Parrot Blogger - Evet Loewen

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Evet regards her experiences with Orthopsittica manilata as part of an extended education in avian conservation and parrot welfare, and is sharing it here.

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January 13 2015

Red Bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 9:  A Family Life

by Evet Loewen

Sophia had come into my life and the life of the flock on April 27th, 2000. As far as I knew, she had been a lone wild caught for some time, and I had no precise knowledge of age although I guesstimated 18 to 20 solely due to her wrinkly facial patch and feet -- no one could really tell. Although Sophia related well to others in the flock, she had no bonded other and most frequently perched apart from the other raucous small macaws and conures.


Sophia observing the observer


Sophia's time to play

She liked to sit looking out a patio window for long periods of time, and I knew she did not belong inside. She was, after all, truly a wild bird.


Sophia sunning

Sophia was older than the rowdy Blue-winged macaws shown in the photo below. (My Illiger's have been good natured but certainly believe generally that their fun comes first to the exclusion of other birds).


Illiger's ruling the roost and Sophia watching

Nonetheless, when one views photos of wild Red-bellied macaws actually living where they should be, they are typically in flocks of other Red-bellied macawsi. According to an article in Wikipedia:

"They roost communally in the moriche palms, and large numbers can be seen at the roost sites at dawn and dusk… They choose large stands of these palms that have an overabundance of woodpecker holes as roosting sites. They sleep communally in these groups of hollows. Depending on the size of the hollow, between five and 10 birds sleep together. As dusk approaches, they all pile into these dormitories and sleep shoulder to shoulder.ii"

There is little question in my mind that Sophia's daily life changed dramatically when Francie and Quattro, the two juvenile Red bellied macaws, arrived nearly a year to the day after Sophia arrived. I came home with these two on April 4, 2001 and had them set up in a spare bedroom together. As Sophia already had a "well-bird" exam on May 5, 2000, shortly after her arrival, I considered her to have been adequately quarantined and did not keep her separate from the two youngsters. She and they were introduced on April 6, immediately after the "well bird" exam for the two juveniles.



Her reaction was immediately one of curiosity, and also protectiveness over these two young manilatas.I had been very worried that there might be a negative or competitive attitude, but that was never the case. They became her family, her young, and her responsibility. Wherever they were, that's where she wanted to be. I saw her on more than one occasion drive other birds away from her "territory" in an aggressive, no nonsense manner that made it very clear that no other flock member except she could approach these two young. The behavior was not at all consistent with what I had previously witnessed -- a gentle bird and unique species, even if not really tame. The protective, territorial, and assertive behavior came on nearly instantaneously and the three accepted one another in a nanosecond.


The family unites

With that protectiveness, it seemed best to have them caged together. All three went into the largest King's cage that I had, and spent the days together. It was telling about the species.

Francie and Quattro still benefited from some handfeeding. Sophia was a bit wary when I reached in the cage to get one or both and do this, and sometimes exited the cage herself to observe the proceedings. It was about the only time that Sophia demonstrated any interest in where I headed and she would sometimes let out a large Red-bellied macaw holler when I did the feedings.

These were happy and fascinating months for Sophia, and also for me. I don't know how long it had been since she had been with other birds of her own kind. It was poignant to see her reaction. I was glad to be able to share that time. It was a tantalizing hint of what the species behavior might be in the wild, with young to guide and to guard.


Sophia, Quattro, and Francie 2001



Next Up in Red Bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 10: Unwelcome Lessons


(c) Evet Loewen. All parts of this blog including but not limited to the content written by the author, the photographs by the author, and data and information referred to or cited in this series of posts are copyrighted and may not be used for any purpose without the express consent of the author.

