Hyacinth Macaws, the Gentle Giants
The gracious, seemingly always happy hyacinth macaw (anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) ranks as the world’s largest flighted bird and largest psittacine. Affectionately known as the “Gentle Giant” of the bird world, this Neotropical parrot sports a cobalt blue headdress, striking golden bare-skinned eye-rings, and complementary golden facial outline around beak, which give a hyacinth the appearance of happiness and unflappable graciousness. Unlike other macaws, the hyacinth has a feathered face and lore (area of a bird’s face from the base of the bill to the front of the eyes). Maxing out the bird world in its length, the hyacinth macaw measures around 100 cm in length (3.3 ft) and weighs between 1.2 and 1.7 kg (2.6 to 3.7 lbs.) This lankiness is borne with elegance and grace.
A hyacinth macaw’s dark-brown irises draw an observer’s gaze, and, with uncanny directness, a hyacinth typically returns the gaze with steadiness. The hyacinth’s incommensurately happy appearance hides a disproportionately stocky set of legs and low center of gravity. When you least expect it, this parrot grabs a side support and hangs sideways or upside down with extraordinary tensile strength. And these birds are highly intelligent, problem-solvers known to use tools. Here Shadow of Instagram’s @Heidenelsin demonstrates the facility coordinating claw and beak to maximize their dexterity and skill-level.
When the 1980’s saw the massive growth in parrots’ popularity as companion animals, it’s hardly any wonder that the personable hyacinth gained wide popularity — and high price, as their populations had never been great, due to various constraints on reproduction in their native South American habitats.
First described by Europeans in 1790, the hyacinth macaw in South America numbered anywhere from 100,000 to three million. Today, due to deforestation for cattle ranching, natural rain forest fires, and extensive exportation for the international companion animal trade in the 1980s the hyacinth population has only approximately 6,500 in the wild, after recovering from an estimated low in 1986 of 2,500-3,000, an estimated 10,000 having been illegally exported in the 1980s. This population turn-around largely is attributed to legal changes, increased law enforcement and conservation project initiatives which both support these macaws and raise awareness about their plight with local farmers.
As a large bird, the hyacinth macaw matures more slowly than other parrots, not reaching sexual maturity until seven to nine years of age. Only about a third of hyacinths do attempt to reproduce, and they mate only every other year. Monogamous and non-migratory, breeding pairs tend to use the same hollowed-out manduvi tree-trunk nest year after year. Preferentially, in the Pantanal where the largest population of hyacinths, hyacinths nest in manduvis that have reached 60 years of age, yet they compete with seventeen other species for such sites, including black vultures (Coragyps atratus), collared forest falcons, and red-and-green macaws (Ara chloropterus), who may break hyacinth macaw eggs. Secondarily they may nest in nester tree trunk hollows. Hyacinths nest in cliffs in other regions where there are neither manduvi nor nester. The Hyacinth Macaw Project has had success supporting wild hyacinths by placing nest boxes for them, but even these may be taken over by bee colonies.
A female hyacinth lays only two eggs per clutch, typically sometime between August and December. Each egg is approximately 48 mm (1.9 in.) long and 36 mm at its widest point. After between 28 and 30 days of incubation, the eggs hatch but only one chick is likely to survive. The eggs hatch asynchronously.
As hyacinth aviculturist Kashmir Csaky explains, hyacinth egg shells are notably thin and brittle, and the proper weight of egg, indicating the appropriate ratio of fluid and dissolved oxygen, may not always be maintained. For aviculturists, an equation specifies the proper weight of an egg given an estimated weight at laying and a species-specific coefficient, which for the hyacinth macaw is 0.0005640:
Length x width x 0.0005640
Advanced aviculturists like Kasmir have techniques for adjusting egg weight back to the optimum as well as techniques for assisting hatching.
