Golden Shouldered Parrot - Part 1
by Daryl Albertson
This article will attempt to outline the captive Golden-shouldered parrot’s general traits, as well as to define some of those unique qualities which set it apart from other members of the Psephotus genus. The article will also look at some of the controversy that has arisen in relation to the keeping of this parrot. It has been written with the assumption that the reader is reasonably familiar with the Psephotus parrots, possibly having kept at least one species of this genus.
The Golden-shouldered parrot, like it's cousin the Hooded parrot is a relatively small bird of swift flight. When comparing the Shouldereds with the rest of the genus, they are a somewhat more slender and a finer-featured bird. A cock bird in full feather often gives the appearance of possessing a tail that is out of proportion to the rest of its slender body. In regard to their aggressive nature, the cock Shouldereds tend to be less pugnacious to their fellow residents than other cocks of the genus, although a mixed collection containing breeding pairs would surely be courting disaster.
The hens are quiet and non-aggressive, therefore a clutch of weaned young may be retained up until the resumption of nest building by the parents. The young should have been removed to a separate aviary by then.
The Shouldered parrot, in my experience, is the most active of the genus and shows an abundance of character in their day-to-day antics. At most times of the day, the cocks can be found undertaking some form of display, whether it is a brusque chatter at the water bowl or the classic Shoulder-perching display stance. This stance often results from a flight to a new perch, or perhaps landing next to a hen bird. The body and neck are extended to what seems an exaggerated height, wings thrust forward, showing off the gold wing patch, chest drawn up with the head feathers erect. Accompanying this display is a sharp jerking bob of the head and a short chatter. A scratch of the head is quite often the finale to the display.
These birds relish a good bath, usually in their water bowls. And they cope quite well, once acclimatised, with the cooler northern NSW tablelands climate.
The dietary requirements for these birds are identical to that of the Hooded and Red-rumped parrots. The smaller seeds are their first choice, with a little oats and sunflower also taken. They relish seeding grasses during the breeding seasons.
The aviary to house these birds should be similar to those housing the other Psephotus parrots. However, providing the birds with an environment which is sheltered, secure and private appear to be particularly important factors to consider. I have found that the addition of shadecloth around the bottom metre of all exposed sides of the aviary provides this sense of security for these sometimes flighty birds, as well as protecting them from external frights.
I house my breeding pairs in adjoining aviaries that are partitioned by a section of solid timber sheeting. A detached, all-wire feeding station is located at the front. This is where plenty of chattering and courting display occurs during the breeding seasons. I personally believe this stimulus helps to heighten the cock’s desire to display and subsequently breed. I shall discuss these particular elements and more of their unique breeding characteristics in a later article.
A description and photograph or drawing of the Golden-shouldered can be obtained from any quality avian reference text, therefore I will not dwell on a detailed description. I will however discuss the particular traits that I look for when acquiring new Shouldered blood. A cock or hen, young or old, is a small, slender and finely proportioned bird, tending to hold itself high when perching. In fully- and semi-coloured cock birds a reasonably broad, light yellow band should be apparent across the forehead, and a tinge of blue/green should separate this band from the cap of black on the crown, On either side of the head, in the periophthalmic regions above the eyes, a small distinguishable black extension runs from the black cap down to the eye. The crown and forehead feathers are often held in a semi-raised erect state. This being most apparent in the more mature cock birds. Finally, the gold shoulder wing patch should not dominate the wing coverts, it should merely exist as a darker golden shoulder. It should not be broad, bright and golden yellow, as it is in the Hooded cock.
This final point leads onto the contentious subject of ‘Hooded or Golden- shouldered?’ The issue that raises it’s ugly head all too often is the subject of 'impure' Golden-shouldereds resulting from the cross breeding with Hooded parrot hens and Shoulder cocks. It is obvious that this practice is unthinkable to the sincere aviculturist, and I have as yet to come across, here in north-east NSW, an obvious example of a cross breed. It is possible however that in years past, when prices were high for pairs of these birds, a shortage of hens and their perceived brooding unreliability, that the lure of quick money may have influenced unscrupulous breeders to undertake the practice of using Hooded hens. It has certainly been my experience that in each clutch only one hen is hatched. Even within clutches of five and six rarely more than two are hatched, hence the potential for a shortage of hens. It is also possible that these comments in relation to crossbreeding are nothing more than propaganda used by breeders as their own market protection measure, or even merely sour grapes against other successful Shoulder breeders.
