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Parrot Conservation in Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific

Most aviculturists are aware that most parrot species face threats to their continued survival in the wild.  However, I sometimes feel that the successes that we have had both in and out of captivity blinds us to the fact that a great many, including several that are well-established in the pet trade, are still declining in the wild.

Parrot Central

KakapoThe region extending from New Zealand northwest through Australia to New Guinea and the islands of Indonesia is home to the world’s greatest diversity of parrots, with over one half of the known genera represented.  Conservation efforts are most effective in Australia and New Zealand, but less in evidence in New Guinea and islands in the Southwest Pacific.

Threatened Species

Of the many parrot species in need of attention in the area, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers 20 to be threatened with.  Particularly troublesome is the fact that almost half of these are listed as either “Endangered” or Critically Endangered”, including the New Caledonian, Kuhl’s and Ultramarine Lorikeets, the Night, Orange-bellied and Golden-shouldered Parrots, the Forbes’ and Orange-fronted Parakeets and the Kakapo.


Habitat Loss

CockatooHabitat loss and alteration is the gravest threats facing Australia’s parrots.  The felling of old trees bearing suitable hollows for nesting is particularly serious, as many parrots have specific requirements as to the size, height and location of nesting hollows, and will not utilize alternatives.  Especially hard hit have been Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and Mitchell’s Cockatoos, but most others are affected as well.

The loss of unique feeding habitats, especially lightly wooded grasslands, has severely impacted superb and swift parrot numbers.  These fertile areas are scarce in Australia, and most have long been converted to agricultural use.

The spread of agriculture and the introduction of exotic plants has benefitted those parrots that have been able to adapt to new diets.  Included among these are Galahs, Long-billed Corellas and Turquoise Parakeets.  However, these species are thriving at the expense of others, and their unnaturally high numbers radically upset the normal species compositions of their habitats.

Livestock and Kangaroos

Centuries of intensive grazing by introduced domestic and feral animals such as rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and camels has rendered natural plant and tree re-growth impossible in many regions.  Populations of native kangaroos have skyrocketed in those places where permanent water holes have been established for livestock, adding to the overgrazing problem.


Certain parrots rely upon fire to spur the reproduction of food plants, while others inhabit stable environments that rarely experience natural fires.  Human engineered fire use – burning off brush in some habitats while suppressing natural fires in others, threatens parrots in both categories.  Night, Princess, Golden-shouldered and Orange-bellied Parrots have declined radically due to changes in fire frequency.

Islands of the Southwest Pacific

While logging is a grave concern on the Solomon Islands and elsewhere, introduced predators account for the greatest losses in this region.  Five parrot species on New Zealand alone owe their threatened status to non-native predators such as Brush-tailed Possums, cats, black and Norway Rats, ferrets and stoats.

It often surprises those unfamiliar with the region that hunting is still a concern in New Guinea.  The highly endangered palm cockatoo is a much valued food item in some areas, and Pesquet’s Parrots are frequently killed for their plumage.

Further Reading

You can learn what the IUCN is doing to help conserve parrots in the Southwest Pacific here.


Kakapo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mnolf
Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio

Native North American Birds in Aviculture – The Painted or Nonpareil Bunting

Aviculturists in the USA are sometimes surprised to learn that one of the world’s most splendidly-colored birds is a native, and is well established in captivity in other countries.  The male Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), clad in bright blue, vermillion, red, orange and green, rivals any tropical species in beauty.

Range and Status

Painted BuntingTwo distinct populations of Painted Buntings range from North Carolina south through Florida to Cuba and other Caribbean islands and from northern Texas to Mexico.

Protected from capture in the USA, poaching is believed to be a threat to their survival in Mexico.  The Audubon Society has documented severe declines in the eastern population as well.

It is not legal to keep painted buntings in the USA, but hands-on work with them is sometimes possible for licensed rehabilitators (please see “Further Reading”, below).  These gorgeous relatives of the northern cardinal have, however, long been a favorite in European collections and, to a lesser extent, among Mexican aviculturists.


Painted Buntings are not particularly delicate captives, but are best kept in an outdoor aviary rather than a cage.  When provided with a warm shelter, they can overwinter outdoors in as far north as England.

Wild Painting Buntings consume a diet composed nearly equally of insects and other invertebrates and seeds, grains, buds and shoots.  Interestingly, they have often been observed to pluck insects from the webs of the huge orb-weaving spiders (Nephila spp.) that occur over much of their range. While captives survive on a seed based diet, variety is required if they are to remain in peak condition.

Maintaining Color

Painted BuntingThe plumage of male Painted Buntings typically fades in captivity.  The most brilliantly colored specimens that I have seen in zoos have been fed a diet rich in live insects, including wild caught species. The provision of natural sunlight or the use of a UVA-emitting lamp may also help to maintain the colors of the feathers.

Captive Breeding

Painted Buntings are not “easy” breeders, but a compatible pair that does reproduce will usually be quite consistent.  Males are absolutely intolerant of each other – fights between free-living individuals occasionally result in fatalities.

A large, well-planted aviary situated in a quiet location is common to all successful breeders, and a steady supply of live or canned insects is necessary if the young are to be reared successfully.

Further Reading

Although Painted Buntings may not be kept as pets in the USA, people licensed to rehabilitate birds do occasionally have a chance to work with them.  The National Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators offers advice to those wishing to become trained and licensed as rehabilitators.

Painted Buntings are in decline, and your observations can be of use in helping to conserve them.  Please visit Ebird to learn more and report sightings.

Next time we’ll take a look at some of this bird’s equally colorful relatives.


Painted Bunting (male) image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doug Janson

Introducing Estrildid Finches – the Waxbills, Munias, Nuns and Grass Finches

Among the130+ species of the family Estrildidae we find popular cage birds and highly endangered species.  Some, such as the gorgeously colored Gouldian Finch, are both – at once rare in the wild yet abundant in the pet trade.