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i) One observer of the species in the wild, Mary McTague, has reported that the Yellow collar macaw (Primolius aricollis) sometimes has been viewed in mixed flocks with Red-bellied macaws and feeding in the same areas.
ii) Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-bellied_macaw

Posted by Evet Loewen on 01/13 at 12:56 PM
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January 05 2015

Red-bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 8: Young Red-bellied Macaws Join the Flock

by Evet Loewen

Resumption of Storyline Begins Anew in 2015



Well, how time flies when time flies! My apologies for the detritus of life interfering with the prompt posts to this blog.1

As a brief reprise, in Part 7 the theme was the temperament of Sophia, a wild caught Red-bellied Macaw that I had obtained in April, 2000. She was imported into Florida as evidenced by her open band (No. FKH 672) – at some point the band was removed, and it is still in my possession. She maintained her independence while also being cooperative. Requests definitely had to replace demands with her. The rest of the flock were relatively young and generally, though not always, accepting of her.

Some information on importation of this species provides a bit of context. If one does a rough calculation from the CITES trade database (http://trade.cites.org/), from 1981 through 19922 approximately 4,087 wild-caught Orthopsittaca manilata were imported from Guyana (as reported by the importer). There have been some live Red-bellied macaws (reported by importers in the number of 265) imported from Guyana up until 2012, perhaps the latest year of reporting. Some of these apparently were for trade or commercial purposes.3

So by the time the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 came into play, about 4100 or so Red-bellied macaws had been imported into this country according to the CITES data base, looking solely at the import numbers and not considering any other factors. Eight years later, though, as I started to search for a male or female compatriot for Sophia, the species was already uncommon in aviculture.4 Being like so many other humans, if it is rare, if it is difficult to find, if it is mysterious, if it is difficult to keep for unknown reasons – why, I must be THE person to have one or two or three of them!

As noted in Part 4 of these Chronicles, in the spring of 2000 I was seriously spending time on the internet “researching” all the small macaws. My theory at the time, prior to becoming educated by real avian scientists and biologists, was that if the macaws were small they must all get along, right? I don’t think I was quite that naïve but in looking back there were a lot of assumptions made that really didn’t pan out.

So I found “Sophia” in one internet search, and had her in the multi-species flock by late April. Simultaneously, though, other inquiries were going forward. This was a pre-Google, pre-Bing, pre-practically any search engine except Internet Explorer and Netscape. So what I did was fairly clunky in comparison to what can be done today. I looked through compilations of aviaries and breeders that were put together on the web and either found references to Red-bellied macaws, or I simply randomly emailed breeders to see if they either had any or knew of someone who did.

There were very, very few references to anyone who owned a Red-bellied Macaw. Eventually I found one breeder who indicated that she had Red-bellied Macaws for sale -- very uncommon then, and probably unheard of today. Though my initial email correspondence was with Chrissie Bryant, I soon understood that Ana Bryant, her mother, was the one who was trying to breed the species and going through the difficulties of raising them.

I immediately emailed about these unusual mini-macaws in mid-April of 2000. It was very exciting when I received a reply. Correspondence then proceeded until on April 4, 2001. I brought home from Texas two young DNA-sexed female red-bellied macaws, Francie and her sibling Quattro. Not too much later I also paid for Quattro when the original party in California who had been interested in this young bird did not continue with the purchase.

In purchasing these two youngsters I became friendly with Ana, the breeder, and that friendly contact continues to this day. I learned quite a bit about the background of Francie and Quattro who were first generation captive Red-bellied macaws.

Ana Bryant and her family live in Alvin, Texas. She bred several different exotic species for a number of years and began breeding Red-bellied macaws in 1996.

Red-bellied macaws came to Ana and her daughter, Chrissie, through a gentleman named Roy Powers who also lived in Alvin. He had hundreds of birds, and had purchased two pair of these macaws at an auction. They were banded. He gave them initially to Ana’s daughter because the birds had papillomas, and he did not do any veterinary workup on them.5 He gave them to Ana and her daughter in April, 1995.6

Ana took these birds to her veterinarian, Dr. Gary Harwell of Southeast Animal Clinic in Houston, on December 18, 1995. The records of the exam indicate that three of the manilata had bands, and one, a female, did not. The veterinary records indicate as follows:

Male, Band No. FUD 781, treated for papillomas on 1/23/1996

Female, FJH 804, treated for papillomas, same date.

Male, FIC 322, Male, treated for papillomas, same date.

