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The Barraband or Superb Parakeet

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One of three species of parrots belonging to the Polytelis family (Polytelis swainsonii), the other two species being the Princess Parrot (Polytelis alexandrae) and the Rock Pebbler or Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus).

Although the name ‘Barraband’ is used in New Zealand to designate this species, in its native home of Australia it is primarily known as the ‘Superb Parrot’.

Native Habitat
Its native habitat is restricted to quite a small area of Australia, along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers from central New South Wales, South into Victoria. It utilises the river red gums and eucalypts for its nesting sites.

Description
40cm in length. The adult male’s general colour over the body is a rich green, with slightly paler and more yellowish on underparts, with a blue tinge to the front of the wings. A bright yellow face mask and a slash of red runs under the yellow. The adult female is overall a much duller green colour, very yellowy green on the underbelly. They have a pale blue colouring over the cheeks and on top of the head. Many have red colouring around the base of their legs like ‘red socks’. Inside their tail is pink.

The Barraband should not be taken for granted, as it is still a beautiful parrot that is well worth even the most experienced breeder keeping. In its native home many of the areas formerly used for nesting have disappeared due to the harvesting of logs for timber production, land clearance for farmland, and direct or indirect human interference. Fewer birds are now seen in Victoria and birds returning there to nest, it seems, now number only 100 pairs, and there are estimated to be fewer than 5000 pairs left in total. Both N.S.W. and Victoria have undertaken recovery programmes as the birds are considered vulnerable and there is government legislation in both states to give this bird special protection.

How fortunate we are then to still have it available to us here in South Africa in good numbers. There are reports of pairs breeding and producing young for more than 20 years. They will usually start to breed at 2 years of age but cocks will do better at 3 years of age.

Housing
They do not need huge aviaries and aviaries approx. 3.6 to 5m in length x 900mm to 1m wide, 2m high will suffice, although I kept one pair in an aviary that was 1.2m wide and 6.6m long and 2.4m high. It was much larger than they needed but it was great to enjoy watching them in full flight. Wooden aviaries are suitable for them as they are not great chewers of wood. They are prone to become overweight, although I never experienced this in my birds. Obviously having them housed in too small an aviary may prove detrimental to birds being able to get good exercise.

Setting up a Breeding Pair
Barrabands can be bred in a colony system, with say three or five pairs depending on the size of your aviary. I remember visiting a breeder in Christchurch years ago that kept them this way. I think better success will come, however, by keeping them as individual pairs. Although they are generally considered a bird that is reasonably easy to breed, this is not always the case and some have had difficulty in getting a pair established as good breeders. I know some birdkeepers that struggled for years to get a good breeding pair and then, after getting them going and other pairs established, bred more than they ever dreamed of. Most pairs will try to breed but there are always better results from a well matched pair. If you have had trouble in getting a good breeding pair going, then why not try allowing them to select their own partner. This will mean buying a number of young birds (six is a good number – equal males and females) and watching them to see which mate they favour. After they select a mate themselves, separate them into different aviaries for breeding. This is a sure way of getting a compatible breeding pair that will usually raise good clutches of young.

Juvenile close up

Juvenile close up

Breeding
Courtship involves the cockbird dilating his pupils as he goes back and forth on the perch partly puffing his head as he calls to the hen. Courtship feeding takes place and this is followed by the pair mating. I have not found them too fussy about the nesting site and a box about 600mm in length, 190mm square is usually accepted. They like to feel tightly fitted into a box rather than having too much room. Not all pairs will be that cooperative and if you have difficulty, you could try 2 different nests to give a pair a choice. Some include a spout on the nesting log and have had good success with this. I have always cut a small inspection door into the box that can swing open on a hinge.

Wood chips placed in the bottom of the box about 50mm thick will allow the hen to scratch around and lay the eggs in. The hen does not usually like you inspecting the nest while she is incubating and some pairs may desert the eggs if interfered with. I always left her alone and only inspected the eggs when I saw her off the nest. Once the young are hatched and young can be heard being fed it is a different story, regular checks can be made on the young birds to make sure they are progressing well and to ring them before they leave the nest. Usually 4 and sometimes 5 eggs can be laid and incubation lasts for about 22 days. My birds varied their clutches from 1 to 4 young. One pair consistently hatched and reared 4 young each season.

