DTI001 13_09_17

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Deadly tendencies

Male-on-male fights for dominance in a shared aviary can be a common occurrence, but what makes a parrot kill its mate? ROSEMARY LOW explains why the bad decisions of birdkeepers and breeders can cause parrots to attack and kill their partners

Rosemary got a shock when she heard her Duivenbode’s lory had killed its mateRosemary got a shock when she heard her Duivenbode’s lory had killed its mateONE mistake and the bird is dead. What am I talking about? The introduction of new birds. The mistake is usually on the part of the person responsible for the care of the birds, often due to inexperience. Unfortunately, sometimes it is due to downright untruths told by the seller.

Let me give some examples. A few days ago I received an email from someone in North America. He said that he had just purchased a male of a rare species of cockatoo – and did I know where he could find a female?

Immediately, alarm bells started to ring. It is well known that many male white cockatoos (Cacatua alba) that have been hand-reared have never been socialised with their own species. They do not have normal instincts and their behaviour is... I was going to say unpredictable, but sadly it is fairly predictable: they will kill females.

Immediately, alarm bells started to ring. It is well known that many male white cockatoos (Cacatua alba) that have been hand-reared have never been socialised with their own species. They do not have normal instincts and their behaviour is... I was going to say unpredictable, but sadly it is fairly predictable: they will kill females.

On receiving this message I sent an email to my friend, an experienced breeder of long standing who lives in the same area. Because of the rarity of the species, I suspected he might know the bird. Back came his reply. It was just as I had thought. My friend did indeed know the bird, which had been hand-reared. He also knew that it had been in at least three different locations. At each one, it had killed a female and then it had been passed on. The buyer who had emailed me did not know the bird’s history. My friend was able to enlighten him that it would not be advisable to try to find a female for this cockatoo.

This is not a particularly unusual case. There are a lot of naïve people who do not question why a rare bird is being sold – they just relish the thought of breeding the species and perhaps making some money. In the case of this bird, any experienced breeder would have tried to investigate the bird’s past before paying out what was certainly a substantial sum.

Three’s a crowd
There is another scenario where a bird can be killed, also due to inexperience. A friend sold a lory, two or three years old, to someone who already had two of the same species and was hoping to make up two pairs. She told me that a couple of weeks later she received a call from the buyer to ask if she would take the bird back because it was not getting on with her birds. “Birds?” I asked her, shocked. “It wasn’t put in with the other two?”

This had been the case. It was a lucky bird still to be alive. If you put a third lory in the aviary of a pair the usual outcome is a rapid murder. Lories are very aggressive and do not tolerate intruders. Fortunately, in this case the third bird was removed before it became a battered body.

Deaths can also occur because birds have not been sexed correctly or when two birds of the same sex are sold as a true pair. An inexperienced keeper bought two rosellas to place in an aviary. A few months later, when spring came around, one of the birds was found dead, killed by the other. A post mortem revealed that the believed female was in fact another male.

In many parrots in aviculture, there is a shortage of one sex or the other and unscrupulous sellers will sell two birds as a pair – usually two males. This is very, very common. My advice, if there can be any doubt of the sex, is to have the birds DNA-sexed after purchase, unless there is a sexing certificate with the bird’s ring number on it.

 

Hand-reared male white cockatoos can often be aggressive towards hensHand-reared male white cockatoos can often be aggressive towards hens

A Duivenbode disaster
I began to think about how often bad information can cause the death of another bird when I was involved in a very distressing situation. I very seldom sell a bird, and especially not an adult. However, I had a three-year-old female Duivenbode’s lory (not yet old enough to breed) with her half brother. When I was unexpectedly offered an unrelated egg-laying female, I took the opportunity to acquire her. But for space and other reasons it was not possible to make up a fourth pair of the species so I found a new home for the three-year-old female.

A couple of weeks later I received a shocking call from the buyer. My female had killed his male, he said. The bird was found dead with a head injury. This happened during the day. I found this inexplicable and went through the circumstances as carefully as possible. He did not see an attack so could it have been a bird of prey? No, the aviary was completely covered, he said.

My female had never shown any aggressive tendencies – in fact she was quite submissive towards her half-brother. In my 40 years of keeping lories I had never experienced a male killing a female or vice versa, so I was shocked, dismayed and puzzled. I told the buyer I would take her back and refund his money. But he wanted to keep her.

When I related the happening to another lory keeper, she immediately said: “Was the other bird correctly sexed?” I had assumed it was, but maybe this was not the case. Perhaps it too was a female.

 

Feisty females
In some parrots, two females will not tolerate each other. If you keep two young female Poicephalus, such as Senegal or Meyer’s parrots together, the chances are that as soon as they mature, the dominant female will kill the other. In contrast, there are other groups of parrots, such as most conures and Amazon parrots, in which two birds of the same sex can live together happily for many years.

Do not be misled into thinking that young birds never kill each other. This can happen when several – perhaps of more than one species – are housed together before they are sold or before they are old enough to breed.

Young members of the parrot family are potentially as dangerous as adults. It is rare but it can happen, especially if several birds join forces to attack one unfortunate individual.

 


Rosemary Low is the author of more than 20 books on parrots, which have been published over a period of 35 years.


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