Bringing in New Blood

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Q: We have been very successful with our breeding program for red-throated conures. We now have three pairs and would like to expand this to 10 pairs. Everyone we talk to, and most of what we read, says that the conscientious thing to do is to keep back the babies from our pairs and trade with other breeders for their captive-bred babies in order to expand our gene pool.

Doesn’t it make more sense to sell the babies and use the money to buy up some of the imports that are still floating around? Doesn’t it make more sense to pull as much outside blood as possible into the overall captive gene pool while we still have the opportunity? Whenever we have tried to discuss this, we have been told that we are not thinking right, yet no one has been able to tell us why. Can you explain where our reasoning is faulty?

A: Your reasoning is not faulty. In fact, it is surprisingly realistic in the light of the propaganda that you have been barraged with. The fact is that both sides of the argument are valid. The proper course to follow depends on your goals. The goal that is considered paramount in much of today’s avicultural philosophy is the creation of self-sustaining breeding populations. That is a captive-breeding population that is sufficiently productive and sufficiently varied genetically so as to allow the population to reproduce and to replace themselves generation after generation until the end of time, without ever having to rely on the capture of wild birds. I believe that this, without a doubt, should be the final goal of all of our efforts.

This is not to say that I believe that everyone is proceeding in the correct manner. As in many things in life, there will always be those who rush straight forward to their goals without laying the proper foundation. A foundation can never be too strong. In the days when importation appeared to be never ending, it was acceptable to ignore the available new blood. It was more important to prove to the naysayers that we had the skills to perpetuate the world avifauna by means of captive production. The only way to prove this is to breed into the third, fourth and fifth generations. Only then would we gain the credibility that we deserve. Unless you have unlimited funds and space, the only way you can do this is to ignore the opportunity to acquire new blood and use the space that you do have in order to breed into the third generation. Of course, these philosophies were formulated at a time when it was believed that whenever we did want the outside blood it would be there for the asking. In short, the plan was to build the house, then go back and enlarge the foundation. Since the importation of wild-caught birds has been made illegal, we will not be able to go back later and enlarge the foundation. The imports whose bloodlines have not yet been brought into the fold are still obtainable from the pet sector, as well as from breeders who are selling out. As the years go by they will become impossible to find.

In my mind, at least, it is imperative that we place our emphasis on the acquisition of as much varied blood as possible. In the light of the present situation, I would much rather see you with 10 pairs representing 10 different bloodlines rather than to see you have bred into the third generation.

Be mindful of the fact that imports to the USA were stopped in 1992 and as with all living things there will be a time when they are too old to produce. We have a pair of imported Blue Fronted Amazons that are still going strong after 30 years, so some of the larger birds have a very lengthy potential for successful breeding.