Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gems of the Territory - A look at the Hooded Parrot

hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch cock
Cock Hooded Parrot
The Hooded Parrot of Australia comes from the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is a place of great extremes, which is known for its wildlife, heat and wet seasons. Confined to the North of the Territory these birds range from common to uncommon. Pine Creek is a good place for sighting these birds in the wild and as a matter of fact the species is so common in Pine Creek that it can be considered somewhat of a garden bird.

marc gardner hen hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Hen Hooded Parrot - these birds are becoming common around Pine Creek
They may be found in flocks of up to 50 birds that consist of birds of varying age including mature, immature and young birds. This is particularly so during feeding. With the heat of the day they often remain perched motionless in a tree before once again taking to the ground as the afternoon approaches and the temperature drops.
marc gardner cock hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Wild cock bird
Birds of prey, snakes and goannas naturally predate upon the Parrot. It seems though that the Goanna is being reduced in numbers, in part due them eating the noxious Cane Toad, which continues to spread. The goanna is happy to raid the nest of these birds and without this predator the birds may begin to increase in number. This is also having a possible impact on other species such as the Gouldian Finch.
pair hooded parrots jadewelchbirds jade welch breeding
A breeding pair of Hooded's with the cock on the left in his flashy colours
The sexes are easily told apart as can be seen by the photos attached to this post. The young though resemble the hen bird. In fact the hen of the Hooded Parrot also resembles the hen Golden-shouldered Parrot. The two species though should not be crossed and care must be taken to ensure this does not occur. The song of these birds is melodic and in no way offensive to the ears.  

The Hooded Parrot is an interesting and attractive subject to keep. In their home country of Australia they are relatively cheap and freely available with wild type (non mutation) individuals going for as low as $50AUS a bird. Outside of Australia they too are just as popular although rare or low in genetic material in some countries.
hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory shell grit
A bowl of grit or washed river sand is great for the birds to dig around in
They will do well when housed in either a conventional or suspended aviary. Although as a grass parrot a conventional aviary allows them to come to the floor to dig and scratch about as they would in the wild. A material such as washed river sand is perfect for the floor of the aviary as it is easy for the birds to dig and scratch about on. For birds housed in a suspended aviary a large tray of washed river sand or the like may be installed so as the birds can scratch and dig about.
aviary's suspended hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch
A bank of suspended aviaries that would suit the keeping of Hooded Parrots
An aviary 2-3 metres in length is ideal for this species. They will however do well in one of a greater length and some keep a pair of Hooded’s in a large ‘community aviary’ - An aviary consisting of other bird species such as finches, parrots, quail, softbill etc. They make fantastic display birds and some go as far as to create a biotype aviary. That is an aviary that is planted and designed in such a way as to look like the birds natural habitat.

Hooded Parrots can be somewhat pugnacious and this reflects on many breeders showing a preference to house a single pair in each aviary. Some breeders though keep the young birds they’ve bred each season in a colony till such time as pairing takes place. The young pairs can then be placed into their own holding aviary. Allowing the birds to socialize is important and can have a great effect on future breeders.

Aside from coming to the floor of the aviary to dig and scratch about the substrate, these birds enjoy chewing branches. They are not hard chewers and as such could be housed in an aviary constructed of non-treated hard wood. A plentiful supply of branches will get a good working out as will seeding grasses.

marc gardner hooded parrot habitat jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Hooded Parrot Habitat
Wild Hooded’s occupy open woodlands and are true grass parrots feeding almost exclusively on half ripe and ripe grass seeds. Whilst feeding in flocks they may be seen in close proximity to a range of species such as the Gouldian Finch, Masked Finch, Long-tailed Finch, Northern Rosella, Cockatiels & Budgerigars to name but a few. The Hooded Parrot has a preference during the dry season to feed in open areas particularly those that have been recently burnt. Alternatively they will feed between tussocks in un-burnt areas, or in scantly grassed areas.
marc gardner gouldian finch hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch northern territory
The Gouldian Finch & Hooded Parrot share similar habitat
They are a species that greatly benefits from mosaic burning practices, which gives them access to fallen seed they may not be able to access when grasses are too tall during the wet season. Heading into tall grasses in search of seed can mean the difference between life and death for these birds and as such they try to avoid this.  In the wet season the birds will eat the seeding grass heads.
mosaic burning marc gardner hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Mosaic burning is beneficial for many species
Grit is taken inevitably from the ground as the birds pick about for fallen seed. They may also intentionally eat grit to aid in digesting foodstuffs. They will take live food including insect larvae and have been observed in native trees such as Hakea, moving about the bark and foliage tips eating insects. The possibility exists that during nest digging that termites may also be eaten intentionally or unintentionally. This would certainly provide the soon to be laying hen with extra nutrition.
grasses cock hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch
Hooded Parrots like to be supplied with seeding grasses
In the aviary they will eat a dry seed mix however in recent times there has been a number of breeders converting their birds to pellets. Whatever the case the birds should be provided with a plentiful supply of seeding grasses. They relish this and it is far more beneficial then dry seed.
milk seed hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch
Seed in the milk stage like this is highly nutritious
A range of vegetables such as endive, kale, corn, beetroot, peas and beans should be offered alongside soaked or sprouted seed. Pairs that may not be so fond of such foods normally, may surprise the keeper with how much they eat when young are in the nest. Homegrown French white millet seed heads in the milk stage are relished. Some breeders also supply their birds with dandelion which the birds are particularly fond of.

