Please see Part I of this article to read about the natural history of the Ringneck Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) and it’s survival as an introduced species in foreign habitats ranging from Zanzibar to New York City. Read More »
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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.
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.
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.
It’s difficult to adequately describe all of the resources available on this massive website…you’ll find what you need here, no doubt!
I’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.
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.
WFS is an invaluable resource for those interested in the husbandry of waxbills, munias and other Asian and African finches of the family 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
The Unknown Side of the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castenosis) and the Timor Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata guttata): Natural History, Role as a Lab Animal and Entry into the Pet Trade, Part I
The zebra finch is so well known that it needs little introduction in terms of appearance and captive care. However, the details of its entry into the pet trade, importance as a laboratory subject and fascinating natural history are often overlooked. Please read on…you might be pleasantly surprised at the stories behind this pert little pet trade staple.
A Lesser Known Zebra Finch from Timor
There are actually two distinct races of zebra finches. The nominate race, (the first to be described scientifically) was brought to the attention of European taxonomists in 1817. Known as the Timor zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata guttata, it is native to Timor and other of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands, which lie in the Timor Sea about 250 miles north of Australia. Only rarely seen in captivity, this bird is much smaller than the Australian subspecies, and its song is more complex
The Australian Zebra Finch Enters the Pet Trade
The Australian race, T. g. castenosis, was described in 1838 and was imported into Europe shortly thereafter. An immediate avicultural hit, the zebra finch was being bred regularly in Germany by 1872 and was featured in bird shows in England and elsewhere by the early 1900’s. The new arrival proved easy to breed, and importations from the Australia slowed down considerably by 1915.
In 1962, Australia imposed severe restrictions on the export of native wildlife…few if any wild zebra finches have entered the pet trade since that time. By 1969, it was estimated that approximately 80 generations had been produced in captivity without the addition of “wild” genes, leading many to consider the zebra finch as a largely “domesticated” species.
Natural Range and Habitat
Zebra finches are among the most common and widely distributed of Australia’s birds, being absent only from tropical Cape York Peninsula in the north and along portions of the southern and eastern coasts.
Although most at home on the dry, largely treeless grasslands of the interior, zebra finches have adapted to human presence and readily colonize overgrown fields, scrub, farms, ranches and gardens. Indeed, the presence of wells and other artificial water sources has resulted in significant range expansions. Their kidneys are extremely efficient at removing moisture from food, and they are even able to drink brackish water, a facility that enables this hardy finch to survive in salt marsh habitats.
Reproduction in the Wild
The zebra finches’ breeding biology is tied to rainfall and temperature, and varies greatly across its vast range. Populations in the center of the continent can breed whenever the unpredictable rains arrive, regardless of the season. Breeding is tied to temperature in the east and southeast, where rainfall is regular and predictable. In southern and southwestern Australia, the winter rains are heavy and would destroy the nests, and the summers are extremely hot. Breeding is therefore limited to the relatively brief intervals of warm weather and light rainfall.
Zebra finches are as adaptable in nesting behavior as they are in the timing of their breeding. Nests have been found in trees and tree hollows, shrubs, mounds of dead grass, on the ground, within the nests of termites and larger birds and even below ground in rabbit tunnels. These enterprising little birds will also adopt artificial nest sites, and often set up house-keeping in spaces under the eves and roofs of houses, and in abandoned or open barns and other structures.
A very interesting account of personal observations of zebra finches and other Australian birds in the wild is posted at http://www.zebrafink.de/en/zfinf-au.htm.
With their calm dispositions, bright colors and cheerful songs, canaries seem extremely well suited to domestic life. Indeed, they are our most popular songbird…but the history of their entry into our lives is steeped in drama.
Canaries in the Wild
Wild canaries differ greatly from those we are accustomed to seeing, being clad in a rather plain greenish-brown. For such a cosmopolitan bird, they have an extremely small natural range, being found only on the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores, about 360 miles off Africa’s northwestern coast. A large introduced population also thrives on Bermuda, off the coast of North Carolina.
Early History as Pets
Canaries were being kept as pets by people native to Madeira when the ancient Romans first stumbled upon the island. They christened Madeira and/or the nearby islands Canaria insula. “Canaria” (Canis=dog) was a reference to the island’s free-ranging endemic dogs, a large, aggressive race which is believed to have been the forebears of the present day presa canario breed.
Spain took possession of the islands in the late 1400’s and, in 1478, took some canaries (the birds were named after the island, and not vice-versa) back to Europe. The Spaniards jealously guarded the prized songsters, breeding them but selling only males.
A Shipwreck Fosters a Cage Bird Sensation
In the mid 1500’s a Spanish ship carrying canaries in its cargo ran aground on Italy’s Elba Island. The birds escaped and established residence on the island. This delighted the enterprising Italians, who captured some and, unlike the Spaniards, began selling them to all comers. The French and the Dutch soon became noted canary breeders, but it was the Germans who really took the hobby to new heights. Soon, many regions in Germany were producing strains of canaries that differed greatly in color, feather structure and singing abilities.
You can read more about the history of Germany’s famed Harz Roller Canary and other varieties at:
An oft-repeated story suggests that parrots, most likely one of the Amazons, may have figured prominently in the history of the New World as well. Legend has it that, after over 2 months of sailing through featureless seas, the crew of Columbus’ ship Pinta was ready to mutiny. The ship’s captain, Mr. Pinzon, advised Columbus to continue westward, as he had observed “forest birds” flying in that direction. Upon landing on San Salvador, Columbus observed the green birds seen by Mr. Pinzon in the huts of the people living there.
Some time later, tame parrots roosting near villages on several Caribbean islands were also said to have warned the residents of the approach of the Spanish conquistadors. The journals of generals Hojida and Nicuso show that in at least one case (Yuibaco, 1509) the villagers, relying upon their pets’ warning calls, were able to escape into the forest.
An account of Columbus’ observations of parrots in the West Indies, drawn from his journals, is posted at: