Greater Vasa Parrots


The Greater vasa parrot (Coracopsis vasa), which originated in Madagascar, is one of the least recognized yet most intriguing parrots. The vasa parrot is said to be one of the most primordial and old parrots.

The Greater vasa has the same body size as a big grey or blue-fronted Amazon or vosmaeri eclectus parrot, but the neck looks to be longer and the legs are clearly longer. Greater vasas adults weigh roughly 500 grams.

The feathering on the head and body of these birds is quite dark grey. It’s so dark that it seems black, yet it’s not. It’s not a gleaming black like a crow’s feathers, but rather a dark matte grey. The outside edge of the wing primaries and secondaries is steel grey. The undertail coverts are extremely light grey with an off-white border, and the long tail feathers are medium grey with a dark grey bank in the center and a lighter grey tail band on the tip. During the off-breeding season, the vasa beaks and eyes become a dark grey color. The exposed region surrounding the eye has off-white facial skin. Their skin is a matte off-white with rosy tones where muscle is present.

Males and females undergo significant physical changes throughout the breeding season. The chickens lose their top feathers, and their skin becomes a deep golden yellow. The male’s skin gets a very dark grey-black, and he develops a rich saffron to orange wattle under the lower jaw. I won’t go into detail about the changes in their cloacas in this short essay, although they are rather significant. Copulation might last up to one hour. Copulation starts with the male mounting the female, but once connected, they stand side by side on the perch until the session ends.

The hen sits quite firmly and will lay two to three eggs in a conventional boot box or Z box. During incubation and chick feeding, the male stands guard and gives food to the hen. During incubation and early chick development, she seldom leaves the nest. When she finally emerge, she repeatedly and loudly requests that the male feed her.

There is also ceremonial mating throughout this phase (ritual inthe sense that it is not the typical mating process, but is much quicker and does not involve a long joining). The males are so eager to feed the hen that they will practically grab the fresh food dish and bring it into the serving area during the early morning feeding session. And these are birds taken in the wild. The eggs hatch in 17 days, and the babies develop quite quickly. According to Jonathan Ekstrom, a field biologist studying vasas in the wild, one hen with eggs or chicks will be fed by numerous males and will copulate with each one throughout the feeding process.

Vasa parrots are exceptionally intelligent, energetic, and quick on their feet and in the air. They can turn in almost any direction in a moment and fly quickly. They may sprint like a chick and hop or leap like a jay on the ground. They roll about on their backs and play with toys similar to caiques and lories. Two vasas may choose to wrestle and roll on the cage floor.

Their intellect and awareness are evident as they examine how the cage door is fastened and then dismantle the snaps and clips after you leave. To keep them from accessing the clips, I put a wire stand-off at the door attachment point. Vasa parrots are surely full of folly and fun. They may be seen playing with their wood toys around dawn.

When they are swarming together, they show little interest in being territorial or fighting until mating season arrives. The chickens then seek to eliminate the other hens! At that point, we separate the couples from the flock. If we need to re-pair a male or female, we just add a new bird into the flight with a nest box, and the newly introduced couple is mating within 10 seconds! The breeding season is a significant force for these birds, and the whole flock dynamics alter radically in a matter of weeks.

The number of vasa parrots in the United States is unknown, however they are thought to be few. The majority of the wild caught vasas were introduced in the 1980s. In the wild, these birds face serious habitat degradation since the only surviving forest is a sliver of green that stretches from the top to the bottom of Madagascar, along a mountainous rocky ridge. Greater vasa parrots browse in the forest, but largely around the forest edge and in nearby croplands, where they are often considered a nuisance. The Lesser vasa (Coracopsis nigra), a smaller variant, tends to favor deeper forest regions for foraging and nesting.

Advocates for Bird Conservation (ABC), a nonprofit group whose aim is to educate people about avian species and to conserve vulnerable bird species, opted to work with vasa parrots in 1995. Because the vasas is a dark-feathered bird that is relatively unknown in the pet market, the chance of their vanishing in captivity was thought to be especially high.

ABC purchased a flock of 16 Greater vasa parrots and will continue to add to this flock when vasa parrots become available in the market. The goal of this study is to establish a long-term breeding collection to ensure the genetic survival of the species in captivity. The breeding couples in the collection are given the chance to fully raise and fledge their young, which they eagerly do.

ABC is now collaborating with two zoos, the Sacramento Zoo and the National Aviaries. These two organizations are in charge of the Lesser vasas, whereas ABC is in charge of the Greater vasas.

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