After hatching, the male helps gather food for the chick(s), chewed and regurgitated palm nuts. While the parents typically feed their young for six months, they chicks fledge at around 110 days. As it takes time for young macaw beaks to develop the strength to crack the necessary palm nuts, young remain with their parents a considerable time. As they separate they tend to associate with other young, many years remaining before they will choose a mate.
Both as egg and hatching, hyacinth young, of course, are vulnerable to particular predators in their several environments in Brazil and smaller regions in Bolivia and Paraguay, such as carnivorous ants (Solenopsis sp.), other insects, collared forest falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus), and spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata). The toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) and great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) are also suspected of chick predation, but this has not yet been confirmed.
Hyacinths consume a specialized diet of the fruits of various palms, which are inside extremely hard nuts. Hyacinths forage for palm nuts and water on the ground, but may also forage directly from the palm tree and drink fluid from unripe palm fruits.
The hyacinth macaw, now listed as threatened on IUCN’s Red List and as Appendix I, CITES has faced only fairly recent existential threat. The 1980’s saw a simultaneous deforestation of its native habitats in Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil along with a rapid increase in exportation for the international pet market.
Understandably, as a companion animal, the hyacinth macaw commands a premium price, approximately $13,000 for a male in the US market, $20,000 for a female. In some countries their parronts may be required to maintain CITES certification from the breeder proving the bird was aviary-raised and not wild-sourced. The expenses for a hyacinth can be considerable: large aviaries that are sturdily built, a steady flow of over-sized enrichment toys and treats, the specialized diet, veterinary care and pet insurance all contribute to the necessary budget. It has been recommended that parronts should put aside between $5-10,000 annually for hyacinth expenses.
Kashmir Csaky is an international speaker, writer and certified parrot behavioral consultant. Her papers have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, Chinese, and Thai. Her articles have appeared in Bird Talk, Companion Parrot Quarterly, Parrots Magazine, Parrot Information Pages, Psittascene, Watchbird, In Your Flock, the German magazine Papageien, the Czech publication Nova Exota and in numerous newsletters and journals. Kashmir has advised zoos and private aviculturists on breeding Macaws, artificial incubation procedures, hand-raising chicks and parent-rearing chicks. Kashmir was the first breeder known to co-parent Hyacinth Macaws. She served on the board of directors of the International Aviculturist Society and Bird Clubs of Virginia.
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With its bright pink breast against its neat ash-grey body and a light pink crest, the Galah cockatoo (Eolophus rosiecapilla) charms with its pert posture and bobbing crest. Like white cockatoo varieties, galahs raise their crests instantaneously in surprise or fright. Reportedly “less nervous, less excitable, more independent and less affectionate than the white Cockatoos,” galahs are comparatively easier than larger cockatoos to keep as companion animals, but they remain high-maintenance companion birds. In the domestic setting, galahs require a minimum of three to four hours exercise time outside the cage to avoid such agitated behaviors as screaming, plucking or self-mutilation.
As galahs’ have a strong social bent and deep flocking instinct, The Spruce Pets, suggests a “cage-mate” for a companion galah in order to prevent depression and destructiveness when flock-member/parront can’t reliably set aside the necessary time and attention. Although smaller than other cockatoos, galahs require no less cage space. Spruce Pets suggests a minimum of 4 ft x 4 ft x 4ft.
Northern Parrots cautions: “Galahs . . . have a great need to gnaw and should have a twice weekly supply of branches cut from willow or apple trees.” Like all cockatoos, galahs have strong beaks and jaws, which they must use to keep healthy. Plan on providing a pet galah with LOTS of destructible toys!
Also known as the rose-breasted, or roseate, cockatoo, this relatively small member of the cockatoo family, weighs approximately 270-350 g/10-12 oz. and measures around 35 cm/10 inches. Galahs have fared well under colonization and urbanization due to the improved availability of water. Galahs have supplanted their relative, the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri ) in parts of its native range. Found throughout Australia (except in the far north of Cape York Peninsula), wild galahs are particularly noticeable in and around Perth, Melbourne, and Adelaide.
