57 Bird Scene - Winter 2022

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BIRD SCENE: Issue 57: Winter 2022 BIRD SCENE is run by The Parrot Society UK, Audley House, Northbridge Road, Berkhamsted HP4 1EH, England. FOR SALES AND EDITORIAL ENQUIRES Telephone or Fax: 01442 872245 Website: www.theparrotsocietyuk.org / E-Mail: les.rance@theparrotsocietyuk.org The views expressed by contributors to this magazine are not those of The Parrot Society UK unless otherwise explicitly stated Marquesan dancers venerate the Ultramarine Lorikeet Dr. David Waugh Experiences with the Cockatiel Pat Drew Wild Bush Budgerigars in Australia Gerd Bleicher National Exhibition Les Rance CONTENTS 38 28 16 8 GO TO: WWW.THEPARROTSOCIETYUK.ORG DONATE TO OUR CONSERVATION FUND… 16 28 38 08


A year ago, my introduction started with the paragraph. ‘In the introduction to the autumn edition of Bird Scene, I wrote that we had moved on three months and were rapidly approaching The National Exhibition at Stafford County Showground on 3rd October and that it will be interesting to see how many birds will be offered for sale at this prestige event. My personal experience is that there is still quite a shortage of both parrots and parakeets and there have been some quite staggering increases in prices. Well I think I was about right with




that analysis of the current ‘state of the market’. Even looking through our members monthly magazine there are not many advertisements of birds for sale, the position of birds available after the winter will be even fewer birds available.’

Well that was twelve months ago and ‘things’ are quite different. Our 4th December 2022 ‘Help Bird Keeper’s Show has been cancelled due to Avian Influenza becoming much more common than it was last year. The decision to cancel the event was reported, in our November 2022 member’s magazine giving everyone plenty of notice that the Show would not run. From an organisers point of view at least we knew exactly where we were, there were a number of refunds due to members who had paid at The National on 2nd October, but these were swiftly dealt with.

One area that is now not such a major issue is the Covid-19 variant known as Omicron. The new variant’s genetic profile had raised concerns. However, we do generally seem to be getting on


top of this nasty virus, mainly because of the immunisation programme that has been delivered by the NHS.

As we enter the winter period, we must turn our attention to ensuring that our birds that will be battling against the cold temperatures of winter are provided with the best food we can provide for them whilst they grow experience these trying conditions. A very cold winter is possibly the most demanding time of year for our birds and we should do everything we can to ensure they have good volumes of nutritious food so that they withstand the cold. For my parakeet collection, I do not feed much dry sunflower seed for the vast majority of the year. This then allows me to use the oil rich sunflower seed when it is cold and the birds are in need of an oily boost. If you have not wormed your parakeets yet now is the time to worm all your stock. There is no point in spending out on good food only to be feeding those parasitic worms living in the intestines of our birds – worming is a very important task. Also at this time of year, make sure that any Asiatic parakeets being kept in outdoor aviaries have access to a dry windproof nest box where they can roost out of harm’s way.

You must also do all you can to try to stop any wild birds that might be carrying the deadly Avian Influenza virus in their droppings, from entering

your aviaries. Plastic roofing sheets give a lot of protection to avoid this ingress.

In this issue, we have a very interesting article about The Bush Budgerigars in Australia that I obtained from Gerd Bleicher in Germany, very worth reading. Experiences with the Cockatiel is an excellent article by Pat Drew on this ever-popular pet bird. In addition, Marquesan Dancers Venerate the Ultramarine Lorikeet. In addition, in this issue we have a pictorial review of The 2022 National Exhibition held at Stafford County Showground on Sunday 2nd October 2022 1, our second show since Coronavirus struck the UK. The images taken by our Designer Neil Randle are excellent and allow readers of this publication, who may not have been able to attend this event, a real insight into the day. So really quite a lot for you to read and hopefully pick up some pointers that may well assist you with whatever species of birds you currently maintain. This is now the fifty-seventh edition of Bird Scene, how quickly eleven years can pass when you are working on a project – the first FREE on-line bird magazine produced in the UK. At 48 pages, this is quite a big read! Every time we post the Parrot Society monthly magazine, I cringe at the cost. Postal costs appear to have increased far faster than inflation and if The Royal Mail are not careful they will find that their income will reduce even further


as people and businesses send less and less by conventional means. A price increase to 95p for a First Class letter became effective on 4th April 2022. What ever happened to the Penny Black, if my maths are correct we are now being charged 228 times the cost when the first letters were delivered!

