BREEDING REPORT: FINALLY, SUCCESSFUL BREEDING OF RED-BELLIED MACAW (ORTHOPSITTACA MANILATUS) ... AND EVEN TWICE AT THE SAME TIME BY TWO UNRELATED PAIRS
Photo 01: Orthopsittaca manilatus: A beautiful, but very different Macaw species, both in appearance and in its behavior. This species has a very upright sitting position compared to all the other Mini-Macaw species, hence its scientific genus name, “Orthopsittaca”. However, some believe the term is a reference to the anterior lateral outline of the bird’s cere, which is straight.
The Red-bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilatus, formerly known as Ara manilata)
is an approximately 50 cm long, mostly green South American parrot species, which is a member of a group of large Neotropical parrots known as Macaws. Actually, it belongs to the “Mini-Macaws” which is a loosely defined group of small-to-medium-sized
Macaws. The term “Mini-Macaws” is not based on scientific taxonomy, but is mainly used among aviculturists to describe a small Macaw belonging to one of a number of different genera, with overall length being the sole criterion for inclusion.
It is considered to be among the two largest species in the group of "Mini-Macaws" together with the Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severus) - also called Severe Macaw. The Chestnut-fronted Macaw weighs
more than the Red-bellied Macaw. However, the Red-bellied Macaw seems to be longer than the Chestnut-fronted Macaw according to scientific data. In his impressive work, “Parrots of the World” (1st edition, 1973), Joseph M. Forshaw states
the length of the Chestnut-fronted Macaw to 46 cm and the length of the Red-bellied Macaw to 50 cm.
In 2016, I bought two pairs of mutually unrelated parent-reared birds aged 3 - 5 years from four different breeding pairs.
Many years ago, I generally stopped buying well-established "guaranteed breeding pairs" of parrots, as there is no sportsmanship in breeding birds that have already given birth to chicks with another breeder. In addition, I have unfortunately more than once
been cheated by unscrupulous breeders, who have sold me "guaranteed breeding pairs", where it later turned out that they had never ever given the seller any chicks. At the same time, when buying a breeding pair, it is not uncommon that you must settle with
the second-best quality (including birds with defects). As a starting point, I therefore prefer to select the best birds among unrelated younger birds and then try to put together the best birds for an optimal breeding material; this is a far more exciting
and satisfying challenge for me.
This is exactly what I also chose to do when I bought four flawless, big specimens of this species in absolute top quality. Of course, this is a more long-term strategy than buying breeding
pairs, and it requires a lot of patience, but in the end, one can occasionally be rewarded for having patience.
None of my Red-bellied Macaws are hand-reared, so I have fully experienced the natural, characteristic very
shy and fearful nature of this species for better or worse.
Photo 02: Orthopsittaca manilatus: This marvelous picture shows a juvenile bird, which is clearly seen by the eye-catching white mid-line stripe running along the length of the culmen (top of the upper mandible) which eventually becomes more and more narrow and completely dark by the age of 6 - 8 months. Its closest relative, the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), is the only other Macaw species in which juveniles have a similar white culmen. (Photo from the internet: Taken by Henrique Moreira on 20.03.2015 and afterwards published on www.birdier.com).
The plumage is mostly green tinged with olive on neck, back, rump, upper tail-coverts and lower underparts, crown
greenish-blue, lower cheeks bluish-green - giving the forehead a turquoise-bluish appearance, feathers of chin, throat and upper breast grey edged with green, vent and middle of lower abdomen ("belly") has a large maroon patch, feathers of thighs green edged
with brownish-red, under tail coverts bluish-green, upper wing-coverts green with yellowish margins, primaries, primary-coverts and outermost greater wing-coverts dull blue edged with green, under wing-coverts yellowish-green, more olive on greater wing-coverts,
tail above green, undersides of tail and flight feathers olive-yellow. The cere and much of the face are covered with bare bright mustard-yellow skin, and the irises are dark brown. Adults have black beaks. The legs and feet are dark grey. The gradated tail
is long and wedge-shaped, and the wings seems long compared to the body.
Based on the above description, at first glance the Red-bellied Macaw may not appear very colorful, as its plumage is predominantly green in various
tones. However, if you observe this species in the sunlight, the many turquoise-blue markings on the feathers around the head, neck area, upper throat and breast clearly sparkles and appear as a beautiful contrast to the otherwise olive-green upper side of
the bird. It is the same blue color as its - according to science - closest relative, the Spix Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), has as the primary feather color in its plumage. Add to that the fact that Red-bellied Macaws also have a large maroon-colored
triangular spot on the lower part of the abdomen (hence the species name), which also forms a beautiful contrast to the otherwise beautiful green lower side of the bird.
Healthy specimens appear with a very conspicuous mustard-yellow
naked face. If it is pale white, it may indicate that the bird is not in top condition, perhaps because it is kept indoors all year round or it may be due to malnutrition.
Males and females have identical plumage, but males
are usually bulkier and have larger heads.
Juvenile birds look like the adult birds, but are duller in color, have less blue on the head and a cream-colored facial area. They have a grey beak with an eye-catching
white mid-line stripe running along the length of the culmen (top of the upper mandible) which eventually becomes more and more narrow and completely dark by the age of 6 - 8 months. Its closest relative, the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii),
is the only other Macaw species in which juveniles have a similar white culmen.
If you see the naked facial skin of a chick in the nest box, it may already appear completely mustard-yellow like the parent birds' face masks,
but this is because you see them down in a dark nest box.
Red-bellied Macaws typically weigh about 275 - 450 grams.
Photo 03: Orthopsittaca manilatus: There are no immediate differences in the color of the plumage of the two sexes. On the other hand, one often knows that males are usually larger and bulkier built than female birds. The photo shows one of my breeding pairs with the female on the left and the male on the right. This species is basically peaceful towards fellow species and is also a social bird species that moves in flocks outside and during the breeding season. However, I have chosen to keep my pairs separate from each other, but in close proximity to each other, so that they can both hear and see each other. My theory is that it helps to provide the birds peace of mind and dampen their shy nature.
The Red-bellied Macaw is endemic to the tropical Amazonas area of South America, including Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and central Brazil as far as the northwestern Cerrado (a.k.a. “The Brasilian Savannah”), which is a vast tropical savanna region of Brazil. There are even a smaller population on Trinidad
and Tobago, a South American country consisting of an archipelago located in the southern Caribbean Sea, 11 km off the coast of Venezuela.
BirdLife International estimates the total range of occurrence of the Red-bellied
Macaw to be extremely large that means 8.860.000 km2.
The global population size has not been quantified, but this species is described as “fairly common” in its vast range.
The Red-bellied Macaw is more or less completely dependent on the Moriche palm (Mauritia flexuosa), also called Mauritia palm, Buriti palm (and several other names), which are found in swampy or seasonally
flooded areas. Hence it is found in dense moist forest, gallery forest (a forest restricted to the banks of a river or stream) and different kind of wetlands, such as open wet, sandy savannahs and grasslands, typically on the edge of rivers scattered with
groves of Moriche palms.
Red-bellied Macaws are highly arboreal i.e., they pretty much exclusively live their lives in trees, and are in general found in habitats up to 500 m above sea level.
Macaws are critically dependent on the Moriche palm for roosting, feeding and nesting. They prefer Moriche palm fruit that is not fully developed or ripe, like most other parrot species, and they move around seeking for food that is on the preferred development
Occasionally the Red-bellied Macaws are also found in cultivated areas like plantations and fields with crops, such as corn.
Photo 04: Orthopsittaca manilatus: In this photo of a female bird, you can see the extraordinarily large feet that this particular species is endowed with by nature. Both legs and feet are large and very powerful and enable the bird to easily climb vertically up a wire mesh wall without the use of its beak, just as it - even without the use of its beak - elegantly can crawl around the aviary wire ceiling.
IN THE WILD
Red-bellied Macaws can be hard to see at a distance in wooden areas, but if the field of view is good the species
is easy to identify due to its dull olive-yellow underwings, mustard-yellow facial skin and dark eyes. Their flight is direct with rapid, rhythmic wingbeats, and looks like the Spix’s Macaw flying. The long-pointed tail and slightly backward curved wings
give them a sort of streamlined appearance in the air.
They are highly sociable birds living in flocks all year long, but they are breeding in loose groups. They occur in small groups and are also often seen in flocks of
up to 100 individuals. During breeding season, flocks are smaller as pairs leave the groups for nesting and communal roosts are less frequented.
Red-bellied Macaws make high-pitched - but not directly annoying – screams,
but they sound like “cries of complaint”. They are not as noisy as the other “Mini-Macaw” species, their voice seems softer. They are heard in the morning and around sunset.
They roost jointly in
the Moriche palms and large numbers can be seen at the roost sites at dawn and dusk. Actually, these Macaws live in, sleep in, nest in and eat from these trees. They are even traveling from one group of these trees to another in order to find food at the right
stage of maturation.
They prefer the large ones of these palms that have an overabundance of woodpecker holes as roosting sites. They sleep together 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 sleeping holes and sleep close next to each other. You can often see them roosting in the top of dead Moriche palms without any top.
age they are open to any partner, but they seem to stick together once they are paired, and from then off the pair hold unbreakably together. The pair becomes more closely bonded through mutual care and preening of their feathers.
Photo 05: Orthopsittaca manilatus: In this “classical” photo of Red-bellied Macaws from the nature you see some birds sitting in the top of a dead Moriche palm which is the absolute center of the daily life and survival of the Red-bellied Macaw in the nature. (Photo from the internet: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository).
Their breeding season is between February and May until June, depending on the country in which they live.
All other New World parrots split
up at the beginning of the breeding season and fly away to find a private place to breed. At the end of the - often only few months long - breeding season, they form flocks and migrate to other parts of the country, depending on what food are naturally available.
However, this is not how the Red-bellied Macaws behave: They do not migrate and their breeding season lasts for about six months. If you include those that happen to breed exceptionally early, as well as those that breed very late, you might have a breeding
season that can be as long as eight months. When they feel the urge to breed, they will break off from the flock. They look for a hollow that has no other residents in close proximity. They will start laying eggs, and when the chicks fledge the nest, they
rejoin the flock and bring their chicks along (even though they are not yet weaned), and so the flock will finally consist of numerous family groups.
