The first part of the series by aviculturist Lee Chiu San deals with whether birds can be tamed and whether they will remain tamed. This second of the 3-part series deals with whether it is desirable to tame birds. Whether attempts should be made to tame wild birds will be looked into in part three.
“I will share some purely personal views.
“My family kept pets (including birds) even before I was born. I have had my own pet birds since my early teens.
“In the last 50 years there have almost always been songbirds in my house. Most of these were shamas, Oriental Magpie Robins (Copsychus saularis) or doves.
“I feel that I gave the birds a better life than they could have enjoyed outside. The accommodation I provided, whether in aviaries or flight cages, was spacious and the birds were well-fed. In the wild, shamas and magpie robins are solitary and extremely territorial, having little, if any interaction with conspecifics. The confines of where they were kept simply represented the territories they would have held in the wild. It will be difficult to convince me that pet birds of these species are less happy in an aviary than in a jungle.
“One of my main objectives in keeping birds is to achieve captive breeding. Before retiring, I was a manager in a multinational company and had been posted for long tours of duty in less-developed countries.
“There I saw environments being devastated. While purists may decry the removal of wildlife from their natural habitat, I see no alternative except to attempt captive breeding. I am not about to organise a revolution to change the governments of those countries. Neither am I in a position to educate their entire populations on the desirability of long-term environmental sustainability.
“My doves were selectively-bred domestic stock quite accustomed to aviary life. Some of my shamas also bred in the aviary.
“I also attempted to breed Straw-Headed Bulbuls (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) and did manage to get a pair to lay. However, none of the eggs hatched. I know that this is a threatened species, but its habitat is being destroyed in neighbouring countries. If no attempts at all are made to achieve captive breeding, how can we ever succeed?
“Thankfully, this species is becoming more established in Singapore, where wildlife and the environment do enjoy some degree of protection.
“When I used to live in Sembawang, where there was a wild population of Straw-Headed Bulbuls, half-a-dozen birds that did not settle into my breeding program were allowed to become free-flying. I believe that they eventually joined the wild population.
“Now let’s talk about birds that would be difficult for the average person to keep. Top on my list would be the large cockatoos (left). I speak from very bitter experience having had a Blue-Eyed Cockatoo (Cacatua opthalmica), a number of the more common Cockatoos (sulphurea and eleonora) and most difficult of all, a number of molluccans.
“Wild-caught cockatoos show very clearly that they miss their flock and their freedom. Hand-raised cockatoos first seduce fanciers with their affectionate ways before the start of a stormy relationship with overdoses of demanding behaviour, destruction, jealousy and guilt.
“All tame cockatoos demand lots of attention and companionship. They want to be with their flock (human) all the time. They have beaks like metal cutters, which they use all the time. So when they are with people, they MUST be supervised. One bite is all that is needed to break a handphone into half.
“They are big enough to do real damage, and take intense dislikes to other pets and some people. The objects of their jealousy can be in real danger.
“There is no easy solution such as locking the cockatoo away. They can really make you feel guilty with their pitiful moans and baby voices repeating tender calls such as “Love you daddy, I’ve been a good boy,” followed by really heartrending cries.
“If these do not work, the screaming starts. And cockatoos can really scream – for hours on end.
“Covering the bird, or moving it to an out-of-the-way, soundproof location will often trigger self-mutilation. They will pluck their own feathers to the point of baldness, and bite their own flesh until dripping with blood.
“I believe that no ordinary person with a career and a home in Singapore has the time nor the space today to properly cope with keeping large cockatoos.
“I could cope previously because I lived on an estate, the land of which has since been acquired by the government. One of my birds has gone with a friend to America. Another was donated to the Jurong Bird Park. And a third is with a friend who has one of the few remaining farms in Singapore.
“I have heard that lovers of large parrots find the macaws (right) more manageable, but I cannot speak from experience. Another problem with all these birds is that they live a very long time. Keeping one involves a big commitment, of at least 30 years or more.
“If you really must keep a parrot, keep a medium-sized or small one. If there is such a thing as an ideal pet parrot, I believe that the cockatiel fits the bill. All the stocks in pet shops nowadays are aviary-bred. If hand-raised from young, they stay tame and affectionate throughout their lives. They are undemanding as far as food is concerned. Their calls are not unpleasant. They whistle, sing and talk. And they usually live only a dozen years. Though some have exceeded that lifespan by more than twice, those are exceptional.
“I will also mention my personal favourites in the parrot tribe, lories and lorikeets, but have to caution that these are not for everyone. For their size, they are very aggressive, and generally create havoc in mixed-species aviaries.
“They are extremely active, and do not take kindly to being kept in cages. Though not as destructive as the large parrots, they are messy. This subdivision of the parrot tribe lives on soft and liquid food. Some genera, such as Charmosyna, have very specialised diets requiring expensive ingredients that must be mixed fresh twice per day.
“All lories and lorikeets have the ability to squirt their fluid droppings with the frequency and enthusiasm of a Thai participating in the Songkran festival.
“Unscrupulous vendors will assure pet buyers that lories can be converted to seed or pellet diets, resulting in dry and fewer droppings.
“This is a cruel change that will eventually result in the slow and painful demise of the bird, usually through malnutrition or kidney failure, months later. A healthy lory should live at least 20 years.
“Why do I like lories and lorikeets? They are personable and friendly, but do not get so attached to people to the extent that they forget that they are birds (as cockatoos are wont to do). They form strong pair bonds – and I can leave my lorikeets to amuse each other, without having to feel guilty about not spending enough time with them.
“Some species are also on the endangered list – and I take pride in having coaxed them to breed in my aviaries.”
Lee Chiu San
(Images by YC Wee)