Nesting Associations of Red-Cheeked Cordon Blues (Uraeginthus bengalus) and African Vespid Wasps (Ropalidia cincta) may benefit Both Species: Notes from the Field

In an earlier article concerning the cordon blue (Introducing the Red-Cheeked Cordon Blue, Uraeginthus bengalus), I mentioned that this popular pet trade finch often nests close to wasp colonies in its native West Africa. It has long been known that certain birds derive protection from predators by nesting near colonies of ants, bees, wasps and other aggressive social insects. It has been shown that wasps eliminate nearly all parasitic botflies from nearby nests of oropendolas and yellow-rumped caciques, and wasp nests experimentally re-located (fun job!) to trees bearing the nests of rufous-naped wrens dramatically reduced predation by monkeys.

In the case of the cordon blue, pairs nesting near wasp colonies are usually more than twice as likely to successfully fledge chicks as are those in trees un-protected by wasps. An article in The Auk (Beir, P., 2006) has raised the possibility that certain wasps (Ropalidia cincta) may, in turn, derive benefits from living in proximity to nesting cordon blues.

Researchers working in Ghana noted that wasps establishing new colonies showed a strong preference for trees occupied by cordon blues. They discovered that the sting of the Ropalidia wasp is relatively ineffective against ants, which raid wasp nests, and smaller wasps, which parasitize the larvae. Cordon blues, on the other hand, relish small insects and may help the Ropalidia wasps by devouring ants and smaller wasp species. Further studies are under way.

I’m usually all for experimentation, but please do not be tempted to move any wasp nests into your cordon blue’s aviary!

An interesting article (Biotropica) on ant/bird nesting associations in Africa is posted at:

Shipwrecks, Vicious Dogs and Escaped Birds….the Odd History of the Canary (Serinus canaria)


CanaryWith 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:

The Macaws: An Overview of a Spectacular Group of Parrots, Part III


We’ve thus far met the largest and smallest of the macaws (please see Part I and II of this article).  Today I’d like to cover a few that, while considered to be “miniatures” in the macaw world, are still quite substantial birds, and not at all small in character.

At 15-20 inches in length, the following birds are comparable in size to an Amazon parrot, but more thinly built.  Along with the noble macaw (please see Part I of this article), they are excellent choices for those new to macaw keeping.  All have the intelligence and spirit of their larger relatives, but are easier to manage and a bit calmer in general (and less expensive!).  Most adjust well to cage life if taken out for frequent exercise.  The cage provided should, however, be larger than one might choose for a similarly-sized Amazon – something along the lines of an A&E Dometop Birdcage, or if possible, a larger macaw cage, would be ideal.

Chestnut-Fronted or Severe Macaw, Ara severa

This charming bird’s unfortunate Latin name conjures up the image of a stern creature, which is not at all accurate.  The largest of the “miniature macaws”, the 20 inch long severe is playful, affectionate and a potentially skilled talker.

Like all macaws, a tame severe enjoys physical contact, but will still occasionally put you to the test by trying to establish dominance.  However, it is not nearly as strong-willed as the larger macaws, and usually makes a fine pet.

Severe macaws are emerald green with a blue cast to the head and outer wings.  The underside of the flight feathers and tail is a startling reddish-orange.

Their large range extends from eastern Panama to French Guiana and south to northern Bolivia and central Brazil.  Severe macaws are nearly always associated with forested swamps and wooded river floodplains. Image referenced from Wikipedia.

Yellow-Collared, Yellow-Naped or Cassin’s Macaw, Ara auricollis

This little beauty reaches only 15 inches in length.  It is clad in dark green, with a black forehead and a yellow collar about the base of the neck; streaks of blue mark the tail and wing feathers.

Yellow-collared macaws are well known for their harsh, high-pitched screeches, but more than compensate for this by being among the most personable of the group.  Often described as “clownish”, they do indeed have a way of keeping one amused.  Those I have worked with were tireless in their efforts to explore and manipulate everyone and everything around them, and friends echo this observation.  In common with their relatives, yellow-collared macaws need a great deal of contact and interaction if they are to remain friendly.

Very much a bird of swampy forests and wooded riversides, the yellow-collared macaw dwells in the center of South America – eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, northwestern Argentina and central Brazil.  Field observations indicate that it may be even more gregarious than other macaws, with flocks numbering 400-500 birds occasionally reported.  It is also said that, in contrast to other macaws, pairs of yellow-collards are not always evident within the flock (pairs of macaws usually stay in close physical proximity to one another, even within a large flocks, and are usually easy to distinguish). Image referenced from Wikipedia.

