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The Barraband or Superb Parrot

Male Barraband
Male Barraband

One of three species of parrots belonging to the Polytelis family. (Polytelis swainsonii) The other two species being the Princess Parrot (Polytelis alexandrae) and the Rock Pebbler or Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus)

Although the name 'Barraband' is used in New Zealand to designate this species, in its native home of Australia it is primarily known as the 'Superb Parrot'.

Native Habitat
Its native habitat is restricted to quite a small area of Australia, along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers from central New South Wales, South into Victoria. It utilises the river red gums and eucalypts for its nesting sites.

Description
40 cm (16in) in length.
Adult cockbird.
General colour over the body is a rich green, slightly paler and more yellowish on underparts, with a blue tinge to the front of the wings. A bright yellow face mask and a slash of red runs under the yellow.
Adult henbird.
Overall much duller green colour, very yellowy green on the underbelly. They have a pale blue colouring over the cheeks and on top of the head. Many have red colouring around the base of their legs like 'red socks'. Inside their tail is pink.

The Barraband is one of the most commonly kept larger Australian parrots in New Zealand. This does not mean we should take it for granted, as it is still a beautiful parrot that is well worth even the most experienced breeder keeping. In its native home much of the area's it formerly used for nesting have disappeared due to the harvesting of logs for timber production, land clearance for farmland and direct or indirect human interference. Fewer birds are now seen in Victoria and birds returning there to nest it seems, now number only 100 pairs. Although there are still estimated to be fewer than 5000 pairs left in total. Both N.S.W. and Victoria have undertaken recovery programmes as the birds are considered vulnerable and their is government legislation in both states to give this bird special protection.

Notice the difference in eyes.
Notice the difference in eyes.

How fortunate we are then to still have it available to us here in New Zealand in good numbers. There are reports of pairs breeding and producing young for more than 20 years. They will usually start to breed at 2 years of age but cocks will do better at 3 years of age.

Housing
They do not need huge aviaries and aviaries approx. 3.6 to 5m in length x 900mm to 1m wide, 2m high will suffice, although I kept one pair in an aviary that was 1.2m wide and 6.6m long and 2.4m high. It was much larger than they needed but it was great to enjoy watching them in full flight. Wooden aviaries are suitable for them as they are not great chewers of wood. They are prone to become overweight, although I never experienced this in my birds. Obviously having them housed in too small an aviary, may prove detrimental, to birds being able to get good exercise.

Barraband Pair
Barraband Pair

Setting up a Breeding pair
They can be bred in a colony system, with say three or five pairs depending on the size of your aviary and I remember visiting a breeder in Christchurch years ago that kept them this way. I think better success will come however by keeping them as individual pairs. Though they are considered generally a bird that is reasonably easy to breed, this is not always the case and some have had difficulty in getting a pair established as good breeders. I know some birdkeepers that struggled for years to get a good breeding pair and then, after getting them going and other pairs established, bred more than they ever dreamed of. Most pairs will try to breed but there is always better results from a well matched pair. If you have had trouble in getting a good breeding pair going then why not try allowing them to select their own partner. This will mean buying a number of young birds (six is a good number - equal hens & cocks.) and watching them to see which mate they favour. After they select a mate themselves, separate them into different aviaries for breeding. This is a sure way of getting a compatible breeding pair that will usually raise good clutches of young.

Breeding
Courtship involves the cockbird dilating his pupils as he goes back and forth on the perch partly puffing his head as he calls to the hen. Courtship feeding takes place and this is followed by the pair mating. I have not found them too fussy about the nesting site and a box about 600mm in length, 190mm square is usually accepted. (2ft x 8in sq) They like to feel tightly fitted into a box rather than having too much room. Not all pairs will be that cooperative and if you have difficulty, you could try 2 different nests to give a pair a choice. Some include a spout on the nesting log and have had good success with this. I have always cut a small inspection door into the box that can swing open on a hinge.

Pair at their nest
Pair at their nest

Wood chips placed in the bottom of the box about 50mm thick will allow the hen to scratch around and lay the eggs in. The hen does not usually like you inspecting the nest while she is incubating and some pairs may desert the eggs if interfered with. I always left her alone and only inspected the eggs when I saw her off the nest. Once the young are hatched and young can be heard being fed it is a different story, regular checks can be made on the young birds to make sure they are progressing well and to ring them if you wish before they leave the nest. Usually 4 and sometimes 5 eggs can be laid and incubation last for about 22 days. My birds varied their clutches from 1 young one to 4 young. One pair consistently hatched and reared 4 young each season.

Young Birds
As young birds grow and get near to an age where they will leave the nest, you will notice them coming right up to the entrance hole in the box to poke their heads out to get a feed from dad. When they first leave the nest they are notoriously flighty and unpredictable. They take off at great speed, often banging into aviary walls and wire. This is a dangerous time for young ones and the last thing you want is for a young one to bang into a wall, hit its head and drop down dead. I was always careful around the aviaries for the first week, trying not to give young ones any unnecessary frights until they master their flight better.

