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Breeding Large Parrots in Indoor Cages – Tricky but Possible

Senegal ParrotsA great deal has been written on the value of large outdoor aviaries to parrot breeders.  I agree, but this need not prevent those without access to outdoor facilities from experimenting.  Well-habituated pairs of African Gray, Amazon and other fair-sized parrots have nested in spacious, indoor cages.

Simulating Seasonal Changes

Birds housed outdoors are often stimulated to come into breeding condition by natural fluctuations in temperature, humidity and day length.  While seasonal changes will exert some effect on indoor birds, it is important for us to step in and “help nature along” when it comes to house-bound birds.  Read More »

Personality or Appearance – Which Matters Most When Birds Seek Mates?

Male House FinchPeople have long pondered the role that “looks” and personality play in our personal relationships.  Recent studies of the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) suggest that similar considerations may arise when birds go courting as well.

Drab Plumage…No Problem!

Working with wild House Finches in Arizona, ornithologists from Cornell University and the University of Arizona determined that females preferred brightly-colored (red) males to duller, orange/yellow individuals (American Naturalist, September, 2010).  The somberly-colored males, however, were not so easily put off.  It seems that, in order to compete with “handsome” males, they become more sociable – “friendlier”, if you will – and in that way attract the attention of the otherwise uninterested females.  Read More »

Bird Reproduction – How Natural Social Behaviors Affect Captive Breeding

Bird breeding is rarely as simple as putting a male and female together and hoping for the best.  Even Budgerigars and others that been captive bred for thousands of generations remain influenced by ancestral behaviors.  Understanding this will greatly improve our success at keeping and breeding birds in captivity.

Social Behavior in General

Macaws, Amazons and Conures in EcuadorThe majority of pet trade birds are highly social creatures.  Although they may squabble during the breeding season, the presence of flock-mates is a strong breeding stimulus.  Indeed, many aviculturists cite the absence of additional individuals as the main reason for breeding failures among well-bonded pairs.

Even reliable captive breeders such as Budgerigars may not reproduce if held in single pairs.  The addition of another pair, or even housing the pair within sight or hearing of others of their kind, often spurs nesting.

Aggression (Adults)

Despite the fact that group situations may encourage breeding, we must also bear in mind that birds living together form themselves into cohesive flocks.  Newly introduced individuals, even those suitable as mates for unpaired birds in the flock, may be attacked, especially during the breeding season.

Oddly enough, larger flocks are often more peaceful than small groups (a rule that I’ve found applicable to creatures ranging from fishes to baboons!).  Aggression tends to be meted out among several as opposed to 1 individual, and non-target birds often “get involved” and divert aggressors’ attentions.

Aggression (Chicks)

In most cases, youngsters should be removed from their parent’s cage once they are feeding on their own.  Otherwise, they may interfere with the rearing of later broods, or may be attacked by the male (monk parrots and other colonial nesting species are often exceptions).

Usually, smaller, short-lived species (lovebirds, parrotlets), and those that inhabit harsh environments (grass parakeets) are likely to attack newly-fledged youngsters   Such birds are evolutionarily adapted to reproduce often, or to be ready as soon as the unpredictable rains arrive, and so are usually eager to re-nest.  However, despite being opportunistic breeders, budgerigars and cockatiels are often tolerant of fledglings.

Macaws and Other Long-Lived Birds

Hyacinth MacawsLarge, long-lived parrots usually raise only a few chicks each season, and may not breed every year.  Unlike the species described above, most inhabit environments that offer predictable weather patterns and food sources, and so they can “afford” to spend a great deal of time in imparting survival skills to their young.  Macaws, African Gray Parrots and similar species are, therefore, usually quite tolerant of their youngsters long after they have left the nest.

Mate Choice

Birds can be quite choosy (maddeningly so!) when it comes to mate selection.  This is especially true for macaws, Amazons, African Grays and other long-lived parrots.  Their pair bonds span many decades, so it behooves them to “get it right” the first time (I’ll avoid here the obvious parallels one could draw regarding our own species!).  If you are intent on breeding, it would be prudent to purchase a bonded pair or individuals that mutually groom and spend time near each other.

Some species deviate from the usual “parrot pair model”.  Certain Australian Parakeets, for example, have “difficult” relationships outside of the breeding season…they remain as a pair, but the females become somewhat aggressive towards the males.  In the close confines of captivity, they can make life quite miserable for their unfortunate mates.  As always, research your pet’s natural history thoroughly.

Further Reading

To read about what behaviors to expect as spring returns, please see Spring’s Effect of Parrots and Other Birds.


