Photo: © LiQiang. Alexandrine pair

When Canadian birdkeeper Peter Mostert was asked for help in rehousing a mixed collection of Alexandrines and other parrot-like birds, he couldn’t resist the challenge

OU never know what’s going to happen when you answer the phone. In 1993, my wife and I received a call from a lady we had never met or spoken to before. She asked if I would be interested in a group of Alexandrine parakeets (Psittacula eupatria), together with a few other parrot-type birds.

Over a period of about 12 years, she had accumulated this group and kept them together in one very large room. All the birds were tame and handled regularly. The group was allowed to venture out of their room when it was cleaned once a week. Even though all of the birds looked the same to outsiders, they had individual names and some responded when called. Sometimes a few were placed in trees in their garden, but always stayed around. (They were never clipped.)

Occasionally, a few pairs raised young in boxes that had been placed in wardrobes to give them some privacy. It must be pointed out that it was never the owner’s intention to breed these birds – they were great company and a distraction from everyday life.

It is well known that Alexandrines’ favourite pastime is to destroy anything they can get a hold of, so it happened that some of them found their way into the ceiling and the attic. Since many old farmhouses were often insulated with asbestos fibre, it did not take long before the first dead bird was found.

At this point, the owner decided to rehome the group. I was not quite clear how many birds were in this collection, because during the many conversations we had it seemed that the numbers changed. There was, however, one condition: the birds could not be housed in individual cages and had to remain as a group.

No money would change hands between us, but it was agreed that we could sell any of the youngsters in order to recoup some of our cost to make this possible. We accepted the offer and agreed to build a separate building to house the group. Since it was already October, this was not ready until the following spring.

When the group finally arrived, it consisted of: nine pairs of Alexandrines, one lone bird and three youngsters; one pair of African greys (Psittacus erithacus); one female rock pebbler parakeet (Polytelis anthopeplus) with one young; one female Lord Derby’s parakeet (Psittacula derbiana) with one young; and one lesser vasa (Coracopsis nigra).

There was a spacious entrance room going into the new building and the birdroom was 7m x 5.4m x 3m (24ft x 18ft x 10ft). It had a concrete floor and four large windows. Both ceiling and walls were protected with coloured metal barn siding. The ceiling lights were also protected and all electrical wiring was covered by conduit. In the centre of the room was a food table, the top of which was made of wire mesh. Two large metal food trays measuring 46cm x 91cm (18in x 36in) were placed on the wire, as well
as two large water bowls. An additional food tray was attached on the window wall.

For perches, we used 2x4s, screwed together in a large square hanging down from the ceiling with chains. The floor was covered with wood shavings. Fresh branches were provided regularly.

A total of 16 metal nest-boxes were placed around the room against the outside walls. All were the same size and hung at the same height. The birds adjusted very well. During the summer we lost the old grey hen, as was expected according to the previous owner. In late autumn, a few of the pairs had chosen a nest-box and we had our first chicks in late December.

We left the chicks in the nest until they were about three weeks old and then hand-reared until they were ready to go. Over the next couple of years, the number of breeding pairs slowly increased. In fact, there was one male who was servicing two hens with babies at the same time. Their boxes were on opposite ends of the room and he was busy from morning to evening. However, trouble was brewing…

A refreshing wake-up call
IN OUR new set-up, even though the building was well insulated and limited heat was provided, the temperature would, on a really cold night, dip well below zero and the water would be frozen solid. But as soon as the bowls were replaced in the morning with fresh water, the Alexandrines would dive into it and return to their boxes, despite the fact they had totally naked chicks.

Peter concludes his Alexandrine story in the June 27 issue.

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