Female, no band, no evidence of papillomas, same date

These two pair were placed in an outdoor aviary on the side of her children’s fort where there was lots of activity. She noticed that they were clinging to the sides of the aviaries, in the corner furthest away from the activity outside. Solely to give them a place to hide in, she then placed a nestbox inside the cage.7 She found that they began laying eggs but that the eggs were broken as all four used the nestbox.

So Ana put a divider in the cage with a small door left open in between the two sides. Over the next few weeks they paired themselves up, one pair on each side. So she then placed another box on the opposite side. Right away they each started staying in their own box and so she shut the door between them. She then built them each a big aviary. No more broken eggs!8

The adults were fed a diet of seeds, sprouted sunflower seeds about every 2 to 3 days, and fresh fruit and vegetables daily.9

These two wild-caught pairs started laying in 1996. The young from pair one had blue bands, and from pair two the bands were red. Ana simply referred to the breeding birds as the “blue pair” (1) or the “red pair” (2). Ana informed me that Francie and Quattro were young from the “red” pair which she could determine from Francie’s band number that I was able to provide her. It is not clear from the records which of the banded adults were in the blue pair or the red pair.10

Recently I had additional correspondence with Ana11, who told me the following regarding her experience raising young Red-bellied macaws:

“I do not believe the (adult’s) papillomas had any affect on them whatsoever. I was told to hand feed the babies from day one to keep them from getting (the virus). Until I started using the sweet potatoes we lost quite a few to kidney problems. I also started letting the parents raise them for 2 weeks and that also helped them.”

“Hands down the diet was a problem with the babies. After much research, I decided to mix their formula half and half with pureed sweet potatoes. They did great after that. It was when they were weaned and on what the adults got that they started to have problems again.”

“Thank goodness you were able to figure that part of it out. Oddly enough, I did not lose an adult to the diet.”

Bringing these two young birds home started a period of steep learning as well as great enjoyment. They promptly went to Dr. Stern, then my principle avian veterinarian at For the Birds, on April 5, 2001. The first order of business, according to my veterinarian, was to modify the diet to include an organic juvenile formula.

The second order of business was a complete exam. Bloodwork was immediately drawn on Francie, and it was determined by April 18 that her uric acid level was 27.6 (normal range 2.5 to 4.5). A subsequent consultation with another Bay Area avian veterinarian with some experience with this species resulted in the administration of fresh flax seed oil daily, as that would assist in reducing inflammation in the kidneys and “cannot hurt at all” (an understatement given the specific dietary needs of the species). A very diluted aspirin formula was administered twice per day. Francie was started on this regimen immediately.

Quattro had bloodwork drawn on April 19, 2001, her first test since it was initially unclear whether this bird would stay with me. Francie also came in for a re-test of her UA levels. Both birds had been on a different juvenile formula for two weeks at this point in time. Quattro’s uric acid level on that date was 18.0. Francie’s had declined to 7.9.

Another re-check was carried out on May 19, 2001, when both youngsters had had the benefit of the different diet, the flax seed, and the diluted aspirin. Francie’s UA had declined to a level of 3.6, and Quattro’s to 8.6.

This was my rough introduction to the need of the species for oils high in essential fatty acids and betacarotenes. I didn’t understand it, really, only that they seemed better and the treating veterinarian was pleased with the results. I continued to administer flax seed oil and some hemp seed oil to these two young birds as they liked it. I don’t recall ever offering any to Sophia.

Kidney disease was the known nemesis of this species at the time. Diet is the one and only keystone. That and the extreme sensitivity of the species to stressful circumstances. There are hardly any owners that I’ve encountered, and even fewer veterinarians, that understand the meaning and impact of those three simple statements. It remains that way today.

For a few happy months, though, I had a family of three Red-bellied macaws at home. That, too, was a revelation for a novice birdkeeper like me. It was all new, and all fun.

Next up in Red-bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 9: A Family Life


© Evet Loewen. All parts of this blog including but not limited to the content written by the author, the photographs by the author, and data and information referred to or cited in this series of posts are copyrighted and may not be used for any purpose without the express consent of the author.