Red-bellied Macaws are usually nesting in the cavities of trees with their
primary choice being - not very surprisingly - the Moriche palm. They often prefer to nest in holes in dead trees in swamp-like biotopes, often over water, providing the breeding birds good protection against predators. The average clutch consists of 2 - 4
white eggs, which are incubated by the female for about 26 days. The young birds fledge the nest, when they are about 11 weeks old according to normally trustworthy sources, but I do not find this information valid, cf. my own breeding experiences later in
The breeding behavior of this species has not yet been further explored by science, but it will be interesting once it has been clarified. Some local observations have stated that there always are three birds
at each nesting site: One bird in the nest laying on the eggs and two birds in the tree. Apparently, no one seems to be familiar with the sex of the third bird, but it will be interesting to find out the natural breeding behavior of this species in more detail.
It is assumed that young birds reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 - 3 years.
Photo 06: Orthopsittaca manilatus: This species is by nature very shy, so the first years I owned the birds, I hardly saw them. When I approached their aviaries, they flew into the birdhouse, and when I went into the birdhouse, the birds flew out into the aviaries or into the nest boxes. Earlier this year I therefore made some mugs with photos of some of my own Red-bellied Macaws, so I at least am able to see my birds once in a while after all. These mugs have fallen into really good soil with both family and friends, who think that both the coffee and the tea simply taste better in these mugs. However, after approximately 4 years, the birds have become somewhat calmer after all, but they still seek refuge in the nest boxes when you get too close to their aviaries.
FOOD ITEMS IN NATURE
In the wild, the Red-bellied Macaws almost exclusively eat the oily fruit of Moriche Palms (Mauritia
flexuosa) sitting on the 2 - 3 m long fruit flasks, which consist of 100 % carbohydrate, a lower fat content and are very high in beta-carotene. However, berries and other fruits to an apparent minimal extent are also part of the diet.
The fruits of Moriche palms are about the size of a large plum. Between the brown skin and the cherry-sized nut in the center is a yellow-orange flesh that has a consistency of a raw potato.
nutritional analysis of the Red-bellied Macaws’ natural diet revealed a uniform diet that consisted of high beta-carotene, high carbohydrates and a lower fat content. This explained the bird’s tendency to obesity in human care. Virtually all the
usual parrot diets were much too high in fat content for these birds. Continued vitamin A supplementation in the form of beta-carotene was a must. Deficiencies in vitamin A usually hit very rapidly and result in numerous serious disorders that can be fatal.
Beta-carotene is the only form of vitamin A that does not require fat to be absorbed.
Hence it has over the earlier years been extremely difficult to keep these birds alive in human care, partly because of their special,
nervous behavior, partly due to a diet that requires low fat and high carbohydrate intake. Apart from import of these birds in the early days often resulted in nearly 100 % mortality, those aviculturists that finally succeeded with breeding them experienced
that captive-bred chicks had a low survival rate.
Nowadays, we also have a better understanding of this species nutritional needs and successful breeding in human care has over the years been achieved by adjusting their
Red-bellied Macaws are not rare in wildlife, according to BirdLife International their
current conservation status is “LC”, which means of “Least Concern”. According to BirdLife International the population in the wild is suspected to be stable in the absence of evidence for any declines
or substantial threats.
Back in 2007 these birds were listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); however, as of 2009, this species has been downgraded to the status of “Least
Concern”, mainly because they appear to be more common in the wild than previously assumed. However, due to their very specialized habitat requirement and the risk of continued harvesting of their favored palm trees and destruction of their
habitat, these birds may still remain at risk of extinction.
All in all, the population currently is considered to be stable, except in Colombia, Guyana and Venezuela where it is threatened by habitat loss. Their deeply
dependence on Mauritia palm fruits make them vulnerable, since these palms are heavily used in confectionary manufacture and in addition, the trunks of palms are intensively used for construction, and these circumstances may have fatal consequences for the
Although the Red-bellied Macaw is locally common, in some places it has been adversely affected by clearing of palms to allow cattle ranching, establishment of fields with crops, etc. Very unfortunately, this species
is also still affected by capture for the pet trade.
Since 1997 only two countries, Guyana, and the smallest country in South America, Suriname, have exported this species alive. The most recent export took place in 2020
from Guyana and included 1.650 live birds. The last time Suriname exported the species was in 2017 and included 470 live birds.
Photo 07: Orthopsittaca manilatus: Here you can see one of my breeding pairs crawling around in the aviary's wire mesh ceiling, which often happens completely without the use of the beak. This species is quite eminent for climbing in all positions without the use of its beak, and it likes to hang on a vertical wall, wire mesh wall or rock, where it can sit and rest for hours provided it is not disturbed.
IN HUMAN CARE
Although Red-bellied Macaws not are rare in the wild, they are rare in human care both alive and as dead, skinned
specimens. Thus, there are reportedly very few skinned specimens of Red-bellied Macaws in the Natural History Museums around the world.
Among aviculturists, the species has always been rare, in the first many years due to
the fact that countless imported birds died after a short time because of lack of knowledge about this species' very specialized food items, but also because they lack the ability to adapt to captivity given their significant shy and fearful nature.
The Red-bellied Macaws have over the years had a reputation for being difficult to keep alive and also difficult to breed. In its time it actually led to a decision by some responsible importers in the USA and in Europe to stop
importing them. How to keep them alive and make them thrive was not only a challenge, it was a mystery for years. At the time when it in general was allowed to import these birds the first problem that aroused was the majority of the Red-bellied Macaws would
not eat, as was also the case with imported Eclectus Parrots (genus Eclectus) many years ago. Secondly, at the same time, this species appeared to be extremely nervous and completely unsuitable for sitting in small quarantine cages
even for a short period of time. The birds would gather to one of the upper rear corners of the quarantine cages trying to hide under each other, and whenever anyone would enter the room, the birds continued screaming. During the quarantine period, they continually
died and the birds who survived later died among aviculturists.
From the nature the birds had nearly exclusively been used to eat fruits from Moriche palms, so in human care the first thing that had to be accomplished was
to wean them onto something other than palm fruits. It is a food item that is difficult to obtain in the USA and completely impossible to obtain in Europe, at least in Denmark. Attempts to get the birds to accept boiled corn or rice failed. However, eventually
the birds started to eat shelled peanuts as a replacement for the palm fruits. Supplementary vitamins were given in their drinking water to avoid any deficiencies. Unfortunately, there were still unexplained deaths among the rest of the living birds that suddenly
could drop dead or become sick from being fed incorrect. Nowadays, many veterinary experts strongly advise against feeding parrots with shelled peanuts that could cause the danger of catching Aspergillosis.
When the surviving
birds finally were released into aviaries among the aviculturists, they instantly tried to find hiding places, typically a nest box. These birds need a large comfort zone to be able to feel reasonably safe with their very nervous nature. Optimally, it requires
a very large aviary with good hiding places, which most bird keepers often do not have the opportunity to offer.
If you have more than one pair, among some of these you will be able to experience a great mutual sympathy
and interaction between the sexes i.e., in the form of mutual preening. Not least when the birds rest in the nests or when the female cares for eggs or chicks in the nest, you will - using video surveillance - be able to experience the birds' touching and
caring behavior towards each other.
Unless hand-reared individuals are used for breeding, Red-bellied Macaws are considered one of the most difficult parrot species to breed in human care due to their lack of ability to
adapt to captive conditions. One must therefore have patience when working with this very shy and fearful parrot species. It is of great importance that the aviculturists try to understand the special needs that this species require in order to survive and
make them thrive.
According to a very experienced European breeder, the Red-bellied Macaw can be very difficult to hand-rear from only few days old, and it is therefore rare to encounter hand-reared pet birds of this species.
Hand-reared individuals (kept as pet birds or not) seems much calmer, but do not exhibit the true and natural behavior of this species, which is characterized by an extremely shy and fearful nature. If a hand-reared bird is
kept together with a parent-reared bird, the hand-reared bird can help to encourage greater familiarity with its parent-reared mate.
The Red-bellied Macaw seems not as noisy as most of the other smaller "Mini-Macaws" e.g.,
its voice is softer and even significantly less bothering than the very sharp voice of the smaller Red-shouldered Macaw (Diopsittaca nobilis spp.), which also uses its voice for longer periods of time.
Photo 08: Orthopsittaca manilatus: The Red-bellied Macaw may not be the most colorful parrot species, but in return it is so much more exciting in a number of other areas. With a closer look at the colors of the plumage, the different green and greenish colors are neatly matched in relation to each other. In addition, the feathers behind the face and around the neck are "decorated" with fine turquoise-blue markings that become very prominent and beautiful when you see the birds in sunlight.
SOME SPECIAL FEATURES OF RED-BELLIED MACAWS
Red-bellied Macaws differ markedly from the other "Mini-Macaw"-species on two different points, partly because
of their rather different anatomy, partly because they show a significantly different behavior. Both of these aspects will be discussed in more detail in this paragraph.
Purely anatomically, Red-bellied Macaws are characterized
by having relatively small heads and very prominent nostrils. Furthermore, the mustard-yellow color of bare facial skin is very characteristic of this species and it is the only Macaw species that has this very different and deep complexion. In addition, it
seems like the feathers on the head sit very close to the skin, which gives the head a very "tight and slim" appearance. However, when the female is frightened - this applies to e.g., when you check the nest box - she can turn on her back in the nest box and
inflate the feathers behind the whole head, so she looks bigger and more intimidating, and it almost looks like she has a small "collar".
At the same time, the species has some distinctive large, powerful legs and big long
toes. The Red-bellied Macaw is one of the few parrot species that very easily is able to climb up a vertical wire mesh wall without the use of its beak, just as it elegantly - again without the use of its beak - quickly and smoothly is able to climb around
the wire ceiling in the aviary.
One typically sees Red-bellied Macaws resting on vertical surfaces whether it is on a wire mesh wall in an aviary, on the inside of a video-surveilled nest box or if one sees photos from nature
where they like to sit on a rock wall or on the edge of the top of an extinct Moriche palm.
They are further more characterized by an often very upright sitting position.