With CPI, inflation now running around 10.1%, costs continue to rise. These costs obviously affect bird clubs when the show schedules have to be posted to potential exhibitors and equally it affects the exhibitors when they return their entries. In addition, how much longer will bird clubs be able to afford to post magazines to their members? This must be a great worry to many club officials. Fortunately, with an e-magazine we do not have this problem, or for that matter the cost of colour printing. Because of increases to the costs of both postage and printing, I am pleased that we decided to produce Bird Scene as a

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FREE e-magazine. We have learnt a great deal over the past eleven years about this way of communicating with bird enthusiasts and I am sure that this knowledge will become more and more valuable as we see further increases in costs to paper magazines. We are always happy to receive articles about the species that are being exhibited at The National and are very pleased to give publicity to the club supplying the information. Regular readers will know that Bird Scene has been produced to publicise The National Exhibition held each year (Covid-19 restrictions excepted) at our October Sale Day/ Show at Stafford County Showground. This publication is also used to promote our Conservation efforts for threatened parrots in the wild. An archive of earlier editions of Bird Scene can be found on the Home Page of our website www. theparrotsocietyuk.org so if you would like to see earlier versions please do look at the Bird Scene archive.

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This was the second National Exhibition since we were affected by Covid-19 and had to cancel the 2020 National Exhibition at Stafford. I thought that it was an excellent event and with numbers of clubs attending now at 18 we are back to the support pre Covid-19, a very satisfying situation. With the National being held in October we were extremely fortunate that this


date meant that we only missed one Exhibition due to Covid, we were very lucky. Prior to the event, I was busy dealing with the myriad of background tasks to ensure that both our Sale Day and the Exhibition of birds went well. It was the second Show we had been able to stage following the Coronavirus

epidemic that ravaged the UK. Fortunately there was no shortage of fuel for our cars, both petrol and diesel, which had affected our 2021 event. In this article, we are now able to show you a mass of excellent pictures taken by our designer Neil Randle at the 2022 National.


This year The UK Gouldian Finch club and the English Cinnamon Canary club joined us and I understand that they both experienced a good day. As the 2020 National Exhibition had to be cancelled due to Coronavirus, I was pleased that we managed to run a National Exhibition this October. Now that we can start

holding shows again at Stafford, please remember that The National Exhibition for the Exhibition of Show birds is held in the Sandylands Centre and the Argyle Centre. We use these same Centres for our Help Bird Keepers Shows. The date of the next National Exhibition is on Sunday 1st October 2023.


A large number of hobbyist-bred stock always finds new homes from the buyers who come in large numbers to our events. The National Exhibition is the leading and most popular bird show held in this country for hobbyist bird breeders, not just because of the

sales tables but also the Exhibition that is held in the Argyle and Sandylands Centres. There is something for everyone available from the 60+ traders who so generously support this event, especially from our sponsor Johnston & Jeff Ltd the leading UK seed supplier.


This year the exhibition in the Argyle and Sandylands Centres was again organised with the assistance of the 18 clubs that support this event and it continues to receive plenty of entries, may this be the case for many years to come. These enthusiasts work so hard to construct the staging from

mid-day on the Saturday and take in many entries in the late afternoon and Saturday evening. This judged event will be as popular as ever in the future, with many high-class birds on view. At this year’s event a crystal glass, rose bowl has been donated by Johnston & Jeff for best bird in Show and by


The Parrot Society for the best junior exhibit, their generous donations for these valuable awards is always very much appreciated. Cage and Aviary Birds give the Exhibition a special supplement in their publication so that all their readers are aware of which clubs to contact to enter their exhibition stock into the Show.

Again, Neil Randle our magazine designer took over a 1,000 images on the day so that we have plenty of images for the next twelve months. Please do enjoy the pictures on the

following pages. In 2023, the Show will be held on Sunday 1st October and will follow similar lines to the 2022 event but more use will be made of the Prestwood Centre to house the stands of such supporters as The Australian Finch Society, The Bengalese Fanciers Association, and The Waxbill Finch Society. Within the two exhibition halls, there is always a great buzz of chatter and excitement, it is always a pleasure just to stand there and absorb the environment and listen to people enjoying themselves and promoting their hobby.



