The Superb Parrot by John Grant


The Superb Parrot (alternative name Barraband Parrot) is one of three members of the Polytelis genus of Australian parrots. The word Polytelis roughly translated into English means ‘magnificent’, which I feel is an apt description. There are two other members of this genus, the Princess Parrot and the Regent Parrot. In my opinion, the Superb is the most appealing of this group with its striking combination and placement of colours. Next is the Regent and finally comes the Princess Parrot, which I think is a highly overrated bird in the beauty stakes. I realise that this last comment will be strongly disputed by many people, but as I see it ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

I house these parrots in both 4.9 metre and 3. 7 metre long aviaries by 0.9 metre wide and 2.2 metres high, with a 1.2 metre long shelter. The shelter has a floor covering of 200mm of beach sand and the flight is of natural earth. I place one perch inside the shelter, another outside with the third at the opposite end of the flight. I do not house these parrots side by side but place birds of another genus between them. This family is perfect to place between Rosellas, Ringnecks and Hoodeds because of its placid nature.

I feed a mixture of seeds which consists of the following: Sunflower 20%, Safflower 20%, Hulled Oats 20%, Canary Seed 20%, Jap Millet 10%, and White Millet 10%.

I have this mixture made up in 200kg lots at a time by one of the local seed merchants. During the non-breeding part of the year the birds also receive any green feed which is available at the time. The green feed not only consists of grasses and silverbeet but also any and all vegetables that my family eats. The greater cross section the better.

In the breeding season I feed seasonal grasses and silverbeet, which I grow, and these are supplemented with apple and sweet corn on a daily basis. I have found that these parrots have a particular liking for oranges and broccoli. The feed bowl is placed on a stand inside the shelter, while the water container is placed in the flight with a cover to prevent contamination and to keep the water cool.

In adult birds there is no problem. The hen does not have any of the red or yellow face and throat colouring of the cock. The hen is basically a green bird with only a faint wash of grey and light blue around the cheeks. She retains the pink edging to the under tail feathers.

In some of my pairs I can tell which birds will be cocks and hens when they are fully feathered but still in the nest. The young cocks are an all over apple green and stand out very strongly when all the young are held together in the sunlight. Other pairs’ young are very difficult to tell and on some individual young I must wait until the first moult at seven months old.

I ring all my young and record colour, number and leg, hoping these factors and observations will assist me in working out their sex.

Hen birds always appear to be in great demand and I receive telephone calls throughout the year in search of them. I would strongly advise people not to purchase a cock and then go looking for a hen. If you are fortunate enough to find one, it will undoubtedly be an expensive item. When purchasing a young pair always ask their age, remembering that all young birds look virtually the same as hens until they go through the first moult. I have heard many people say that the orange feathers around the legs are a good indication that the bird is a hen. I would totally disagree with this statement as all young birds have these orange feathers. It is true that the hen retains these feathers after the first and subsequent moult but I also have mature cocks which have retained a few orange feathers around their legs.
Suitable breeding age

These parrots are what I would describe as a ‘long term’ proposition. Nowadays people appear to be more interested in purchasing mature birds in the hope that they will go straight to nest in the coming season. Personally, I feel that this is totally the wrong approach and the purchasing of young stock is the correct way. I do not doubt at times that genuine mature pairs become available for sale but they are few and far between. I feel this trend has come about due to the high profile of lovebird breeding which has existed over the past 8-10 years. Some people tend to think that if a pair of birds has not produced by the time they are one year old, then they are no good. These parrots usually do not breed until two or three years old and they are still producing many years after that.

These parrots are seasonal breeders from September to December. I have kept them on a continuous basis for the past 13 years and until 1987 my records show that they have always gone to nest by the second or third week of September. Last year (1987) none went down until the first and second week of November; one could attribute this to the changing weather cycles we have had, although my Regents, as usual, commenced laying in the second and third week of September.

The incubation period commences upon the laying of the second egg and varies between 21 and 23 days depending upon the ambient temperature. The chicks leave the nest after approximately 35 days, this time period again can vary depending on the temperature experienced during this time. They are independent after one month. While they are young it is important to expose them to as wide array of food as possible as this will determine their eating habits in later life. The number of chicks in a clutch varies from 3 – 7 with the average clutch in my experience being four. I find that if there is more than 4 there is a chance of losing the youngest chick or having to supplementary feed or hand feed. I do not like hand feeding as it is very time consuming and I feel the young are never as good as those raised naturally.

I use nestboxes that are 600mm tall and 300mm square with an entrance of 65mm placed 100mm down from the top. I also have an inspection hole near the bottom of the box. For nesting material I use equal parts of peat moss and chain sawdust and this is placed in the boxes to a depth of 75mm.
Health problems

The only major problem that appears to be prevalent in this parrot is a form of paralysis which affects the legs. A quite healthy bird will appear in total good health one day and suffer this problem the next and it affects both cocks and hens. The paralysis appears at any time of the year and appears not to have any relation to handling or sexual activity, in my experience. I have had this problem affect several birds over the years and have never had one recover even with veterinary treatment. George Smith, the well known English veterinarian and author, in his book ‘Love Birds and Related Parrots’ states that he has had birds in his collection recover naturally from this paralysis. He writes that the paralysis was brought about by handling the birds.

When I first purchased a pair of these birds they did not breed until they were three years old. Since then they have produced 4 young each year (including 1987) without fail. This species is reasonably popular at present and, in my opinion, will become even more so. Their striking colour combination and quiet nature will ensure this. I cannot recommend them too highly to people who are looking for an interesting ‘long term’ aviary occupant.

Reprinted from the January 1988 edition of Bird Keeping in Australia, the official publication of The Avicultural Society of South Australia Inc.