A further anatomical
feature is that the Red-bellied Macaw in relation to its size is a surprisingly powerful and strong bird, which can be very difficult to hold in the hand when you, for example, must examine the bird further. You have to make sure that you keep your hand all
the way around the bird, as it is constantly trying to wriggle free. Therefore, never stand with this species in your hand in the open air, as there may be a risk of the bird escaping. Conversely, of course, do not harm the bird by holding it too tightly.
Behaviorally, Red-bellied Macaws are primarily characterized by their extraordinarily shy and fearful nature, which is a common feature when reading the few breeding stories from serious bird keepers that exist about this bird,
cf. for example an article by the Canadian aviculturist, David T. Longo, in the reputable German magazine, “PAPAGEIEN”, volume 06/2017, pages 188 - 193. This article also emphasizes that this species is “extremely shy”
by nature, which is also supported by the author's own observations of the species in its natural habitats of Suriname. In the same article, David Longo further states, that “the droppings of the juvenile birds, but also of the adult birds, are
usually relatively watery and give an almost sickly impression”, as it also is known among certain other parrot species.
The species generally finds it very difficult to adapt to the conditions of human care.
Therefore, I only keep Red-bellied Macaws in aviaries with three solid walls (partly the back wall towards the birdhouse, partly the two sides). If the aviaries are planted at the same time, it provides additional safety for the birds. They will in my opinion
not be able to thrive at all in completely open aviaries unless these are shielded by hedges on three of the four sides.
Parent-reared birds can be several years about to calm down, compared to my pairs, a changed - slightly
calmer - behavior only began to occur after approximately 4 years of ownership, and after another year the development has gradually continued. Now a days, I can approach the aviary at a distance of approximately 5 meters before the male bird, which keeps
watch outside the nest box, flees towards the nest box.
The birds like to spend the night in nest boxes both outside and during the breeding season; on the whole, the nest box is considered to be the birds' favorite place
when they feel unsafe or threatened. In the first years, I experienced that when the birds felt frightened and fled into their nest boxes, they could lie inside the nest box for a shorter or longer time and keep on screaming anxiously.
Another obvious behavioral trait that makes it difficult to keep Red-bellied Macaws in human care is that it has highly peculiar toilet habits and creates a lot of dirt. This species makes large - quite watery - droppings (both the adults and the
juveniles), unfortunately also in the nest box, and in addition, it typically likes to defecate sitting up against vertical walls, including wire mesh walls. With certain exceptions, both sexes like to spend the night in the nest box both outside the breeding
season and during the breeding season, with the latter for very long periods. Whether it is outside or during the breeding season, the birds defecate in the nest box, which is why it is important for the health as well as hygienic reasons to change the nest
material at regular intervals. During the breeding season, it is not possible to make a complete replacement without the risk that the female bird will leave eggs or chicks, so you must instead lay new layers of clean bottom material. If you do not add new,
clean bottom material to the nest box when the chicks are about 14 days old, there is - according to a very experienced European breeder - a high risk that the chicks will die, as all the droppings at the bottom of the nest box poses a great health risk to
When the birds outside the breeding season have to spend the night, you can instead use a so-called "toilet box" i.e., a nest box without a bottom, which on the inside is simultaneously provided with a horizontal perch
across the nest box. In this way, the birds can defecate directly down on the bottom of the aviary, making it much easier to clean up after the birds.
Photo 09: Orthopsittaca manilatus: The face of a Red-bellied Macaw can be very expressive and can also be an indicator for its mood. An adult Red-bellied Macaw must have a - for the Macaw species completely unique - bright mustard-yellow naked face, which is an expression of the fact that it is a healthy and fit bird.
Feeding Red-bellied Macaws is a chapter in itself, which will not be discussed in depth here, but it should be emphasized
that it should be fed a very versatile and balanced diet. It is very important that this species gets vitamin A-rich food with plenty of carbohydrates and low-fat seeds outside the breeding season.
The feed composition may
A mixture of small seeds: Canary seeds, oats, safflower, millet spray, and limited sunflower.
Sprouted mung beans, cooked butterbeans and lentils must also
be provided, just like cob corns (especially during the breeding season), green leaves of spinach, lettuce, dandelion and chickweed.
Vegetables, especially carrots, and some fresh fruit on a daily basis, in
tropical areas of course palm fruits if available.
Nuts, like hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans are highly appreciated - but very fatty - food items.
A complete Macaw
It is important that the feed is added red palm oil on a regular basis e.g., "Amanprana's Red Palm Oil" which is a high quality - and certified organic - oil rich in carotenes and contains 7 kinds of
vitamin E, etc. Certain other types of quality oils can also be used.
Because of lack of commercial availability of Moriche palm fruits, unsalted shelled peanuts have earlier been used by some breeders as part of an adaptation to diet of captive birds,
but it can be risky due to the danger of Aspergillosis.
Red-bellied Macaws are eager chewers, so in order to make your
birds thrive and keep them mentally healthy, you must always provide fresh - non-polluted - natural branches and twigs (fir, pine, willow and elder) for them to chew. Heat sterilized pine cones, can also be provided.
the female bird enjoys bathing, particularly during breeding season, so you must provide shallow water bowls. The female lies in a dirty nest box and bathing is her way of getting cleaned up. The winter in Denmark can be rather cold, and even when it is freezing,
I have seen the birds bathing in just given fresh water, they simply love to get soaked. It shows that this species actually is hardy when it has been acclimatized properly.
Juvenile birds also love bathing, and I think
it also may have to do with the conditions (dirt) that they grew up with in the nest box.
In order to make the birds thrive optimal, the aviary must have a minimum length of 3 - 4 meters for breeding and - if possible -
with access to a larger flight for the rest of the year.
An absolutely indispensable thing for Red-bellied Macaws is access to mineral blocks / iodine blocks, which they also love to gnaw in, and these provide the birds
with many necessary trace elements. When you see film footage from nature of this species, you will often see that they visit large rock walls in the jungle together with other large Macaw species; it is typically clay walls they are visiting and which are
ingested to neutralize toxins from other food items in the organism.
Photo 10: Orthopsittaca manilatus: You can use different types of nest boxes for Red-bellied Macaws. Personally, I have had good experiences with using a traditional vertical nest box made of thick waterproof plywood, which at the same time can withstand the birds’ persistent gnawing.
GENERAL ABOUT BREEDING IN HUMAN CARE
Before acquiring the Red-bellied Macaws, I had from the start decided to buy a minimum
of two pairs, as the bird by nature is highly sociable and in the wild is a flock bird. At the same time, it was my guess that it would ensure that the birds better could settle down and feel safe by socializing with fellow species.
As already stated, it is rare to see breeding of the Red-bellied Macaw in human care. If you are so privileged to own this species, and the pair start to breed, then you may even be lucky enough to see its rather special mating act, which it has
in common with certain other parrot species e.g., Patagonian Parakeet (Cyanoliseus patagonus ssp). The mating between the sexes takes place with the birds, sitting next to each other on a horizontal branch or perch, approaching each
other and turning their tails up wards with their lower bumps rubbing against each other, an act that can take some minutes.
It is not advisable to carry out a nest box check within the first 14 days after the hatching of
the first egg, as there is a great risk that the female bird will leave the nest permanently. Even if it is difficult, one should leave the birds alone and let the female bond closer to her chicks during the first two weeks.
species can lay 2 - 4 pure white oval eggs, which are incubated for approximately 26 days. On those several occasions I have had eggs from my two pairs, I have in all cases - except in one case where 4 eggs were laid - experienced "only" 3 eggs were laid,
and they were laid every 2nd day.
Already a few days old, the chicks are characterized by their first down suit with long ultra-thin white downs, which subsequently are replaced by a shorter, but significantly denser greyish
down suit. Approximately 14 days old, you will be able to see the first tiny feathers across the back of the chicks begin to show.
This species should be ringed with closed solid metal rings (“year rings”) that
are either 9,5 or 10,0 mm in diameter. If you use 9,5 mm closed “year rings” the birds can be ringed 14 days old, but if you use 10,0 mm closed “year rings”, you should wait to ring the chicks until they reach the age of 20 days. If
you ring the birds earlier, you might risk doing the job again, as the closed “year ring” constantly will fall off the chick's legs, since the chicks can be very lively. The first time you ring a clutch of chicks, you will - if you have video surveillance
of the nest box - be able to experience that the parent birds very curiously examine and bite in the ring. Thank God I have not experienced that any parent birds have bitten the chicks in the leg in order to remove the closed rings.
Photo 11: Orthopsittaca manilatus: Camcorder surveillance of the Red-bellied Macaws' nest boxes has proven to be indispensable. Hours of observations have shown me the mutual care and tenderness that the pair shows towards each other and - not least - to their chicks. The parent birds, especially the female, show such persistent and great care for their chicks which includes preening as well as cuddling in a way that no human being will ever be able to replace. The camcorder surveillance has also shown that there are differences in the behavioral patterns between my two pairs, as the male bird in one pair is allowed to enter the nest box all day long to rest with the female and chicks taking active part in the family life besides contributing to the feeding of the female and/or the chicks. It is very unlike the male in the other pair, he is not allowed to rest in the nest box with the female during the morning and afternoon hours, exclusively in the night, but he is only allowed to come into the nest box during the day to feed the female and/or the chick.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES WITH RED-BELLIED MACAWS
Although Red-bellied Macaws in the wild are very social towards their mate and are
found in small groups (or flocks) both inside and outside the breeding season, I have chosen to keep my two pairs in their own aviaries each with access to their own isolated interior aviary in an adjacent birdhouse that can be heated during the winter season.
I keep the two pairs in close proximity to each other to make them feel safer and at the same time enabling them to socialize with fellow species. However, I have wanted to keep them in separate aviaries to avoid any potential aggressions towards each other,
although this species does not initially seem particularly aggressive towards fellow species.
As already mentioned, this species is by nature very shy and fearful, so the first years I owned the birds, I hardly saw them.
When I approached their aviaries, they flew into the birdhouse, and when I went into the birdhouse, the birds flew out into the aviaries or into the nest boxes.
Only the female incubates the eggs, but unless the male forages
or sits and keeps watch outside the nest box, in some pairs he likes to lie next to the female in the nest box. According to my video observations the male can also take part in warming the chicks when they reach a certain size. A pair can have a very close
relationship with each other, and both outside the breeding season and during the breeding season (typically inside the nest box itself) the pair spends a lot of time on mutual preening and cuddling.