For many bird breeders and lovers this is a worthy place to go: Australia. This is a continent offering a lot to see in bird watching. And especially this is true for a budgie breeder watching these birds, which we look after in our aviaries, and we breed with enthusiasm. We can see them flying in their wild form in their original habitat.


After several efforts I had the opportunity to see wild bush budgerigars. I had my first trip to Australia in 2002 for an outback tour. I hoped to see wild budgies. Unfortunately, my hope came not true. That year had a long draught, the flocks of budgies were dramatically down in numbers and there must have been flocks with only tenths of birds distributed in the wide areas of the outback. Nevertheless, I felt compensated by seeing many other kinds of birds, cockatoos in numbers, finches, wrens, and waterbirds.

At every other trip to Australia, I always have been hoping to find at least the wild bush budgies. I didn’t see them in Western Australia, not in the red heart of the continent Uluru (Ayer’s rock) and Alice Springs, not in the Great Dividing Range and also not in Southern Australia or Victoria.

I think I would have booked a flight straight away; in case someone would have informed me that the budges are to be seen at a certain place.

It has been just by fortune that I found a notice for a special OutbackTour for birdwatching including budgerigars.

Boulia is located Northeast of Queensland about 1000 kms west of the Pacific coast. This area is the wellknown Outback and is part of the Red Heart of Australia.

Typical for the landscape are the namegiving red sandy soils, bushland, desert areas, and larger trees at the riverbeds – if rain brings enough water. But when it is really raining, then it is too much for the river bends and floods take over.

Location of Boulia Budgies of Boulia

I did not think on for long: I wanted to join and book this special tour. Mid of October is said to be the best time, to find and to observe wild budgies. The time of heavy rains is then over, and after the rains and after the breeding season are the chances at its best to see the birds.

I liked the description of the advert: A special 4-days-tour specially to see budgies, but also to watch other kinds of birds in the area, a small group with a maximum of 6 people, dated in October. I booked straight away. At this time the tour was some 5 months ahead, that gave me sufficient time for booking my flights.

The tour started from the airport if Cairns in North Queensland. There I met my guide Jun. I was the only customer. So, the tour was just for me!

The flight was with a smaller aircraft about 1000 kms to Mount Isa. From there we had a car to get us directly to Boulia. The distance is another 300 kms. I have been to Australia before and know what driving unsealed or sandy “highways”. This time driving a one-lane sealed road was a certain kind of luxury regards driving. On the 300 kms just 3 cars came across.

The requirement to see wild budgies were auspicious. 3 months before that time there has been plenty of rain, the precondition for the birds to breed. Now there was no more rain, the roads were dry and comfortable to drive. So, I could look forward to seeing many birds coming to the waterholes to drink. My guide Jun knows the area well to find the right spots.

The same day we started our way to an offside located waterhole. Jun parked the car hidden under a bush, where we had a good outlook on the waterside. Then it was time to wait for the lucky moment to see the budgies, but there is no guarantee that they come.

Road to Boulia

At the waterhole

There were quite a lot of zebrafinches hiding in a close bush. We could recognize them by their typical calls. They flew from the bush to the waterside and straight back to the shelter giving bush. Some drunk some water, otters had a bath.

As time passed, I lost my hope to see any budgies today. Budgie people know the calls of their birds, and when they can hear this typical calling anywhere, and it doesn’t matter if this happens in a city or in the countryside, they look around and search to find the bird.

Finally, I heard these special calls and looking to this direction I could spot 3 green points on the other side of the

Zebrafinch at the waterfront

waterhole: Bush Budgies! They soaked in a hurry and flew then straight to the close large trees.

This was the start. The next arrived a mini flock of about 10, they flex the direct way to the water for drinking and then disappeared in the large trees,

My guide Jun with a lot experience in birdspotting andwatching said, there were about 3000 to 4000 budgies around the place.

