Challenges in Aviculture

Lee Phillips


On occasion I have spoken with pride of the progress aviculture has made within the past decade. It is true that we have come a long way in many areas but only because we had so far to come. When we assess the science of aviculture we realize that we are just in the fledgling stage, the very beginning. There are great areas of knowledge largely untapped and untold plateaus for us to reach.

We like to think of ourselves as aviculturists but are we really? Among our bird keepers, we have the collectors, the exhibitors and the breeders. I will say little about the collectors who have a pair of this and a pair of that for their own pleasure and pride; although they contribute little to the pool of captive bred birds, their collections can have a public relations value in sparking the interest of potential aviculturists. Conscientious exhibitors are concerned with maintaining certain standards in their birds and they serve a useful purpose in preventing the decline of the species. It is the breeders among you whom I hope to reach this morning. My purpose is to shake your complacency a bit, to nudge you into examining your purposes and goals and, hopefully, to encourage you to improve your breeding program a step or two and in so doing to benefit aviculture. It's almost too bad that we don't have a designation of "Master Aviculturist " so that we could all aspire to this higher level and continue to improve our skills.

There are so many challenges in avicul ture and I will present only a few. Certainly the major challenge is the establishment of a viable captive breeding population. Experience has shown that this is best done by private aviculturists-many zoos are doing an excellent job in captive breeding but they are primarily for exhibition purposes.

But before we acquire birds there is a need for us to be responsible avicult u r is ts and the idea of a planned breeding program is a basic requirement. How many of us have acquired birds simply because they appealed to us with no thought given to the special needs of the birds or their suitability to our particular environment? We need to take the time to study the species and its requirements before we add these birds to our breeding programs. As an example, we cannot expect birds from an arid, desert environment to flourish in a climate of high humidity.

It seems also that the most successful aviculturists are those who focus on a particular species or family of birds, avoiding the Noah's Ark syndrome. I would like to see more breeders accept the challenge of breeding some of the smaller birds: the finches, the softbi lls, the smaller parrots. If we are to have representative breeding populations, we need to breed these small birds as well as their more glamorous relatives. From a breeder's point of view, I have never been able to understand the status connected with the large birds. Certainly some of the smaller ones are far more difficult to bring into breeding condition.

After we have established our longrange breeding program we need to find good, healthy, compatible birds and to give them the time to settle in and become acclimatized. It is unfortunate that people become impatient with their birds and they are subsequently passed around from breeder to breeder without giving them the time they need to settle down and become productive.

A conscientious effort should be made by each and every breeder to maintain accurate pedigree and identification information so that the best possible breeding regime can be determined and followed. We cannot regard too lightly the ramifications of mating close relatives, either deliberately or inadvertently due to poor record keeping.

We need to think long-term in establishing our captive populations and this means we have to maintain genetically sound stock from the onset. We may not have the luxury of obtaining new blood from the wild when our captive stocks are weakened from poor breeding. We should try to get a self-sustaining colony-an absolute minimum of three pairs although 30 would be more desirable.


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