Illiger’s or Blue-Winged Macaw, Ara maracana

Midway between the 2 preceding birds in size, the beautiful 17 inch long Illiger’s macaw also differs from them in color, being more of an olive than emerald green.  It has a red forehead, blue-green head, blue and green wings and a patch of red on the belly and lower back.

This macaw is very amenable to handling, and tames readily.  Alert and active it is, like all macaws, curious and prone to getting into mischief if left out of the cage unsupervised.  It is often described in books as “moody”…but I’m not sure how that label arose, as it seems to me no more prone to mood swings than other parrots (or most people!).

The range of the Illiger’s macaw is now only a fraction of what it once was.  Today, this bird is known only from eastern Brazil, Paraguay and northeastern Argentina – and is considered threatened in each of these countries. They are particularly scarce in Paraguay, but happily are bred in abundance in captivity.  Most often encountered in pairs or small flocks, Illiger’s macaws keep to forests and forest edges near lakes, swamps and rivers. Image referenced from Wikipedia.


A great deal of information on the natural history and conservation status of the Illiger’s macaw is posted at:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds: Zoo Med’s Anole Food


Zoo Med Anole FoodInsects are readily taken by most captive softbills (finches, canaries and other “non-parrot” species), and are often essential in bringing birds into breeding condition and for the rearing of chicks.  Those of us who keep birds such as smaller finches, Peking robins, shama thrushes and leafbirds are often hard put to find suitably-sized insects.

Small crickets can be purchased at many pet stores, and a few tiny individuals are usually to be found in containers of wax worms and butter worms. A breeding colony of earthworms and mealworms is another option, but such may not be practical for the casual or “accidental” breeder.

In other articles, I have urged softbill keepers to investigate the use of Canned Insects, the Zoo Med Bug Napper and other products originally designed for reptile enthusiasts (please see below).  I would like to now add Zoo Med Anole Food to my list of suggestions.  The dried, laboratory-raised flies that this product contains are ideally sized for even the tiniest of finches and their chicks.  Your birds’ acceptance of this new food might be hastened by misting the flies with a bit of water, or by mixing a few small live mealworms among them.

You can read another of my articles on this topic by clicking on the following link:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds – useful products designed for reptiles

The African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) in the Wild: Natural History Notes on a Popular Pet

Today I’d like to take a look at how this most desirable of parrot pets gets along in its natural habitat.


African GraysThe gray parrot may be found across the breadth of central Africa, along, above and below the equator, and on islands in the Gulf of Guinea.  The huge range extends from Guinea Bissau on the west coast to Cameroon and continues southeast to Kenya in East Africa and south to northern Angola.  Three subspecies have been described, but there are questions as to their validity.


The gray parrot is a bird of moist lowland forests and coastal mangrove swamps, but also forages in wooded savannahs and cultivated areas.  Flocks of up to 200 individuals roost together in very tall trees, preferably located in forest clearings or on small river or lake islands.  Tall forest-edge trees are also utilized.

Feeding Behavior

Flocks of African gray parrots depart for their feeding grounds earlier than do most birds, flying very high and fast while calling loudly.  The parrots take regular routes to and from favored feeding grounds, and stay to the uppermost branches of the trees while foraging.  They tend to climb rather than hop or fly from branch to branch when feeding.  Gray parrots are difficult to approach when feeding, and very shy in general.

Oil palm nuts are a favored food, but a wide variety of other nuts, fruits, seeds and berries are taken.  They are rarely observed on the ground, but flocks in West Africa sometimes raid maize fields.  This, along with the reported presence of quartz in the stomach of some individuals, indicates that they may leave the treetops on occasion.


The breeding season apparently varies in accordance with local conditions, as eggs have been reported in March, June and July through September in different regions.  Gray parrots favor nest cavities that are located 90 feet or more above the ground.  Suitable nest sites are likely a major limiting factor on population levels.

Population Status

Wild populations are everywhere in decline due to deforestation and collection for export.  The gray parrot is considered to be “Near Threatened” by the IUCN and is listed on Appendix II of Cites.

An article on the habits and status of gray parrots in the wild is posted at:

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