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[1] This statement assumes that someone other than me is reading these posts. I will never truly know, of course. So if no one else is reading, then I readily accept my apology.
[2] 1992 is the year that the Wild Bird Conservation Act became effective. Fish and Wildlife webpage at http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/WILDBRD.HTML
[3] If I correctly understand the tables. If I don’t it wouldn’t be the first time that I have not understood issues about trade and birds. A guide to use of the database is at http://trade.cites.org/cites_trade_guidelines/en-CITES_Trade_Database_Guide.pdf
[4] A search of CITES database by the parameter of gross imports only gives an undoubtedly rough number of about 870 Hyacinth macaws being imported into this country from 1981 until 1992. The Red-bellied Macaws and the Hyacinth macaws are both highly specialized feeders but the latter numbers into the thousands in captivity. Red-bellied Macaws were very difficult to locate in aviculture by the year 2000. In comparison, the Severe Macaw (Ara severa) was imported in greater numbers from 1981-1992 (5,334), is a more generalized feeder, and is more readily available in aviculture.
[5] Notations in 1995 breeding records from Ana Bryant.
[6] Interview with Ana Bryant, 2/23/2012.
[7] Email correspondence with Ana Bryant on 1/2/2015.
[8] Phone call with Ana Bryant on 2/25/2012.
[9] Ana had great difficulty getting the young to survive though these two pair had numerous clutches. Eggs cracked; some young died in the shell; some hatched and seemed fine, but she would then discover that a chick had suddenly died overnight.
[10] In response, Ana did an enormous amount of research with other breeders, tried to find veterinarians that had treated the species, and took ill birds or ones that had died to Texas A&M to find out what might be going wrong. She became convinced that diet was key and did her level best to understand why and modify the circumstances for her birds. Few individuals that I’ve met worked as hard as Ana in educating herself to ascertain why the species was so difficult to breed.
[11] Email correspondence with Ana Bryant on 1/2/2015.

Posted by Evet Loewen on 01/05 at 04:40 PM
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July 19 2013

Red Bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 7: Observing Sophia and Flock Integration

by Evet Loewen

image
Sophia (aka "Jack") at play

By June and July of 2000, my efforts went into somehow integrating Sophia into a complicated multi-species flock. Looking back on the natural proclivities of Red Bellied Macaws, and the other mini-macaws in my flock at that time, it only dawns upon me now what difficult a task that would naturally be.

I've never studied or even seen Orthopsittica manilatas in the wild. The only observation that I can make about them in the wild is from videos and photos on the web. What I've seen rarely shows only one Red Bellied Macaw. There are typically at least three or four or a flock of twenty of their own kind. Perhaps it is just what the photographers and videographers were focused on, but as an amateur photographer myself[1], the mantra is "why photograph one bird if two to twenty can be photographed together?" It is only a hunch but it seems to me that this species is intensely flock-oriented and doesn't generally desire to casually associate with other species.

I would not characterize Illiger's as overly-aggressive birds -- they are a very good-natured species overall. They will, however, kinda hang out in gangs if they find it convenient and be territorial, and it is not like there was a lot of territory to hang on to inside my residence. Dr. Van Sant used to refer in jest to three of my Blue-Winged macaws as "the thugs" because of their joint swaggering manner towards other birds. In general, though, the Illiger's mini-macaws have a really extroverted and playful temperament.

image
Sophia (aka "Jack") playing with gang of Illiger's and one Hahn's)

image
Sophia and Hahn's "Michie"

My Severe macaw, on the other hand, is a different story. She can be very high strung but her manner of high-strungedness is to try to put other birds on the defensive. To chase them out of whatever perches they thought they had. Frankly, it would take a gang of Illiger's to deal with Pepper.

image
Pepper with Overseer Illiger

My solo Yellow-Collar macaw has generally, not always, been a playful, sweet bird who avoids conflict in whatever way possible, unless there's a food fight. Even then, foraging on the floor of the aviary room seems to have become his way of avoiding squabbles over higher roosts (perhaps they go to ground a lot in the wild?).

image
Potter as a young bird with feathers

Over time with Sophia, my perception became that the Red Bellied Macaw temperament was distinctive. They are easily stressed by confrontation, and avoid it.

