Encouraging the breeding of every parrot in New Zealand whether in the wild or captivity


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AUSTRALIAN KING PARROT

A Beginners Guide to Breeding and Keeping

The Australian King Parrot

Alisterus scapularis

In the Wild:

King parrots are endemic to the eastern coast of Australia. They are flock birds and also like to keep the company of others like the Eastern Rosella. They are ground foragers most of the time and their wild diet would consist of small insects and larvae plus seeds and leaf buds from the acacias and eucalypts. They are known to sometimes visit private gardens to be fed and have also been observed in fields and parks feeding in small groups or with their young. King parrots inhabit the coastal areas, rain forests and mountainous regions of eastern Australia. They are on the least threatened list.

Breeding season in the wild is late September to the end of January. The king parrot prefers to nest in hollow eucalypts, having the entrance eight to 10 metres up in the tree. The nest however will be as far down to the bottom of the tree trunk as they can go. This would provide protection and insulation, keeping the nest cool on a very hot Australian day.

Male kings reach sexual maturity at 3 years of age with the hen being ready as early as 12 months.

Housing your Kings:

King parrots are reasonably sized birds. They can measure up to 43cm in length, this includes a very long tail. Their wing span can measure up to 45cm and they weigh in at approximately at 320 grams. Providing an aviary that allows the birds to have enough room to swoop from perch to perch would be preferred. Include an area in the back of the aviary that is private and water-poof. Kings like to bathe so providing a large water dish will be welcomed. Natural perches of different shapes and sizes are most suitable. Our breeding birds were housed in an area measuring 1.8x1.8x1.8. The floors were concrete so it was easy to keep clean. Foraging items were placed in the aviaries to keep the birds busy. Leaves would get stripped from branches and thrown around the floor. Pine cones with seeds and treats were placed on the floor for them and I would hide sunflower seeds around the aviary. This was a game the birds did enjoy and would give them the feeling of foraging, not just eating from a feed station. Kings are quite social and a usually happy to keep the company of smaller birds in their aviary like Eastern Rosella and cockatiels.

Feeding your Kings:

A good helping of vegetables, fruit and soaked and sprouted grains/seeds is most desired. I found millet spray to be a favourite. Leafy greens may include spinach, bok-choy, kale, turnip tops, dandelion, puha (milk thistle) and different types of lettuce. Also seeding grass heads. They like the smaller seeds so this would make budgie with plain canary a good mix for them. Fruit can be varied ranging from apples to grapes and oranges to passion fruit and pears. Vegetables such as corn on the cob, broccoli heads, cooked kumara and pumpkin can be offered. Frozen mixed vegetables are very suitable to feed and are also very convenient. This ensures your bird gets a good variety of vegetables even when they are out of season. As for the protein, cooked chicken bones or cooked meat bones from the roast can be offered.

Many breeders in NZ have started using a pellet diet in their feeding regime. The concept of feeding pellets instead of seed is growing in popularity. I have also started feeding pellets and have noticed the difference in plumage and birds that broke tail feathers don’t anymore. They love the pellets once they get used to them and wastage is reduced.

Soft food can also be incorporated into the diet especially pre breeding season, during breeding and feeding young. Rearing and conditioning food mixed with a handrearing formula and some boiled egg was very much liked at this time of year.

Soaked and sprouted seed is another favourite with the king parrots. This can include seeds such as:

    • sunflower
    • whole/kibbled maize
    • peanuts
    • pigeon peas
    • hulled oats
    • lentils/split peas
    • mung beans
    • barley

Breeding your Kings:

Breeding season for kings in NZ starts about the same time as in Australia beginning August/September ending in January.

For the breeding pairs I used a nest box measuring 5 ft long with a 1 foot long boot on it made of rough sawn timber. This helps the parents not to come crashing down on the eggs in a moment of king madness. They are normally laid at the front of the boot. They like the nesting box in a dark quiet place in the aviary as they are private birds. I put in untreated shavings, rotting bark of the eucalyptus and also the leaves. The birds add a few feathers and some pieces of bark but the nest is quite sparse. They do like to work the box from the inside and spend a lot of time gnawing the wood and redesigning their nest. This is a good sign as eggs will surely appear. The cock bird may become a bit aggressive toward the hen and make sure she stays in the box. His job is to feed the hen while she sits so you will not see her very often once she has started to incubate the clutch. King parrots appear to be shy birds as I never observed them mating. Maybe it’s something that gets done in the nesting box!