According to The Spruce Pets, agricultural communities may view the galah as a pest, as galahs may eat grain crops and invade the artificial ponds and water tanks provided for livestock. While Australian wildlife law protects most wild birds, in agricultural regions, where permitted by the local government, trappers may remove galahs from their property.
Unscrupulous breeders may try to pass off a wild bird as aviary-raised. Typically, relative price is a tell-tale sign; further, a trapped galah may seem like a comparative deal considering its price is only about $50 above that of a hand-raised cockatiel. Another tell-tale sign is the banding: Australian law requires trappers to apply an open-circle band to identify wild-sourced birds (see below). The band should say WCA or WCB. When considering purchasing a galah, remember wild galahs may have parrot feather and beak disease; any respectable breeder will willingly do a PBFD test to verify the health of its birds prior to transfer.
Phylogenetically, the galah cockatoo constitutes a mono-genus, eolophus, in the same family as cockatoos, Cacatuidae, which holds 21 species. The galah is one of four mono-species and itself has three subspecies. Scientists believe both the galah and the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo diverged relatively early from the main cockatoo family. Most pet galahs outside Australia belong to the southeastern subspecies E. r. albiceps, which is distinguishable among the subspecies as having a rather deeper rose coloring and unique carunculated rings around the eyes. The smallest of the subspecies, whichhas lighter rose and grey coloring, the kuhli, inhabits northern Australia. Below, the three galahs of Instagram’s Galah Cockatoos (@galahcockatoos), Wallie, Elliot and Molly exemplify this smaller bird. The hybridized little corella, sometimes known as “galahtiels” (Cacatua sanguinea) crosses the galah with cockatiels. As hybridized birds, corellas can still breed with galahs. See our HatchLine page for an article about designation of corellas for population in reduction in . . . .
With a domestic lifespan up to 70 or 80 years,* a wild galah likely only lives into its twenties, due to vehicular collisions and predators such as the little eagle or various falcons. Males and females of the species are easily distinguished: males have brown irises while females have flirtishly pink ones. As this is not entirely reliable, DNA testing remains the option for certainty. In addition, those experienced with galahs can examine the caruncles of the eye to derive an approximate age: the older the bird, the more wrinkly the caruncle.
Graham Wobcke, a member of the medium.com community, reports that galahs affectionately nuzzle the hand as they are petted, as if in affection; they grind their beaks when feeling safe and content. Galahs readily imitate human language, just as the larger white cockatoos do. However, Northern Parrots cautions that their language learning is less facile such that their squawk may be less pleasurable when not balanced with talk.
According to Wobcke, female galahs reach reproductive age at around four to five years; they alone care for the chicks. Domestically, galahs are not easily bred, as they require an large supply of eucalyptus leaves with which they line their nests. While the Moluccan cockatoo, for instance, spends twelve weeks in the nest as a hatchling, galahs spend only seven weeks. Whereas the Moluccan may raise just one fledgling, the typical clutch of galahs is up to five.
Accustomed to eating, grasses, leaf buds, and even flowers like grevillias and banksia, in addition to seeds and the occasional insect in the wild, galahs — according to Wobcke — do well with a diet of seed mix, berries, and nuts, advises Wobcke. While they can and will eat corn, Wobcke observes corn seems to feed aggression in galahs. Northern Parrots advises a high-quality parakeet seed mix supplemented with millet spray and grass sprouts. If you are considering acquiring a galah, you may want to consult Northern Parrots comprehensive dietary suggestions.
Galahs generally need ten hours sleep per night. Like any other bird, they like to call with the rising and setting of the sun. Keeping them away from windows with bright exposure from the rising sun (northern or southern exposure, depending on your hemisphere!) can help moderate the loud calling.
