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New foster parrot (Hybrid Parrots)

I recently took in a new foster parrot for a local parrot rescue. She’s a cute little Pyrrhura conure named “Chiku!”  Chiku!’s (supposedly) a cross between a Crimson-bellied Conure and a Green-cheeked Conure and she may have Maroon-bellied Conure in her background.  She very busy and quite “puppyish” in that she’s playful, curious, and nippy. She also loves to chew on things, just like a young puppy.  She looks  like a Green-cheeked Conure but has more orange under her wings.

Chiku, a hybrid conure.

Chiku, a hybrid conure.

A parrot hybrid is a cross between two different parrot species.  Parrot species that are very closely related (in an evolutionary sense) are usually capable of hybridizing to produce viable offspring.  Since a Green-cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) and a Crimson-bellied Conure (Pyrrhura perlata) are both in the same genus (Pyrrhura), they are related and can produce offspring.  Any of the Pyrrhura species can probably interbreed with another Pyrrhura species in captivity.  This would be far less likely to occur in the wild, for a variety of reasons.  Many of the Pyrrhura species do not have overlapping ranges, or when they do, one species may prefer a different habitat, so the two species may never or rarely meet.  Additionally, most birds will naturally prefer a member of their own species when given a choice.  This is because most bird species will have distinctive courtship calls, colours, and behaviors that are most attractive to members of their own species.  However, in captivity, if closely related but different species are placed together and given no opportunity to mate with a member of their own species, they may end up mating with each other.

A hybrid bird is different from a bird that has a color mutation. For example, in the photograph below, both birds are of the same species (Lineolated Parakeets), but the blue (cobalt) bird carries two different mutations that affect her color.  At the gene for feather color, she has two “blue” alleles (variants of a gene), and at another gene that affects feather color, she has a “dark factor” allele, which is an allele that makes her color appear darker.  Lineolated Parakeets that have two blue alleles but no dark factor allele are a sky blue color.

The cobalt linnie is not a different species than the green (“wild type”) bird.  She’s just a color variant of the same species.  Note that “wild type” simply refers to a genetic variation that is the most common type in a species.  In Lineolated Parakeets, “green” is the wild type color because in the wild, almost all Lineolated Parakeets are green.  This is likely because green birds are better camouflaged against the tree tops than blue ones are. A blue bird would stand out more to predators and would be less likely to survive. However, in captivity, the blue birds have no disadvantage, and breeders can select blue birds to breed.

Lineolated Parakeets taking a shower.

In captivity, the most common types of hybrids seem to be ones involving the large macaws.  I suppose this is because crossing the variously colored macaws can produce birds with very different and variable color patterns. Breeders have given different names to the various hybrid macaws.  For example, a Blue and Gold Macaw crossed with a Greenwing Macaw is often referred to as a “Harlequin Macaw” and a Greenwing Macaw crossed with a Military Macaw is called a “Calico Macaw.”  Macaws in the genus Ara (Scarlet, Green-winged, Blue and Gold, Military, Buffon’s, Blue-throated, Red-fronted and Chestnut-fronted Macaws) can often be hybridized and the offspring are often fertile, so hybrid macaws can be crossed to other hybrid macaws.

Hyacinth Macaws (genus Anodorhynchus) can also be crossed with other large Ara macaws.  I’ve seen photos of Hyacinth/Blue and Gold, Hyacinth/Scarlet and Hyacinth/Military Macaw crosses.  Some end up looking rather beautiful, but some look a little like birds that were put together out of spare parrot parts. Some Blue and Gold Macaw/Hyacinth Macaw hybrids look like Blue and Gold Macaws with Hyacinth Macaw heads.

Blue and Gold Macaw X Hyacinth Macaw

Aratinga conure mixes aren’t uncommon either.  Nanday/Sun conure crosses are sometimes produced and are called “Nansun” conures.  Sun/Jenday crosses are typically referred to as “Sunday” conures.

Controversy

Needless to say, the practice of breeding hybrid parrots is quite controversial among aviculturalists.  Arguments against it (simply put) are that many parrot species are endangered and should only be bred with members of their own species, and that hybrid parrots are not natural and that many hybrids bred in captivity would not occur naturally in the wild.

Arguments for hybridizing parrots tend to be that most birds produced in captivity are destined to be pets, not used in a conservation program, that not all parrot species are endangered, and that hybrid parrots can be very unique and beautiful. Additionally, parrots of a different species sometimes form a bond and a person may not want to separate the two. The counter-argument is that the birds could be allowed to live together but not be given a nest box.

Personally, I don’t see the point in purposely breeding hybrid parrots. It’s hard to improve on the beauty of any of the parrot species in their natural form and rare species are best bred only with their own species.  However, hybrid birds that are here certainly deserve to have good homes and can make fine companions.

On occasion, hybrid parrots are unintentionally produced.  Such was the case with the unique and  unusual cockatiel/Galah hybrid, pictured below:

Cockatiel/Galah hybrid

You can read more about this bird here: World First: Galah breeds with Cockatiel

Feral parrots (that occur outside of their natural range) sometimes hybridize with other species.  For example, there are feral Cherry-headed and Mitred Conures living in San Fransisco.  They are the descendants of wild-caught birds imported from South America that escaped from captivity.  The Mitred and Cherry-headed Conures have interbred and produced mixed-species conures.  The same is true of Amazon parrots in California. Feral Amazons outside their natural range may mate with Amazons of a different species.  There are Lilac-crowned/Double Yellow-headed Amazon hybrids living near the Santa Barbara Bird Farm in southern California. You can read more about these interesting birds, and their possible origins here: Wild Parrots of Santa Barbara.

On occasion, hybrids are produced in the wild in the natural range of two species. There have, for example, been recorded cases of wild cockatoo hybrids, involving Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos (Cacatua leadbeateri).  The situation that leads to the hybridization of these two species is quite interesting.  Both species nest in the same types of tree hollows at the same time of the year.  On occasion, a Galah and a Major end up laying eggs in the same nest hole, each unbeknown to the other.  This can happen because neither species starts incubating until at least three eggs have been laid, so each species often leave early eggs unattended for very long periods of time.  Typically, once the Major and the Galah meet, the Galah will be evicted from the nest by the Major.  The Major will then start incubating the eggs and may raise a Galah chick along with its own chicks.  These Major-raised Galahs (M-Galahs) display many traits of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, which demonstrates that a lot of parrot behavior is learned.  M-Galahs often associate with Majors once grown and may choose a Major as a mate, rather than a Galah.  The result can be Galah-Major hybrid chicks.

A mixed brood of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos with a Galah.

A Galah raised by Major Mitchell's Cockatoos (lower left) who prefers to associate with Major Mitchell's Cockatoos.

The above pictures are from: Rowley, I and Chapman, G.  1985.  Cross-fostering, imprinting, and learning in two species of Cockatoo. Behavior, 96, 1-16.

There have also been Galah/Little Corella crosses seen in the wild:

 

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  1. December 3, 2009 at 4:37 am
  2. August 14, 2010 at 5:51 pm

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