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Fig parrots: The hookbills that won't be tamed

By Ron Kasper

THE FIG PARROT isn’t your ordinary hookbill. It can't be tamed, even if hand raised. It thrives on figs (no surprise). The round black droppings look like tiny cow patties. And although some fig parrots are almost as large as a Senegal, they're high-energy birds that like to flit about.

Sal fig parrots

Most of the fig parrots being raised in the United States are Salvadori's. (Photo courtesy Ron Kasper.)

I discovered fig parrots after founding a nonprofit conservatory for blue-crown hanging parrots, an unrelated but also unusual species, in 2000. A chance encounter with someone who had obtained a pair of Salvadori's fig parrots prompted me to add them to my breeding efforts.

Now it's become one of my missions in life to raise as many fig parrots as I can and share them with zoos so everyone can appreciate these unique jewels of the rainforest.

Conservation in the wild is also an important goal. Last year my Hanging Parrot and Fig Parrot International Conservatory endorsed the Australian Recovery Plan for the Coxen fig parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni). The Coxen is one of the most critically endangered birds in Australia, with fewer than 100 remaining.

Aside from the Coxen's, there are five main species of fig parrots today, branching into an additional 18 subspecies. These small, mostly green parrots occur in Asia, Australia and the Pacific:

  • Desmarest's fig parrot (Psittculirostris d. desmaretii). The first fig parrot be discovered, in 1826, eastern Vogelkop Peninsula west to Irian. Males have red and blue head. 7 inches long. Five subspecies.
  • Double-eyed fig parrot (Cyclopsitta d. diophthalma), western New Guinea from Vogel Peninsula, east to Astrolabe Bay, south to Etna Bay, Salawati, Batanata, Waigeo, Misool and Koffiao. Males have red and blue head. 5.5 inches long. 7 subspecies.
  • Edward's fig parrot (Psittaculirostris edwardsii, Humbolt Bay west to Irian and east to Huon Gulf, New Guinea. Males have red-and-blue bib. 7 inches long.
  • Orange-breasted fig parrot (Cyclopsitta g. guliemiterti), western Vogelkop Peninsula and Salawati, Indonesia. Males have blue, yellow and orange markings. 5 inches long. Six subspecies.
  • Salvadori's fig parrot (Psittaculirostris salvadorii). The last fig parrot to be discovered, in 1880, Gedvink Bay east to Humboldt Bay west to Irian. Males have bright red bib. 7.5 inches long.

Social - but not with people
I raise both Salvadori's and Edward's fig parrots, but the Sal's, or whiskered fig parrot, is my favorite. The Sal's lives to be about 20 in captivity. It's the most common fig parrot in the United States - but still numbers fewer than 100. In Europe you can find many more captive-bred Edward's, Desmaret, Double-eyed and other species of fig parrots.

male double-eye

Captive double-eyed fig parrots are more common in Europe than in the U.S. (Photo courtesy Currumbin Sanctuary, Australia.)

Sals are active, amusing birds to keep. They're very social with one another, huddling close together. You should never keep one alone, even if you have no interest in breeding it. Fig parrots don't mimic, but they make a melodic flutelike sound that's very appealing to listen to.

However, fig parrots don't make good pets. Even if hand fed, often necessary because the parents abandon the eggs, these birds will revert to cage-bird status after weaning. Fig parrots bite readily - when I have to retrieve something from inside a cage, my birds attack my hand. They're also easily startled, often flailing on the bottom of the cage and squawking if someone approaches.

So it's best to enjoy fig parrots from a distance, where you can watch them eat and climb and spend time in their boxes, which they enjoy using for privacy as well as breeding. Fig parrots don't play with toys.

Messy eaters
Being mostly frugivores - fruit eaters - like lories, fig parrots tend to be messy. I have to clean the cages frequently and keep the wall behind them covered in plastic to protect it from thrown food. Fruit flies can be a nuisance.

I feed my Sals a blend of seed and pellets once a day, but their mainstay is a vegetable, fruit and fig mash I make. Feeding only seed to any fig parrot will quickly kill it.

The mash I feed consists of fresh zucchini, carrots, grapes, papaya, raisins, cucumber, plums, peaches, apples, cooked yams, shaved cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, string beans, peaches, mangoes, pomegranate, sprouted small seeds, apple, tomatoes, banana, sliced citrus rinds, corn on cob, peapods, nectarines, green tops of scallions, squash, strawberries, kiwi, cherries and broccoli crowns. I chop everything into small chunks to avoid waste.

If fresh vegetables are out of season, I use thawed frozen. I add a cooked multi-bean-and-rice formula which I make in bulk and freeze. At least five times a week I add vitamin Q mixed with powdered calcium.

baby double-eye

Captive fig parrots often abandon their chicks, such as this baby double-eyed, making hand raising necessary. (Photo courtesy Currumbin Sanctuary, Australia.)

The birds' staple in the wild is the fig. Figs are expensive, so I purchase one or two 30-pound boxes at a time from growers who sell blemished fruit in bulk.

I quick-boil the figs and freeze them along with a little juice - they’ll keep for up to a year -and thaw as needed to mix with the veggie and fruit mash. Every day each bird also gets at least three to four sliced fresh figs. The birds eat only the tiny seeds in the fruit; you can hear them grinding them with their beaks.

Figs parrots are voracious eaters that seem to have a high metabolic rate, so sometimes I feed them twice a day by adding a sliced piece of fruit.

Scarce breeders
Until about two years of age, male and female fig parrots look the same, then the males begin to color out on the head and bib and breeding begins.

Fig parrots don't need a large space to breed in but I've have good results in my outdoor aviary with a 2' X 3' X 6' cage equipped with a cockatiel box with an enlarged opening.

Coxen's fig parrot

There are no known photographs of a live Coxen's fig parrot, a rare Australian species. (Photo courtesy Dr. Ian Gynther.)

Indoors, the cage can be smaller, but keep in mind that these are high-energy birds that like to move and flit about. Sals typically lay two eggs, which they incubate approximately 28 days.

Since wild-bird imports into the U.S. became illegal in 1991, it's been difficult to locate unrelated fig parrots for breeding. Those you can find often cost ridiculous amounts - sometimes as much as $3500 for a pair. I suppose many others have died due to lack of knowledge of proper care and diet and some owners' reluctance to deal with the mess.

Why would anyone keep a wild, messy cage bird like this in their home? Seeing these active, feathered green jewels convinced me that they're worth all the effort to propagate.

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Du kan se flere fotos af figenpapegøjer I Gallerierne/ You can watch more photos of the figparrots in the Galleries

Dette er en del af/This is a part of : ©2007