The Spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus) are the most vividly colored of the seven species of parrotlets in the genus Forpus. They are also one of the tiniest, measuring less than five inches long and weighing roughly twenty-five grams. They are sexually dimorphic, as are all Forpus parrotlets, and can be sexed at three weeks of age. The males are mostly emerald-green with stunning blue-violet plumage on the wings, rump, and an eye ring. The term comes from the fact that this eye ring resembles glasses or eyeglasses. Females have lighter green feathers between their eyes and above their noses. They lack blue colour but have an emerald green feather ring around the eye. They may be found in the wild in eastern Panama, as well as northern and central Columbia. There are also at least two recognized subspecies of Spectacled parrotlets. The male Forpus conspicillatus metae has a brighter yellow head, cheeks, and underparts, and the eye ring has shrunk to a narrow line of blue-violet feathers over the eye. The overall plumage of the female is substantially more yellow than that of the nominate species. They stretch from central Columbia’s eastern Andes to western Venezuela.
Both males and females of Forpus conspicillatus caucae have a huge, hefty beak. The males have a lighter blue-violet on the wings, rump, and eye ring than the nominate species, while the females have the same plumage. They are indigenous to southern British Columbia. Forpus conspicillatus pallescens was named after another Forpus parrotlet discovered in Columbia’s Patia valley. There is debate as to whether it is a real subspecies or was confused with Forpus conspicillatus caucae since no specimens exist in museums and no description has ever been published.
These birds had never been brought into the United States until late 1992. We got three pairs of locally produced Spectacled parrotlets from Belgium on January 14, 1993. The “pairs” turned out to be one real pair, two males, and a pair of Green Rumps subspecies viridissimus. Needless to say, we were dissatisfied.
The birds were quarantined for sixty days. They started consuming anything in sight after a few days of acclimating. Their typical diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, and greens, as well as a safflower-based big hookbill mix with sunflower and hemp seed given both dry and sprouted, and egg food. Throughout the week, brown, white, and wild rice, cooked ordinary and sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, cooked pasta, soaking money chow, cooked chicken, tofu, and beans are alternated. Soft meals are dusted with vitamins and calcium supplements. There is also millet spray, pellets, Petamine, mineral block, and cuttlebone accessible at all times. When the chickens are in breeding condition, they will often consume large quantities of cuttlebone. It is not uncommon for a female to consume an eight-inch cuttlebone once a week for many weeks prior to laying. They also get water that has been treated using a biological filtering device.
The birds were transferred into a breeding cage at the aviary on April 1, 1993. The whole aviary is enclosed inside an air-filtered chamber that runs fourteen hours a day under Vitalites. The cages are two-foot-by-two-foot wooden cubes with one-inch-by-half-inch welded wire front and bottoms. Parrotlets procreate better when they can hear but not see each other; otherwise, territorial conflicts between couples are common. On the front of the cage, a lovebird-sized nest box filled with untreated pine shavings was put. When the bird looks out of the box, it sees just the interior of the cage, giving them a sense of security. In addition, each cage received two manzanita perches.
The guy started inspecting the nest box on September 4th. When I checked the box on the 7th, I saw a slight hole in the shavings in one corner. The hen eventually started to spend more time in the box. The hen’s belly was bloated by October 2nd, and she only left the cage to defecate. The male remained outdoors except when feeding the female. She deposited the first of six eggs on October 5th, and she continued to lay every other day until October 15th. She was the only incubator of the clutch. Although she let the male to sleep in the box at night, he remained in the other corner from the eggs. Sadly, none of the eggs were viable. On October 28th, they were removed, and the nest box was replaced. The cage also included a soft wood perch.
The couple started studying the new box right away, and by November 2nd, the hen was spending the most of the day arranging shavings. This time, the male’s breeding behavior was different. To our surprise, he started picking his friend’s head. Then he began chewing up the pine perch at an alarming pace. He was spending the day in the box with the female after about a week. He was cuddled up against her at night. We held our breath, hoping that this time would be different.
The first egg was laid on November 12th, and the hen laid every other day until November 18th, for a total of four eggs. She sat hard on the eggs as soon as the first one was deposited, as do most female parrotlets. The first egg candled fertile on the 16th. By the 22nd, it had been discovered that all of the eggs in the clutch were viable.
