Golden Shouldered Parrot - Part 2

 

by Daryl Albertson

Golden-shouldered Parrot - Psephotus chrysopterygius. Photograph by and Courtesy of Daryl Albertson, Armidale NSW, Australia

This article will outline the captive Golden-shouldered parrot’s general breeding characteristics. Particular attention will be paid to the somewhat unique breeding peculiarities and requirements for their successful propagation, a number of which are often overlooked.

I have found these little parrots to be no more difficult to breed than any other members of the genus. In fact, their inherent peculiarity of having two breeding seasons in one year, under optimum conditions, soon sees their numbers increase very quickly. These birds do certainly require particular breeding elements, along with an understanding of why these elements are essential for successful propagation. All too often you hear of aviculturists’ lack of success with this species. "Sure they breed, but won’t look after their young", is usually the type of statement heard. I would surmise that the problem lies not with the birds, but rather with the keepers, for not taking the time to supply these little Anthill parrots with the essentials needed for the raising of their young.

A starting point, for anyone serious about breeding these birds, would be to obtain a quality Avicultural reference text. The text should include substantial reference to the habits, and breeding characteristics, of the Golden Shouldered parrot in their natural setting.

Following is a summary of some useful information, pertaining to their breeding characteristics.

  • pairs utilise a nest chamber, located at the end of an excavated tunnel, within terrestrial termite mounds. These birds inhabit a confined region of the Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland. Preference is given to the conical shaped mounds, over the more flatter sided variety (Forshaw 1981, 230).
  • pairs self excavate the passage tunnel into these termitarium, recorded up to 53.2cm in length (Forshaw 1981, 232). In captivity, my experience has been that the hen does most of the tunnelling, with the cock often looking on with great interest and vocalisation.
  • pairs nest, here in the Northern NSW Tablelands, in late February and again in June/July. They sometimes nest again in early September, however, it has been my experience that these nests are not as successful as the earlier two seasons. This has lead me to the conclusion that the September nest, in this area at least, may be out of season for these birds. Hence, in my opinion, it should not be promoted.
  • the temperature within the termitarium, generated by the activity of the resident termites, is often quite high (over 30°C). As a number of texts indicate, the hens are often sighted away from the mounds when the chicks are still quite young. This could be an indication that this parrot utilises the termite mound heat to assist in the brooding of their young (Forshaw 1981, 232).

This peculiarity is certainly exhibited in captive hens. It’s been my experience, that hens will only brood young continually for between 4 and 7 days after hatching. After this period, they only attend to their young for feeding purposes. I strongly believe this is a breeding peculiarity of the true and pure Golden Shouldered parrot. As such, I would sincerely question the taxonomic status of any hen that brooded its young full term until fledging.

To put some of the previous information into practice I have developed my own techniques to successfully propagate these little parrots. They are as follows:

  • the nesting boxes used are of two types, a self heat generating type, and an artificially heated box.

The self generating box is made of 20mm chipboard, and has a smaller internal box, which constitutes the nesting chamber. This inner chamber is connected to the exterior via a tunnel about 100-120mm long. A gap of 100mm exists between the inner chamber and the outer box walls, and this is filled with insulation material, i.e. Styrofoam packing or ceiling insulation, stuffed tightly into all spaces of the void. These boxes may only be employed for the February round of nests, for temperatures in July are much too cold, here in Northern NSW Tablelands, for successful self heat generation. Therefore, an artificially heated box is employed.

The heated boxes are virtually the same construction as the self heating ones. However, instead of the void between the inner chamber and outer walls being packed with insulation material, a heat source in the form of a long life light bulb, connected to a thermostat control, is located within this space. I have found the 40°C probe type thermostat, coupled to a 40 or 60 Watt double life bulb is adequate. The sensor probe is passed through the rear of the inner chamber and fixed in a central location, just above the level of nesting material. The actual thermostat dial passing through the side of the box, so settings may be made without disturbance to the nesting birds. To the other side of the void space some insulation material may be retained, as long as it does not come into contact with the light bulb or the wiring and probe assembly. The settings for successful chick brooding are as follows:

  • Prior to egg laying (during tunnelling) - 10°C 
  • During egg laying and incubation - 15°C 
  • The three days prior to hatching - 25°C 
  • The day before hatching - 30°C
  • First two weeks after hatching - 33°C
  • Third week - 30°C
  • Fifth week - 25°C
  • Until fledging - 20°C

It becomes obvious when the hen stops brooding the chicks, usually between 4 and 7 days after hatching. She will not be in attendance during the night and will only visit the chamber in accordance with a frequent feeding regime. An interesting observation is that it appears that the hen is receptive to the nesting chambers temperature prior to egg laying. The hen visits the box frequently through the day, either to enlarge the entrance hole or to arrange the inner chamber to her requirements. The usual temperature is set at 10°C, prior to egg laying, but on one occasion is was purposely set to 25°C. This resulted in the hen halting her frequent visits to the box, and instead, infrequently peering in from the entrance, occasionally with her body lying within the tunnel. This behaviour would last for only a few minutes, after which she would fly off to pursue other aviary activities. The high temperature was retained for 7 days, without any change in this new behaviour. it was then returned to the 10°C setting, immediately after inspection she resumed her previous nest building activities, much to the satisfaction of the attentive cock bird.