I have never had problems
getting the birds to go into nest boxes - on the contrary. The nest boxes that I use are made of approximately 2,5 cm thick waterproof plywood and are of a vertical design. The nest boxes have a base area of 35 cm x 35 cm and a height of 65 cm. The actual
entrance hole for the nest box has a diameter of 11 cm. All nest boxes are cleaned and disinfected very thoroughly both before commissioning and - not least - after the end of the breeding season. Heat-treated, dust-free beech chips (“broken beech wood”)
are used as nesting material. In addition, the nest boxes at the start of the breeding season are completely filled with fresh - non-polluted - natural branches, which the female bird loves to bite into small chips. This actually helps to stimulate the birds'
breeding instinct, and it can also help to activate the female bird so that she does not become a feather picker during the breeding process.
The birds are closely attached to their nest box, and the female is typically
the last to leave the nest box during nest box checks. Here, as with a number of other Macaw and parrot species, the female can turn on its back at the bottom of the nest box and literally defend its chicks with "beak and claws".
In addition to using actual nest boxes during the breeding season, I also use so-called “toilet boxes” of the same dimensions outside the breeding season, cf. further under the next paragraph. If the birds were allowed to have nest boxes
all the time, they would use them all year round - also for rest and accommodation - whereby, even if a high level of hygiene is maintained in the nesting boxes, there may be a substantial risk that the birds contract Aspergillosis.
Photo 12: Orthopsittaca manilatus: According to various scientific records and literature, the Red-bellied Macaw lays 2 - 4 eggs. Through the years my two pairs have constantly laid 3 eggs EVERY time except for once back in 2019 where one of the pair laid 4 eggs on the ground in their aviary. Here is a photo from the nest box, where the female bird, for a rare occasion, is about to leave the nest box.
BREEDING HISTORY - THE FIRST 5 YEARS EXPERIENCES
In the wild, this species gathers in smaller or larger flocks and therefore
the starting point for my breeding activities has always been that the two pairs of Red-bellied Macaw’s physical should be very close to each other and at least should be able to hear each other, but as far as possible also see each other.
In what follows, I will first year by year describe my common experiences with the two pairs and especially pair no. 1, and finally there is a paragraph that summarizes my special experiences with pair no. 2 on where they differ in behavior from
pair no. 1.
The years with my Red-bellied Macaws have gone like this:
pairs were bought in the middle of the summer, and they did not get a nest box and thus opportunities to breed, as the primary goal with the birds in the short run just was to try to keep them alive and make them thrive. In addition, it was important for me
to try to "connect" to the birds, in other words to make them calm down and win their trust, as I always try to do with newly purchased birds. It is a process that is already starting in connection with a mandatory 8-week long quarantine stay in a physically
separated location. During the quarantine stay, the birds sat completely isolated, where they underwent a systematic examination by a veterinarian specializing in bird diseases. At the same time blood, feathers and cloacal swabs were sampled by the vet for
a series of clinical disease tests (both via PCR and serological) at a foreign laboratory. Furthermore, the birds' droppings were analyzed for possible parasites and coccidiosis.
It was already during the quarantine stay
that I learned that the Red-bellied Macaw is something very special, as it - unless it is a hand-reared bird - is an incredibly shy and fearful species. I had already read relevant professional literature and realized that this species can be extremely shy,
but I had not imagined that it was that bad. Compared to other shy parrot species that I have kept over the years, it has always been possible for me - at least to a minimal extent - to win the birds' trust during the quarantine stay by seeing them frequently,
but quietly and carefully, so that the birds could learn who is giving them fresh water and food on a daily basis. During the entire quarantine stay, the birds continued to sit up in the wire mesh wall in one corner of each of their cages and kept screaming.
All tests and examinations went well. After the quarantine stay, the birds were placed in their respective smaller aviaries without any nest box, but both were aviaries filled with lots of fresh - non-polluted - natural branches
with lots of leaves that could provide the birds natural protection.
Also, a part of the story is that in the late summer of 2016 - after four years of searching - my wife and me finally found and bought a house in the country,
which should give me significantly better opportunities to keep noisy parrots. When you live in a densely populated residential area in a town, the neighbors certainly do not appreciate that one is keeping birds such as Red-bellied Macaws. However, I got a
“once in a life time”-opportunity to buy just the right birds, so I said yes and bought them. I knew it was only a matter of time before we would find a property in the countryside, and thus could give these birds the optimal conditions.
Photo 13: Orthopsittaca manilatus: Photo of a few days old, dead chicks from the summer of 2020, which were the first chicks I bred. Unfortunately, at this point, the parent birds could not figure out how to feed the chicks, so they died. In the photo you can see that their crops are completely empty of food. For ethical and animal welfare reasons, I do not want to hand-rear birds to a life with an unnatural human behavior. It is striking that newly hatched chicks of this species even have very long white down.
A new combined birdhouse and aviary facility, which was planned to be
completed in the spring of 2017, on our new country estate, was unfortunately severely delayed by the construction company. During the summer I therefore chose to move the two pairs of Red-bellied Macaws out into a couple of temporary aviaries on our new country
estate. This happened without any expectations that it would yield any results, as noisy construction activities would take place over several months during the summer around the construction of the new birdhouse and aviary facility.
Both pairs were installed in each of their temporary aviaries and nesting boxes were set up in each aviary. At the same time, "toilet boxes" were also set up in each aviary to let the birds get used to them. During the summer, 3 unfertilized eggs
were laid in each of the two nest boxes.
In November 2017, the new birdhouse with associated aviary facility, in which two specially designed aviaries were made for the Red-bellied Macaws, was completed. The special design
consists of outdoor aviaries that only have wire mesh in the ceiling as well as in the front, and the rest of the aviaries consist of solid walls of metal plates that can be easily washed off. The interior aviaries in the birdhouse, which the birds themselves
are free to enter, also have solid walls in the ceilings and on all walls, which makes cleaning easier. In addition, the front part of the two interior aviaries is not covered with wire mesh, but with acrylic glass, which also is easy to keep clean.
The birds were then moved from the temporary aviaries to the new birdhouse with associated aviary facility.
In early 2018, I set up a nest box in each of the interior aviaries in the birdhouse, which further contributed to the fact that I virtually never saw the birds. As I approached their outdoor aviaries, the birds fled into the birdhouse. Conversely,
if the birds were in the interior aviaries and I got close to them, then they either disappeared into the nest boxes or out through the flight hole into the outdoor aviaries.
The summer of 2018 was marked by a completely
unexpected and historically long heat wave and drought in Denmark, which meant that the entire breeding season was lost. Although the two pairs of Red-bellied Macaws now resided in each of their new specially designed aviaries, they once again only laid unfertilized
eggs, 3 eggs per pair.
At the same time, I also had a theory that it might have been too much for these shy birds to have their nest boxes hanging inside a birdhouse with a number of other, very noisy and large parrot species.
At the beginning of the year, I therefore chose to move the Red-bellied Macaws’ nest boxes out of the birdhouse's
interior aviaries and instead hang them at the back wall of each of the adjacent outdoor aviaries. In that way, the birds would not be affected in the same intense way by the other, large and noisy parrot species that inhabit the birdhouse.
The result for 2019 was that only one pair laid eggs and again all were unfertilized. For some reason, a total of 4 eggs were laid on the bottom of the aviary under the nest box and not inside the nest box itself.
neither did this season yield any results. I therefore decided that some further changes should be made in the efforts to breed this difficult species. I would like to give the birds even more peace compared to the other parrot species, which also inhabit
the birdhouse and the neighboring aviaries, and at the same time the birds should feel even more safe in the new surroundings.
At the beginning of the year, the birds were therefore moved to a smaller, free-standing outdoor aviary facility with a few empty aviaries and without access to indoor space. These aviaries are also characterized by having only wire mesh in the ceiling
and in the front, while the rear wall and the outer side walls are of solid materials. The ceiling is also covered with a clear thermal roof. In return, the two pairs of Red-bellied Macaws could see each other between the side wall, which for one half was
covered with wire mesh and the other half with a solid wall. In this way, these shy birds could feel safer by being able to both hear and see each other, and they only had to deal with possible external dangers that they could see through the front. The nest
boxes were mounted on the back wall inside each of the two outdoor aviaries. As something new for this species, I also had wireless, remote-controlled camcorders installed inside of each of the nest box lids, so I was better able to follow the breeding process.
There was also some planting in each of the aviaries to ensure their safety - especially in connection with foraging - as well as natural hiding places.
During the summer, 3 eggs were laid
by each of the pairs again, and during the summer I even experienced one pair mating on two occasions - a rather somewhat special mating ritual - which is described elsewhere in this article.
The result of the 2020 breeding
season was that one pair had again laid unfertilized eggs (the pair that I saw mate twice). The other pair had also laid 3 eggs, one of which was unfertilized, but the other two eggs were fertilized and actually two chicks came out of these eggs. Unfortunately,
both of these chicks died in the nest box after a few days, as the parent birds, primarily the female, apparently could not figure out how to feed them. In the accompanying photo you can see the two dead chicks, and in particular you can see that their crops
are completely empty of food.
Now I knew I was on the right track, so I just had to be patient and change a few other parameters, then maybe next year I would succeed in breeding.
the same time, I decided to use my wireless camcorder system even more offensively in the coming year, so I could get even closer to the breeding process.
Photo 14: Orthopsittaca manilatus: This camcorder photo from one of my Red-bellied Macaw nests shows my first two living chicks 30 and 32 days old. Their state of health is extremely satisfactory. In addition, the parents are feeding the chicks in the best possible way so that you actually can watch them grow day by day. The parent birds also show an incredible care for the chicks through persistent preening and cuddling.
The season started early with preparation as well as another cleaning
and disinfection of the two nest boxes before hanging them on the back wall in the same aviaries that had been used the year before. Prior to the suspension, an approximately 5 cm thick new layer of dust-treated beech chips were put in the bottom of each nest
box. In addition, both nest boxes were filled with portions of fresh - non-polluted - natural branches and finally, fully charged camcorders were mounted in the corner on the inside of each nest box lid.