A clutch of 3 -6 eggs is laid. I found in most instances the hen did not start to incubate the eggs until the complete clutch had been laid. Incubation is 20 days. The male feeds the hen while she is sitting and she only tends to appear for quick drinks of water. Once the chicks have hatched, offer food twice daily and include more foods like millet, corn on the cob, sprouted and soaked seed and soft food as outlined above. The chicks are in the nest for 5 weeks. The young stay with their parents for a further few weeks until they are weaned. This differs from the kings in the wild as they tend to stay with the parents for a longer period of time.

King Parrot Health:

King parrots are strong, sturdy birds and as with any bird, will remain so if you keep them happy and healthy in their surroundings. Probiotics for general health can be added to drinking water several times a week. As it is water soluble so you can administer everyday if you wish. This promotes a healthy gut flora, therefore aiding the absorption of the vitamins and minerals into the bird’s system. King parrots do not require grit or crushed oyster shell as they hull their seed and do not swallow it whole like doves or pigeons.

Worms:

I had my kings on concrete floors and I never had a problem with worms. Kings like to forage on the ground as I mentioned before, so if you have a dirt floor it would be advisable to have your birds screened for worms by your vet or a trusty friend with a microscope who knows what they are doing. If worms are found to be present use a well-known or recommended wormer and follow the directions. If you are unable to have that type of support then have a worming regime in action and repeat twice a year.

The most common worm for king parrots would be round worm (Ascaridia). They measure from 1-3 cm in length. The host ingests the eggs which then move along into the small intestine where they remain until adulthood. They then lay eggs which are passed out in the droppings ready for the next host to come along and be infected.

I have also seen king parrots suffer from tape worm (Raillietina). These measure 2-3cm and like a damp environment. Control of pests such as ants, worms and slugs is important as these are the hosts that start the tape worm cycle. Earthworms can also be the contributing factor for other types of worm infestation such as threadworm (Capillaria) gape worm (Syngamus) and caecal worm (Heterakis).

Aspergillosis:

This is caused by the fungus Aspergillus fumigates also known as ‘brooder pneumonia’. It is not very common but I have seen king parrots infected with this. This would mainly be due to poor aviary management. The disease is manly contracted by the inhalation of spores but also by ingestion. It grows well in hay and any old nesting material that remains damp in the nest box. Old seed would be another host. Aspergillosis is an infection the usually affects the respiratory tract but sometimes can also affect the digestive organs.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

This is a viral infection which is spread by feather dander and droppings. It affects many birds including the king parrot. Juvenile birds are more susceptible due to their immature immune systems. In young birds, flight and tail feathers will fall out while still in the growing phase. Dried blood can be visible in the quill. The next growth of feathers will come back in deformed and with incorrect colouration. As the disease progresses, feathers do not grow back to replace the lost feathers and beak and nails become deformed. This is not a health issue found in king parrots in New Zealand but is prevalent in the wild flocks in Australia.

Kings as Pets:

I have had kings as pets and I do recommend them. They are great birds for mimicry and my pet king had everyone’s phone rings mastered. This did cause the problem of the ‘phantom phone ringer’ and have people running to answer their phones. They have their own uniqueness about them, as any bird, but also funny traits like the up and down head bobbing while talking/screeching. They have a funny little gait as they run across the floor in fits and starts. Kings are prone to being loud if bored, and have quite a shrill voice. They require enrichment and they are very intelligent and know what is going on. A large cage is required, the bigger the better. They become part of the household but are usually not a bird who appreciates cuddles, although they have a very infectious personality and cheeky attitude. Life expectancy in captivity can reach up to 25 years or so. It is not certain how long they live in the wild but has been said to be around 15 years.

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