Tucker Farms is a small aviary. By a small aviary I mean that our family does all the work that needs to be done without outside help. My husband Ron builds equipment and cages and does most of the heavy cleaning. I handfeed babies, prepare food and feed breeder birds. I try to educate people about birds by writing articles and speaking at bird club meetings and conventions. I also take care of sales. My daughter Dawn helps with most chores. Her husband George helps with building construction. Ron and George both have “regular” jobs. The children, Lewis (12), Stephen (9), and Samantha (4), play with the birds when the birds are old enough. Lewis raises a laying flock of chickens in 4-H. Samantha has certain breeder pairs that she likes to feed.
Ron and I have been breeding birds for fourteen years and live on a farm near Estancia, New Mexico. We have raised over 500 psittacine birds, including Peach-faced Lovebirds, Cockatiels and Red-rumped Parakeets, Double Yellow-headed Amazons, Yellow-naped Amazons, Blue-fronted Amazons and Lilac-crowned Amazons, Umbrella Cockatoos and Moluccan Cockatoos, Congo and Timneh African Grey Parrots, and Senegal and Jardine’s Parrots, and Sun Conures. Many of these birds are over ten years old now. Most have passed adolescence and reached sexual maturity. None of these babies have grown up to become screamers, biters or pluckers. We must be doing something different than many other breeders because we are asked frequently to take in other breeders’ birds that have become screamers, biters or pluckers. I am sharing what we do here in the hope that other breeders can emulate our success in raising happy, well-adjusted and confident pet birds.
Our birds’ success in their pet homes is due in part to the fact that our birds’ owners have reasonable expectations of bird behavior. This comes from educating the prospective bird owner in normal bird behavior and matching the natural tendencies of a species and the individual bird with the prospect’s needs and requirements. Some of the questions that we ask to start a conversation are, “How did you become interested in Parrots?? Do you have other breeder or pet parrots?? Other Birds?? Dogs?? Cats?? Ferrets?? Reptiles?? How many people live in your house?? Children’s ages, if any??” Notice that I said, “prospective bird owner”.
We do not sell a bird to everyone who thinks that they want one. Sometimes, after talking to someone for a while, it becomes obvious to that person that his life circumstances are not suitable for a pet bird right now. They usually go away happy that they did not make an expensive mistake and many come back later when they are more settled. A few go buy a bird somewhere else. Sometimes, an apartment dweller comes to us wanting an Amazon Parrot and leaves with a Senegal or an Umbrella Cockatoo. Yes, we have placed Umbrella Cockatoos in apartments in downtown Denver and Washington, D.C. The right bird with the right people in the right circumstances can work nicely.
Healthy Birds are Happy Birds
We have healthy birds. No bird with a parasite infestation or a gut infection will be a happy camper. Every bird that comes to our farm has to come in through quarantine including about $300 in vet tests and check-ups before he can come into contact with any of our existing flock. Our flock is all polyoma, pappiloma, parasite, PBFD, TB, and psittacosis free. We intend to keep them that way. Every bird that leaves here is guaranteed to not have any of these problems, too. We use a standard avian health guarantee and contract recommended by the Association of Avian Veterinarians and the Model Aviculture Program (MAP). Thank all the Powers that be that we have never had a case of PDD. There is no test available for it yet. We will probably test for PDD when a test becomes available.
All of our birds eat an excellent varied diet. For any creature to live up to its potential, it must have excellent nutrition. Our birds eat a bean-corn-wheat-pea soak and simmer mix. We mix this with a sprouted or germinated seed and grain mixture. This mixture is served fresh every day with a treat on top for bowl interest. Treat foods may be hard-boiled eggs, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, green beans, fresh peas, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, walnuts, almonds, pecans, noodles, spaghetti, – everything from apples to zucchini. We do have trouble finding fresh greens in the wilds of Estancia. I’d grow my own if not for the gophers and prairie dogs. All birds have pellets free choice. Poicephalus and Cockatoos get a dry seed mix once a week. Some of them eat the dry seeds eagerly. Others save them for a few days.
Our breeder birds are kept indoors in large flights separated from wild bird contamination. Buildings are heated in the winter because I don’t think the birds are comfortable when the temperature gets below 55F. I know they can survive lower temperatures but I doubt that they are comfortable. Amazons, especially, look miserable when it’s cold. They can all see outside through screened windows. In our high mountain desert climate, cooling is seldom necessary. If the temperature in the bird building gets too warm, we open the windows and hose down the inside with plain water. We can drop the temperature 15F in a few minutes with the normal summer humidity less that 20%.
The birds that we have chosen to be the parents of our babies have proven themselves to be excellent pets. I believe that the tendency for many desirable pet qualities is inherited. If you want to produce talking birds, start your breeding program with birds that talk. If you want excellent color in your bird offspring, the parents must have excellent color. If you are looking for a pleasant, playful personality in a companion, look for that quality in the parents. If you start with good stock it is much easier to produce good stock. Of course, good parent birds can contribute the seeds for good pet and companion animals. It is up to us to provide the total environmental package that allows those seeds to grow and flower.