Following these first budgies within short times from different directions more and more arrived. These were groups of up to 20 birds. The first goal was the water place, and then up into the trees. The ones already in the trees started for their flights around the water hole and then united with the new arrivals. This way the major flock increased with every new arrival. They circled again and again around and above the waterhole, and then to return to the top of the trees. It was very hard to count their numbers. My guide Jun with a lot experience in birdspotting and - watching said, there were about 3000 to 4000 budgies around the place.

The first budgies arrived More and more birds arrived

From then on their performance really started. The birds flew fast lightning curves and zigzag close to the water, with rasant changes of their flight direction, close to the trees, added a larger curve, but their only goal was the waterline for drinking.

The birds mostly show the same technique for drinking. Following some circle flights and about-turns they get closer to the water, the first ones land at the waterline and some “on” the water for drinking. The rest of the flock close to the first ones but are not landing. They carry on flying above the others and “pull” the first ones back into the big flock. Only the first ones hat the chance to drink. This is like a practiced strategy: the first ones have the chance to drink, and he rest gives them secure guard.

Now the
1 2
budgies from a large flock.
The first ones can drink

It was amazing, that even the budgies landing on the water surface, or really half covered by water, despite the fact being wet have not lost their flying abilities. Good preening pays dividends and can save life.

This caution is vital. A falcon also circled above the waterhole. The lower the falcons flight over the water got, the racier were the budgies flights. When the falcon got so close to the budgie flock that the situation got hot, they searched protection in trees and bushes.

3: Rush time

4: The falcon is hungry

5: Finally all could quench the thirst

Our observation position was ideal. On one hand we had a very good overview of the waterhole and the large flocks flying, on the other hand we were so close to the waterfront to watch the water drinking birds to recognize the details.

It was good to recognize that the percentage of young budgies was about 60/70 %. That were the ones with wave markings starting from close the cere. Regarding the color all were the same: Normal lightgreen. Obviously, the budgies were lucky to have a good breeding season, thanks plenty of rain before.

In nature documentations from Australia one can often see sometimes very large flocks of budgerigars drinking at a waterhole. Before my tour I thought that budgies live together in

3 4

these large flocks. But this is wrong. These large flocks one only can find at the waterholes, at the rarely places with flowing water or the remaining waters of before flowing rivers, the billabongs.

I could have stayed there for hours watching the birds, but after they all had drunk, the numbers fell. The large flock got smaller and smaller as smaller groups retourned to other places in the wide land of the outback.

As the budgies slowly left this place, there came a small flock of cockatiels for having water to this place. But they were there for just a short guest performance.

As the only customer at this tour, I could decide where to go the following days. My wish where to go next morning and in the evening was the same waterhole and the same the other day. So, I had the chance to see the birds altogether four times, twice in the morning and twice in the evening.

We also looked at other waterholes. But we saw no budgerigars at these places, but other kind of birds like finches, birds of prey, waterfowl, cranes, galahs, pigeons etc.


Back in Cairns again my tour ended. As I had another week time for touring, I rent a car and drove quite alone to another place in the outback, to the small village of Georgetown. I was told that there is another chance to spit wild budgies. I asked people in the village for the best places to spot budgies. Neither in the hotel and the petrol station nor at the Tourist Information I got help.

Early in the morning and later in the evening I drove to waterholes or billabongs I could find on maps. I didn’t spot any

FEATURE 6: The first ones are to leave the waterhole 7: Cockatiels 8: Splendid Grass
9: A pair of Little Corellas 10: Pelican 8 9 10

budgerigar. But I see other kind of birds and want to show these here.

My experience to get satisfactory sights of wild bush budgerigars has confirmed, that the best was is to have a specialist guide aside. Finally, the dream of my life came true, to see bush budgerigars in their original habitat.

26 BIRD SCENE FEATURE 11: Red tailed black cockatoo 12: Yellow crested cockatoo 13: Rainbow lorikeets 14: Galahs 15: At a cattle waterplace 11 12 14 15 13
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As I commence to put words to paper for this article, my mind wanders back over the years to the memorable occasion when I first set eyes upon a pair of Lutino Cockatiels. This happened during a visit to a bird park in the early seventies, when the Lutino represented a new mutation (in Britain). I was struck by the Lutino’s beauty and would have loved to own a pair, even though at the time my interest lay in the breeding of Budgerigars. Sadly, the price tag for the Cockatiels was too high for my rather shallow pocket but the experience left its mark and given time, the introduction of Cockatiels into my collection became, for me, a natural progression in my bird keeping experience.


