by Scott Lewis
The photo on the right features juvenile Greater Vasa Parrots. The Greater Vasa (Coracopsis vasa) is native to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands off the east coast of Africa. The genus Coracopsis includes one other species, C. nigra, the Lesser Vasa or Black Parrot. The Lesser has the same general range as the Greater plus Praslin Island. Recently a subspecies of the Lesser Vasa from the Seychelles, C. nigra barklyi, has been placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List. This means that this subspecies of Black Parrots requires federal permits to be sold across state lines in the U.S.
Greater Vasas are solid dark-grey to black parrots with white beaks to dark grey beaks and light grey under the tail. Relatively large, they weigh 500g or more, which would be typical for a large Congo Grey. But they appear much larger because of their long tails and necks. They have prominent naked ceres and eye rings.
Vasas display several highly unusual traits, which some aviculturists consider primitive for psittacines. When ready to breed, the male inverts its cloaca up to an inch or so. This characteristic is unknown in other parrots. The color of the cere and the skin below the beak on the male changes from white to yellow, and the head's skin color on the hen changes to yellow with feather loss. (Hens go bald.) In addition, the beak color of both sexes changes from almost black to white during breeding season.
Vasa eggs are reported to hatch in 18 days or so, compared to 26 to 28 days for most medium-sized parrots. Babies fledge several weeks earlier than babies of other parrot species of similar size. Baby Vasas never develop down. They remain completely naked until pin feathers develop. They have extremely long legs compared to other parrots.
Vasas are relatively rare in U.S. aviculture. However, they are being bred successfully. A typical breeding flight is 4 X 4 X 8 feet or longer. Some breeders claim better success pairing two males with a single hen, while others claim a normal 1:1 pairing is acceptable. Regardless of the pairing, Vasas with chicks require large amounts of food because the chicks grow so fast.
As with Eclectus and Great-bills, the Vasa hen is dominant. Some breeders have reported that hens can be very aggressive and have been known to kill males. However, we have not observed any aggression on the part of our mature hen. We do recommend watching pairs closely and not pairing immature males with mature hens.
Vasas are quiet birds except during breeding season. During breeding season, they are very active and fairly loud.
Our Vasas are very active birds. They get a double ration of food and eat every bit of it. They love produce including apples, oranges, grapes, collard greens, carrots, and peppers. And, they love to bask in the sun.
Although Vasas are rare as pets, all the feedback we get from owners indicates that they make great pets.
From Barbara Phipps -- I have a 3-1/2 year old (supposedly male) Vasa named Dexter. (Photo at right.) He is anything but quiet. He does the screaming thing too, but also has quite an extensive vocabulary of human words. He talks all the time, sometimes picking up long phrases that he has heard only once or twice. He is also very active and extremely entertaining, but mischievous by nature. He is a comedian and KNOWS it. My opinion is that he is an excellent pet. He loves to be handled (now that he doesn't think he has to bite) and will sometimes cuddle with me, rolling onto his back and snuggling up next to me to watch TV. When I bought the poor, ugly thing from the pet shop, I had no idea what I was really getting into, but have no regrets. He is definitely unique from any other pet parrot I have ever seen. I would not trade him for anything.
From Jenny Bilfield -- I own a 4.5 year old Vasa named Heathcliff, whom we adopted 16 months ago. Our experience parallels Barbara Phipps' in the sense that Heathcliff is a very loud bird, but very loving and playful (rolls over, makes silly gestures, etc.). We also have an African Grey (who was our first bird) and the two definitely do not get along. That said, the Vasa accepts everyone...seducing them, hopping onto their arm, nibbling their neck and ears and removing buttons at every opportunity. Heathcliff loves all food...jalapenos, bread, pizza, vegetables...you name it. He honks like a goose, makes silly whining sounds while bobbing his head for attention, and contorts his body in all sorts of creative ways while preening. His vocabulary is more of an assembly of babyish mumbling, all punctuated with "Heathcliff"...and he keeps us in stitches. We have harness-trained him and take him around with us in the summer in New York City, as well as on vacation by plane and car. The one thing I'd be curious to ask other Vasa owners is whether their male birds are perpetually mating. Heathcliff does not have a 3-4 month mating season...he is ready to go 24/7. Any thoughts/feedback on this?
