Bonnie and Alfie, the Green-winged Macaws I work with at the Tropical Butterfly House, were bred by an experienced breeder, Mary, who I was lucky enough to spend the day with recently.
Other than it being a really fun day, especially meeting Elvis, Bonnie and Alfie’s older brother, I learnt a lot from my visit. Mary and her husband, John, became friends with a breeder after getting their first bird from them, a Cockatiel called Minnie (who is now 25 and chirping as loudly as the day they got him!) and this is how it all began. When Mary and her husband took early retirement around 15 years ago, they began with a Green-winged Macaw pair and have expanded their flock to include African Greys, Black-headed Caiques, Yellow-thighed Caiques, Blue-bellied Myers, Blue-throated Macaws and Hyacinth Macaws. They also have non-breeding pet parrots including Umbrella Cockatoos and a Blue and Gold Macaw.
Mary and John are able to devote all of their time to taking excellent care of all their parrots and they are clearly passionate about what they do. It’s Mary who does the majority of the feeding, though, and with just a couple of hours between feeding – it’s a 24 hour a day job! All the baby birds are also weighed daily to closely monitor their progress and are DNA sexed at just over a month old.
They had a special ‘baby room’ set up which was where the incubators and brooders were located and I was luckily enough to get to watch some African Grey and Black-headed Caique chicks being fed. After showing me the delicate process of preparing the food mixture, heating it to a specific temperature and hand feeding the babies, Mary was kind enough to let me help with feeding 4 week old ‘Sergei’ the African Grey chick!
As well as the ‘baby room’, Mary and John also had a Play Room – this was a special room set up for the parrots who were old enough to be outside of the brooder and included a play pen for them to wander about in, and large cages for when they started to fly.
In addition to the attention to detail that had been taken to ensure excellent care for all of their birds, I was really impressed by their attitude to selling young parrots. A prospective parrot owner is really well ‘vetted’ for suitability – all are met personally at Mary and John’s house, with weekly visits encouraged from when the parrots are still being hand fed. Mary said this was not only to start building a bond between the parrot and their potential owner, but also so that, as breeders, they could get to know the person and ensure they are FULLY prepared for the responsibility they are taking on.
They provide thorough advice on healthy diets, suitable housing and all other aspects of care, and ensure the new owners have read books and researched for themselves too. Once the parrot has moved to their new home, contact is maintained with the new owner – Mary explained almost all the people she has sold a parrot to continue to send e-mails and photos about their birds, and even sometimes visit with them. In fact, John and Mary care so much about the wellbeing of the birds they breed – they once REPOSESSED a parrot they had sold to some-one!
They got word from a friend that someone they had sold a Green-winged Macaw to had gone on holiday for 4 days – leaving no-one to care for the bird!! They visited the property and were let in by their mutual friend, they then took the bird home to take care of it – and on the owner’s return – presented them with a cheque for the amount they had paid for the bird and explained why they had taken it back into their care.
There are, of course, a LOT of parrots at rescues and sanctuaries who need a new home. However, it is down to individual choice whether to provide a parrot a home from a rescue or buy a parrot from a breeder – this blog is not to argue to the pros and cons of either! I just wanted to share my experience of visiting a wonderful, responsible breeder and urge that if you do decide to buy a bird from a breeder, that you make sure they care about the bird’s welfare as much as Mary and John care about the parrots they breed. If a breeder doesn’t show you where their birds are reared, where they are housed and doesn’t assess your ‘readiness’ to be a ‘parront’ – walk away!