Whatever the reason, these negative comments on the subject, in any shape or form, serve no useful purpose to aviculture, and more importantly, it places unfounded discredit to this humble Anthill Parrot.
It is worth noting that with all my inquiries and discussions on the subject, only one person has shed light on what a crossbred Shouldered/ Hooded would actually look like. This one discussion provided some very useful information. It is from this description that I base my selection of a pure Golden-shouldered parrot, the traits of which I have described in a previous paragraph. A cross Hooded/Shoulder would not display these particular traits in their entirety, but would show inconsistencies to the description.
On the point of hybrid breeding, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise the irreparable damage that crossbreeding, of any bird species, can have to the purity of the species involved. However, it would be of great interest, as well as benefiting the credibility of the Golden-Shouldered parrot, to undertake, a single, intentional cross breeding of the Hooded and Shoulder parrots. The progeny could be described and photographed at each stage of their development, thus providing a detailed reference, complete with photographs.
This would be done with particular reference made to stages of cock bird colouration. In so doing, all of aviculture would obtain a benchmark for comparison and potential identification of substandard Golden Shoulders, if they were to exist. Ultimately, this would leave the true and sincere Shoulder specialist and enthusiasts to continue to keep and propagate the species as guaranteed true and pure blood stock, as I believe the majority are. More importantly, Psephotus chrysopterygius may regain any lost credibility, with its future as a delightful member of the genus Psephotus further secured.
More recent information has come to hand indicating that DNA studies of birds, presently developed by Dr Les Christidis of Victoria, may be employed to provide a solution to the issues on crossbreeding that have been raised in this article. Dr Christidis proposes, and it has recently been accepted that birds and animals may interbreed without having their taxonomic status affected, This means that DNA analysis can now identify the origins of an interbred bird or animal. Dr Christidis stated "What it gives us is the ability to sort out special problems. If you’re not sure of something, DNA will tell us." (Roberts 1995).If this is the case, his work, and the DNA fingerprinting of captive Golden-Shoulders would certainly indicate whether or not they were pure and true specimens.
As a sincere Shoulder enthusiast I also have a great concern for the plight of wild populations of this genus. The present wild status of this splendid little parrot looks particularly grim, with habitat and population fragmentation contributing greatly to a rapid decline in both numbers and gene pool. The literature indicates that whilst Shoulders have never been referred to as an abundant species, since the turn of the century there has been a marked decline in numbers, with a significant contraction in their range. "In districts where they were once plentiful now are seldom, if at all, sighted" (Forshaw 1981, 231).
Whilst their decline is commonly attributed to pressures from trade-in-birds, I must agree with Forshaw (1981), who suspects that the main reason for their rapid decline is attributable to pressure from agricultural land use and their related practices (Forshaw 1981, 231). Whilst the trade-in-birds does certainly exist, the present agri land use pressures are more likely to have a significant and longer lasting effect on the viability of wild populations. What is needed is a concerted effort from the general public, relevant conservation agencies and local land holders to ensure that this little parrot does not go down the same path as the Paradise parrot Psephotus pulcherriums (Gould).
On a sweeter note, a sustainable future for captive Shoulder populations is assured, with considerable numbers bred in captivity each season. This in itself should indicate the benefits that aviculture can contribute to the conservation of a threatened species. As long as sincere breeders keep true, pure and unrelated specimens, this splendid little Psephotus parrot should be with us for a long time to come.
I will conclude by attributing my recent success in keeping and breeding this individualistic parrot to the knowledge acquired through discussions with my fellow aviculturists, as well as the keeping of other species of the Psephotus genus and the consumption of much published literature on the subject. This procured knowledge has ultimately resulted in a thriving and delightful experience with this unique little Anthill parrot.
An additional article concerning these special little parrots is in the pipeline. This article will pay particular attention to the somewhat unique breeding characteristics and requirements for this parrots successful propagation, many of which are over looked.