Brotogeris: small bundles of joy

 

The Guaraní Indian word for parakeets of the genus Brotogeris is tuí. In Psittaculture I used this name to describe the group as a whole, as the generic “South American parakeets” could be applied to many species in multiple genera. Brotogeris are small, rotund birds which are noisy, in the wild nest in arboreal termitaria, are not easily bred in captivity and make fabulous pets when hand-reared, having the personality of a much larger bird: outgoing, often demanding, very intelligent and ever active. The genus was ignored by aviculture until during the 1980s the Grey-cheeked Parakeet Brotogeris pyrrhopterus appeared on the US bird scene. The majority of the Grey-cheeks imported were tame, having been hand-reared in the exporting country. The amicable personality made them an instant success. This saw many other species enter the trade. Today in the US two species (or subspecies, depending on taxonomy) are available—the White-winged Brotogeris versicolurus and the Yellow-winged Brotogeris chiriri. Several other species are kept in small numbers and rarely become available. The Grey-cheeked that sparked interest in the genus has sadly all about disappeared. In Europe, where parrots have always been seen more as aviary birds than pets, many more species are being bred and the Grey-cheeked has not (like in the US) nearly vanished. In South America breeders are producing small numbers of mutation Orange-chinned Parakeet Brotogeris jugularis.

The reason why Brotogeris have not totally disappeared from the US pet trade is simple: there are large feral populations in Puerto Rico and small, perhaps declining populations in Miami, Florida. These birds originate from escapees during the years that both the White-winged and Canary-winged Parakeets were imported. Trapping of non-native species is allowed and most of the birds originating in the Miami population are adults or young adults. Puerto Rican birds are taken as nestlings from termites’ mounds. The Puerto Rican population is flourishing while the Miami population is declining.

Brotogeris seem capable of living commensally with man. Introduced populations in Miami, Puerto Rico, Leticia (Colombia) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) feed and breed in parks, gardens and city streets. The preferred nesting site is an arboreal termitarium, the nest of termites. Where these are unavailable (as in South Florida), they nest in the base of leaves of the Canary Island Palms; the dead, decomposing leaves that have fallen or have been cut away allow a cavity to be excavated and is where pairs nest. They feed on flowers, fruits and buds. Normally the birds fly quite high from nesting to feeding grounds; the loose flocks are typically heard but not always visualized, this due to the height from the ground. When feeding they are noisy; the Canary-winged in Guaraní is called tui chirirí or fried parakeet, presumably because the noise they make is reminiscent of splattering grease.  The falling debris and calling betray their presence, though seeing them is often difficult; they blend perfectly will into the foliage.

My experience with this group entails observing 6 species in the wild from Central through South America, as well as the various feral populations; for years I had a visiting wild flock in Miami Beach that I fed fruit to, the birds arriving daily and departing after about two hours. Some even interacted and fed the small flocks that I kept in aviaries. I currently only maintain and breed the Orange-chinned Parakeet but have bred Canary-winged, White-winged, Cobalt-winged and Grey-cheeks. In my experience, all of the species are highly sociable and can be bred on the colony. Problems only arise when unpaired birds are included in the group, when they will bicker with pairs in an attempt to mate. How the species behave on the colony is interesting. In the Canary-winged and White-winged flocks, almost all the pairs nested. Eggs were typically laid within 2 weeks. On the other hand, with the Cobalt-winged Parakeets the dominant pair nested, following some time later by the other pairs. I am unsure if this behavior is typical of the species or if it just applied to that particular group. In all cases, the birds were maintained in a long flight with the nesting boxes placed on the sides, near the top. More nesting boxes were available than were needed, but usually the birds nested in clusters.

Brotogeris are highly frugivorous, often feeding on overripe fruit. They will also take pods, flowers and shoots. The long bill and presence of naked skin along the bill in some species is intended to harvest food resources without having juices or resins coat the feathers. In captivity mine have been bred on seeds or pellets supplemented with par-boiled vegetables, ripe fruit and garden flowers (especially those of the Royal Poinciana, which they adore). Fruits with seeds (i.e., guava, Opuntia, papaya) usually have a hole excavated into the side, through which they feed. I have seen White-winged Parakeets literally clean out whole guava fruit.

Brotogeris are not easily bred. Wild birds can take several years before they acclimate. Part of the reason may be the foreign nesting box most breeders supply. I have always been able to induce wild birds into nesting by adding a cork block to the nest. The cork resembles in color an arboreal terminaria. The birds can also excavate the cork much like a termite mount. Captive bred birds have readily accepted a long, horizontal box with a divider in the middle; the divider has an opening that allows the birds to pass from the entrance to the darker nesting chamber. I have always added rotted wood to the nesting chamber, as chewing seems to be key in inducing them to nest.

Clutches can be large. I have had White-winged fledge 7 young from one nest. In this case, young from the previous year aided as helpers. When young fledged, they were the focus of attention by the whole flock. In most species the average clutch is 4-5 eggs. Incubation lasts an average of 23 days. Newly hatched young have scant white down. The secondary down is whitish grey and is also sparse. Young fledge around 7 weeks of age and wean relatively quickly. The earliest I have had young breed has been 2 years, which seems long considering that some small South American conures will nest earlier. Others have reported breeding from year old birds, but I never had parent- or hand-reared young breed that young.

Brotogeris are interesting and a group in which a dedicated aviculturist can make a serious impact. This group is unknown in Australia, but Europe and the US have the opportunity to establish captive colonies and maintain these species. Doing so will allow future aviculturists to enjoy these fascinating, garrulous little birds.

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