Anyway, Heathcliff (or "Heathbutt" as our African Grey calls him...) is a sweetheart and we are so glad that he came into our lives.
From Debbie and Bob Schretzman -- Our Vasa is an excellent talker. She is always listening whether we are talking to her or to another of the birds, and she picks up new words really quickly. She loves her name, which is Crockett, which she says all the time! She strings together sentences of all the words that she says and somehow knows what they mean. She also is extremely crazy, her head is always in motion. She puts her head under her wings and makes a vibrating noise. She vibrates on my finger and also on Bob's finger. She is approximately 2.5 years old. She is doing the mating ritual, so we're guessing that she is the right age. She doesn't really get along with the other birds, because of her early years in a pet store. She had rather poor treatment. When ever someone wanted to see her they would towel her and hold her in the towel so someone could pet her head. They never tried to hand train her. We brought her home, and within a week and a half she wanted to be picked up and was hand trained. That is how smart these birds are. But now she is permanently scared to death of towels. When I clip her toes, I just put her on my knee, and she lets me clip them without any problems. She hasn't been in a towel for 2 years. She is an excellent eater. When we first got her we would have to put her food on her playstand in a bowl because she was very timid about taking anything from our hands. But now she just about takes our hands off when we give her anything to eat. We attribute that to her knowing that we are never ever going to give her the treatment that she had before and that we love her very much and also because she sees a male Eclectus named Reggie eat besides her that is a pig who tries everything. So she tries everything and never has refused to try anything from our hands. She really likes to play and doesn't care what I do to her when she is sitting with me playing. I can hold her upside down and roll her over on her back, and she doesn't care. As a matter of fact she does that herself. She is extremely active and is always in motion. Her head never stops. She knows when someone is talking about her and is constantly listening. She is loved so much by both me and my husband. She hasn't really taken to other people. She gets really scared when anyone gets close. Well that is the life of our little lover Crockett. I could go on and on about her because she is such an important part of our lives. But these are the main points.
And more from Barbara Phipps about Dexter -- Dexter has since been identified as being FEMALE due to loss of head feathers, etc. during "mating season." Dex is also a big flirt and has developed a "thing" for my new husband. She goes through all the primping and preening and dancing and calling for him 24/7. I don't think its just the males -- these birds just get really excited very easily. Head down, wings fluttering... big flirt -- but this is reserved only for SELECT humans...
Dex LOVES to travel. I drive a taxi and used to come get her to ride with me late in the shift every now and then. She would get SOOO excited when she saw the cab pull into the driveway because she knew she was going for a ride. She even collected money from passengers. All the regulars loved her. She rode to NY with us (from SC) back in March and thoroughly enjoyed the 13 hour road trip (more than we did) including the flicking of food at the back of my husband's head the whole way and laughing insatiably each time something made contact. This bird definitely has a sense of humor and will do anything that will get a laugh out of someone -- ANYONE. No one is a stranger to Dex. VERY entertaining and knows it, thrives on it.
Dex will eat ANYTHING -- except gooey stuff like bananas and peanut butter, which sticks to her beak and drives her nuts, and eggs. Steak night brings on the entire vocabulary until she gets a bite of her own. Tacos bring on the same insanity. As long as she gets a bite of what we have, everything is good in parrotland. Strawberries are her favorite. Red beak, red feet, red walls...
As for vocabulary, it has vastly expanded just in the past year or so -- the difference is unbelievable. Dex has also, just in the past 6 months, learned that names are interchangeable within phrases (smart bird!). She will substitute the name of the person who's attention she desires. Now, instead of calling the dogs, she calls and whistles for my husband, etc. Its hilarious -- and more often than not, its an appropriate phrase for the situation. The "babyish mumbling" is usually a precursor to real human words. Dex tends to mumble things to herself for a while before actually saying something out loud. Sometimes, though, there are long strings of unintelligible syllables -- the bird equivalent of carrying a conversation? Dex seems to THINK she's telling us a story about something, anyway. When done, she laughs hysterically, as if maybe she's just told a joke. Its so funny to watch the facial expressions -- she is very serious about whatever it is she's "talking" about. I really don't understand why Vasas aren't more popular. Maybe they aren't the prettiest, most colorful parrots in the pet store, but they are definitely guaranteed to be worth their cost in entertainment value. You can't help but fall in love with them.
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