The beauty of having these breeding events thermostatically controlled is that the heat will switch on only when the temperature at the probe falls below the dialled temperature (± 0.5°C) and will switch off when the desired temperature is reached. The chicks will snuggle up next to the wall closest to the heat source. If for any reason they are found at the opposite side of the box, or are dispersed, or flaked out and panting, the temperature setting is obviously too high, or the thermostat is faulty. It is an idea to drill a small hole from the void to the front of the box, through which light will pass, and should be used as a way of checking whether the system is in operation.

  • The nesting material that I employ within the chamber consists of a mixture of coarse saw dust, chainsaw cut is ideal, mixed with a small amount of peat moss and fine sand. I have only recently added the fine sand to this mixture after a colleague returned from wild Golden Shoulder territory with a small sample of termite mound material. The quantity of fine crystalline sand was much higher than our local variety, hence its’ addition into the mix. I do not bother to dampen this mixture, as the humidity within the chamber appears to be adequate for the chicks respiration. The problem of mould growth on the roof of the chamber will only result if the mixture is pre-moistened. There is no knowing what adverse effects the mould spores could have on the delicate respiratory tracts of the chicks or adults.
  • In order to replicate the natural tunnelling into the nest chamber a saw dust mixture is utilised at the tunnel entrance and may also be placed along the full 100mm of tunnel. This mixture is identical to the previously mentioned nesting chamber mixture except a level teaspoon of plain flour is added to one cup of saw dust mix, this is mixed thoroughly with water. This mixture is then squeezed in the hand to dispel the majority of water and is rammed into the entrance tunnel. The wet mixture is allowed to dry and will set concrete hard in about one week, the box may them be hung in the aviary.

As a means of introducing a pair to the burrowing activity, I firstly place the mixture only at the outer entrance to form a plug, leaving a small finger hole to get them started. Hens will quickly become accustomed to burrowing through. As each season passes I increase the amount of mixture until the hen is tunnelling along the full length of the tunnel into the nesting chamber. As a matter of fact, one of my hens burrowed 200mm through a dummy nesting tunnel made of a 100mm dia. polypipe full of hardened mixture. The hens will continually sharpen their beaks on a piece of hard aviary woodwork, and make repeated visits to the tunnel to burrow through. An entrance plug will take only a couple of days to negotiate, a full 100mm tunnel taking around two weeks to complete. Egg laying occurs shortly after access is gained into the nesting chamber.

As stated previously, the hen does the burrowing with the cock always close by, vocalising and appearing to become quite excited. A flight away from the burrowing activity sees a series of displays by the cock and often the feeding of the hen. I have personally not sighted the mating of these birds on perches or the wire of the aviaries. I have however, disturbed what may have been mating, on the ground.

Golden-shouldered Parrots - Psephotus chrysopterygius. Hen Bird with Immature Cock Birds in Background. Photograph by and Courtesy of Daryl Albertson, Armidale NSW, Australia

I personally believe, and I choose my words carefully, that there APPEARS to be a relationship between the stimulus that the hen and cock receive, through the motion of burrowing into the nesting chamber, and that pairs’ fertility rate and clutch size. Even though my collected breeding data is not sufficient, as yet, to employ statistical analysis tests, the trend is for burrowing pairs to have between 90-100% fertility rate, while their clutch size is a constant 5-6 eggs. Prior to the employment of the burrowing material, the results were no where near as uniform or reliable, if anything more haphazard. It is possible that the burrowing activity helps to heighten the cocks desire to display generating gonad development, and subsequent successful copulation with the hen bird.

Having pairs of Shoulders’ in adjoining aviaries is also beneficial, as one pair carrying out this nesting activity, along with its associated vocalisation and display, aids in stimulating other pairs to undertake nesting activity.

During the breeding season, particularly prior to egg laying, seeding grasses are relished. When young are hatched, a constant supply of softened peas and corn is required to feed the hungry hordes. The young cocks of this genus can be readily and reliably identified once feathered and still in the nest. The young cocks have a turquoise-blue cheek patch which extends onto portions of the surrounding head areas, the hens are merely light green in these areas. This is in contrast to young Hooded parrots who in my experience are impossible to reliably sex until at least 12 months old. The Shoulders’ aggressive nature is such that a clutch of weaned young may be retained up until the resumption of nest building by the parents, whereby they should then be removed to a separate aviary. At present, my Shoulder hens are actively burrowing into their boxes. In the past, the 26th of February has been a signpost for the first egg laid, and I look forward to the upcoming round of February nests.

I conclude this article in the sincere hope that the aviculturists of Queensland soon have the opportunity to obtain, keep and propagate this delightful Anthill parrot. With the technology available today, in the form of DNA fingerprinting the origins of captive birds can surely be identified, thus ensuring the protection of those wild populations. My experience with this little parrot has been enlightening and enjoyable.

On a final note, I take this opportunity to commend the Editorial Committee on its quality production of the Parrot Society of Australia News.

Bibliography

  • Forshaw J. 1981. Australian Parrots, 2nd (revised) Edition Lansdowne Editions, Melbourne & Sydney, Australia

© Article under Copyright with the author, Daryl Albertson, and cannot be reprinted without written permission.

 

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