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.