Baby Season on an Arizona Macaw Farm

First Published in Cage Bird Hobbyist July/August 1995

Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723

Spring, the advent of warmer, longer days and milder nights. The birds seem to notice the end of winter a few weeks before we do. They are out of their nesting barrels earlier in the mornings, standing in the sunny areas of their aviaries soaking up the warm sunshine. January and February bring seasonal rains to the Sonoran Desert, and the macaws revel in the showers. We can tell when the rain is not going to last long because the birds will bathe only if they have a chance to dry off.

Rain, sun and fun! Intimate preening, companion feeding and breeding began in February. At first the regular time-them-with-a-calendar pairs of birds start the love-making. The vocalizations made by a pair of macaws breeding excites fall the pairs within earshot, and soon one must carefully peek from the inner courtyard gate before walking out to the breeding area. Never disturb a breeding pair of birds. Quietly observing macaws breed, especially after years of patient waiting, is a reward in itself.

All nest boxes were cleaned in December and readied with fresh material. Perches were re-secured for steady footing for the birds while breeding, and flight cages cleaned and weeded. It can be difficult to get into some aviaries for additional maintenance once the season begins. While checking nests, sometimes I must have someone act a decoy, wiggling their fingers in the aviary wire to distract the birds while I dash in to peek in the box. I myself by wearing boots, a jacket and big hat while inspecting the nest boxes. Some of the pairs know what we a re up to so it's a real challenge to work around them when they are nesting. The daily of cleaning, feeding and watering continue, but only one of two people are allowed near the birds now. No strangers allowed. Checking the birds three hours in the morning and one hour in the evening is the average time it takes to make sure everyone is all right.

Disturbances are kept to a minimum. We had a lot of trouble last season with hot air balloons descending upon us, literally, to give their paying customers a cheap tour of our farm. The roaring noise of the gas jet, along with the size and movement of the balloon itself, terrified our birds. The frightened birds broke entire clutches of eggs. Years of work were lost. Assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration stopped the annoyance, and calls to the local balloon clubs helped also. Our area is now "red lined" on their maps. Our parrots have become quite used to the hawks, owls and coyotes that live all around us.

The "egg stork" comes in mid-March. Our Green-winged Macaws showed promise by actually breeding this year. Last year they laid six eggs but no babies developed. This year they produced three babies. A young Buffon's Macaw hen did not do so well, she insisted on throwing her eggs form the nest. I did manage to get one baby from her. Two pairs of Blue and Gold Macaws produced for the first time. One pair was a four-year-old domestic hen mated to an older ex-pet and the other pair was an ancient hen, that I was sure would never amount to much, mated to a neurotic ex-pet. The nervous Blue and Gold Macaw had been at our farm for 14 years and had no idea that he was supposed to be a bird. The day that he finally got the idea right, he became a different bird altogether. The three-ear-old Red-fronted Macaws laid two clutches, but no babies. Maybe next year.

The seasoned pairs of macaws were right on schedule. You learn through experience who will take care of their eggs and who will not. There were so many unproven pairs laying this year that we decided to artificially incubate most of the eggs. There is no sense in wasting the good weather of spring letting a hen sit on a clutch of infertile eggs when you can possibly get multiple clutches by removing the eggs as soon as they are laid. by June it can be 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona, and except for a few die-hards, most macaw pairs are finished laying by mid-July.

The real work of baby season begins the minute you start stealing eggs. We do not use an automatic turner in our incubator so we must turn the eggs by hand at least seven times each day. Trips away from home are kept to a minimum. As the babies hatch, they are moved to a brooder that is kept in our bedroom. We then begin around-the-clock feeding. Small babies, like the conures, Amazons and mini-macaws, require food every hour and a half. The macaw babies are regulated at different temperatures according to their size, age and development. There are several different feeding schedules at any one time, which constantly varies. Sometimes we feel like clockwork mice. The hand feeding schedule usually begins in early April and continues through September as the last of the babies begin sleeping through the night, or are beginning to wean. Babies are placed in a separate nursery building as they become more independent so they are not awakened at night when younger siblings are fed.

the other work you do to earn a living has to be sandwiched into this schedule. We have talked to people who have just begun to breed parrots and have a few babies. Many of them have trouble with the unexpected hard work and continuous care of raising babies. A few of the people wind up disposing of proven pairs and just keep a baby. At least now these people understand what it takes to make a baby!

Just for fun, last season we kept a chart noting every time that we fed a particular Blue and gold Macaw baby. By the 100th day of age, the macaw had been fed 560 times. this does not seem staggering until you multiply that by 30 birds-now it is more like 16,800 individual feedings. We have no idea how many loads of cotton cloths we wash and fold, but we use the time folding bedding as a quiet time to rest.

By the time you take your baby parrot home from a bird farm, there has been a substantial amount of work involved. It truly qualifies as a labor of love. If you are looking for love in a feathered package, we hope you (after reading this article), understand how much care, time and affection have already gone into that baby, and take it from there. You will get back every ounce of affection that you give to your baby