The Hawk-headed Parrot is the only member in its genus and has for many years baffled taxonomists and naturalists regarding its relationship with other parrots. It has to be said that there seems to be a close relationship to the Pyrrhura conures, as the Hawk-headed parrot behaviour is very similar to theirs.
The Hawk-headed Parrot is an unusual and bizarre beauty of the parrot world. When displaying its erect ruff it is unlike any other parrot. The dark red feathers on its neck, broadly edged with blue, are erected into a frame like a Red Indian’s headdress and the bird sways menacingly from side to side emitting a high-pitched wine. They can also produce a cracking sound with their wings. The feathers on the forehead are white in the nominate race and dusky brown in the only subspecies, D. a. fuscifrons, however this distinction is sometimes not well defined. The blue and red colour scheme found on the ruff is repeated on the underparts, and the underside of the tail is black. These is also a maroon spot at the base of the underside of the tail feathers in the nominate form. The remainder of the plumage is dark green. The can reach lengths of 31cm and weigh in at around 230-260grams.
Hawk-headed Parrots are native to the Amazon Basin from the Guianas and northern Brazil, west to south-eastern Colombia and north-eastern Peru. The nominate race occurs north of the Amazon and the subspecies occurs south of the Amazon. Hawk-headed Parrots are distributed in many parts of their range, although there are very few areas where they are common. They are found in pairs or in small groups. They can be distinguished from other parrots in flight by their spread tail. Their food in their natural habitat consists of fruits and berries as well as seeds and nuts.
In aviculture this species is still considered rare and highly sought after as they are charming, playful, intelligent and behaviourally fascinating. It seems that some individuals of this species can be quite aggressive and have been known to attack keepers entering their aviary. Hawk-headed Parrots do well in outdoor aviaries with a nest box that’s is permanently positioned. They seem to retire to this nest box at night well before the other birds. Aviaries for Hawk-headed Parrots should be placed near shaded trees or should be well covered as they need quiet and the feeling of security.
They have been known to be very noisy birds. Some breeders will say otherwise and have said that they have one of the prettiest calls of parrots, more like that of a song bird than a typical parrot. However, Hawk-heads do have a shrill cry which carries well.
Hawk-headed Parrots are more frugivorous than many other parrots and therefore require large amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet.
Breeding Hawk-headed Parrots can be challenging. In aviculture it seems like the best possibility for the chicks’ survival rate is to hand raise them. Rearing from the egg with Hawk-headed Parrots has proven to be very difficult, so hand-feeding is best done from about two weeks of age. Breeders have used Ringnecks to raise a newly hatched chick to two weeks of age. They lay two or three eggs and incubate for 26 days. Babies fledge at about 9 weeks. Hawk-heads in breeding situations can be extremely aggressive towards both aviculturists and mates. Hawk-heads have been known to kill mates, even in pairs that appear to be closely bonded.
From Rosemary Low’s book “Parrots their care and breeding”, there was a case where a breeder had a pair in an aviary measuring 2.4m x 1.2m x 2.1m high. Half the roof of the aviary one wall and the back were solid, the rest of the aviary being welded mesh. A flowering hibiscus separated the aviary from the next. The nest box was situated on the back of the wall of the aviary and was 25cm x 20cm x 47cm high. It was also believed that a secluded aviary rather than one in the open encouraged the birds to nest.
This breeder’s female laid two eggs and appeared very nervous. After a week it was clear that she was not incubating the eggs and they were therefore removed and placed in an incubator. After 10 days the breeder then placed one of the eggs under a Finsch’s Amazon who was incubating three eggs and one of her eggs were removed and placed with another Amazon. Several days later the other Hawk-headed Parrot egg was placed with the Finsch’s Amazon. This female Amazon was known to be an excellent parent and after 25 days the first egg hatched, although unfortunately with the second egg the chick died a few days before it was due to hatch. The chick was raised by the Amazon for two weeks before it was removed for hand rearing.
That being said, you do still get pairs that will parent rear their babies successfully. Luciano Luzzato wrote about his breeding success with his pair of Hawk-headed Parrots in Johannesburg about 5 years ago. Here is a break down of that success.
Lutvo kept his pair in an aviary measuring 1 meter x 1.8 meters x 3.5 meters long. These aviaries face in an easterly direction and their neighbours are Lories. There has never been any sort of aggression from either side, even when the young birds leave the nest.
Fresh water is provided at all times and seed is offered daily. Lutvo fed a boiled Pigeon breeding mix (mostly mielies and peas), brown bread, brown rice, carrots, sweet potatoes, beetroot, apples, zucchini and also Aviplus Parrot food on a daily basis. All is mixed together and two table spoons are given and everything gets eaten. When rearing young birds, additional to the above mix the Hawk-headed Parrots are given half a spoon of Pronutro and an additional third of an apple in the afternoon.
Additionally from early spring Lutvo sprouted sunflower and wheat, which is added to the food mix three days per week. At times he added some liquid Vitamin B12, Bidomek Toni and Wheat Germ Oil to the softfood, as he does with all his other parrots.
On occasion his Hawk-headed Parrots would tend to lose their primary feathers. When this happened he mixed a calcium supplement with their food and within a few weeks they looked super again.
Breeding boxes are a wooden L-shaped contraption, not very deep, about 60cm from the entrance whole to the bottom. Inside the nest box a 10cm layer of damp river sand and wood shavings is used. In this setup Lutvos’ adult pair has successfully raised their chicks without any troubles. It takes around 8 – 10 weeks for birds to wean and be out on the perches, most usually 9 weeks.
Lutvo says that it is difficult to get to the nest to ring the chicks as the hen aggressively attacks his head with her beak. Lutvo has also noticed that you can tell when they are in good condition by the level and length of their calls in the early mornings and afternoons. He says you can immediately know when they are broody when the sound lingers for more than 30 seconds, otherwise it is half that duration.
With Lutvo’s breeding experience he has noticed that his pair is not seasonal. One year he can have up to three clutches and then the next year nothing, then the following year 1 or two clutches; he has tried to establish a pattern but he found none. Lutvo feels that his success is due to that fact that he feeds his birds very well and makes sure that their aviary environment is very hygienic.
Overall, the Hawk-headed Parrot is a highly sought after and rewarding species to keep. Those that are entrusted with working with these species should make every effort to breed them as there are not many around. I also think that it is important for breeders of this species to contact each other so that they can exchange young birds to form new unrelated pairs for future breeding stock.
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