They will continue to be fed by the cockbird for a further 3 weeks. I have never had a pair double brood in a season. There is no panic to take young birds away from their parents as they are not aggressive toward them. it would be best to remove them well before next breeding season however as although they will not harm the young, they will chase them away from the nesting area and it could disturb a pair trying to nest the following season. Even if you are holding them until they are old enough to sex, they are best caught out at some stage and held in another aviary.

Sexing the Young
Sexing young birds visually is not an easy task although there are a few things I have found over the years you can look for that may identify the sex. The pupils of the eyes are one indicator along with their colouring. Cockbirds develop a ring around the pupil, whereas hens the same age do not have this ring. When it develops it is a much duller colour than the males, which is a bright
orangey - yellow. This coupled with the blue tinge around the birds face, on the cheeks and on top of the head, can indicate that it is a young hen, however there are no guarantees.

A young cock on the other hand will of course have the yellow start to break through around the face and on the top of the head, but beside this the green colouring on a male is much brighter and in the light appears almost iridescant. Some young birds start to show colour (a few red or yellow feathers) much quicker than others, some as early as 3 months but more commonly maybe 12 to 18 months later. All young birds have a pink tinge to the underside of their tail feathers, but young males eventually moult this out and on adult birds, while hens retain this colouring a males colouring is black. If you are wanting a guaranteed pair from a very young age then DNA sexing is the only sure way. The problem is that with these birds being so inexpensive many will not want to pay the extra to have this procedure done. If that is the case for you and you buy a guaranteed pair from a breeder make sure you have an arrangement to swap a young one over if you end up with two of the same sex.

Young Barrabands not showing full colour
Young Barrabands not showing full colour

Hens have been known to breed at 1 year of age, but most will need to be 2 years old and as mentioned cocks will produce more fertile eggs at 3 years of age. There is no reason why a well matched pair will not have a good clutch right from their first nest and breeding will start around September through to December.


Sociable, Willing to mix
These birds have a great personality, not only are they peaceable among themselves but are also very peaceable and compatible companions in a mixed aviary situation. I kept a pair of Turquoisines in with them and both pairs nested together. They could be safely housed with all of the Neophema species, cockatiels, other members of the polytelis group or even King parrots. Remember that in this situation however, the more birds, the larger the aviary required and a selection of nesting site will be needed. During one season, the Turquoisines tried to use the Barraband nesting box for themselves, not using the smaller box I put in for them to use. So having more than one site per pair in a mixed aviary situation, will avoid any problems.

Male Barrabands spend a lot of time chortling to themselves and I have heard some birdkeepers annoyed at their continual chattering this way, this was something however, that I personally never found disturbing. They do have a beautiful sweet nature as a rule and when you check on them each day, they will be found waiting, clinging to the wire in anticipation of you giving them their daily treats, such as apple, madeira cake or greenfoods.

Probably best breeding success will come from housing each pair separately, although being the social bird they are, they will often do better in close proximity to other pairs, where they can see and hear one another.

Feeding
A good parrot mix will do as their basic food and they will sample most foods offered. Remember that when they have young ones (especially a large clutch) they need to consume a lot of food to break down and feed to the young. We can help by giving things like soaked seed, kibbled bread and softfood, that will make it easier for the parent birds.

One thing Barrabands and all Australian Parrots particularly enjoy is a Gum Tree branch with leaves and even flowers attached. They will spend hours chewing leaves and bark, stripping off the leaves and flowers, which is good for the health of the birds.

Problems
Barrabands are prone to one ailment that we should be aware of. This is a paralysis of the legs. It is not common and although I never experienced this with my birds a nearby fellow breeder had his best hen rendered useless from this condition. It affects their legs and toes, the toes often curling up and means trying to perch is almost impossible for them. It does not seem to kill the birds and some will in time improve, even making with treatment a complete recovery and go on to live for years. However most, if bad will be useless for breeding purposes again, at least this was the case with my this friend's hen. I have read of different treatments for this condition, but if you should be unfortunate and experience this with one of your birds it would pay you to seek the advice of a Avian Vet, who will be up to date with the latest treatments.

As Pets
Barrabands make a great family pet and can be taught to say a number of words and can imitate all sorts of sounds as well. I was always amazed at a friends handreared cockbird that, I am sure thought of itself as human. It would talk away with all sorts of sentences, flashing its eyes while enjoying free range in their lounge room. I recently had one lady complain to me about a pet hen bird that was rather aggressive, although it was friendly to her, when let out of its cage would walk over and bite her husband in various places and had to be locked away. Like all pet birds then they require attention and training to get the best out of them but a handreared young one if taken home from a young age and trained properly would make a great addition to the family. So as an aviary or Pet bird, Barrabands are a beautiful bird well worth keeping.

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