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Q: How many chances do you give a pair of birds to successfully rear young? One of my pairs of severa macaws produced fertile eggs (after eight clear clutches) and killed the first chick immediately after hatching. 1 pulled the rest of the eggs. On her next clutch, the hen fed the first chick and kept it warm. I pulled the chick because there was a very slight wound on its head (really just a red spot). I replaced the chick with some healthy 3-day-old cockatiels to see what would happen. The hen did not feed them but did not hurt them either. I fed the chicks five times daily and left them with the pair for two days. No damage was done to them.

I am very confused about the actions I should take. I know that to a certain extent, rearing chicks is a learned behavior. On the other hand, I cannot allow the pair to continue killing chicks in the name of learning. Of course, parrots don’t have our reasoning, and I know it’s all the hormones, but I can’t fathom why a parrot would go to the trouble of laying eggs and incubating them only to destroy the chicks. The pair has been together for two years and are housed near bluefronted Amazons and hawk-headed parrots. They have privacy panels and seem content. They are both domestic and very steady. Should I allow them to keep their next clutch? Do you think that it is the male that most often kills the chicks? It seems that if the other pairs were disturbing them, they wouldn’t lay at all.

A: If a pair will not successfully raise young because they lack the desire to feed their offspring, you can give them endless chances to get the urge. The worst case scenario would be that you would have to pull them for hand-feeding before they are too weak to respond to you. If the pair kills the hatchlings, they should be offered only one chance under any given set of circumstances. That is not to say, however, that they shouldn’t be given other opportunities. What is necessary is the modification or the elimination of the circumstances that caused the negative behavior.

Contrary to popular belief, I have never considered the successful rearing of chicks as a learned behavior. In my opinion, it is an instinctive behavior that is brought about by an existing set of circumstances in conjunction with hormonal changes. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that ponder the problem of how to raise babies more successfully. What happens with birds is as they get older, they begin to accept more readily the direction that their instincts are pushing them into. This may be considered reaching a state of mental or psychological maturity, but it is not true learning. Some birds will accept this “direction” from the very first time they are influenced by it. Others will take a few seasons before they allow their instincts to completely dictate their behavior. Of course, there will always be those rare few that never accept this or are never influenced by their hormones. These will usually be those that are affected by emotional or physiological problems.

You are correct in assuming that nothing would lay eggs and incubate them with the intention of destroying the results. The problem in this case is misplaced or misdirected aggression. We have all been appalled by news stories about parents who have beaten their children to death because of emotional problems that are unrelated to the children. Parrots are no better than we are. There are some parrots that will run into the nest and beat their chicks to death because they emotionally “flip out” over something that you or a bird in the room has done that they interpret as a major territorial intrusion. Just because they do this once does not mean that they will do it the next time-unless, of course, the same set of circumstances presents itself the next time. It is up to you to determine what the parent birds experienced when the chick hatched to cause this negative behavior.

I have a pair of wild-caught yellow-crowned Amazons that successfully raised chicks for seven years. I would pull the chicks for hand-rearing at about 2 to 3 weeks of age. On the eighth year of production, the hen decided that she was not going to stand for me pulling her babies. She was feeding three beautiful babies, and they were ready to pull from the nest. The moment she saw me open the inspection door and pull out the first of the three babies, she immediately jumped in the box and killed the other two. This was not an accident. She specifically meant to kill them. She inflicted a single puncture wound to the brain with her upper mandible in exactly the same spot on both of the remaining chicks. I never repeated my actions, and she has never again been destructive. I either pull her eggs before they hatch or let her raise and wean her babies to be used as future breeders. I am allowed to quickly look into the box, but I don’t dare touch.

Having gone over all this, I am not convinced that your severa macaws killed their firstborn. I believe that the only time that parrots kill their offspring is when they perceive a territorial intrusion. On rare occasions, the appearance of living, moving things that are crawling around where the eggs are supposed to be is interpreted this way. In infrequent cases like this, it will usually be the work of the male. If your pair of birds were prone to be affected in such negative ways, I believe that they would have most certainly killed the baby cockatiels.

Consider the possibility that the first hatchling might have been a very weak hatch. It is not uncommon for very weak hatches to die shortly after hatching. A parrot will not and cannot feed an unresponsive chick. What they will do on occassion is try to prod the chick into responding. I personally believe that dead day-old chicks that are found in the nest with the tips of their feet, wings and beak bruised and/or bloodied are the result of an overzealous attempt on the part of the parents to prod a weak and dying chick into responding. Although uncommon, it is not unusual for a chick to hatch with a red spot or bruise on the top of its head. This injury is incurred in the battle to escape from the shell. Parrots don’t usually feed and brood babies that they injure with malice. The fact that they fed and warmed the baby and showed no aggressive behavior toward the cockatiels tells me that things probably would have worked out fine. If the pair were mine, I would be willing to take the gamble that they would feed and care for the next clutch.