Sophia was an independent bird, to be certain. She did not want to step up on a hand or a stick, and I found ultimately that attempting to train her to do so was uncomfortable for both of us. She had a neat manner of avoiding conflicts over moving her from one place to another, however. She would fly from one location to another if I simply gestured where I wanted her to be. I never formally trained her to do this (I have no training as to how to train birds, so I spend my time being trained by them instead of the reverse).

For example, the flock had day cages on the first floor of my residence and smaller nighttime cages on the second floor. Sophia quickly learned that she could simply exit her nighttime cage and fly to her daytime cage and place herself in it, without having to deal with a request to step-up on sticks or hands. She would simply reverse this routine in the evening. None of my other flock members have ever been that cooperative.[2]

Similarly, if it was desirable for her to be on a particular stand or perch, I could ask her to go there by pointing and touching the location, and she would respond.

Since this occurred without positive reinforcement training, I came to regard it as being a cooperative way to maintain choice and dignity. She was, after all, truly a wild bird.

She readily participated in chewing on toys and going through baskets to find items she enjoyed while in the presence of others of my flock -- as long as I was around to play "tot lot referee" with the crew, so to speak. Flock companionship was important to her.

She differed not only in appearance and in her means of participation, though. She avoided territorial and food aggressiveness, would separate herself quickly from any competition, and would never go on the offensive just for the heckuvit. Sometimes, my Red Bellied Macaws have not seemed adamant enough about their space, frankly.

Sophia, however, would show her mettle in a very clear biological manner after only a very few months of living with me. After all, my motto always was "A thing worth doing is worth overdoing." I had not stopped looking for other Red Bellied Macaws. I found some.


Next up in Part 8: Young Red Bellied Macaws Join the Flock

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[1] My photos DO get better as these Chronicles move along. No kidding. Just you wait.
[2] There will be no "mea culpas" or apologies for the fact that small green birds boss me around. Just deal with it.

Posted by Evet Loewen on 07/19 at 10:04 AM
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April 24 2013

Red Bellied Macaw Chronicles Part 6: Feather Studies

by Evet Loewen

Of any of my birds, the Red Bellied Macaws have always drawn the greatest interest from their caretakers and the treating veterinarians and staff. It is their subtle and elegant appearance that first attracts people to them. As one gets to know them, it is their amiable nature, sans the drama of other small macaws and conures, which draws people into their orbit.

image


Red Bellied Macaws have a distinctive yellow facial patch that was described as "heart-shaped" by staff at For the Birds. That facial patch is a dark yellow for older birds and for birds that get the appropriate amount of sunshine (more on that to come). The featheration over the head, neck and chest is opalescent with hints of turquoise and blues amidst the general light lime green cast. Hints of a brown tone appear on the back and secondaries mixed in with the greens.

image
Chest feathers below lower mandible (male)


image
Belly feathers below crop (female)


The leading edge of the wings finds more blue than green, again with an iridescent quality. The underside of the wings brings in translucent yellow green featheration, with elongated narrow feathers. All featheration seems very understated compared to my "high-contrast" Illiger's.

There really seems to be very little of a red-belly on this species - more of a small patch of burgundy in the vent area. The physiology of the species from head to tail is very trim, with the tail feathers tapering to an elongated narrowed "V". Round dark brown eyes, black beak and legs and talons set apart the opalescent, nearly translucent featheration.

They are handsome. They are not raucous. Though I have one who is pretty silly sometimes, silliness hasn't seemed to be their modus operandi.

Since this avian species, like all others, evolved to fill an environmental niche, and developed their featheration and colors and behaviors in order to survive and thrive in the wild, it is hopelessly anthropomorphic for me to equate their appearance with my perception of their behavior. However, so far I've not been censored on this blog, so I'll say this: the subtleties of their featheration match their understated (compared to other macaws) personalities. They just aren’t "in-your-face" kinda psittacines. Mine have been gentle souls. Not that they won’t give you a good bite if they have to. But they typically prefer not.

image
Four feathers from Marco (captive bred) on left, and four feathers from Jake (wild caught) on right



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To Follow: Part 7-- Observing Sophia and Flock Integration

Posted by Evet Loewen on 04/24 at 10:07 AM
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