Home | Bird Behavior (page 31)

Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Feed Subscription

Light and Color Vision in Birds – Improving our Pets Quality of Life

Recent research on avian vision at Sweden’s Lund University has revealed that birds lose their ability to see color at twilight.  These findings have inspired me to consider how we might use lighting in order to improve the health and breeding potential of captive parrots, finches, doves and other birds.

The Findings

The article, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, points out that birds need 5-20 times the amount of light as do humans in order to see color.  By day, birds have extremely sharp color vision, and see both UVB light and a far greater range of colors than do people.  However, their color vision disappears at twilight – far earlier in the day than does that of any other animal studied thus far.

Light’s Effect on Captive Birds

I believe it is important that we consider the type of light we provide to our birds…the zoos in which I have worked are now experimenting with full spectrum lighting in their bird exhibits.

Poor light quality and intensity may explain the difficulties experienced in breeding otherwise hardy bird species in captivity.  Light can have some unexpected implications for reproduction.  Captive female desert iguanas (lizards native to Southwestern North America), for example, rarely reproduce unless given full-spectrum lighting…without UVB light, they cannot see the pheromone trails laid down by males.

Similar scenarios are likely at work where birds are concerned.  Indeed, there are indications that proper levels of UVA and UVB light encourage natural behaviors, reproduction and strong immune systems in captive birds.

Providing Birds with Appropriate Light

Fortunately, a number of options are open to bird owners.  Exposure to natural sunlight (bearing in mind that glass and plastic filter out UVB rays) is the best of these, but when this is not possible a high quality Full Spectrum Bird Lamp should be utilized.

Further Reading

The new findings on light intensity should be valuable in explaining certain aspects of bird evolution and behavior.  For example, the chicks of Gouldian, firetail and zebra finches, all of which nest in dark tree hollows, sport light-reflecting nodules near their mouths.  To read more about this survival strategy, please see my article Flashy Finch Chicks.


A Most Unusual Psittacine – the Pesquet’s or Vulturine Parrot

You’re not likely to run into a Pesquet’s Parrot ( Psittrichas fulgidas) at your local pet store, as they are quite rarely kept even in zoos.  Also known as the Vulturine or Vulture-headed Parrot, this bird is so unique that I just had to introduce it here.

Shockingly Odd!

Pesquet's ParrotHaving worked for a bird wholesaler during the heyday of parrot imports, I was well-acquainted with many unusual species by the time I first laid eyes on a Pesquet’s.  I had even seen some of the relatively few photos of it that existed at the time.  However, I was awestruck upon coming face to face with a group on my first day as bird keeper at the Bronx Zoo…photos did not do justice to this parrot oddity.

The head and throat are largely bare of feathers, and the beak thin and hooked – making the head look quite small for the 18-inch body.  This imparts, as its alternative names suggest, the appearance of a somewhat offbeat vulture.  But no vulture is clad in the jet black and brilliant red feathers of the Pesquet’s parrot.  I also noticed that, rather than climbing about in typical parrot fashion, these characters hopped, flitting their wings as they went.  I was left “aviculturaly disoriented”!

Diet-Driven Evolution

Diet seems to have guided the loss of head feathers in the true vultures and the Vulturine Parrots.  Both feed on foods that could easily gum up and otherwise foul feathers – carrion in the case of vultures and figs in the case of their parrot namesakes.

Flower blossoms and nectar comprise the remainder of the diet of these highly specialized fig-eaters.

Range and Status

Pesquet’s Parrots are limited in range to mountainous rainforests in an area spanning the length of central New Guinea.  Unlike most other resident parrots, they do not occur on any of the offshore islands.

Their feathers are sought after by certain indigenous peoples, and illegally collected chicks command astronomical prices.  This, along with logging in some areas, has led to their inclusion on Cites Appendix II and a designation of “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.

Please try to visit a zoo that exhibits this amazing bird – you’ll certainly leave with a better appreciation of the great diversity that exists among the world’s parrots.

Further Reading

You can read about the captive breeding of Pesquet’s Parrots here.


Pesquet’s Parrot image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Lohachata

The Magnificent Cockatoos – Pros and Cons for Potential New Owners – Part 1

Cockatoos are among the most highly-desired of all parrots – even attracting folks who never considered bird ownership before laying eyes on one.  But these entertaining and intelligent beauties come with good and not-so-good surprises, even for those who have kept other large parrots.  Today I’d like to present their finer points, next week the “less fine”.


Whether white, black or infused with color, Cockatoos are incredibly striking in appearance and possessed of strong, interesting personalities.

Cockatoos take well to people, and are far easier to “get to know” than are many other parrots.  Socialized individuals are very playful, and love being handled – many folks consider them more like cats or dogs than birds in this regard.  Inquisitive and athletic, Cockatoos sometimes learn an astounding array of tricks.

Even the largest species are rather docile and far less likely to bite than are most other parrots (nesting birds are an exception).

In contrast to many captive birds, well-maintained breeding pairs of Cockatoos almost always raise their young successfully.

Cockatoos are hardy in general, and even those species native to warm regions will, if acclimated properly, fare well at quite low temperatures.  With a properly constructed shelter and protection from drafts, year-round outdoor housing is often possible, even in temperate climates.

Further Reading

A most amusing “dancing Cockatoo” video is posted here.

I was very fortunate in having worked with the rare and beautiful Palm Cockatoo.  Please see Hand Rearing Palm Cockatoos for more information.

The Brookfield Zoo’s beloved 76 year old Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is a wonderful ambassador for parrot conservation.  Read more here.



The Top 5 Websites for Budgerigar (Parakeet) and Cockatiel Enthusiasts

Sorting through the scores of bird interest websites can be very taxing, so I thought I’d highlight some especially good ones here (listed in alphabetical order).