With very few exceptions, the Cockatiel is possessed of a gentle, inoffensive nature, rarely prone to displays of aggression.


The management of my collection of Budgies had nourished me with the ground rules for the husbandry of Parrot-likes in general, with the knowledge so far gained being easily applicable to a species like the Cockatiel, which proves a relatively easy change, suitable for beginners, or indeed anyone lacking either the time or financial means to invest in the larger, often far more complex parrot species.

The Cockatiel proves an ideal proposition for either a pet situation or as an aviary occupant. I purchased my foundling stock, which comprised of Normals and Lutinos for a very reasonable cost. Nowadays, potential keepers are spoilt for choice, as there exists an array of beautiful mutations from which to select at prices that couldn’t be more reasonable. I have

witnessed some truly outstanding specimens’ being offered for sale at ridiculously low prices which I feel is a shame, but the situation has been brought about as a result of the Cockatiels willingness to reproduce when bonded with a suitable partner and housed within the correct environment.

Many years have passed since I first made attempts to breed Cockatiels and indeed, during those early endeavours, I lacked basic knowledge regarding the species’ breeding habits, which did not make for a happy outcome. However, I was determined to succeed and after some adjustments to housing and stock had been accomplished, my efforts met with success and I was to learn first-hand all the details of breeding behaviour which had seemed so elusive.

The Cockatiel proves an ideal proposition for either a pet situation or as an aviary occupant. I purchased my foundling stock, which comprised of Normals and Lutinos for a very reasonable cost.

With very few exceptions, the Cockatiel is possessed of a gentle, inoffensive nature, rarely prone to displays of aggression. Some males will demonstrate annoyance at times, but females normally remain very peaceable and timid. Certain varieties can be sexed visually. For example, the male of the nominate (Grey) race sports a bright, primrose yellow face, adorned with deep orange cheek


patches, whereas the female bares far less vivid colouration. Visual sexing in some other varieties may not be so easy, but the one characteristic, which can be relied upon to determine the sex of an individual, is the song. Males sing and there is a no more charming sound than a male bursting into full chorus. Females do not demonstrate this vocal behaviour; at least, I have yet to hear one! An adult male, in breeding condition, will sing out loudly to his mate when paired, whilst a lone pet will likewise sign to his keeper or toys.

In the pet situation, the Cockatiel should be housed in a cage of generous dimensions. Many cages are sold which do not serve well, providing only cramped conditions and not permitting sufficient freedom of movement for the pet, the minimum size I would recommend would be something in the order of 36” x 36” x 24”. (91.44 x 91.44 x 60.96cm). Natural branches taken from a non-poisonous source such as hawthorn or fruit bearing trees make for far healthier perching than plastic, although will require renewal from time to time.

Kept as a pet, the hen Cockatiel normally makes for a quiet and docile charge, but is unlikely to present much talent in the area of mimicry, whereas

many a cock bird will learn to whistle tunes, repeat sentences and imitate all manner of household sounds. The advantage here is that the species does not possess the raucous qualities of many other equally talented parrot varieties.

Anyone considering housing the species in closed quarters such as in the home, or bird room, should be aware of the copious amount of feather dust issued by each individual.


Over the years, I have maintained several Cockatiels in my home, which have become adorable pets


The ideal mix would contain: hemp, pumpkin seed, clipped oats, safflower and maize. Spray millet will be relished.

Those prone to asthma or other chest complaints may find themselves adversely affected by breathing in this silvery powder, particles of which can clearly be seen to float in the air when viewed in sunlight. Cockatiels are keen to preen, frequently shaking their plumage in the process, thus releasing dust and feather down into the atmosphere.

Over the years, I have maintained several Cockatiels in my home, which have become adorable pets, but I do prefer to see the species maintained in spacious outside flights, where they take benefit from natural sunlight, fresh air, rain showers and maximum space in which to exercise. Cockatiels make for a pleasing spectacle during heavy showers of rain, when they are seen to fan out their flight and tail feathers, turning themselves in an upside down position to achieve the maximum soaking.