Medically, above all galahs are prone to develop obesity from too little exercise combined with too rich a diet or too many treats. Like other parrots and cockatoos, they are also prone to fatty liver disease, lipomas, psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), feather-picking and other forms of mutilation.
If you are considering a galah as a companion animal, this 21-minute YouTube video by @Marlene McCohen is very good:
*NorthernParrots, however, gives a lifespan of only 50 years, which is probably closer to the average life span than the above apparent maximum lifespan.
The African Grey Parrot: Congo African Grey and Timneh
The African grey parrot — as Congo African grey or Timneh — has grown vastly in popularity not only in the US and Europe but also in the MidEast and Asia. As in the past wild-sourcing supplemented legitimate supply, the African grey has been listed on CITES Appendix I since January 2017. [For the impact of the listing, see our article in HatchLine.] Affectionately denominated the “Einstein” of parrots for its vocal intelligence, the grey parrot in the domestic setting charms also with its playfulness. Grey parrots live between forty and sixty years domestically, but only about 27 years in the wild.
Jean Eckhart Pattison, one of the foremost US experts on African greys, describes the grey as “the proper Englishman, who doesn’t want his grey tweed suit mussed.” Among the best mimicry artists with the clear tone of the human voice, African greys rank amongst the most popular of avian companions. The African Grey Parrot site describes African grey parrots as “loving,” and “playful,” with “the intelligence [of] a five-year old [and] the temperament of a two-year old.”
The “African grey parrot” refers is a nominate species, the Congo African grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), or CAG, which has bright red tail feathers. Both the red-tailed CAG and the maroon-tailed Timneh (Psittacus erithacus timneh) are subspecies of the nominate species. Wikipedia, however, claims incorrectly that the Timneh is a separate species, Psittacus timneh. There is a also third subspecies, (Psittacus erithacus princeps).
“Congo African grey,” also “Cameroon grey,” only mean “grey parrot”, the terms do not constitute a claim about the country of origin. The CAG inhabits a wide African range, varying in both size and color due to a geographically diversified gene pool. [See diagram below.]
While initially grey parrots predominantly sourced from Congo/Zaire, Congo was first to outlaw its exportation. After that, grey parrots were trapped illegally in Congo/Zaire, smuggled to Cameroon, and legally exported from Cameroon, hence the name “Cameroon grey.”
Generally speaking, as indicated below in Jean Pattison’s diagram, the darker and smaller the CAG (i.e., around 12 inches in length and less than 14 ounces), the nearer the bird’s origin to a center located in or around Ghana/ Burkina Faso. The further the CAG’s origin from that center — indicated below by concentric arcs — the larger the CAG (i.e., closer to 14 inches in length). Moving eastward from the center — the light grey swathe — CAGs exhibit lighter color. Thus, CAG from northwestern Tanzania will likely be larger and lighter than a CAG from Ghana; conversely, a grey from coastal Angola will be both relatively dark and large (close to 1 lb).
The Timneh, on the other hand, is only about ten inches in length, has a horn-colored upper mandible and a maroon tail. Timnehs typically originate from Western African countries like Sierra Leone.
According to Animal Diversity, greys typically dwell in lowland forest or wooded savannah, but also can be found at heights of as much as 2,200 m. Primarily fruit-eaters (frugivores), the African grey’s diet is also rich in nut and seed.
Grey parrots reach sexual maturity at between three and five years of age and in the wild breed once or twice a year. As avian reproductive hormone surges can disrupt the domestic ecosystem, in caring for your grey parrot or other bird, beware three factors in your bird’s environment to manage their hormones: light, soft food, and nesting material. The interplay of those three elements largely influences the triggered release of reproductive hormones.
Female greys typically lay between three and five eggs; incubation takes about 30 days; and chicks remain in the nest for approximately twelve weeks.
A partial ground-feeder, it flocks in trees above food, socializing and preening, only descending a few at a time, maintaining watch from above. The palm-nut vulture and hawks are its primary avian predators. Other predators may prey on greys while they feed on the ground.
