KEEPING AND BREEDING THE LITTLE SIERRA PARAKEET
The Sierra or as some call it the ‘Aymara parakeet’ is a small bird who’s natural home is from the New World, living wild in Bolivia and Argentina. First brought in to the UK by the Durrel of Jersey Zoo fame back in 1959 he brought 8 birds at a market in Lima, and were put on display at London Zoo. My introduction to this little parrakeet was when I visited a north London importer around early seventies, had a importation of about a hundred birds. I bought four birds which turned out to be three cocks and one hen, it was three years before my birds made any attempt was made to breed and then produced only infertile eggs. by the late seventies other breeders had established breeding colonies and I was able to buy UK bred stock.
A small very sociable little bird; its call, a chattering sound not loud enough to cause problems with the folks that live next door. It can be housed in a colony or as individual pairs. I have used both methods and always not so many young are produced when breeding in a colony. This is true of I think of all colony breeding whether it is Sierras, Bourke’s, Lovebirds or Quakers but when birds are able to be kept in colonies they are much more interesting to watch. Another interesting fact with Sierra’s is that it is possible to keep more hens than cocks in a colony as the cocks are quite happy to flit from nest to nest. looking back on my first breeding attempt I can only think that three cocks to one the males spent all their time squabbling.
Although hardy they do benefit from a little heat throughout the winter; it does not need to be much. As with all parakeets from this region they will use a nest to sleep in if available. This has an advantage when kept in captivity; birds that sleep in a nest box are protected from cold and also night frights. With some members of the parrot family if given a nest permanently they will breed when the weather is far from suitable but this does not appear to be so with Sierra’s. Even with the nest available all year round, my birds do not start to lay until the end of March. I use the same nest boxes as I do for grass parakeets. A nest box I designed some years ago and proved over the years to be very successful. With the platform just inside and outside of the entrance hole and a slope down to reach the actual nesting area it prevents broken eggs and squashed young and nest boxes are made so that the inside sections are easily removed to make cleaning less of a chore. As Sierra’s live in their nest box using them throughout the day as well as for sleeping it is very necessary to clean it out on a regular basis, because they do not take nesting material into the nest box, removing the soiled sawdust and giving new in no way upsets the birds. The only time to be careful is to watch so that when the hen is about to lay the nest filling can be renewed and this will then be OK until the young fledge.
Sierras breed readily at one year old and in the main are single brooded, if for some reason the first round of eggs are broken or removed because they are infertile then they will lay a second clutch.
Taking the information from one of my breeding cards a 12 month old pair laid their first egg on 6th. April on the 19th April they had a total of 7 eggs of which 4 were fertile when candled, the first chick hatched on 8th. May and the fifth and last chick hatched on 15th. The other two eggs although fertile did not hatch this is common with members of the parrot family with nests that contain a large number of eggs and chicks hatching over several days. With the difference of seven days between the first and last chick hatching the difference in size of the young chicks is quite considerable, Sierras rarely lose a chick in the nest. On a number of occasions I have reared seven chicks in one round.
All the young birds were rung by the 1 June but unlike grass parakeets where it is usually possible to wait until all the young birds can be rung at one go this is not possible with Sierras with the chicks varying in size so much. The young leave the box between five and six weeks of age it is a little difficult to gauge the exact time as the young return to their nest on and off all day long, and will happily live in a family unit until the next spring.
Accommodation really is the same as for grass parakeets this is why they fit so well into a collection of small Australian. If bred in cages these should be as large as possible, they are active little birds and benefit from room to move around. Sierras are by no means as good at carpentry as Lovebirds, but do customise their living quarters by rounding the edges of any square timber they can get to, but cannot be classed as aviary destroyers. Because they are active birds and chewers, fresh branches on a regular basis are really enjoyed to the extent if given on a very regular basis the birds will hang on the wire waiting for their new branches to be fitted. And in the warmer months when the branches have leaves their enjoyment is heightened by wetting the leaves before offering them. Even when a pair has young birds leaving the nest, I have not had problems of then nipping at the toes of the birds next door in single wired aviaries.
Feeding Sierras is little different from the diet for grass parakeets another reason why they fit well into a grass parakeet collection. A basic Neophema mix makes a good staple diet and Sierras do enjoy and probably greatly benefit from a regular supply of fruit, more than I feed to my Neophemas. I have now not used Sunflower in the Neophema mix for years, I feel it allows the birds to feed too quickly and when feeding their youngsters fill the young birds crops with large pieces of sunflower that are difficult for the young birds to digest.
Each day all my birds receive a soft mix which makes up 50% of their daily intake the basic mix comprises of 50% sprouted seeds and 50% preparatory egg food. When choosing my egg food I select the one that I can get the best deal on; probably not the most scientific way to make the selection, but it works for me. I always have two makes of egg food on the go at once one that is a dry mix and one that is moist. Sprouting seed is almost a topic in itself. But once a satisfactory system has been arrived at it is simplicity itself (this will be explained in another article). To this mix I add grated carrot or chopped celery about 3 times a week and on the days I add these items use the dry egg food, otherwise the soft food can become too wet.
I have left the most difficult subject until the end of my article; that of determining cocks from hens. Even with a proven pair sometimes it is difficult to know which is which and in the last three years I have paired two of the same gender together. So now all the birds I set up to breed I do have DNA sexed, this is no longer expensive as prices for this service have come down considerably as more companies enter the market.