My Cockatiel flights were furnished with ample logs and natural perching, along with a birdbath, which admittedly did not see a great deal of use. The floors were of concrete construction, providing maximum security against the entry of vermin. Grass flooring would no doubt have been preferred by the inmates, but the hazard here is that of worm contamination, with the grass acting as a medium. The flights were part protected from the elements by implementing plastic, corrugated sheeting along the back, halfway along each side and half covering the roof, with the remainder being left open to the air. The feeding station was incorporated into the sheltered area, along the nest boxes. Housed in this fashion, Cockatiels prove very hardy, enabling them to be maintained outdoors, all year round, without additional heat being supplied during the winter months.

The Cockatiel originates from Australia where, like the Budgerigar, it thrives on seeding grasses. In captivity, we are able to maintain our charges on an optimum diet comprising a mixture of both small and large seed varieties. The ideal mix would contain: hemp, pumpkin seed, clipped oats, safflower and maize. Spray millet will be relished. Some keepers add peanuts to the


mixture but none of my birds showed interest in this item of food. Although not normally avid fruit and vegetable eaters, some interest may be shown in sweet apple, carrot, peas and sweet corn. The favoured green food normally proves to be chickweed, when available. Some enjoy the offering of granary bread and chopped hard-boiled egg. Egg food mixed with digestive biscuit can be encouraged and may prove beneficial during the breeding season. Cuttlefish bone, iodine block and grit should be standard, along with clean, fresh drinking water. A calcium plus vitamin D supplement may benefit hens prior to breeding.

Cockatiels attain full maturity by twelve months of age. In Britain, the breeding cycle commences in the spring and often continues through to late summer. Newcomers to the hobby would be wise to give consideration to the potentially prolific nature of the Cockatiel. Many pairs will happily raise three rounds of chicks during one season, often eager to commence another round before chicks from the previous round have vacated the nest. It is perfectly feasible to realise fifteen or more chicks from one adult pair per season, with the market becoming saturated by youngsters’ mid-summer. Overcrowded aviaries

pose a nightmare for the keeper and an unhealthy situation for the stock, thus it is prudent to ascertain an outlet for unwanted stock before permitting pairs to fulfil their breeding potential.

During the spring, the song of the male will be frequently heard and he will be seen to actively inspect the nest box, encouraging his mate to do the same. Cockatiels will not normally utilise under-sized breeding vessels, but a conventional wooden nest box measuring some 18” x 9” x 9” (45.72cm x 22.86cm x 22.86cm) should prove ideal, with boxes of larger dimension often seeing use. It is commonplace to line the bottom of the box with a nesting litter. I always placed a dry peat/sawdust mixture to a depth of some four to five inches, out of which the hen would fashion a hollow into which to deposit their clutch.

One point to consider when calculation hatching dates is that incubation proper does not always commence until after the arrival of the second egg.


Once mating has taken place, egg production soon follows, with eggs appearing on alternate days. A full clutch can comprise up to seven or eight eggs, but the average is five. It is in the area of incubation that the Cockatiel shares the same characteristics as members of the Cockatoo family, with the female taking over late afternoon and evening. Where one or the other of a pair fails in this duty, the clutch will become chilled, leading to the death of the developing embryos. Some hens will be seen to moisten their breast plumage at this time and it is thought that instinctive behaviour is carried out to bring

added moisture and thus humidity to the atmosphere surrounding the developing eggs.

One point to consider when calculation hatching dates is that incubation proper does not always commence until after the arrival of the second egg. The duration of incubation proper is twenty-one days, often with the two earliest chicks breaking through the egg simultaneously. Chicks, which appear relatively tiny upon hatching, bear a soft, yellow down. Both parents work very hard to raise their brood, with chicks normally fully feathered at four weeks and discovering the world outside the nest at five.


Weaning usually proves a prolonged affair. Youngsters remain dependent upon their parents for several weeks after vacating the nest and most would starve if left to their own devices. Young Cockatiels appear very reluctant to explore foodstuffs for themselves, preferring to beg nourishment from one or other parent bird. It is the weaning period that often proves the most problematic for the hand-rearer.

Although a straightforward species in terms of breeding and maintenance, the Cockatiel is not a particularly easy subject when it comes to hand rearing. Having hand-raised several chicks over the years, I personally would not advocate taking a chick on board unless faced with a life or death situation. Parent-reared youngsters fare better, with the vast majority being relatively easy to tame, making for an obedient pet. However, adverse situations can and do arise in the breeding pen, often leaving the keeper with little choice, but to employ handrearing techniques if life is to be saved.

