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Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
» No Barbeque this Summer 
» Barn Swallow "Mama"  
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
 » Just Another Golden Eagle  
 » Four Birds in One Tree: 
A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» Narcissism or Territorial
Defense: Macho Cardinal
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee  
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Galahs Playing Around and Around and Around ...  
» Who Made Up This Stuff?
Bird Call Mnemonics
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
» Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
 » A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
» Hospital Halucinations 
» What Are You Doing Here? Scissortail Flycatcher 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 

Don't Take Their Attacks Personally 
Nesting Behaviors in the Green-rumped Parrotlet 
By Lynne Page   Illustration by Jeff Riebe 

“Social Constraints on the Onset of Incubation in a Neotropical Parrot: A Nestbox Addition Experiment”,
by Steven Beissinger Susanne Tygielski, Bret Elderd, AnimalBehavior Vol. 55, Jan. ‘98,
pp. 2 1-32.

At times it may seem our birds persist in certain behaviors for the sole purpose of making our lives difficult. It is easier for us bird owners to be calm and patient if we remember that the parrot’s behavior is probably an expression of his ancient instincts and view of the world.

Think, for example, of the sweet cockatiel who becomes a biting, hissing velvet viper when allowed to explore the bread box … or the Amazon who is the life of the party on his playpen but who amputates any finger that enters his cage. These behaviors may have complex causes, but the birds are not making personal attacks. Their behavior arises, at least in part, from the instinct to protect the nest.

The experiment described in this Animal Behavior article demonstrates one reason for the strength of the instinct to guard the nest. The goal of the researchers, however, was to answer a question about incubation.

Apparently some species of birds begin incubation after the entire clutch of eggs is complete, so all the eggs hatch at the same time. Because the chicks are the same age, all those who are healthy have a good chance of surviving to fledge. Many other birds begin incubation before all the eggs have been laid. The first eggs then hatch well before the later eggs putting the younger chicks at an often-fatal disadvantage. A good example is provided by the green-rumped parrotlet (Forpus passerinus). These little birds usually lay a large clutch (5 to 12 eggs) and incubation begins with the first egg. Because the older chicks are so much bigger and stronger, the last one or two chicks to hatch usually die from starvation or injury. Starting incubation with the first egg must have some benefits which outweigh this cost. The experiment described in this article addressed a question about one possible benefit: Does early incubation protect the nest from other birds of the same species? The answer was a clear ‘yes.”
The parrotlets studied were observed on a cattle ranch in Venezuela where they had been part of a banding project since 1988. This nesting experiment was conducted during the breeding seasons of 1994 and 1995.

Artificial nest boxes had apparently been supplied for the birds before this experiment began. For this study, the researchers hung additional “deco’ boxes and put in them eggs from abandoned or failed nests. Obviously these “nests” were not protected by parrotlets. The goal was to observe the rate of destruction of real nests, guarded by nesting pairs, with that of the unguarded nests. The difference was great. Eggs were in 40.6% of the fake nests yet only 4.5% of the studied nests of breeding pairs suffered egg destruction. All of the lost eggs in the decoy nests were destroyed during daylight hours by other green-rumped parrotlets. Three-fourths of the lost decoy nests were destroyed by male-female pairs and the rest by male-male pairs. Lone males often visited the nests but never destroyed eggs. Most destruction occurred during the time when birds were hunting for nest sites. The researchers removed nests once the eggs were destroyed but hypothesized that the nests probably would have been used by the pairs which destroyed the eggs.

While there surely are many reasons for a pair to guard its nest, I find it interesting that here the danger came from fellow flock members. During the non-breeding times, these birds must be tolerant, perhaps even friendly, toward one another. This makes it more understandable that a pet parrot might be friendly with people during much of the year yet be defensive during the breeding season.

So when your feathered darling is ready to murder to protect a dark drawer, remember he hasn’t suddenly developed paranoia or a deep hatred of you. He’s acting sensibly in the circumstances as he understands them — so you must change his understanding or take the easier approach and change the circumstances. In other words, don’t give him a nest he feels he must protect; because as long as he has a nest, he may have reason to feel that even his friends are temporarily his enemies. 

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