The natural branches
in the nest box contribute to the female being able to shape her own nest, as she chews these branches and makes her own wood chips. In addition, the female also likes to lie in the nest box throughout the entire breeding process and continue with shredding
the beech chips that make up most of the bottom material. In fact, I have observed via camcorder that it is one of the female's main occupations during the incubation period, where she also can take a portion of wood chips in her beak and throw it around inside
the nest. Moulted feathers from the adult birds are also used as part of the bottom material.
As a new initiative, the birds in each aviary were offered even larger water bowls where they better could bathe, which especially
the females are very happy about in all kinds of weather. They like to bathe during the breeding process, but the female bird can also take a bath in completely clean water outside the breeding season even in freezing weather, so when this species is acclimatized
in the right way, they appear very hardy. Bathing seems to increase the well-being of the birds and is therefore of great importance.
This year started with favorable weather, so the birds started laying eggs early, laying
the first of a total of 3 eggs 22nd May. Unfortunately, it did not turn out to be anything, and after the incubation period was exceeded by more than 1 week, I found that one of the 3 eggs was unfertilized, while the other 2 eggs were fertilized,
but contained 2 dead fetuses that were estimated to have died at the age of 2 - 3 days.
As the birds had started early this season, I decided - after renewing the bottom material in the nest box - to let the birds keep the
nest box to see if it could turn into a second clutch. It took no more than a few minutes after I had hung the nest box up again inside the aviary before the female took it into use again.
On the 16th July I found
that an egg had been laid again - in other words there was a second clutch on the way and the weather was with us in the sense that the weather was not unbearably hot or too cold.
The 11th August I found with
great joy that an egg had hatched and a playful chick had arrived, which I via the camcorder's loud speaker could hear sounded vital. Already the day hereafter another egg hatched, and this chick also appeared vital. I then went through some very exciting
days before I via the camcorder could see that this year was the year when the female was able to find out how to feed her young in a completely convincing way. This typically happened after the male had fed her in the nest box, as she herself only came out
of the nest box twice a day to forage. A little later in the process, I found out via the camcorder that the male also feeds the young directly, so they receive food from both parents, which is a touching and breathtaking sight. In fact, as soon as the chicks
had their down suit, and later small feathers, the female begins to lie and cuddle them on their wings, back and feet, and the male did the same later in the process. This is how parrot chicks need to start their lives by having their parents provide for their
food and care for them 24 hours a day, something a human who hand-rear parrot chicks never will be able to.
In the coming days I was frequently checking up via video camera to see - and hear - if the chicks still were (and
sounded) vital, in other words did the parents continue to care for the chicks properly, which they happily did.
The male in pair no. 1 preferred to keep a daily siesta inside the nest box and lay and slept side by side
with the chicks together with the female from around late in the morning until out in the afternoon.
At the age of approximately 14 days the chicks opened their eyes.
I had been told that
the birds should be ringed with a closed ring when they were 14 days old, but it depends on the ring size that is used, cf. elsewhere in this article. I therefore had to re-ring the two chicks 4 times (!), during which I also put new thin layers of beech chips
in the bottom of the nest box. After the last ringing, I saw that the male inside the nest box tried to “examine” the ring from one of the chick's legs, happily without harming it in any way, so in the end the “year rings” remained
Not until the second chick was 20 days old, I actually heard small screams from it. At this time the second down suit was getting dense, and it was in connection with ringing the bird with a “year ring”.
At the age of 21 days, I observed that the chicks already were testing their featherless wings in the nest box. From this point on, I frequently observed that the chicks tested their wings in the nest box.
As the chicks
grew older, the male parent bird had to seek out the feeding bowls more and more often and for longer periods of time. In this connection, I found - after more than 5 years of ownership of the birds - that I could now get as close to the aviaries as 5 meters,
if I went my usual route, without the male bird fleeing into the nest box, and at one point the male even stayed by the feeding bowls and continued to eat, while I was watching him from a distance of 5 meter; after all it had gone in the right direction with
the familiarity of the birds. Fortunately, the birds have become more used to the presence of humans.
The closer to the time of fledging came, the more the female bird began to leave the nest for longer periods at a time.
Typically, she sat resting in the aviary or took a bath and afterwards she began to tidy and clean her feathers. On these occasions I could follow the chicks in the nest box via the camcorder where they hung on the inside ladder just below the nest hole where
they tested their wings preparing to leave the nest soon.
Mid October at a 4 days interval the two chicks fledge the nest box (at the ages of 63 and respectively 67 days), and they seemed to be surprisingly calm and stationary.
As newly hatched chicks they are so "terrified" that they stay seated (they "freeze", like e.g., chicks of the Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta)) when you get too close. They are beautiful big birds, both perfect in
every way. They look like the parent birds, though somewhat smaller and darker in the coloration of the plumage and with much shorter tails. Their bare facial skin is at this stage cream-colored and will turn mustard-yellow later on. If you see the naked facial
skin of a chick in the nest box, it may already appear completely mustard-yellow like the parent birds' face masks, but this is because you see them down in a dark nest box.
After the chicks had left the nest, they have
- with few exceptions - spent the night outside the nest box, unlike the parent birds, which continue to spend the night in the nest. On a single occasion, my wife observed that a few days after the oldest chick had fledged the nest box, it apparently was
prevented from coming into the nest box towards the evening.
In various - usually trustworthy - literature on parrots one can read that the chicks of Red-bellied Macaws fledge the nest at the age of 11 weeks. However, this is not in line with the experience
I have had, it’s simply not right as the chicks develop much faster. According to my experience the chicks leave the nest at the age of 8 - 9 weeks, fully developed and fully feathered. The erroneous statement of 11 weeks indicates to me that there are
not many who have breeding experience in practice with this species and the misinformation must be due to ignorance of the facts of breeding this bird.
I am now looking forward to the juvenile birds settling down, and later
I will get a gender determination test done using DNA technology.
According to a very experienced European breeder the chicks take a long time to become independent, just as long as seen among the large Macaw species. Before
removing the chicks from the parent birds, you have to watch them eat on their own for a while in about 4 weeks.
It should be mentioned that the 3rd egg in the second clutch never hatched.
Film 01: Orthopsittaca manilatus: This little film shows what is happening in the crowded nest box when the chicks are around 45 days old. The chicks sleep most of the time and in addition they regularly receive food from the parent birds, but when the chicks are awake, they can be quite lively. They are already testing their wings only a few weeks old, even though the wings have only just gotten the first tiny feathers. When you are a 45 days old Red-bellied Macaw, a lot happens.
Especially about pair no. 2 in 2021
The breeding cycles for this breeding pair started sometime later than pair
no. 1, and once again three eggs were laid. This time 1 egg hatched and this pair has also taken really good care of their chick. They have a slightly different behavior compared to pair no. 1. The female in this pair doesn’t allow the male to come into
the nest apart from when he brings new food or want to go to rest at night. If the male during the day - before the chick came - tried to enter the nest box while the female lay in it, she would attack him until he left the nest again, which would happen during
loud screaming. She didn’t leave the nest as often as the female in pair no. 1. This female has often been laying in the nest box during the incubation period "chattering", while she "twitched" with her wings calling for the male to come and feed her.
This chick has also become a beautiful perfect bird, and I am looking very much forward to see all the chicks grow up to be healthy, big adult birds.
The chick in this pair was ringed some
weeks later (age 19 days) with a 9,5 mm closed “year ring”. At the same time the camcorder was replaced with a new one that were fully charged. A new nice layer of beech chips mixed - this time mixed with fresh beech leaves - were put into the
nest box, so that the bottom didn’t become too light and different as this female is even more shy and scared than the female in pair no. 1. Yet it took a little over an hour before the female went back into the nest box again, she was - together with
the male - hanging outside on the nest box by the nest hole screaming. Finally, the female went into the nest box while the male was flying to his usual guard place on a perch in the front of the aviary. The male in pair no. 1 did not keep watch in the same
way as the male in pair no. 2, he was more interested in being with the family inside the nest box.
Since I bought my two pairs of Red-bellied Macaws, I have been trying develop ideas of how to keep - and breed - this species
since there are only a few serious breeding reports on this species. I have had no choice but to try out different housing, diets and accommodations, etc., in order to find out more about the needs of this species in captivity so it not only can survive, but
also is able to thrive and want to breed. This mission has been a challenge and have demanded great patience and I have only been able to succeed through enthusiasm and commitment - and this time everything went well. I am especially proud that I myself have
been able to put together two breeding pairs of completely unrelated big birds of the best possible quality.
Photo 15: Cyanopsitta spixii: The picture shows 3 chicks of the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), which is one of the Red-bellied Macaws nearest relatives. The Spix’s Macaw is one of the world’s rarest bird species and was declared extinct in the wild in year 2000, a status that is being changed by the organization ACTP in Germany. Please notice that these Spix’s Macaw chicks have a white culmen along the upper mandible similar to the one seen on the Red-bellied Macaw. This eye-catching white mid-line stripe running along the top of the upper mandible vanish before the age of 6 - 8 months after which the beak is completely black. (Photo from the internet: Taken by ACTP, Germany, published in MONGABAY - NEWS & INSPIRATION FROM NATURE’S FRONTLINE on 19th March 2020).
Red-bellied Macaws are difficult to keep and they are difficult to breed, so they have never been a common species
among aviculturists around the world. It is my contention that it never will be due to their shy and fearful nature that make it difficult for them to adapt to conditions in human care.
Time will tell whether I am right
in this assumption.
In any case, I hope that there in the future will be more aviculturists who seriously - purposefully and long-termed - will focus on this species, so that we can maintain the population in human care.
For my part, I am now able to put together completely unrelated pairs and keep on working for the survival of this species by trying to establish a self-supporting breeding strain.
especially been a great pleasure to be able to carry out natural breedings of this in many ways peculiar species, it shows that it can be done if you are goal-oriented, show patience and work long-term.
Conceived / Updated: 29.10.2021/29.10.2021
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Photo 16: Orthopsittaca manilatus: Here is my pair no. 1 of Red-bellied Macaws with the female bird to the left and the male bird to the right and with the two newly fledged chicks between them. The youngest bird, that left the nest only two days ago, is sitting as no. 2 from the left just beside the mother. It is very difficult to photograph Red-bellied Macaws unless they are hand-fed individuals or newly hatched chicks, as they by nature are incredibly shy and fly away at the first opportunity. Newly hatched pups are so terrified that they stay seated (they "freeze") when you get too close. If I had to have the whole family together on one picture, I therefore had to shoot the photo at a distance of almost 25 m with a Canon EF 70 - 200 mm ultrasonic lens (f / 2.8L USM).