Cockatiels generally make excellent parents, seeming to relish the task of raising their progeny. However, from time to time, as with any parrot species, rogue individuals do not make for a happy outcome. I have met

with my share of abandoned chicks, with one particularly obnoxious male determinedly battering his young to death just a few days into their new life. Where chicks are discovered cold and unfed, time is of the essence. Fostering to other breeding pairs might be an option, but hand rearing often proves the only lifesaver.

Returning to my beginnings with the species, I was at one time faced with an abandoned chick, but possess no knowledge on the subject of hand rearing. The consequences were dire as I proceeded to administer a totally inappropriate rearing food, which was rejected by the doomed youngster. This was the moment I became determined to learn about the subject and not to have to stand helpless in an emergency.

Hand-rearing is a complex subject, which requires an article apart to be covered in its entirety, but I will briefly mention here that once the basic techniques have been mastered, along with sufficient patience and dedication being invested by the person concerned, it is possible to raise Cockatiel chicks by hand from a very young age, although I have to say that some other parrot species make for easier subjects. I always made my own hand-rearing formula,


Cleanliness of all equipment and feeding utensils is of prime importance.

Cockatiel chicks are susceptible to Candida infection, thus good hygiene is essential.

available. I did not find it an easy task to feed youngsters by syringe, instead preferring the use of a teaspoon, bent upwards at both edges. Young Cockatiels grab forcefully to receive formula, causing much spillage. Care must be taken not to overfill the crop during feeding sessions, when crying will be constant, with chicks never appearing to feel satisfied.

Cleanliness of all equipment and feeding utensils is of prime importance. Cockatiel chicks are susceptible to Candida infection, thus good hygiene is essential. Spilled formula must be removed from around the chick’s face and body after completion of each feed, as failure to properly cleanse will result in clogged feather growth, making for a very ugly spectacle.

As already stated, the weaning of hand-raised Cockatiels can prove a very frustrating time for the human foster parent. Weaning foods are commonly ignored, with the chick crying relentlessly for the accustomed feed. Where weaning proves prolonged and difficult, it is worth employing a “teacher” bird, the feeding habits of which will hopefully in time be copied by the chicks in question.

To sum up, I would say that in the main, the Cockatiel represents a docile and charming member of the parrot family. With few exceptions, the species is a joy to behold and pleasure to own. Being hardy and normally long-lived, its demands are minimal, but the rewards for the keeper are manifold.

DANCERS VENERATE THE ULTRAMARINE LORIKEET 1. Ua Huka dancers venerate the Ultramarine Lorikeet in the Marquesas festival © L. Grant/G. Verdon. 2. A pair of Ultramarine Lorikeets mutual preening © C. Blanvillain. FEATURE 2

Arguably the most remote archipelago in the world, the Marquesas Islands, or Henua Enana - the “Land of Men” - in the Marquesan language, are a part of French Polynesia. There are 15 named islands in the archipelago, of which six are recognised as the main islands, and their isolation has resulted in the evolution of many unique life-forms, of which the endemic and exquisite Ultramarine Lorikeet (Vini ultramarina) is one.

Although the Marquesas are easily imagined as paradise islands, humaninduced changes have created such threats to the lorikeet, locally known as the Pitihi, that is now listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Critically Endangered’. All the islands have suffered from very high levels

…it is most probable that the introduced Black rat (Rattus rattus), which eats eggs and nestlings, is the main cause of the lorikeet’s decline.

of grazing and fire, with much of the original forest converted to grassland. However, it is most probable that the introduced Black rat (Rattus rattus), which eats eggs and nestlings, is the main cause of the lorikeet’s decline. Of the original six islands where the Ultramarine Lorikeet occurred, Black rats have been present on three since about 1915, on Ua Pou Island likely since 1980, and confirmed on Fatu Hiva since February 2000

The lorikeet is now extinct on all of these islands. This leaves only one small place, Ua Huka Island, where the Pitihi still exists, with a total population estimated between 1,000 and 2,500 individuals. Scientists predict that if Black rats colonise the lorikeet would most likely decline to extinction, or almost so, within 20 years.