Young Birds
As young birds grow and get near to an age where they will leave the nest, you will notice them coming right up to the entrance hole in the box to poke their heads out to get a feed from dad. When they first leave the nest they are notoriously flighty and unpredictable. They take off at great speed, often banging into aviary walls and wire. This is a dangerous time for young ones and the last thing you want is for a chick to bang into a wall, hit its head and drop down dead. I was always careful around the aviaries for the first week, trying not to give chicks any unnecessary frights until they master their flight better.

They will continue to be fed by the father for a further 3 weeks. I have never had a pair double brood in a season. There is no panic to take young birds away from their parents as they are not aggressive toward them. It would be best to remove them well before next breeding season, however, as although they will not harm the young, they will chase them away from the nesting area and it could disturb a pair trying to nest the following season. Even if you are holding them until they are old enough to sex, they are best caught at some stage and transferred to another aviary.

Sexing the Young
Sexing young birds visually is not an easy task, although there are a few things I have found over the years which you can look for that may identify the sex. The pupils of the eyes are one indicator, along with their colouring. Males develop a ring around the pupil, whereas hens the same age do not have this ring. When it develops it is a much duller colour than the males, which is a bright orangey-yellow. This, coupled with the blue tinge around the bird’s face, on the cheeks and on top of the head, can indicate that it is a young hen, however there are no guarantees.

A young male, on the other hand, will of course have the yellow start to break through around the face and on the top of the head, but beside this the green colouring on a male is much brighter and in the light appears almost iridescent. Some young birds start to show colour (a few red or yellow feathers) much quicker than others, some as early as 3 months but more commonly maybe 12 to 18 months later. All young birds have a pink tinge to the underside of their tail feathers, but young males eventually moult this out and on adult birds, while hens retain this colouring, a male’s colouring is black. If you are wanting a guaranteed pair from a very young age then DNA sexing is the only sure way. The problem is that with these birds being so inexpensive many will not want to pay the extra to have this procedure done. If that is the case for you and you buy a guaranteed pair from a breeder, make sure you have an arrangement to swap out a chick if you end up with two of the same sex.

Hens have been known to breed at 1 year of age, but most will need to be 2 years old and as mentioned cocks will produce more fertile eggs at 3 years of age. There is no reason why a well matched pair will not have a good clutch right from their first nest and breeding will start around September through to December.

Sociable and Willing to Mix
These birds have a great personality; not only are they peaceable among themselves but are also very peaceable and compatible companions in a mixed aviary situation. I kept a pair of Turquoisines in with them and both pairs nested together. They could be safely housed with all of the Neophema species, cockatiels, other members of the polytelis group or even King parrots. Remember that in this situation, however, the more birds the larger the aviary required, and a selection of nesting sites will be needed. During one season, the Turquoisines tried to use the Barraband nesting box for themselves, not using the smaller box I put in for them to use. So having more than one site per pair in a mixed aviary situation will avoid any problems.

Male Barrabands spend a lot of time chortling to themselves and I have heard some birdkeepers annoyed at their continual chattering this way. This was something that I personally never found disturbing. They do have a beautiful sweet nature as a rule and when you check on them each day, they will be found waiting, clinging to the wire in anticipation of you giving them their daily treats, such as apple, Madeira cake or green foods.

Probably best breeding success will come from housing each pair separately, although being the social bird they are, they will often do better in close proximity to other pairs, where they can see and hear one another.

Feeding
A good parrot mix will do as their basic food and they will sample most foods offered. Remember that when they have chicks (especially a large clutch) they need to consume a lot of food to break down and feed to the young. We can help by giving things like soaked seed, kibbled bread and softfood: this will make it easier for the parent birds.

One thing Barrabands and all Australian Parrots particularly enjoy is a Gum Tree branch with leaves and even flowers attached. They will spend hours chewing leaves and bark or stripping off the leaves and flowers, which is good for the health of the birds.

Problems
Barrabands are prone to one ailment that we should be aware of. This is a paralysis of the legs. It is not common and although I never experienced this with my birds a nearby fellow breeder had his best hen rendered useless from this condition. It affects their legs and toes, the toes often curling up, which makes trying to perch is almost impossible for them. It does not seem to kill the birds and some will in time improve, even making a complete recovery with treatment and go on to live for years. However, most, if bad, will be useless for breeding purposes again, at least this was the case with my friend’s hen. I have read of different treatments for this condition, but if you should be unfortunate and experience this with one of your birds it would pay you to seek the advice of an Avian Vet, who will be up to date with the latest treatments.

Lutino female regular male

Lutino female regular male

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