Considering the birds eat live food in the wild the keeper may wish to provide some live food and gauge the reaction of their birds. For birds sharing an aviary with finches and the like they may already be dining on live food. The birds will also enjoy the provision of branches such as those of Callistemon, Eucalyptus.

terrestrial termite mound marc gardner hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Terrestrial termite mounds are used for breeding by Hooded Parrots
Throughout the habitat of the Hooded Parrot, terrestrial termite mounds dot the landscape and are quite numerous. Unlike many of Australia’s Parrot species they will not naturally nest in the hollow of a tree. Instead the majority prefer to avoid competition by nesting in termite mounds of between 1 and 3.5 metres in height. They dig at the soft exterior till eventually they have created a tunnel and a cavity to their liking.  The tunnel is usually around 2/3rds the way up the mound and the nest may be used repeatedly.

Species such as Kingfishers may also nest in these terrestrial termite mounds. Animals such as snakes and lizards may take advantage of the empty nest once the birds have finished breeding, which is why the termites may not reseal some nests. When eggs are laid a moth lays its eggs too and that moth Trisyntopa neossophila shares a symbiotic relationship with the parrot. When the eggs hatch the larvae of the moth also hatch and feed on the excrement of the parrot keeping the nest clean. In return the larvae receive nutrients from the excrement helping them to grow.

Sitting hens may leave the nest for long periods of time. They are able to do this due to the insulation provided by the termite mound. This habit of leaving the nest for long period of times can be an issue in captivity.

In captivity the Hooded Parrot may have two breeding seasons depending on where they are kept. The Hooded is sexually mature at just under a year and rather straightforward in its breeding requirements. Young cock birds have been known to produce before fully colouring into adult plumage. Many breeders though wait till their birds are at a year or greater before using them to breed.
insulated nest box hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch
A box designed for Hooded & Golden-shouldered Parrots
Breeders have designed boxes that mimic the warmth of a termite mound. These boxes have insulation and or heat provided by a heat matt or a low watt light globe (attached to a thermostat) as well as a spout. The electrical components such as the cord are made inaccessible to the birds and these measures are put in place to prevent loss of chicks when the hen leave’s the nest for extended periods of time. As with anything electrical, great care should be taken when such items are used and an electrician’s assistance may be required.

insulated nest box hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch
The box has a spout, an insulated roof and insulated walls
Though not imperative, due to the bird’s natural habit of excavating the nest, many breeders plug the spout with a range of mixes e.g. washed river sand mixed with peatmoss. They then allow this to dry before placing the box in the aviary. With young hens the breeder may only lightly plug the spout and increase the amount of material used to plug as the years progress. The nest may be filled with a range of mediums such as peatmoss, wood shavings, saw dust etc.

The nest box can be positioned in a range of places and some breeders will place it on the floor of the suspended aviary or just a metre or so off of the ground in a conventional aviary. Some breeders go so far as to make a box and then build a mound around the box.
cock hooded parrot displaying jadewelchbirds jade welch
Cock Hooded displaying during breeding

The cock will often enter the nest to inspect the work done by the hen once she is in their intensively working the nesting material. He will also begin to display more and increasingly feed her. The hen will start to begin spending more time in the box before she eventually lays a clutch of 2-6 white eggs. It may be expected that in their early years that hens may lay smaller clutches and in the norm the hen lays every two days.

With the laying of the second egg incubation often commences. Incubation times will vary depending on the climate and whether the box is heated or insulated etc. 19-23 days of incubation seems to fit into what many breeders have recorded although 23 days seems on the extreme end.

Once chicks have hatched it is suggested that the food items fed are bumped up to give the chicks the best possible chance at life. If the parents are not supplied with a good quality diet chicks may die, be stunted or have other health issues that can impact future breeding.  In saying that - No matter what a good cock bird will give his all to assist the hen to raise their young.
young hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
The bird on the right (A cock) is transitioning into adult plumage
Fledging takes place at 29 days plus and the young can be left with their parents for a further few weeks to learn the art of flying, feeding, socializing etc. In many cases the pair will go back down for another nest so the cock may be inclined to attack the chicks for a range of reasons. The young can be moved to a much larger aviary where they can socialize with other hooded parrots. It is from here you can also pair them up with unrelated stock. This will ensure the breeder has a pair that is in tune with each other and more inclined to breed.
mutation fallow hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Fallow Hooded Parrot - This mutation is recessive
As with many of our Grass Parrots, mutations have been around in Hooded Parrots for quite some time. Mutations that have been produced range in status from uncommon to extinct and include blue, par blue/turquoise, pied, fallow, grey green etc. There is a mutation (last photo on this page) often referred to as dominant pied that some breeders believe may in fact be recessive. Whatever the case it is a bird of great beauty. Combination mutations are also being produced and one bird that resembled a creamino sadly died upon fledging.
recessive mutation pied hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
Recessive Pied Hooded
On reflection the Hooded Parrot is a small bird with a big personality. They are a native Australian of great beauty, which is straightforward in its requirements. Not being costly they are well worthy of a provision in the aviary of anyone who can look after them and meet their requirements. So if you are looking for a bird of great beauty that has an interesting style of nesting that you can’t go past this little Aussie.

pied dominant or recessive hooded parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch pine creek northern territory
This mutation known as dominant is believed by some to be recessive
Many thanks go to Marc Gardner for his assistance with this article and for providing photos of wild Hooded's and the habitat they live in. Marc lives in an area where he sees Hooded Parrots on a daily basis and quite often sees Gouldian Finches and Northern Rosellas as well as a raft of other spectacular birds. His personal experiences and field observation have made this article more informative which I am grateful for. Thank you must also go to the breeders with whom I visited for photos and or who read this post prior to publication and gave feedback.

For more information on the Hooded Parrot in the wild visit
or get yourself a copy of Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds: Parrots to Dollarbird.

Happy Birdkeeping,

Copyright © Jade Welch - All Rights Reserved. All photographs and text are protected
by copyright and may not be reproduced by any method without written permission from Mr Jade Welch.

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