3. Poster warning of the threats posed by introduced Black rats © C. Blanvillain4. A pair of Ultramarine Lorikeets mutual preening © C. Blanvillain.

4. Ua Huka native wearing a ceremonial headdress

5. Preparing a ceremonial dance costume of poultry feathers dyed in the colours of the Ultramarine Lorikeet © C. Blanvillain


Other invasive species established on Ua Huka that might also pose a threat include bird species that may transmit diseases, an increasing number of feral cats, and aggressive ants. Given the situation, the Loro Parque Fundación has been providing technical and US$46,709 of financial support to a project of the Polynesian Ornithological Society (Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie – SOP/MANU), led by landbird biologist Dr. Caroline Blanvillain,

to achieve the long-term survival of the lorikeet through protection on Ua Huka and the establishment of at least one additional viable population on another island.

Activities of the project include checking for diseases in birds introduced to Ua Huka, a biosecurity programme against Black rats, and a social awareness programme with local islanders to empower them to help.


One prominent way to involve the local community is by using traditional dance to underline to the Marquesan population the natural heritage importance of the lorikeet. Thus, the project is working with the Vaiku’a Association, a local conservation and community organisation, to promote the Pitihi in the traditional ‘bird dance’ performances of the Ua Huka Island dancing troupe, using poultry feathers dyed blue in the dance costumes to

symbolise the lorikeet. A magnificent platform to pass on this message is the ‘Matavaa’, a Marquesan cultural festival which takes place every four years and attracts large delegations from all six inhabited islands as well as artists and travellers from all over the Polynesian Triangle.

The most recent ‘Matavaa’ took place in December 2019 in Ua Pou, an island striking for its huge basaltic columns,

6. Habitat for Ultramarine Lorikeets on Ua Huka island © Tahiti Nui. 7. A helicopter makes a drop of rat control supplies © SOP/MANU.


Ua Pou is an island targeted for the eradication of the Black rat, and to this end a comprehensive rattrapping campaign is ongoing


thanks to its reintroduction to Ua Huka, starting with a single pair in 1941.

holding the names of the legendary warriors Poutetaunui and Poumaka, and in local folklore symbolizing the entrance pillars to God’s house. At the festival 150 inhabitants of Ua Huka danced in veneration of the Pihiti, explaining with attendant song how this species was spared extinction

Ua Pou is an island targeted for the eradication of the Black rat, and to this end a comprehensive rat-trapping campaign is ongoing. In Ua Huka, vigilance and actions to maintain the island free of rats are also continuing, including the use of the specially trained rat-detector dog called Dora to inspect merchandise arriving at ports of entry. In tandem there is a monthly campaign with 30 trapping stations on the island’s wharves and five stations at

8. The sun sets behind Ua Pou island © C. Blanvillain. 9. Evidence of the rat trapping efforts on the island of Ua Pou © C. Blanvillain. Dora the rat-detector dog sniffing through incoming merchandise at harbour in Ua Huka © SOP/MANU. The on-site conservation team © SOP/MANU.

Over the last four years no black rat has been trapped, and Dora last detected and killed a rat in 2016, but there is no room for complacency.

the airport. Over the last four years no black rat has been trapped, and Dora last detected and killed a rat in 2016, but there is no room for complacency. In July 2020 there was an alert when a young rat jumped off a barge bringing goods into the docks of Vaipaee, the most populous settlement. Only a few years ago, this event would probably have gone unnoticed but now, with much more awareness, the sailors of a local passenger freighter “neutralized” the rat while it was swimming towards the shore.

While Dora and her handlers continue with the marine cargo inspection, the communication campaign continues and is having positive results, not least with the continuing commitment of the shipping companies, and the airport and autonomous port authorities. The latter has strengthened the biosecurity of the docks against rats and has made lookouts mandatory. A poster has been circulated which not only highlights the threats that rats pose to the


Ultramarine Lorikeet and other native species, but also that they can spread harmful diseases to humans and cause substantial economic damage, not least to the coconuts which form the basis of copra production, a vital industry in Ua Huka.

Above all, the traditional dancing, so deeply ingrained in Marquesan culture, will continue to exalt the Pitihi and add to the ground-swell of support for its conservation.

Ultramarine Lorikeet on banana flower © SOP/MANU.
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