by Martina Muller and Norbert Neumann

The representatives of the genus Psittaculirostris are medium sized (18-20 cm (approx. 7in-71/4in long), stocky parrots, with colourful plumage. Their most prominent features are the extremely short, rounded tail, the elongated ear-coverts and proportionally large bill with a prominent notch in the upper mandible.

Fig Parrots are distributed throughout different regions of New Guinea, where they can be found primarily in fruit-bearing trees, especially fig trees.

Here, we do not attempt to give full descriptions of the three Psittaculirostris species, as they can easily be distinguished by referring to the relevant literature. We believe that the following short notes should be sufficient:

Desmarest's Golden-headed or Large Fig Parrot P. desmarestii

Occurs in forested lowlands, hill forests and occasionally the savannas of the western Papuan islands, as well as western and southern New Guinea, locally up to 1,500m (approx. 4,900ft). Unlike the other species of this genus, which are monotypic, up to six well defined geographical races of it have been described. All are mainly green with the typical contrasting fiery-orange forehead and orange-yellow crown and nape, blue breast markings and blue on the flight feathers. In this species the sexes are alike.

Salvadori's or Whiskered Fig Parrot P. salvadorii

Endemic to lowland forest and the forest edge, to 400m (approx. 1,300ft), in northern Irian Jaya. Extensive logging and land clearance, associated with extensive trapping, are considered to be causing a rapid decline in its numbers and have led to it being listed as vulnerable. Sexual dimorphism is well developed in this species: adult males have a red breast, whereas adult females have broad bands of pale bluish-green across their breast. Both sexes have a blue mark behind the eyes.

Edwards' Fig Parrot P.edwardsii

Distributed throughout lowland and hill forest, also partly cleared land, in north-eastern New Guinea. This species was in the past thought to be a race of Salvadori's Fig Parrot. The most striking features of Edwards' Fig Parrot are the broad blue-black band on the upper breast, the red belly and lower breast (females lack this red on the breast) and the broad black line through the eyes to the hind crown and nape.

Their fascinating behaviour and vivacious nature make fig parrots among the most attractive of the parrots. They are gregarious, very active and playful birds, which become tame easily. While acclimatising and keeping the Psittaculirostris species is no longer a problem, breeding successes still need to be improved in order to establish viable populations. In the mid 1970s a good number of fig parrots were imported into Europe and theUSA. At that time there was no detailed information available about these species, we knew only that keeping fig parrots seemed to be difficult, and therefore only a few enthusiasts purchased these birds.

Vogelpark Walsrode was one of the first institutions to take up the challenge to keep these three species of fig parrots and to improve the breeding results with them. During the early years the loss of some birds had to be accepted, but this led to even more intensive efforts to achieve satisfying breeding results. Up until that time and still today sometimes there are those who believe that a deficiency of Vitamin K, which delays blood dotting, causes the death of these birds. Therefore even the slightest injuries such as those caused by flying against the wire of the enclosure, are supposed to be the reason for birds bleeding to death. As an additional supply of Vitamin K did not result in any improvement in the keeping of the adults or in the hatching of chicks, we decided to try other ways.

The first improvements came when we added an amino-acid supplement to the food. We noticed increased breeding activity and did not lose any of the adults. During this 'time of experimentation' chicks hatched, but died within the first 18 days. At that time, about the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the results of investigations by keepers in the USA were published which dealt with the causes of death in Psittaculirostris chicks. The surprising result of these investigations was the fact that young fig parrots are obviously unable to digest the seeds of figs and apples, etc., as adult birds do. Even soft and spouting seeds are a potential danger to young birds. These results caused us to reconsider the diet we fed to the fig parrots and, together with other breeders; we worked on a new combination of ingredients. After a short period of re-adaptation to this new diet, the birds very well accepted it

Today, the Psittaculirostris species' diet consists of the following, which is fed to them twice a day in clean bowls. It is sufficient for approximately ten birds.

