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Author Topic: Breeding of African Greys Part 3 - by Tony Silva  (Read 795 times)

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Breeding of African Greys Part 3 - by Tony Silva
« on: May 29, 2016, 01:18:00 PM »
Because Grey Parrots have a higher calcium requirement than most parrots, the soft food was and continues to be sprinkled with calcium and if the birds eat seeds also a vitamin complex; when pellets form the basis of the dry diet, additional vitamin supplementation is not used. The concept of adding vitamins or calcium to the water was discarded early in my avicultural career. The birds never imbibed enough water. Also, the vitamins acted as an enrichment medium for bacteria. Besides, light, chlorine in the water and the reaction with the stainless steel bowl quickly destroyed the value of the vitamins.

The birds that receive pellets have them drizzled with a 50:50 blend of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and coconut oil. When these two oils are combined, they provide a fairly balanced ratio of saturated and monosaturated oils like those found in the palm fruit; using only olive or coconut oil will not provide a ratio similar to palm oil. I try to shy away from palm oil because of concerns that they will become rancid. We add only a small amount of the two oils daily to the pellets and mix them thoroughly. The pellets retain their integrity and are avidly consumed. The rest of the diet remains unchanged after 30 years, except that today my birds also receive large amounts of palm seeds as enrichment, as well as green coconuts, pods, fresh branches and more. I also throw chunks of rotted wood inside the cage for them to chew. I have never found a correlation with a lot of enrichment and a cessation in breeding. On the contrary, birds that are mentally challenged and stimulated breed much better than those kept in sterile cages or offered toys.

Grey Parrots are not difficult to breed provided 3 conditions are met: they feel secure and can enjoy privacy, they receive a good diet and they are offered the proper nesting box. Meeting one and not the other conditions can thwart breeding. I visited a breeder about a year ago who was terribly frustrated. The birds were in spacious, private aviaries, were very steady on the perch and received a good diet. On walking around it was very clear what was the inhibiting factor: their nests were 3 ft (90 cm) cubes with a very large entrance. My recommendation was to offer them nesting boxes that were 30 cm (12 in) square and 60 cm (24 in) deep, or if he preferred horizontal nests 60 cm long and 30 cm square. Within a month, three pairs had laid. The nesting boxes were deemed insecure and were thus ignored.

With captive bred birds, a vertical nest can be used, but with wild, fractious birds a horizontal nest is preferred to deter them diving inside and breaking the eggs.

Greys, as I have stated, are shy birds.Early in my avicultural career, I kept them with other birds in a series of indoor bird rooms. They bred well but I found when they were kept alone and in the least bright part of the bird room they bred even better. Today descendants of those original birds are kept outdoors in a building that only houses Grey Parrots and which is surrounded by plants, which reduce some of the brightness and gives them a high sense of security.

The ideal Grey Parrot enclosure should be private and quiet. They should be kept away from noisy conures, cockatoos, Amazons and macaws. They dislike very bright sunlight when nesting; in the wild they nest in forest but when not breeding enjoy perching exposed to the environment or fly over forest.

Thirty years ago I bred Grey Parrots in cages as small as 90 cm (3 ft) square, feeling that the small enclosure met the requirements for security that these parrots needed; the cages had a solid separation and a single perch. Today my current recommendation is to house pairs of Grey Parrots in cages 3.6 m (12 ft) long x 1.2 m (4 ft) square. Suspended aviaries are preferred over walk in aviaries for two reasons: breaching the security of their enclosure, a necessity for cleaning in standard walk in aviaries, will augment the insecurity in these birds (especially when involving wild caught individuals) and access to the ground will heighten the parasite risk.

The suspended cages have doors at the front and back to allow the easy replacement of perches. I employ perch holders to facilitate perch replacement. These are U-shaped sections of wire that are attached to the sides of the cage. Each side of the perch sits within the U. Food is offered at the front. The birds have an automatic watering system and quickly learned to drink from the watering nipples. This insures that the water is always fresh and prevents the birds from creating a bacterial soup by soaking their food.

