 to spring of 1998, consisted of two feeding periods each day. At 07.00 hours the birds were given a morning feed which consisted of a diced salad mix which contained apple, Pear, carrot, tomato, orange, alfalfa, beet, peppers, papaya, fruit of the Prickly-pear cactus and fruits of the Queen palm tree. Other seasonally available fruits and vegetables were also given periodically. The larger macaws had a sprinkling of peanuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts and brazil nuts on top of their morning salad feed to give them more fat in their diet. At 15.00 hours the birds were given a second, afternoon feed that consisted of various dry seeds, cooked beans and nuts. During the morning the bids were also given a commercial dietary pellet produced by PrettyBird. For the larger macaws we used the "weaning pellet" due to it larger size that makes it more attractive to the larger macaws to pick up and eat due to the shape and size of the pellet. Nest boxes used were typical of the horizontal "grand-father's clock" design and the nesting medium provided was exclusively large sized wood shaving.

The initiation of breeding by two of the five pairs (one pair in 1994 & a second pair in 1995) was attributed to improved diet and husbandry as the pair and housing arrangements had not been significantly altered. At he end of the 1996 season we then placed the three non-productive pairs together in a communal flight cage. Two of these pairs were thought to be compatible, one pair had previously produced infertile eggs, while the third pair were clearly incompatible. Once introduced into the communal flight the two compatible pairs remained close together in separate areas of the flight, while the incompatible pair separated from each other and moved around the aviary in a solitary fashion. No aggression was recorded between any of the birds during the five weeks that they were housed together and at the end of this period the birds remained in exactly the same social arrangements as at the beginning. The surprise however was the breeding results that followed in the 1997 season. The compatible pair which had previously been infertile produced fertile eggs and successfully parent-reared two broods of chicks during 1997. The second compatible pair produced eggs for the first time, but these proved infertile. The biggest surprise was that the incompatible pair, which had again been housed together after being in the communal flight, laid fertile eggs and parent-reared two out of the three resulting chicks (the third chick appeared stunted by a bacterial infection and was removed for handrearing). From these results we suggest that the even though none of the pair arrangements had altered during the time that the three pairs had been housed communally, the stimulation of being housed communally had a strengthening effect upon the existing pair bonds that improved the breeding potential of all six birds. Therefore within three years we had progressed from five none-breeding pairs to having four breeding pairs and a fifth pair that had produced infertile eggs.

The clutch size for Red-fronted macaws is usually between two to four eggs, with an incubation period of 26 days. The eggs are typical for psitticidae being white in coloration and an irregular ovoid shape. Measurements I took from several Red-fronted Macaw eggs at Loro Parque gave the following average size dimensions 39.6mm x 31.1mm (Ranges: 41.8/37.6 x 32.2129.7) The newly hatched chicks have primary natal down and well developed beak pads. The toe-nails and the beak have some pigmentation at hatching, but no the feet. The eyes normally open between 15-20 days of age and the ears are closed at hatching and open at a similar time as the eyes. Secondary natal down begins to replace the primary down after seven days. Feathers start to form two weeks onwards with the first feathers appearing being the coverts, followed after three weeks of age by the primary, secondary and tail feathers. Complete feathering take three months, with the tail feathers being the last part of the plumage to reach full size

Most of the Red-fronted Macaws reared at Loro Parque, were parent-raised. The exceptions were the chicks of the exhibition pair which were not accommodated within the confines of an aviary. The chicks from this pair were therefore removed at around 3-4 weeks of age and then hand-raised in the nursery this was done to prevent problems at fledging time. In 1997 we also had to hand rear chicks from another pair due to the chicks suffering from a bacterial infection during their early development in the nest box. Hand-rearing guideline for these birds were similar to those used for other large species of Macaw. They were fed between the hours of 6 a.m. - 12 p.m. on a commercial hand-rearing diet (Prettybird hand-rearing formula with a 12% level of fat) No specific problems were noted in the nursery care of this species and all chicks developed well, exceptions being two chicks that entered the nursery after being removed from the nest box because of poor growth development caused by bacterial infection These chicks however improved after treatment and were reared to maturity. During the 1996 and 1997 breeding seasons a veterinary student Miss Anna Navarro, undertook studies into the comparative growth rates achieved between two sample groups of chicks. The first group were weighed while being reared under the care of their parents, while the second group were weighed while being hand-raised in the Psittacine nursery facility at Loro Parque The chicks that formed the sample of hand raised birds were selected as having been reared from day 1, and as not having suffered any noticeable health problems that would have effected their rate of growth development The work of Anna Navarro indicates that the parent-reared offspring have a quicker rate of weight gain during their four to five weeks of development, but by 45 days of age the hand-raised chicks have matched the weights of their parent reared peers. No significant differences were noted in the mature physical state of the hand-raised birds compared to the parent raised birds. What remains to be properly researched is whether any significant behavioural differences exist, although this subject depends greatly upon who is undertaking the hand-rearing of the birds in question and the techniques that they use.

I believe that the initiation of successful breeding from four out of the five adult pairs housed at Loro Parque during the period between 1994-1997 (inclusive), was achieved by a combination of improved husbandry practices and behavioural stimulation of previously non-productive birds. The captive population of Red-fronted macaws in Europe currently had a clear excess of male birds. Given the more social nature of his species, comparative to other large macaws, zoos and bird gardens might be able to improve their display of this species by housing bachelor groups of male Red-fronted macaws in front of the public, while keeping breeding pairs in quiet off exhibit cages. This will allow visitors to watch small groups of 4-6 Red-fronted macaws together and will solve some of the current problems that zoos are having in housing excess male birds of this species. Even better would be the creation of juvenile groups on display in large flight aviaries on view to the public so that all yoking birds bred could be given a period of two to three years of flight exercise and social interaction before being separated into pairs. This can only strengthen the physical health of the birds, through improved opportunities or exercise and ire the case of hand-reared Red-fronted macaws, a period of social interaction with peers can only benefit the eventual behavioural patterns and breeding potential of these birds

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