MY CHOOSING TO CO-PARENT
(I couldn’t say it better than Eb Cravens)
For years I have been most concerned about the health and stress level on psittacine parents who find their chicks stolen away at an early point in the nurturing phase. The responsibilities of raising parrots in captivity go far beyond just guaranteeing that the young birds are raised well and provided for; consideration for breeding pairs is also important. Aviculturists need to realize that nesting parrots are operating on an intimate darkness/sense/ touch level when they have new-borns in the nest box. In some ways parents, especially the hen, are in a trance state with a single focus only, that being the baby birds. From the early stage when live activity is apparent inside the eggs, our hens are totally attentive and mostly out of sight for 14-21 days after hatch. At that date, we keepers tend to notice “mom” appearing out of the nestbox more often, eating on her own, even sunning herself or bathing if a light spray is available.
Now, if a hobbyist is always taking the babies away from parents at two or three weeks, and if the hen and cock are utterly devoted, it will be much harder on her than should you make the decision to leave the chicks in the box for 28 or even 35 days! Some females will call loudly when they find their chicks are gone; others will enter a seemingly depressed state, not eating and moping around. This latter is especially apparent in birds that have had chicks taken away many times over the seasons and are quite aware of when the keeper is doing it. Certain cocks may even try to attack an owner who has appeared with a holding tub and is fooling around with the chicks in a box! An even worse development is when the mothers start immediately to recycle and lay another clutch of eggs. This can turn into a dysfunctional problem wherein the birds find it impossible to stop laying and in the end ignore new hatchlings and do not feed chicks at all.
Many conscientious breeders are looking for ways to diminish the emotional strain on parent pairs if chicks are taken away for hand feeding.
If you feel this way about your hen and her mate, a good rule to remember is: “Time is on your side.” Essentially, the longer you leave the babies with their parents, the less it is going to hurt the hen to confiscate them—and the better off are the chicks for the extra time in the family unit, provided parents are doing a commendable job, of course!
We never remove babies from tight setting mothers at three weeks, seldom even four for eclectus-sized psittacines. It is much more a shock for the hen since her attachments are stronger. ‘Tis also harder on the offspring since they are less feathered out, have tiny black sensitive eyes not fully opened, and are still developing major immune system components from the regurgitated adult parrot foods, partially digested, which come from their parents. They have not had time to learn intimate touching and to realize that they are birds. Furthermore, in South American and many other species, the longer the chicks remain with the parents, the more contact they receive one on one from their father—an enormously critical factor for all the little male psittacines and their proper personality development. Over imprinting or impressing may be a result, with the later neuroses and identity problems towards humans a potential outcome.
In addition, it is almost impossible to keep from shocking a young two or three week old hookbill chick by exposing it to daylight when nature prescribes it should be inside a dark cavity eating, sleeping and growing. Visual jumpiness and fright of objects and light are common in such cases. I trust that breeders, when they take a baby out of a dark nestbox will immediately put it into a dark, comfortable nursery enclosure, letting little if any light disturb it’s not-yet-fully-developed eyes…(please note, it may prove a bit more challenging the first few days to handfeed our older chicks, but it is certainly not an insurmountable difficulty…)
Some keepers choose to deal with the stress placed upon setting hens when their babies are removed, by entirely closing off the opening to the nesting box and preventing the moms from entering the box for three or four days before opening it up again. I do not agree with this method. I always treat any encroachment into the nesting “tree” as if I am a natural predator. In truth, this is what I am as I have stolen their babies when they were not looking. We leave the roof or the check door on the box open for a week or more, showing the parents where the “predator” has come in and removed the chicks; then we pay close attention to the parent birds to see if they are in any way depressed or anxious to lay eggs once again. Certain species of psittacine like eclectus, conures, cockatiels and the like will literally jump back into a recycle mode and produce eggs within two weeks. That is why leaving the box open and lighted serves to discourage re-clutching right away. The object for us is to delay such repetitive nesting as long as possible so that the annual season can manifest naturally and the hens do not become habitual layers with little other life stimulus.
Of course the best method is to encourage hens to spend as much time in the family mode as is possible once they begin nesting. That means not taking away their chicks for many, many weeks, allowing them to be fed and nourished by parents thus satisfying the urges to feed and raise baby birds well into the second month after hatch. Essentially the longer I wait to remove a chick from the nest, the less traumatic it is for the mother of that baby. Obviously an optimum solution is to leave a single chick or two with the parents for the entire fledging/weaning process. Offspring completely parent reared are smarter and more valuable for conservation purposes, while parents receive all the benefits of having a fulfilling family experience, and strengthen their pair bonding considerably.
It is truly sad that so many wild-trapped psittacines have spent decades in captivity, never once being allowed to remain with their clutch of babies to total completion. That is disrespectful to the skills and knowledge these imported psittacines have to impart to young; and it is utterly callous and neglectful in relation to the emotional needs of breeding birds that have been in our captive care for ten, twenty, thirty years or more. Breeders who do the same things with their aviary parrots year after year after year should look closely at what they are accomplishing—and what they are learning—each season. Most any hobbyist can pull babies and handfeed them. Profound skills are often needed to accomplish proper parent raising and strong fledging of one or two young. Not only is such procedure good for the hens longing to fulfill their nesting urge, but in the end it is thoroughly satisfying to the aviculturist.