Hyacinth Macaw image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio
Macaws, Amazons and Conures in Ecuador image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hjallig

The A&E Double Flight Cage: How Much Room Does a Finch Need? Part I

BullfinchIt seems to me that finches are often “short-changed” when it comes to cage space. Their small size, especially when compared to other pet birds, seems to pre-dispose hobbyists to providing equally tiny living quarters. But the facts that a bird “fits” in a cage, and can move about somewhat, does not necessarily mean that we are providing it with an ideal environment.

Cage Size…an Alternative View

Rather than using your pet’s size as a factor in cage choice, I propose instead that you carefully consider its habits and natural history. For example, finches do not climb about as do parrots, and hence cages offer to them much less “useable space”. Whereas a parrot might clamber over every inch of its home – roof included – finches use mainly flying and ground space.

Also, finches explore and will utilize toys, but not to the extent seen in most parrots. They spend more time foraging and otherwise moving about, and hence have little to “occupy themselves” in a small cage… space therefore is key to their well-being.

finchThen too, many finches tend to be high strung, and are ill at ease when closely confined. It is very hard to hand-tame finches, or to induce breeding in tight quarters. As most finches are not given outside flight time, cage size and complexity are important factors in their husbandry.

A Finch Mansion

At just over 5 feet x 2 feet x 5 feet, the A&E Double Flight Bird Cage is the ultimate in luxury housing for finches. Available in 6 colors, it can also be divided to allow for introductions or when separate facilities are otherwise needed.

The .5 inch bar spacing renders this cage ideal for even the smallest of finches, but its design also permits the accommodation of cockatiels, parrotlets, lovebirds and parakeets.

Large Finches and Mixed Species Groups

The Double Flight Cage is an excellent choice for those seeking to provide finches of any kind with additional room, and is perfect for housing larger species such as Gouldian finches, bull finches and Java rice birds.

You can also use this cage to create a striking mixed-species display for compatible birds such as cordon bleus, golden-breasts and painted finches.

Nesting and Breeding

Additional space always improves ones chances of breeding captive birds. Ample room is particularly important for shy finches, and for those that become lethargic in small cages and reproduce most reliably in group situations (i.e. yellow-rumped and gray-headed munias).

For many of the more sensitive finches, a large flight cage is the only reasonable alternative to an outdoor aviary if breeding efforts are to be successful.

The Double Flight Cage is equipped with 2 doors that allow for the installation of nest boxes. Nesting sites so situated are outside of the cage and therefore will not restrict available flight space.

My most memorable observations of captive finches have taken place before large cages and outdoor aviaries. If you are serious about your birds, please consider providing them with as much space as possible.


Further Reading

Working with mixed species collections is a favorite pastime of mine, and one that hooks most who give it a try. Click here for more information concerning finch species that forage together in the wild.

Image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jason L. Buberel.

Breeding Birds Use Song to Defend Territory and Discourage Mate Infidelity

Many birds, including parrots, finches and other favored pets, establish breeding territories which they defend against intruders.  Often both male and female sing or call together, in a show of strength, when others of the same species approach.  However, an article published in a recent (March, 2009) issue of Current Biology  reveals that pairs of Peruvian warbling antbirds (Hypocnemis cantator), and perhaps other species, alter their singing behavior from cooperative to competitive when an unattached female arrives on the scene.
Reaction to Another Pair

Oxford University researchers played recorded calls of antbird pairs to other pairs resident in a specific territory.  The resident pair responded as expected – male and female sang together in a vigorous display of unity, showing their willingness to defend their home. 

Reaction to a Single Female

However, when the song of an unattached female antbird was played, the situation changed dramatically.  The resident male responded with a mating call – in essence “flirting” with the new female.  Amazingly, his mate began singing loudly over his song, in an apparent attempt to “jam” the notes and render him less attractive to the interloping female!

Not to be outdone, the would-be Romeo then began altering his call in an effort to avoid the interfering song of his mate!

Female Inca Terns Tolerate No Nonsense!

Research is now being conducted to determine if other birds act in a similar fashion…I’m betting that many do.  The Inca terns (Larosterna inca) pictured here are part of a flock of 30 that I cared for in a huge outdoor exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.  I noticed a great deal of interaction during the breeding season, with single females vying for the attentions of males that were already paired and in possession of desirable nesting cavities.

Female terns are, however, a bit more “assertive” than their antbird cousins – a few sharp pecks to the male’s head generally put a quick end to any thoughts of “wandering”!

Further Reading

Antbirds are quite beautiful and interesting.  The common name arises from their unique mode of hunting.  By following hoards of foraging army ants, they are able to capture many fleeing insects that would otherwise be difficult to locate in the underbrush.

I was fortunate enough to observe this spectacle in a Costa Rican rainforest – it is a “must see” for birders, I assure you!  You can read more about antbirds and see photos of many species at http://www.arthurgrosset.com/sabirds/warblingantbird.html.





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