Birds of a feather flock together, so the saying goes. And it seems true that parrots of a feather breed together too.
At the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom, the Valentine’s Day season corresponds well with their latest method to encourage breeding: a “dating program.” It entails sending out their Ecuadorian Amazon parrots (Amazona autumnalis) throughout zoos and wildlife parks in the UK and Europe to explore their dating options.
Once potential mates are located, the parrots are given time to meet, greet and evaluate each other’s traits in a process similar to speed dating. If they’re compatible, the birds go on to live together as a pair and are sent off to a new collection at one of the zoos or wildlife parks to continue their new life as a pair. By pairing off with a compatible mate, the parrots are more likely to successfully breed, and the “dating agency” method promotes the parrots’ need to find a suitable mate.
But what causes one parrot to catch another parrot’s eye? Just like with dating, parrots can be particular about the setting of their date, as well as their mate. Susan Clubb, DVM, staff veterinarian at Jungle Island in Miami, Florida, and parrot breeder, said that encouraging breeding among parrots starts with the simplest of questions: Are these birds properly sexed to ensure that they are a “true pair?” Matching a male parrot with a female parrot is step one to making a meet-up more like a date. Some people inadvertently try to pair up same-sex parrots, which is a more common mistake than you might think. After all, most parrot species cannot be visually sexed to determine gender.
Yet even if two parrots are the opposite sex and in the peak of breeding season, there’s no predicting if the pair has mating potential. Clubb said that if at introduction, one bird sits on one side of the cage and the other bird sits on the other, they’re probably not compatible. Watching body language is key to see if the parrots have a better chance at breeding, Clubb said.
“[With] some birds, you put them together and it’s like love at first sight: They’ll preen each other, go up to each other, act like a couple of lovebirds,” Clubb said. “Others will squabble, sit on the other side of the cage [or] pick at each other. In a lot of ways, their social behavior is like ours.”
The setting of a “date” can be just as vital as it is with people. The cage in which a pair meet must be spacious enough for them to feel comfortable to mate. It requires a proper perching area and the appropriate level of silence and noise, depending on each individual parrot’s preferences.
With birds as rare as the Ecuadorian Amazon parrot, regular and frequent breeding is vital for its survival; requiring zoos like to Chester carefully orchestrate successful “dates.”
One method that Clubb promotes at her bird breeding farm is timing food influxes with the breeding season. During the non-breeding season, she gives her potential breeding parrots a basic diet that meets all their needs. When breeding season rolls around, she’ll add in extra goodies, which might include vegetables, fruits and nuts. This simulates the extra food that might be available normally in the wild during breeding season.
“Parrots have evolved to breed and have young during the time of year when food is readily available, so babies have a lot of good food available for growth,” she said.
With people playing Cupid, parrots can be encouraged to find their perfect mate — whether in time for Valentine’s Day or not.