African greys are selective in mating and bonding and are monogamous for life. Interestingly, aviary-raised greys in the typical domestic setting rarely reproduce: while courtship behaviors may occur, the males rarely consummate the courtship. Thus, expert animal husbandry is critical in preserving this increasingly domesticated species. Techniques such as flock-rearing and parent-raising optimize imprinting and so switch on gene triggers that lead to full fertility at maturity.
If you ever come to care for a grey, understand it has some special needs. African greys commonly become deficient in calcium so their diet must ensure adequate calcium intake. Their intelligence makes them prone to anxiety from boredom: plucking readily ensues. Expect to take additional care to establish foraging behaviors; expect to provide an abundance of toys that encourage the natural behaviors of shredding and destroying. Consider positive reinforcement (clicker) training as a way of developing challenges for your parrot as well. Acquire the largest TWO cages you can, one for indoors, one for outdoors so that they can get vitamin D from sunshine to help actuate the calcium.
Eurasian Sparrows and China’s Four Pests Campaign, 1958-1960
In China, as part of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), Mao labeled four animals as pests and launched the Four Pests Campaign. The Campaign enlisted citizen assistance throughout Beijing to conduct the extermination. The four animals designated were flies, rats, mosquitoes, and the Eurasian sparrow. The Campaign specifically targeted the Eurasian sparrow because, supposedly, one sparrow could consume up to ten pounds of valuable and nourishing grain each year, thus robbing the population of much needed food. Also, the Eurasian sparrow was known to carry disease.
The Eurasian sparrow (passer montanus) is a chunky songbird with short legs and thick bill sporting a chestnut crown, black throat and a black eye patch contrasting distinctively against its white cheeks. Only approximately 5-6 inches long and weighing only about 24 grams, the Eurasian sparrow is about 10% smaller than the common house sparrow. While designated a “songbird,” in truth, this sparrow only chirps in mono-syllables
The campaign against the Eurasian sparrow sent Beijing citizens outdoors to bang on pots and pans so as to prevent the swallows from lighting to rest — many died from exhaustion. Nests, made in pockets and holes, were found and destroyed and, of course, eggs broken. When the some of the birds succeeded in finding protected space along Beijing’s embassy row, soldiers sought access to continue the hunt. Much to their credit, the Polish ambassadorial staff refused to allow access to sparrows seeking sanctuary there.
Within two years, the Chinese state had learned an unfortunate lesson from the attempted extermination of the Eurasian sparrow: the sparrow’s absence caused severe ecological imbalance, harming rather than improving the Chinese food supply. While Chinese ornithologist Tso-hsin Cheng pointed out that sparrows eat more insects than grain, alarmingly, it took the swarming of locusts and their consuming rice crops for the Chinese authorities to understand that removing them meant removing the most successful predator of locusts! The locust swarms further exacerbated the negative consequences of the Great Leap Forward’s poorly conceived agricultural reforms.
By 1960, Chairman Mao removed the sparrow from the Four Pest Campaign’s target list, substituting them with bedbugs instead.
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More Pigeon Development: Days 8 & 12
Thanks again to Ayou Hadidi (FB) (@ayoub.hadidi (IG)) for furnishing yet more of his careful photos of the young pigeons hatched to the pigeons outside their home.
Above are photos of the chick at eight days with the hen. Notice how comfortable the mother pigeon is with Ayoub’s presence.
At twelve days, the chick is noticeably bolder and stronger.
Hand-raising a Macaw for Free Flight
Thanks to Chris Biro of Libertywings.com for allowing us to share this helpful and illustrative video of initiating free flight with a hand-raised macaw.
The First Three Days in the Life of a Pigeon
Thanks to Ayoub Hadidi (FB), administrator of Bird Squad group, for this intimate portrait of the hatching of a pigeon chick and its first three days of development.