Budgerigar Websites

While most clubs and societies focus on English Budgerigars, which differ a bit from the race more familiar in the USA (please see the article referenced below), English Budgerigar husbandry and natural history information will be useful to all Budgerigar owners.

Budgerigar Society

Based in the UK, the Budgerigar Society was founded in 1925 and boasts over 3,000 members – quite a reserve of expertise!

In addition to hosting exhibitions and providing a wealth of information on show standards and related matters, the society is committed to disseminating health, husbandry and conservation news, and does a fine job of it.  The posted research articles, many written by recognized experts, are top-notch.  The new Budgerigar owner, however, should not shy away – a series of wonderful articles for beginners is also available.

Great Western Budgerigar Society

Founded in 1952, this US-based society is one of the largest devoted solely to the care and exhibition of Budgerigars, and promotes the advancement of both scientific research and practical husbandry techniques.

It is well-known for hosting some of the country’s most popular shows…one of these, which featured over 1,300 Budgies, was the largest ever held in the USA.  I was particularly pleased to find wonderful photos of the various Budgerigar color types and printable Nest Box and Egg Log Cards.

World Budgerigar Organization

This international organization does a fine job of bringing together Budgerigar experts and enthusiasts from all over the world – governments should cooperate half as well!

At least 21 countries, including the USA, are well-represented.  I especially admire the group’s efforts in funding the translation and dissemination of important research articles.  Budgerigar show standards and conservation-oriented lobbying are also high priorities.

Cockatiel Websites

National Cockatiel Society

Now in its 25th year, the National Cockatiel Society is a great resource for aviculturists seeking information on any aspect of Cockatiel care or exhibition.

The website’s library is one of the most impressive I’ve seen, with many of the posted articles having applicability to other parrot species as well.  Specific interest areas, such as those for breeders and exhibitors, assure that no site visitor will leave unsatisfied.

North American Cockatiel Society

In contrast to many Cockatiel interest groups, the North American Cockatiel Society focuses its efforts on pet care as opposed to exhibition (however, the well-researched information on Cockatiel genetics and mutations will prove of interest to both pet owners and those who exhibit birds).

I was happy to see that fact and fun strike an excellent balance on this website – the articles are well-written and informative, and the “Just for Fun” section is most entertaining.  The “Frequently Asked Questions/Tips” feature covers just about all one might need to know when getting started in keeping cockatiels, while a chat-room and “Cockatiel of the Month” photo serve to liven up the visitor’s experience.

Further Reading

The race of birds that has come to be known as “English Budgerigars” is larger (and, some say, quieter – apartment dwellers take note!) than the Budgerigars more typically seen in the USA.  Please see my article The English Budgerigar for more information.

The Cockatiel’s life in the wild is less well-known than is its captive care, but very interesting.  To read about Cockatiel natural history, please see The Cockatiel in Nature.


Wild and Pet Conures – Natural History and Captive Care – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for general information and a discussion of the very unique Patagonian Conure or Burrowing Parrot (Cyanoliseus patagonus).

General Considerations

Aratinga Jandaya Conures in the genus Aratinga are often suggested as birds to purchase for those who wish to keep macaws but lack experience (Aratinga means “little macaw”).  Brilliantly colored but quite loud and with an indomitable spirit, conures do indeed resemble their larger cousins in many ways.  Most do best in outdoor aviaries, although they can be acclimated to large indoor cages as well.

The 17 species classified genus Pyrrhura are, in general, quieter and easier to manage than the Aratinga conures.

Green Cheeked Conure, Pyrrhura molinae

An affectionate personality, quiet voice and small size (10 inches) render this one of the most favored of the conures.  Hailing from western Brazil, northwestern Argentina and Paraguay, green cheeks enjoy being held and will even “wrestle” on their backs with those they trust.

Fresh fruit is, as with all conures, an important part of their diet, and should always be available.  A number of stunning color strains, including pineapple and turquoise, have been produced.

White Eared or Maroon Fronted Conure, P. leucotis

The White-ear is, at 8.5 inches, one of the smaller conures, and also among the quietest and most confiding.  It tames readily and is known for its trick-learning abilities, but like all related birds requires a great deal of attention if kept singly.

White-eared Conures are limited in range to eastern Brazil, and generally stay high in the forest canopy.

Blue Crowned Conure, Aratinga acuticaudata

This first of the larger conures that we will cover is also one of the most popular, and with good reason.  Although as rambunctious as its relatives, the Blue Crown has a very affectionate side as well, and is particularly quick to bond its owner.  Those I cared for at a nature center years age were crowd favorites – always in motion and eager for attention.  Two of the birds picked up several words on their own.

Jenday Conure, A. jandaya

Gorgeous golden yellow and deep red plumage keeps this bird on the “most wanted” list of parrot fanciers worldwide, but the jenday is best reserved for experienced aviculturists.  While many become wonderful companions, these natives of northeastern Brazil tend to be high strung, especially when kept alone.

Red Masked Conure, A. erythrogenys

A striking red head and face set this 13 inch beauty apart from other conures. Ranging from western Ecuador to northwestern Peru, where it is sometimes kept as a free-ranging pet, the red masked conure frequents arid habitats.

Free-ranging may be the ideal (but illegal outside of its native habitat) situation for this robust bird – extremely noisy and active, it is suited only for large, outdoor enclosures.

White Eyed Conure, A. leucopthalmus

Often described as “watchful”, this large, thick-billed conure is not a bird for the inexperienced aviculturist.  Nesting pairs are known for their habit of attacking anyone, even well-liked individuals, who approaches their aviary during the breeding season.

Further Reading

Two of the world’s most beautiful parrots are conures, and both are regularly bred in captivity.  For further information, please see The Golden Conure and The Sun Conure.


Scroll To Top