About the Blue-naped Parrot (Tanygnathus lucionensis)
A story about determining the right subspecies
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My first encounter with the Tanygnathus genus
Already when I was a teenager back at the beginning of the 1970's, you could occasionally see some very special parrot species at one of the large bird traders in Copenhagen (Denmark), who were known for continuously importing many parrots from the various parrot continents. They were smaller medium to medium sized green parrots with a beautiful mosaic pattern on their wings, which is caused by the different colored wing coverts are being broadly marked with orange-yellow edges (in most of the subspecies) and with an impressive, disproportionately large red beak compared to the rest of the bird. These birds later turned out to be Tanygnathus lucionensis and Tanygnathus megalorynchos, and I remember that on the few occasions I saw them, it was usually just a single bird in the cage tucked away over in a corner of the shop premises, possibly because they were mistakenly included in a shipment from Asia along with a number of other far more popular parrot species.
At this time, nobody really knew anything about these birds, and at the same time they did not seem to have much interest among aviculturists. This has since changed quite a bit because nowadays many aviculturists are fascinated by these parrots.
But what is it that makes parrots from the Tanygnathus genus so fascinating?
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: The scientific Latin species name "lucionensis" means coming from Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. This is the nominate subspecies coming from the islands of Luzon and Mindore in the northern parts of the Philippines. The beautiful photo clearly shows the upper side of the nominate subspecies which is characterized by it is having a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump. Photo: Forest Botial-Jarvis-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML560592651.
Brief introduction to the whole Tanygnathus genus
Before we delve into the substance and take a closer look at the main focus of this article, namely the determination of the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies, here is an overall and very short introduction to the entire Tanygnathus genus:
The Tanygnathus genus represents a group of parrots with predominantly green plumage that are smaller medium to medium sized birds with large - in several instances - very large, heavy mainly red beak (hence the Latin scientific designation, “Tanygnathus”, that means extended, long and beak/jaw, is well-deserved) and a proportionately short, wedge-shaped rounded tail, which is somewhat stepped and is shorter than their wings, giving them - according to the world-renowned Australian ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw - a “top-heavy” look. There is no prominent notch in the upper mandible and the cere is naked. Sexual dimorphism is slight or absent, and young birds generally appear duller than adults.
The premise of this article is the world's leading, current nomenclature/taxonomy, “THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD”, version 4 from 2013 and newest version 4.1 from August 2018, ”Errata and Corrigenda to Volume 1”, (used by the world's leading scientists, researchers, ornithologists, curators, etc.) mentions the following species and subspecies belonging to the Tanygnathus genus:
Status in the wild according to BirdLife International: “Vulnerable”.
The members of the Tanygnatus genus are closely related to the Eclectus Parrots (the Eclectus genus). However, the most Tanygnathus species are much smaller and are less heavily built than the Eclectus Parrots and thus more elegant. Just as you see with members of the Eclectus genus, Tanygnathus females are also known to be quite aggressive towards males, but in fact some Tanygnathus males can also be aggressive towards females. It can even become so violently that the female's toes can be bitten off. As with the Eclectus Parrots, there is only limited interaction between the sexes in daily life and mutual preening is not something that I yet have experienced in the Tanygnathus species that I have kept for some years.
Genetic evidence has also supported close relationship to the Psittacula genus as it looked like up until 2019. For example, there are many similarities between Tanygnathus megalorhynchus and Psittacula eupatria magnirostris (nowadays Palaeornis eupatria magnirostris, in english Andaman Alexandrine Parakeet); if one abstracts from the fact that the former has a short tail and the latter has a long tail, just try to compare the enormous and amazing beaks of both birds.
This genus is native to Southeast Asia and Melanesia. The overall distribution area is mainly the Philippines, New Guinea, the Moluccas and Sulawesi (the world's 11th largest island, also called Celebes).
In nature, their food mainly consists of fruits (e.g., mangoes), seeds, berries, nuts and insects. Sometimes their food also consists of crops e.g., corn.
What particularly fascinates me about this genus is their disproportionately large beak, which in the vast majority of cases is large and red and thus very prominent, you can't help but focus precisely on it when you look at the bird. It cannot be said that the members of the genus Tanygnathus are brightly colored, but most species/subspecies have an incredibly beautiful mosaic pattern on their wings, which is caused by the different colored wing coverts are being broadly marked with orange-yellow edges (in most of the subspecies). Although some of the birds may appear a little compact, they are very agile and move incredibly elegantly in the branches of the trees.
Kept in human care, these birds appear very shy at first, but gradually they become calmer and, in some cases, they can become completely comfortable with human contact.
None of the four different Tanygnatus species have ever been common within the aviculture, which may be surprising, as they are rather quiet and low-voiced birds that you can become familiar with over time. Having said that, Tanygnathus lucionensis is the "most frequently" occurring species among aviculturists, whereas Tanygnatus megalorynchos and Tanygnathus sumatranus are seen even less often. Very remarkably, Tanygnathus lucionensis has the reverse status in nature where it has become a fragile species with a status of being "Near Threatened". BirdLife International has estimated that there are only 1,500 - 7,000 individuals left in the wild of this species with associated subspecies. Besides, the population development is also decreasing mainly due to logging of trees in its habitats. Neither Tanygnatus megalorynchos nor Tanygnathus sumatranus is nearly threatened in the wild, fortunately they are of the least concern. It is therefore very paradoxical that Tanygnathus lucionensis is the most widespread species among aviculturists in Europe.
Tanygnathus megalorhynchos sumbensis: This photo shows a subspecies of the biggest species belonging to the Tanygnathus genus, the Great-billed Parrot (Tanygnatus megalorynchos) which also have the largest and most impressive beak of these species. Tanygnatus megalorhynchos sumbensis, comes from the island of Sumba (Lesser Sundas). Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
Lack of reliable knowledge about the Tanygnathus genus
One thing is to have a scientifically worked-out taxonomy that lists and divides the Tanygnathus genus into species and subspecies distributed by geographical distribution areas, another thing is to find reliable sources (field studies, literature, photos, etc.) that describe all the members of this genus in detail and accurately. I have many parrot books, encyclopedias, etc., but I have never managed to find a book with accompanying photos that in a credible manner in detail describe all the various Tanygnathus species with its associated subspecies. At best, this genus is all too often referred to be only peripherally described in these books. Moreover, a number of these descriptions are only superficial, and it is of no use if you have to determine the subspecies of a species that has a number of very comparable subspecies (cf. later). The different parrot books contain almost no photos where one can really compare all the subspecies and see the differences between these. Up until now I haven't been able to find a book or another source of sufficient credibility and accuracy.
With this article, I will try to contribute to creating a little more clarification in relation to some of Tanygnathus lucionensis' subspecies, and that is the focus for the rest of this article. At the same time, it must be emphasized that the present article predominantly deals with taxonomic and morphological issues in order to try to determinate the right subspecies of the Tanygnathus lucionensis that I keep, to which comes some general information about the species in the wild. However, the article does not deal with topics such as keeping, feeding and breeding of Tanygnathus lucionensis in human custody.
A little about Tanygnathus lucionensis in the wild
Very summary, this is a smaller medium sized parrot, around 31 cm in length, primarily green except for a light blue rear crown and nape, pale blue lower back and rump (cf. subspecies later), shoulders with broad orange-yellow edges on black wing coverts, and blackish underwings with green underwing coverts.
As already mentioned, this species is listed as “Near Threatened” by BirdLife International because there are some indications that it has a moderately small, fragmented population, and it may be undergoing a continuing decline due to habitat loss (logging) and trapping. However, little is still known about the population size, population structure and threats to this species.
Tanygnathus lucionensis is present throughout the Philippines, where there are records from at least 45 islands, plus the Talaud Islands, Indonesia, and islands off north-east Borneo belonging to Malaysia (e.g., Kota Kinabalu, which is a very popular photo spot for tourists interested in this species) and it is therefore not a country endemic species.
It was common on most islands in the Philippines a century or less ago, but has suffered declines since on such a scale that it is now rare or extinct on many islands. However, it does survive in small pockets of habitat on the smaller islands, so that its status overall is difficult for BirdLife International to assess. Moreover, it is still fairly numerous in some areas of Palawan and on Tawi-Tawi, and high numbers should be present in a large tract of forest on Talaud. Intensive habitat loss and trapping have made this species scarce on most islands except Mindoro and Palawan, but still a local animal protection organization has raised concerns over the increasing illegal trade of this bird on Palawan.
It also occurs in urban areas such as several national parks within the Philippines: Bataan, Quezon and Minalungaw.
As previously stated, BirdLife International's current estimate of the number of Tanygnathus lucionensis (incl. subspecies) is 1,500 - 7,000 mature individuals, while the population development is described as declining owing to habitat degradation from agricultural expansion and logging pressures to which comes illegal trapping for the cagebird trade. It is a bird of closed and open forest formations, including secondary forests, coconut and banana plantations and mangrove, chiefly in lowland and coastal areas, up to 1,000 m. It is usually found in flocks of up to 12 individuals which roost communally and make regular dawn and dusk flights between feeding and roosting areas. Breeding takes place in a hole in a tree in from April till July.
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: When you see photos of these birds from the nature, you most often see them sitting in the tall tree crowns where they prefer to be. Although some of the birds may appear a little compact, they are very agile and move incredibly elegantly in the branches of the trees. Photo: Stephan Lorenz-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML563667891.
The scientifically recognized subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis
“THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD” (see above) recognizes the following subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis:
Note to the above table:
I am fully aware that in the spring of 2023, Arndt-Verlag has issued a new - and final - complete version of the "Namensliste der Papageienarten und Unterarten" (Latin, German and English names). It states the existence of - in relation to Arndt-Verlag's poster with the Tanygnathus genus (“Großschnabelpapageien”) - four "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies, namely nigrorum, siquijorensis, koikei und paraguenus, without these being further described. These four 4 "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies are not recognized today by the leading scientific taxonomy, and the deviations that the designation of these subspecies has expressed in its time are today simply considered variance within the framework of the currently recognized subspecies. They are thus assimilated into the current range of subspecies.