3 tablespoons of cooked rice.
1 medium-sized, cooked potato (cut into pieces).
1 large, peeled and steamed apple (with the core removed).
1 steamed carrot.
1 banana .
2 tablespoons Humana Special (powdered special diet for babies, which is free of lactose, fructose and refined sugar)
2 tablespoons of soft oat flakes
1/4 teaspoon Korvimin (powdered vitamin/mineral supplement for birds)
10 ml honey
1/2 teaspoon of oil (olive or wheatgerm oil)
1/8 lettuce or Chinese cabbage
Approx. lOOml water

All of the ingredients are mixed in a blender until they form a paste-like substance.

We also offer a variety of sprouted seeds and pulses, including sunflower seeds, mung beans and a seed mixture intended for pigeons. These are soaked in 5 litres (just over 1 gallon) of water to which we add two Chinosol tablets to prevent them from becoming mouldy. They are soaked for approximately eight hours, after which they are thoroughly rinsed with clean running water and then kept in a sieve and allowed to sprout for about 24 hours. In addition to the above, we also offer maize and rice, which has been boiled for ten minutes. Every other day 5ml of one of the following supplements is added to the food: powdered yeast, Muschelkalk (ground shells which provide calcium), powdered soya-malt, Nekton Tonik K (vitamin/mineral supplement for seed eating birds).

The food for the adult birds consists of the above mentioned paste (fed twice a day) and, once a day, one tablespoon of sprouted seeds and pulses and half of a dried fig (which has been soaked) per pair. The seeds, pulses and figs are provided up until two days before the chicks are expected to hatch. From then until the chicks are 14 days old, the only food we offer the birds is the paste. Then from 15 days old onwards, we add ten blanched meal worms per day. When the young birds have fledged, we again feed our basic fig parrot diet (the paste, seeds, pulses and figs) and stop offering mealworms. About two weeks after fledging the offspring can be separated from their parents. They should though be kept in a quiet area, as at the beginning they are very timid.

As fig parrots like to use branches on which to clean their bills, they should always have access to branches which have not been treated with pesticides. The birds also peel the bark off the branches, and so get additional minerals, roughage and tannin acids, which have a dietetic effect.

It should be borne in mind that fig parrots are very active birds, which enjoy bathing. They are also very curious. During the breeding season, however, they can become very stressed, which can result in them abandoning or even killing their chicks. This does not necessarily take place at the time of the disturbance, but often occurs some days later.

Aggressive behaviour between males and females is seen only rarely, and it is more or less easy to set up pairs. Keeping the birds in a flock of two or more pairs, however, makes a big difference and, at breeding time, the pairs should be kept separately. When keeping Psittaculirostris species in a group of three pairs in a large enclosure, we found that all may hatch chicks, but only those of one of the pairs survive to the age of fledging. We assume that one of the pairs is dominant and suppress the others, also the females sometimes become very aggressive towards each other and bad injuries can result.

Pairs do not in most cases seem to be difficult to please with regard to next-boxes, but there are some pairs, which start breeding only after the nest-boxes, have been changed several times. The type of nest-box, which is preferred, differs from pair to pair. Some tend to breed in small boxes which have just a single entrance hole, others use boxes which have an extra opening on the opposite side to the entrance hole, and some pairs prefer to gnaw a second hole in the nest-box while incubating the eggs. When the chicks reach about 14 days old the parents use the extra opening through which to remove the chick's droppings, which is a great help in keeping the nest-box clean and dry.

With the Psittaculirostris species incubation takes about 22 days and the chicks fledge at about 45-50 days old. After a further 14 days the young are independent of their parents and can be separated. They are sexually mature at 18 months to two years old, when the plumage is in full colour. With Salvadori's Fig Parrots there is a difference between the sexes at the age of 14-18 months and with Edwards' Fig Parrots the males start to show typical male colouration at about ten months at the earliest.

By exchanging our experiences and newly-gained knowledge about the husbandry and breeding of fig parrots, these beautiful birds, which are unique in appearance and behaviour, will more and more find their way into the hearts and aviaries of 'parrot people'. Today, keeping fig parrots is one of the most wonderful experiences those interested in keeping parrots can have, especially as they no longer have to face the problems experienced with them in the past.

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                     Del af / Part of 2007