Over the years I have tried all types of nests for Grey Parrots. I have never noticed a difference, though other breeders may disagree. We are currently using L-shaped nests that measure approximately 45 cm (18 in) high along the tall end and 20 cm (8 in) along the short end, 45 cm (18 in) long and 35 cm (14 in) deep. The nests have rotted wood added to allow chewing. I find that this activity and the need to spend time inside a dark nest stimulates gonadal development.

In captivity, Grey Parrots tend to produce multiple clutches. Some appear to nest year around, but they do rest. In my collection, for example, they stop nesting when the weather becomes hottest. Once they stop, access to the nest is blocked. This blocking of the nest emulates nature, where they leave nesting grounds after the young fledge.

Grey Parrots have a breeding display that starts with the male lowering the wings and bringing them forward so that the butts almost touch, this to expose the paler grey rump. Wing pumping also takes place. This action gives the impression of slow motion flight. Body feathers will also be flared. Courtship feeding usually occurs prior to mating. To mate, the hen crouches on the perch. Treading takes place from the top, the male stepping on the henīs back, or from the side, the male retaining one foot on the perch. Switching sides is not uncommon when mating, the male stepping over the female to continue on the opposite side. During copulation the female will produce a series of grunts not normally heard at other times.

When I first published something on Grey Parrots in Facebook, breeders who had never seen the birds mating from the side approached me. I went back and reviewed my notes and examined old photographs. I also focused the security cameras on the pairs. The offspring of birds imported from the Ivory Coast many decades ago mated from the side, the males clearly grasping the perch. In birds whose origin was less certain but strongly suspected to be Cameroon they mated from the top.

Grey Parrots lay 3-4 eggs in the clutch. Incubation ranges from 26-30 days, with the average being 28 days. On hatching chicks are covered in white down. The bill and nails are black in the Red-tailed Grey and brownish-black in the Timneh Grey. The secondary down is grey. Chicks fledge around 10 weeks, but normally they quickly return to the nest and hide on hearing someone approach. Because of this, it may not be apparent for some days that they have fledged. Weaning takes another 3-4 weeks.
Young Grey Parrots are easily hand-reared. As they age, they spend a lot of time scratching with one foot, then the other. In the wild this behavior is intended to keep the nest hygienic; I have watched more than once as nesting material flew out the nesting cavity entrance while the parents were nearby preening. Chicks grunt and squeal like puppies and are comical to watch. Grey Parrots should never be rushed into weaning. The hand-rearer should show patience and allow a normally lengthy process to evolve. In my experience young that are forced to wean too early tend to develop behavior issues, may pluck or become neurotic.
Young intended to become future breeders should not be imprinted, but should be reared in groups and provided with enrichment. The intention is to develop birds that are independent, socialized and confident. As the birds mature, they will begin to pair off and they can then be given their own nest. We have four generations and have never had issues with hand-reared birds breeding. Problems can be experienced with former pets, which may see themselves as humans and not birds. These birds are often very picky about their mates and may never breed, or they may only produce clear eggs.

Grey Parrots reach sexual maturity by four years of age. We have had third generation Timnehs produce fertile eggs at three years.
Commercial breeding operations primarily occur in South Africa, where more Greys are reared than in the whole US combined. South African breeders have found that a diet containing 18% protein is optimum for breeding, that privacy is important, resting the birds (often in groups in long flight cages) will insure they quickly return to nest when returned to breeding cages, and re-uniting breeding pairs that are successful but offering new mates to pairs that do not lay or which produce clear eggs.

Grey Parrots have much to offer as aviary and pet birds. Dealing with them on a daily basis, will allow one to understand why they have been so popular for centuries. If properly cared for, they will have a long productive life and will give their owner tremendous pleasure.

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