So, these four "other" Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies are ignored here, as the article is based on the world's leading taxonomy, which is based on solid scientific evidence as the basis for the division into species and subspecies (for example, the subspecies, siquijorensis, was in its time solely determined from only a single holotype specimen).
All of the four "other" subspecies mentioned by Arndt-Verlag, koikei and paraguenus, as well as nigrorum and siquijorensis, were all already mentioned as subspecies in the world's first large complete parrot book, called "Papegøjebogen" (in English "The Parrot Book"), which was written by the Dane, J. L Albrecht-Møller, with the assistance of another Dane, Aage V. Nielsen. J. L. Albrecht-Møller was approximately 30 years to write "The Parrot Book", which was completely published in 1973. Unfortunately, the book is only available in Danish and consists of almost 700 densely written pages spread over 3 volumes as well as a completely extra 4th volume filled with color drawings of a large number of species and subspecies of parrots of all kinds.
In fact, it was a third Dane, an internationally highly respected scientist, Finn Salomonsen (zoologist and ornithologist), who first described the subspecies nigrorum and siquijorensi. During an expedition to the Philippines in the years 1951 - 1952, he also did some research on this genus.
As mentioned, none of the above four "other" subspecies have found grace for inclusion in Howard and Moore's taxonomy. Nor does the world's second major scientific "heavyweighter" within bird taxonomy, "The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World", 6th Edition, that was published and released by Cornell University Press in June 2007 take these four "other" subspecies into account.
Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis: As a nest these birds use a hole in a tree where they during April - July are breeding. The nest is often found in secondary forest, at forest edges and in plantations at elevations of up to 1000 m. Photo: Bradley Hacker-Bataan, Philippines-Macaulay Library ML214490541.
My first purchases of Tanygnathus lucionensis did not go as hoped
From my first encounter with this genus back in the early 1970's, it was always in the back of my mind that when the right opportunity presented itself, I would like to acquire such birds, but almost a lifetime should pass before thoughts turned into action in autumn 2018. Here I acquired my first pair of Tanygnathus lucionensis from a foreign breeder who had guaranteed me a 100 % perfect and unrelated pair. As he himself only had one breeding pair, he had procured an unrelated female bird via another aviculturist in a neighboring country. The breeder informed me that the birds were of the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, which, compared to the nominate subspecies, that has a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, instead has a pure green plumage in the same places. He further stated that it was the subspecies that was found most among aviculturists in Europe. After driving many hundreds of kilometers to collect the birds, it unfortunately turned out that the breeder's own male bird - in contrary to what he had otherwise promised - was not 100 % perfect, as it was basically missing half the length of the tail, which I had not been informed about before my departure from Denmark. Since I had driven so far, and because it was a rather rare bird, I chose, after consultation with my wife, who went along on the trip, to bring both birds home to Denmark, but my disappointment with this seller, who, after all, several times had guaranteed that both birds were 100 % in order, was great. At home in Denmark, the birds were placed in an approximately 6-week long quarantine period and different clinical disease testings were conducted both via PCR and serology, and all test results were negative for ABV/PDD, APV, PBFD, and CPS, etc. Already during the quarantine period, I had observed that the male bird, which unfortunately was hand-reared, had an abnormal behavior. Besides, the fact that it had a habit of plucking its own feathers, it was obviously also mentally disturbed, which resulted in highly unusual behaviour, where it, among other things, sat in the same place around the clock without moving, and it seemed almost terrified of e.g., natural branches, to which was added the fact that it had absolutely no interaction with the female bird. I contacted the seller to return the bird, but he refused to take it back, so as the bird's condition further deteriorated, in consultation with a veterinarian specialized in bird diseases, it was decided to euthanize the bird, so my first attempt at acquiring a pair of this species ended in failure. The female was subsequently sold to another aviculturist who was missing a female bird, as I was of the opinion that it probably would be easier to buy a new pair together.
I had not given up on my dream of keeping this species, but next time the acquisition should be made from a much more serious and experienced breeder of this species. During my search for such a breeder, I sometimes came across other aviculturists who also mentioned that the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis is the kind that is most widespread among European aviculturists.
In autumn 2021 - after being registered with a new breeder for nearly 1 year in order to be allowed to buy a pair - I ended up buying a new pair. This breeder sold his birds just as being Tanygnathus lucionensis i.e., without being subspecies determined, but it was clear that even these newly acquired birds did not have the features known for the nominate subspecies in the form of a blue/bluish mantle, back, lower back and upper rump. Once again, these feather areas were completely green on the birds (as they also were on the two pairs of parent birds), so it had to be the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis. These birds came from an aviculturist who generally maintains a very high level of hygiene and besides has a bird collection that has been clinically tested for the common parrot diseases. Even so, I always also have newly purchased birds re-tested for diseases in connection with the 6-week quarantine period during which they are physically isolated. All the various tests turned out to be negative, but already a few days into the quarantine period the male still seemed to be a bit lethargic and he sneezed once in a while. So, once again he had to be examined by a veterinarian specialized in bird diseases, who took renewed samples from the bird. After laboratory analysis it turned out that the bird had a special rod bacterium that caused sinusitis, so it was put on a penicillin cure with a targeted antibiotic, but it didn't help, the bird got worse and had to remain in quarantine. Another two cures of other and more extensive penicillin preparations over several weeks (with an intermediate period of rebuilding the intestinal flora in the stomach) took place, but nothing helped, it was a chronic sinusitis, and as the bird's condition now was really bad, it also had to be euthanized without at any point having left the quarantine station for several months. The female bird, which is a big beautiful bird in top condition, had no symptoms at any time (sinusitis is not contagious), so this time I decided to keep the surviving female bird.
In 2022 I had the opportunity to buy several young birds from different breeding pairs from the same breeder, who gave me a price reduction on one of the new birds, because I had lost the male that I had bought from him the year before. All these birds came well throughout the quarantine period and besides the fact that they all seem very vital, they also have a very natural behavior, and I have to say that they really make use of their large beaks to gnaw on the many fresh (and unsprayed/uncontaminated) natural branches with which they continuously are supplied. The birds are all, without exception, completely green in the plumage on the mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, and therefore - once again - it just had to be the subspecies Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, cf. the information I had received from the various breeders I had spoken to around Europe. Besides, the birds also visually corresponded to a very lifelike drawing in Joseph M. Forshaw's magnificent book, “Parrots of the World” (1st edition, 1973), on page 189, where there is an absolutely excellent color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis made by the outstanding illustrator, the late William T. Cooper (the drawing shows an adult male only with a blue nape (rest of the head is green) and with completely green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump).
The doubt about which subspecies arises
From 2018, I - as several other European aviculturists probably also have heard - were told the story that the subspecies we today have in human care in Europe mostly are the Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis subspecies, but over time I became more and more uncertain whether this was true.
After acquiring my birds, I later on bought the poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, from Arndt-Verlag (Thomas Arndt) containing “all” the Tanygnathus species and subspecies, where a pair of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis (see photo below) is illustrated with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the adult specimen of this species shown with only a clearly defined blue nape in the color drawing in "Parrots of the World" mentioned above (though Joseph M Forshaw mentions that “blue on crown and occiput variable”, which implies the possibility of a certain form of variance).
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This photo shows an extract from Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, where a male and female of this subspecies are illustrated with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the adult specimen of this species shown with only a clearly defined blue nape in the color drawing in Joseph M. Forshaw’s book, "Parrots of the World".
I was thereafter wondering if it was possible to find a trustworthy and competent person, who actually had been on the Talaud islands and seen how Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis looks like in wildlife, then it once and for all could be discovered whether the birds that I and other European aviculturists have bought in reality are of this species, or maybe a completely different one.
I then remembered that I during the COVID19-crisis was invited to attend in a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, 22nd September 2021 organized by The Avicultural Society of Australia. Here Mr. Mehd Halaouate held a presentation on the topic "Challenges and Rewards of a mixed Collection". It was an extremely interesting presentation, which included some absolutely stunning photos of wildlife birds from Indonesia including Papua. In many cases the presentation also contained photos of parrot species that we - the European aviculturists - only can dream of and read about in books. During this presentation Mehd Halaouate also showed some photos of birds from the Talaud Islands where he had followed the natural bird life.
In November 2021 I therefore contacted Mehd Halaouate, and asked him, if he during his visits to the Talaud Islands had observed the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies and maybe even had taken any photos of this subspecies during his stay. Mehd Halaouate got back to me and stated that he actually had observed Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis in its natural habitat and also had taken photos of the birds even though he didn't get many since it was challenging to find them and they weren't kept as pets on these islands. I was completely overwhelmed to see Mehd Halaouate’s photos of these birds from the wild and below you can see a couple of these photos of which one actually shows that a big part of the upper head of this subspecies is blue, not just the crown (nape or neck patch). According to Mehd Halaouate most of the birds in the Talaud Islands have heads where almost all the upper parts are clearly blue, and those birds whose heads not almost were entirely blue appeared to be uncolored fledging juveniles as he were there during the breeding season, August and September.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This is a photo of an adult, fully colored bird taken by Mehd Halaouate during one of his two trips to Krakelong which is one of the islands that make up the Talaud Islands. Mehd Halaouate was there doing some conservation work for the Red-and-blue lory (Eos histrio).
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This is also a photo taken on Krakelong Island that shows that the intensity of the blue coloration on the head was not present in all birds. According to Mehd Halaouate it was probably because he was there during August and September which is the breeding season where he encountered many fledging juvenile birds.
Renewed contact with Mehd Halaouate
Time passed and I couldn't help thinking that now that my Tanygnathus lucionensis cannot be of the subspecies talautensis, what kind of subspecies is it then?
In the intervening period I had of course done my homework and made my own research and had come to the conclusion that my birds could probably be Tanygnathus lucionenis salvadorii, which, like Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, is the only other (described) subspecies - approved by Howard and Moore - which has a complete green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump.
This subspecies also appears in Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, and is shown in the photo below.
Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii: This photo shows an extract from Arndt-Verlag's poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”. Apart from Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, this is the only other subspecies - recognized by Howard and Moore - which has a complete green mantle, back, lower back and upper rump.
So, in order to get a second opinion and be quite sure about the subspecies determination I decided to contact Mehd Halaouate again to ask him what subspecies he would judge my Tanygnathus lucionensis to be. I sent him various available color descriptions of the relevant subspecies as well as - not least - photos of my birds, all of which can be seen excerpted below.