The first Spectacled hatched on December 2, 1993. I could hear him asking for food after just a few hours, and he was noisy! This is no easy task for a bird that is less than an inch long and too tiny to be weighed on a gram scale. Although Green Rump infants are sometimes heard pleading when they are a few days old, I had never heard such a young baby with such a powerful voice. After a twenty-day incubation period, each of the three remaining eggs hatched.
On December 11th, the first infant was extracted for hand-feeding. His eyes were almost open. He was closed-banded with a budgie-size leg band, and his weight, hatch date, and parent identification number were recorded. He was subsequently put in an 89° brooder and fed every four hours from 6:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. The final baby was removed on December 18th, while the babies were still being extracted. The parent’s box was removed to allow them to relax. They started molting around the middle of January.
The kids were all maintained in the same brooder and never interacted with chicks from other species. Every morning before the first meal, they were weighed and documented.
When the chicks were two weeks old, pin feathers started to develop. Within a few days, we were able to identify the males’ blue feathers on their wings. We knew we had three boys and one girl by the time they were three weeks old. Male Spectacles, unlike immature male Pacific parrotlets, have just a few blue feathers on the rump. However, during their first molt, the beautiful violet-blue feathering on the rump became fairly noticeable. Mexicans, Blue Wings, and one subspecies of Green Rumps all have their rumps colored after molting.
Because our birds are registered in the International Parrotlet Society’s studbook, we contacted the studbook coordinator, who arranged for us to swap progeny with many other breeders. We intended to maintain the female and mate her with a different lineage male. We made plans to swap our three guys for two females and one male in the middle of January. This would enable us to couple our two single men as well as acquire a male that is unrelated to our newborn female.
On January 7th, tragedy struck. The birds had been fed at 6:00 a.m., and everything seemed to be in order. Their weights were obtained, and nothing out of the ordinary was seen when they were handled. The first Spectacled to hatch died two hours later. He was about five weeks old and still receiving four feedings each day. The other infants were terrified and taken to the veterinarian, while the deceased male was brought in for necropsy. Gram stains were performed, cultures were obtained, and tests to detect yeasts and parasites were performed, but all results were negative. Even necropsies done at the University of California, Davis, yielded unsatisfactory findings.
The surviving infants gained weight but showed little interest in feeding. Other parrotlet species are well into weaning by four weeks of age, but the Spectacles refused to even nibble on millet spray. We brought them in again after a few more days of no development and had them retested. Nothing was discovered once again. They were lovely, healthy-looking birds. They just refused to eat by themselves. We continued to feed them four times a day, of course.
I went for Florida on January 11th with the two surviving boys and a single female who were just starting to feed on their own. In between flights, I fed them on the diaper changing table in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport’s washroom. Of course, I cleaned it with Wavecide first. They were fed three times a day after they arrived in Florida. We met on the morning of the 16th to swap birds. I ended up returning to California with the youngest guy after reminding everyone that they would have to continue feeding their new infants. He refused to eat until he was eight weeks old. He suddenly rejected meals and started devouring everything in sight one morning. Hallelujah!
I have spoken with four other breeders who have been successful in producing Spectacles. One, who did not hand-feed, found his first baby dead in the aviary shortly after weaning. Another, who did hand-feed, also lost a baby during weaning as we did. Two other breeders, who did not lose any birds, reported they took much longer wean than other parrotlets. There was another breeder, however, who has had several successful clutches from two different pairs, whose babies reportedly weaned at the “normal” age of six weeks.
As of December 1993, nineteen pairs and several single males of Spectacled parrotlets had been registered in the International Parrotlet Society studbook. Of these, six different breeder bands as well as two different groups of unbanded birds have been identified. As of the writing of this article, our first pair is preparing to go to nest again and a second has begun investigating their box. Other breeders are also reporting double and triple clutches in their pairs.
Even with the small numbers of birds currently available, there is great hope for the future of Spectacled parrotlets in American aviculture. All the elements for continued generations are being utilized. Most of these birds are being bred by experienced aviculturists who have been successful with other species of parrotlets. These breeders are willing to work with one another in a cooperative breeding program to maximize the bloodlines and minimize inbreeding. They are also willing to sacrifice financial gain on these birds as well as incurring expensive shipping and transportation costs to achieve their goals. The Spectacled studbook is exceptionally well-organized and well-managed. Finally, and most importantly, the birds themselves are willing and able to reproduce very quickly if provided with the correct environment. We all have felt the impact of the import ban on birds. We must continue to share our knowledge and skills if aviculture is going to continue for future generations. These tiny parrots are succeeding against the odds and are setting an example from which something can be learned by everyone.
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