 Gouldian FinchWaxbills and their relatives are often the first finches aviculturists obtain after having gained experience with the hardier zebra or society finches.  The black-headed munia and several others are well suited to this role – slightly more sensitive than Zebra Finches, yet robust enough to fare well when given proper care.

Natural History

Estrildid finches range throughout Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Australia and, with the exception of a few Australian species, favor warm climates.  They range in size from the 3.3 inch long Fernando Po Oliveback to the Java Sparrow or Rice Bird which, due to its stout build, appears larger than its 5.5 inches.


While certain Estrildid finches are among the most numerous birds in their habitats, others, such as the Gouldian and several of the parrot finches, are classified as either vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.  The Black-lored Waxbill, known only from a tiny range in southern Democratic Republic of Congo, has not been seen since 1950, and may be extinct.

Keeping Waxbills

 Red cheek Cordon Bleu Finch Waxbills, nuns and munias are best housed in large indoor flight cages or, when the weather permits, outdoor aviaries. Warm temperatures are the rule, especially for breeding pairs (they leave the eggs unattended for longer periods than other finches), but healthy birds easily weather occasional exposure to temperatures in the low 50’s (F) if conditions are dry.

A covered nest should be included, even for non-breeders, as many Estrildids roost in nests outside of the breeding season.

Most species are gregarious in the wild, and do well in groups in captivity.  Mated pairs, however, are best kept alone.


Although primarily seed eaters that will thrive on a base diet of high quality finch food, Estrildids need a good bit of protein as well.  Egg food and softbill food should always be available.  Small live mealworms, waxworms, crickets and other insects are preferred however.  Canned insects and anole food (dried flies) are often well-accepted also.

Grit and cuttlebone should be available at all times.

Breeding Estrildid Finches

A number of species, especially the more popularly-kept munias and nuns, will breed readily in captivity if provided with ample room and quiet surroundings.  Tri-colored Nuns and other long-kept species are best suited for ones first attempts at breeding Estrildid finches.

All species studied thus far construct covered nests, and many roost in these even when not raising chicks.  Protein requirements soar during the breeding season – the provision of additional protein, especially in the form of live insects, is also useful in bringing finches into reproductive condition.

Further Reading

For specific information on individual Estrildid finches, please Introducing Nuns, Munias and Mannikins and The Common Waxbill.

I’ll cover the care of individual finch species in the future.


Gouldian Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kjacques

Top 6 Bird Care, Conservation and Natural History Websites

Aviculturists are fortunate in having available a great many bird interest groups….following are several that I’ve found to be particularly worthwhile.  Note: the websites are listed alphabetically, not in order of preference.

The Avicultural Society of America

 hspace=I first began reading the ASA’s wonderful journal, The Avicultural Bulletin, while working at the Bronx Zoo’s Ornithology Department.  I found it to be of far more practical value than many zoo-based publications, and it remains so.

Founded in 1927, the ASA fulfills all aspects of its stated mission – “breeding, conservation, research, education” – admirably.  The website’s “Legislative Alert” function is invaluable to those seeking information on laws affecting captive and wild birds.

The Avicultural Society of Australia

This organization’s fine journal, Australian Aviculture, should be the first stop for those interested in the care and conservation of Australian birds.  The journal also addresses non-native species and the articles, some of which are posted online, are always outstanding in quality.

Two unique endeavors sponsored by the society, and which I believe should receive greater attention from other groups, are organized aviary visits and workshops for neophyte bird-keepers.

Birds N Ways

It’s difficult to adequately describe all of the resources available on this massive website…you’ll find what you need here, no doubt!

Sun Conure with PuzzleI’m most impressed by the range of topics addressed by the thousands of posted articles.  Parrots take center stage, and the diversity of species covered is truly exceptional, but finch and general interest (disease, training, legislation, conservation) articles are available as well.  Recipe exchanges, an array of topic-specific chats and periodic special interest updates add to this amazing site’s value…stop by and see what I mean.

Long Island Parrot Society

I’m glad that I live in the area served by the LIPS – I recently attended their wonderful annual expo, and hope to speak at a monthly meeting soon.  The group does a great job of fulfilling their mission of improving life for captive parrots and survival prospects for wild ones, and offers much-needed bereavement, pet-sitting and adoption services.  Experienced members answer questions on line, and all enjoy learning which pet has been highlighted as “Bird of the Month”.

LIPS is in the process of establishing a facility that will serve as a parrot museum, shelter and education center.  Those wishing to assist in this laudable effort can, with a $50 donation, have an inscribed brick added to the facility’s walkway or a wall.

Real Macaw Parrot Club

This fine New Jersey based organization welcomes those who keep parrots of any species, and places husbandry-oriented education as a top priority.  This admirable goal is supported by the outstanding veterinarians, zoo aviculturists and other speakers featured at monthly meetings.  Fund raising to support avian medical and conservation-oriented research is also undertaken.

I’m particularly impressed by the group’s founding of a consortium that monitors bird-oriented legislation…their efforts in this area should serve as an example to bird clubs everywhere.

Waxbill Finch Society

WFS is an invaluable resource for those interested in the husbandry of waxbills, munias and other Asian and African finches of the  Scaly Breasted Muniafamily Estrildidae.  Focus on this one bird family has resulted in a body of information that is second to none.  The posted care sheets, and the articles published in The Waxbill, are extremely well-written and informative.

The member’s breeding records and breeding history charts, posted on the website, impressed me as being most interesting and valuable features.


Sun Conure image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mphung
Crimson Sunbird image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Sabine’s Sunbird
Scalybreasted Munia image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J.M.Garg

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