Eating Blue Quakers
You know what they say about bird keepers "that you do not have to be crazy to keep birds but it sure helps!" Well, here is a little saga that might prove to be time saving for somebody out there and maybe prevent them from suffering depression brought on by this type of action by our feathered "friends".
For some years now I have been breeding from a pair of Quaker parrots, Blue male and a split female, and a while back decided to "construct" a pair of Blues from biggish birds that I had bred from diverse bloodlines.
Well, this year was to be the year that they SHOULD breed! The male was three years old and the female two years. The nest log, an old Crimson-wing parrot (Aprosmictus erythropterus) log was filled with milk thistle stems, pieces of gum leaves and old corn cobs. A hollow section duly appeared in the centre of the log and all was in readiness for the long-awaited eggs to be laid.
Horror! The first egg appeared on the aviary floor but what was even worse than this major calamity was the fact that the egg had been half eaten! Could have been anything I thought. Two days later another egg appeared in the nest log but by that afternoon it too had been ripped apart and only the shell remained in the nest.
I had a mate knock me up some fibreglass eggs moulded from some clear eggs from another pair of Quakers and placed these in the nest. The following day both these eggs had been "worked over" and were covered in scratch and bite marks but, even worse, was another smashed egg mixed in with them. Obviously not a raging success as these fake eggs were buried in the nest lining the very next day, out of sight, out of mind I guess!!
Coat the eggs with chilli paste I was told. I tried to explain that Quakers, and all parrots I gather, do not have the receptors to taste capsaicin (the chemical that gives chillies their heat) so, to them, it is just a capsicum! However, to keep the peace, I did as instructed with similar results another egg lost. So the next stop was onto very hot mustard with the, by now, all too familiar end result another eaten egg.
By now this pair had destroyed 9 eggs that I knew of and I had only been able to rescue 1 which I was keeping on cotton wool in case they got their act together which looked like a forlorn hope.
What to do? Some clever person once suggested that there was no such thing as wasted knowledge so I delved back into some of the, by now I am afraid, very old out of date text books from my years in the Zoology Department and hit what turned out to be pay dirt!
A Danish Ethologist called Nikko Tinbergen once did a study on reproductive behaviour in Oystercatchers where he substituted their normal eggs for eggs that were "super-sized". The nearest explanation of the size difference I could give the reader would be to give a Macaw egg to a Zebra finch! I kid you not! You or I might be inclined to ignore this super egg in favour of our normal sized eggs but, thankfully for me as it turned out, NOT so our intrepid mother Oystercatcher. In the trials that he performed the Oystercatcher invariably left her own clutch and tried to sit upon these super eggs without fail!
He postulated something along the lines of that the larger the egg the greater is the stimulus for the reproductive drive which tells the bird to incubate it. So, by increasing egg size, you also increase the stimulus/drive in the bird to incubate "something". My apologies for denigrating all his research to these extremely basic terms!
By now many of you will be saying "Well, this time he is REALLY flipped, what the heck have Oystercatchers got to do with parrots?!" However, armed with this and thinking what the heck do I have to lose anyway, I purloined 2 clear Crimson-winged parrot eggs from a mate (roughly twice the size of a Quaker egg) and placed them in the hollow of the Quaker nest and held my breath.
Next morning I gingerly opened the nest log expecting to see 2 half-eaten Crimson-wing eggs but there they were completely in tact but with a very fresh Quaker egg nestling against them. Do I leave it or do I take it? I had it in my hand but placed it back in the log with much trepidation!
Working on the premise of leaving well enough alone and too depressed to check I resisted the temptation to check again for another two days. There they were, uneaten, but with 2 fresh Quaker eggs in there for company. Still not fully convinced and wondering what frustrating tricks they had to play yet I left them for a further week and, upon opening their log, saw 4 Quaker eggs and their "nest mates” sitting there and realised that they were being incubated!
As I write they are happily rearing all 4 babies and it will not be long before they join the parrot world outside the nest log. After all chicks hatched I removed the Crimson-wing eggs and had my mate make fibreglass moulds of them "just in case"!
So what does all that prove? Maybe you think "absolutely nothing", "he was lucky", "would not work for me" or perhaps it is simply just another trick for you to try if you suffer a similar fate with a parrot species. The number of people that told me simply to get rid of them when they started this egg eating was certainly in the majority!
If I could glean that brilliant, well, for me at any rate, information from an old text book that had diagrams instead of pictures what wealth of information is out there for us aviculturist to take advantage of. Sure, maybe after eating 9 eggs they were always going to sit on the tenth one, yeah, right! You believe what you like and I will stick with Nikko! I was extremely lucky to be able to speak to EB Craven, the noted American aviculturist, over a cleansing ale last year and he was firmly of the opinion that if parrots exhibited annoying or undesired behaviours then it was most likely something we, as keepers, were doing wrong rather than saying "those birds are just no good" and to naively just blame the birds was the all too easy way out. Guess it illustrated to me the benefits that can be gleaned from attending conferences, lectures and the likes if you are truly passionate about your "hobby".
I hope that this might be of some help to somebody out there and, yes, I do still have to go out and convince myself that they did actually rear those four babies. Thanks EB and Nikko!