Descriptions of the Tanygnathus lucionensis subspecies
As you know, the world's leading current nomenclature/taxonomy, “THE HOWARD AND MOORE COMPLETE CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD” mentions up to 4 subspecies (hybridus, talautensis, salvadorii and horrisonus) in addition to the nominate subspecies, but unfortunately this work does not contain any descriptions of the individual subspecies. Instead, one has to look in different zoological museums around the world to find stuffed birds of the so-called "holotype specimens" for each subspecies, and this is quite an unmanageable task. I therefore had to find other trustworthy sources that contain color descriptions of the various subspecies:
Source 1 for color description: Joseph M. Forshaw
As already mentioned, it is very unfortunate that there is no credible, scientifically evidence-based literature covering the entire Tanygnathus genus, with correct and detailed descriptions of each subspecies. In the absence of this, I instead rely on the Australian ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw's impressive book “Parrots of the World”, which however, only mentions 2 subspecies (hybridus and talautensis) besides the nominate subspecies, but the description of the two subspecies here is unfortunately not adequate. However, in the original edition of this book (1st edition, 1973), on page 189, there is an absolutely excellent color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis made by the outstanding illustrator, the late William T. Cooper (an adult male only with a blue nape (not on the rest of the head) and completely green mantle, back, lower back and rump).
Source 2 for color description: Thomas Arndt (Arndt-Verlag)
In the well-known "Lexicon of Parrots" (version 3.0), Thomas Arndt mentions the same two subspecies as mentioned by Joseph M. Forshaw (hybridus and talautensis).
However, in his poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, containing species and subspecies from the Tanygnathus genus, Thomas Arndt shows both the nominate subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis and 3 subspecies (hybridus, talautensis and a “new” one, namely salvadorii). If one looks closer at this poster from Thomas Arndt (see above), he has illustrated Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis - both the male and the female - with almost completely blue heads in contrast to the color drawing in "Parrots of the World" (also mentioned above) that shows an adult Tanygnatus lucionensis talautensis with only a blue nape patch and not a blue head. This corresponds to the photos Mehd Halaouate himself took of adult birds of this subspecies during his two visits to the Talaud Islands.
However, and very interesting, on the same poster from Thomas Arndt, he also displays the subspecies Tanygnatus lucionensis salvadorii that in particular deserves attention. This subspecies is shown with only a blue nape and completely green back and rump (and looks very much like the Tanygnatus lucionensis talautensis, that is shown in Joseph M. Forshaw’s book mentioned above).
Source 3 for color description: World Parrot Trust
What is very remarkable is that the World Parrot Trust, on its website - like Joseph M. Forshaw - only mentions the subspecies hybridus and talautensis, but when one read further in the text under the actual description of the two subspecies, World Parrot Trust actually also describes salvadorii under the description of talautensis (they mention that the two different subspecies look the same). How this is possible, I can't quite see through.
Summary overview of visual differences between the individual subspecies
Since there is no adequate and sufficient information on the sizes (length and weight) of the individual subspecies, only selected visual special characteristics for the plumage (color differences) of the individual Tanygnatus lucionensis subspecies are given below:
Note to the above table:
How the fifth subspecies - Tanygnathus lucionensis horrisonus, mentioned by Howard and Moore - looks like, I do not know in details. However, if you read “PEABODY MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY BULLETIN 13, “Notes on a Collection of Birds from Mindoro Island, Philippines” by S. Dillon Ripley (Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University) and D. S. Rabor (Biology Department, Silliman University), which was published 31st December 1958 (New Haven, Connecticut), you can read on page 36, that the authors after carefully studies consider “horrisonus” as synonyms of “lucionensis”, which means that it must have blue mantle, back, lower back and upper rump, and my birds don't have these hallmarks. According to the newest version of Howard and Moore “horrisonus” is still recognized as an independent subspecies.
I therefore assume that my birds must be either Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis or Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii, as both of these subspecies have green backs and green upper rumps.
Personally, I strongly believe that my birds are Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii, as I have seen the various adult parents of the birds that I have bought and none of them have a nearly completely upper blue head, but only a blue patch on the nape.
Furthermore, my birds don’t have any blue coloration - nor bluish tinge - on the mantle, back, lower back and the upper rump, and to my knowledge, both the nominate subspecies, Tanygnathus lucionensis lucionensis, and the subspecies, Tanygnathus lucionensis hybridus, clearly have these hallmarks.
I rule out that my birds are crossed with other subspecies, as they have no blue at all on the back or rump, nor do they have more than a clearly defined blue nape patch.
Some of the photo documentations sent to Mehd Halaouate
I sent several photos of my birds to Mehd Halaouate and some them are showed below. All my birds are from last year (2022), except from the bird in front on photo 09 and 13, this bird is from 2021.
The photos of my birds are unfortunately not of the best quality, as they were taken with the zoom-function on my mobile phone and have become somewhat grainy. I should of course also have captured some of the birds and taken photos of them from the front and from the back with spread wings, but since these birds live in aviaries close to some other parrot species that already have laid and are incubating eggs, it was unfortunately not possible to take some better photos for the near future. Here are some photos of my birds:
After having read the above descriptions and studied the forwarded photos of my birds, Mehd Halaouate commented that my birds looked stunning and very healthy and furthermore mentioned that in his opinion they look more like Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii. At the same time, one must of course bear in mind that there are color variations among birds in the wild too that can make establishing the right distribution of the bird pretty impossible.
However, according to Mehd Halaouate most of the subspecies that were kept during his time as breeder in Europe, they were coming from Mr. Antonio de Dios in the Philippines (owner of “Birds International Inc.”, a large private parrot breeding farm in the Philippines), and they mostly were Tanygnathus lucionensis salvadorii. The for many aviculturists well-known Antonio de Dios exported a huge number of unique species to Europe especially to Holland and Belgium. Some of the other species he sent were species like Fig parrots, a big number of lories and lorikeet species, Great-billed parrots (Tanygnatus megalorynchos) and Moluccan king parrot subspecies.
Mehd Halaouate also mentioned that he had to search for some of his earlier photos of the Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis to definitively prove how the adult birds of this subspecies looks like in wildlife, some truly unique photos, a few of which can be seen below. It is photos of a pet bird taken at a bird trader in Sulawesi (since the local people in Talaud Islands don’t keep this bird as a pet) and it does INDEED have intensive blue head covering all over the upperparts of the head and even around the eyes.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: I have never seen anything like it. This amazing close-up photo shows an adult and fully colored Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis. The photo clearly shows how most adult birds of this subspecies that live in the wild on the Talaud islands look like i.e., where the blue plumage does not just form a clearly defined neck spot, but instead is spread over most of the upper part of the whole the head. Young birds do not have the same distribution of the blue color in the head. It is a pet bird that sits with a bird dealer on the island of Sulawesi. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: This equally amazing close-up photo shows the above pet bird of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, just seen from a different angle. For some reason, the local inhabitants of the Talaud Islands do not keep this species as a pet bird, so this individual is photographed on the island of Sulawesi, which is located southwest of the Talaud Islands. The Talaud islands actually make up the area that is called North Sulawesi. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.
According to Mehd Halaouate the poster, “Großschnabelpapageien”, from Arndt-Verlag with the color drawing of Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis is a bit exaggerated with the blue coloration of the head, throat and neck. Mehd Halaouate have never seen any bird with that much blue on the head.
Unexpected challenges in rewilding Tanygnathus parrots
During my dialogue with Mehd Halaouate, he also mentioned the following - for me highly surprising - problem, which is linked to the rewilding of the Tanygnathus parrots, which has been confiscated as a result of smuggling:
A factor which will make things even worse for establishing “the right ID” of many parrots in the wild in the near future is the fact that the forestry department in Indonesia does not have sufficient knowledge about differentiating between subspecies and in some cases even species. They tend to release confiscated parrots from the illegal trade in the wrong distribution area (habitat). As a former manager in World Parrot Trust Mehd Halaouate has had to stop a few of these releases because the parrots did not belong in specific islands they were meant to be released at. The authorities, unfortunately, had managed to do the damage thus these actions will cause the inter- or cross-breeding between the subspecies which will result in new colour variations. The worst result of this is that some subspecies in the nature will lose their purity.
This is an angle that I have not thought of before, and the authorities in the affected countries simply have to try to find a sustainable solution to the problem, so that before rewilding takes place, quality assurance must always be carried out to ensure that the birds are belonging to the birds' original distribution area (habitat), which presupposes a further educational and competence-related upgrade of the authorities' employees.
Also from this perspective, it is very important that we - the serious aviculturists (breeders) - are trying as much as possible to keep our birds pure as these hopefully one day will assist the wild populations. According to Mehd Halaouate the pace in which the illegal trapping and the wildlife trade is proceeding right now, many parrot species, for their survival, will rely on the captive populations, so we - the aviculturists (breeders) - must act responsible, professional and only work with pure birds at the subspecies levels.
I have on earlier occasions tried to initiate a dialogue about the issue of subspecies determination of this genus with some other European aviculturists who keep these birds, but up until now it had seemed that no one really was interested in getting to the bottom of this issue, so they generally just call their birds for Blue-naped Parrots (Tanygnatus lucionensis). I always try to keep my different parrots pure at the subspecies level (except from monotypic taxon) and I always only breed specimens of the same subspecies with each other, and I would strongly encourage other responsible breeders to do the same.
This was the story of not always believing everything you hear from other aviculturists/breeders. It is good to have a healthy skepticism and to try to form your own opinion about things. So, the next time I hear an aviculturist/breeder saying that the subspecies we have the most of in Europe is Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis, I can now for sure say that it is not true and instead tell them a completely different story.
I hope that interested readers have found pleasure in reading this article about an exciting parrot species that there is rarely written many lines about in parrot books and in avicultural magazines.
A great thank you to Mehd Halaouate for having contributed to this article with several unique photos and detailed information about the subspecies of Tanygnathus lucionensis.
Tanygnathus lucionensis talautensis: I could not resist ending up with showing this close-up profile photo of the magnificent pet bird of this subspecies. I just keep on turning back to study the photos of this very special subspecies with a nearly completely blue head. Photo: Mehd Halaouate.