Getting to Know You
Our new bird owners know a lot about their baby’s early life. This baby is not a surprise package. All of our babies go home with their own Baby Book. The book has developmental and weight records and details about the baby, copies of articles that I’ve written, including recipes, grooming, safety, and bird care instructions. If a baby prefers big purple grapes to green grapes, that is in his Baby Book. If the baby has a toy that he loves, the toy goes home with him. If the baby likes to sleep late in the morning, we find him a person that likes to sleep late. We try to get him on a schedule that matches the schedule in his new home as closely as possible. This requires knowing the habits of the household where he is going. Whenever possible, we like for the new owners to come to the farm and meet the baby and play with him several times before he goes home. If this is not possible, we email pictures and reports of the baby’s progress. Often babies will go home with their weaning cage so they have a familiar sleeping perch for the first week or two in their new home. We always send some of the staple diet and a few favorite foods home with the youngster. If the baby must be shipped, we send his food with him or send it ahead of time. Babies are weaned to a wide variety of fresh foods, sprouted or germinated seeds, dry seeds, uncolored pellets and healthy people food.
Mom Does Not Change
Our babies have the same handfeeder all the way through weaning. We do not sell babies when they are down to two feedings a day. We do not sell unweaned babies that are to be pets. If you want one of our babies to be your pet, we will feed him and wean him for you. The myth that you must handfeed a baby for him to bond to you is nonsense. If birds bonded to whomever fed them, they would never leave their parents in the wild. No one believes that other pets must be handfed by their future owners in order to bond to them.
In my opinion there are several reasons why people sell unweaned babies to pet owners. The breeder himself may believe the myth. The breeder does not want to accept the responsibility for weaning the baby. The breeder may not want to accept the risk that something may go horribly wrong before the baby weans. Next to hatching, weaning is probably the most stressful time in a bird’s life. Not all babies survive the experience. Of course, the baby has the best chance of survival with a knowledgeable, experienced handfeeder who is familiar with that particular species. We are fortunate today that some breeders have shared their experiences and weight and feeding records with others. Not all of the information available is of equal value, however, and that is where the individual’s personal experience is necessary.
Our babies have appropriate socialization and stimulation for each developmental stage. Most of our babies are incubated, hatched and fed for at least two or three weeks by their parents. The babies hear us while they are still in the egg because we talk and sing to them and the breeder birds while we feed, water, clean, and check nest boxes in the aviary. We begin handling the babies in the nest box soon after they hatch. We may weigh them every day on a scale in the aviary. We want to know that they are growing at a normal rate. We also want to know what normal, parent-fed babies weigh in case we ever have to feed babies from that pair or of that species from an early age.
When babies are brought into the nursery in our home, they are kept in brooders about the same size as their nest box. They are kept with their clutchmates. The lighting is dimmer in brooders for young babies and brighter for older babies.
Temperature and humidity are adjusted so babies feel comfortable. We look for babies that sleep quietly after being fed. If a clutch of three babies is in constant rolling turmoil with all of them trying to be in the middle at once, the temperature is too cool. If the babies are spread out, flat and panting, the temperature is too warm. Not too hard to figure out, but you have to look.
Babies are fed when they are hungry. The babies that hatch in the nursery are fed through the night every two or three hours until they sleep through the night. I have heard Cockatoo parents feeding babies in the nest during the night. I believe that babies are supposed to be fed then or the parent birds would not be doing it.
We keep our parrots at home longer than a lot of other breeders. I feel they make better pets and breeders when they leave here at the normal age they would leave their parents in the wild. I feel that this helps them become more confident in new situations. Keeping them here until they begin to develop their personality helps us match the bird to the right home, too. Some birds like to play with toys a lot. Other birds like to play with people, the more, the merrier. Others form close attachments with a few special people. Some birds prefer to sit back and observe new situations, objects or people before they decide to explore them. Other birds are more assertive and decide instantly whether the new thing is good or evil.
Many birds that are placed in new homes at a very young age, mature into something totally inappropriate for the circumstances. These are the birds that show up for sale in the newspaper “with cage”. Many people do not understand that parrots change as they grow up. Someone once said that, “If not for kittens, there would be no cats.” All baby parrots that are still being handfed are cute.
Parrots are very adaptable and able to form new relationships throughout their lives. Remember that large psittacines are not really mature until they are about five years old. Most are not capable of breeding and raising babies until they are six to ten years old. The life span in captivity is about 35 to 40 years for Senegal Parrots, and 60 to 100 years for some of the Amazons, Cockatoos and Macaws. Of course, in the wild they do not usually live that long.
Some of our babies have been good pets and then have been good breeders. Many of these breeder birds are still good pets when they are not distracted with eggs and babies in the nest box. A few are calm and can be handled when they have babies. We have second-generation Senegal Parrots and are working on third-generation Senegals and second-generation Amazons with four pairs.
(Part II of this article is at https://birdsnways.com/raising-good-pets-2/)