Life is full of perceptions. One expects to find certain elements and then that perception is modified or confirmed. As an aviculturist I try not to establish perceptions. After having known most of the greatest aviculturists and visited inarguably the best collections, I have realized that perceptions are best left at home. In my recent visit to the Czech Republic, I realized that I had a perception about aviculture in that country caused by ignorance and that what I found surprised me beyond all expectation.
Aviculturists worldwide understand that Czech breeders have a spectacular array of species, which include great rarities. But no one speaks of the Czech´s as breeders. That this is the case is extremely fortunate as I found during a short visit.
During my recent trip so well organized by Lubos Tomiska and Jan Sojka, I found that aviculture in the Czech Republic has been woefully underestimated, that breeders are extremely competent and are on par or exceed many regarded as leaders in the world, and that the level of professionalism has established a threshold that would be difficult to surpass. Germans are regarded as the top aviculturists, along with the Dutch and Swiss, but Czech breeders compete on an equal footting with these.
A case in point is the Red-tailed Amazon Amazona brasiliensis. This species is very difficult to breed. In its native Brazil virtually none are bred; the report of just one young being produced is regarded as the event of the year. In the Czech Republic I visited NAME who has been breeding this species since 1999, has reared about 30 since then and has multiple pairs that nest. His observation has been that pairs do not breed every year but rather erratically. Jan Sojka has had young birds AGE breed, which establishes a much earlier potential breeding age than any could have imagined; the larger amazon parrots are regarded as late breeders, reaching maturity after 5 or 6 years of age. These captive bred birds will help establish this species, still very rare, in aviculture, as each passing generation proves more willing to reproduce.
The related Red-browed Amazon Amazona rhodocorytha is regarded as being able to be bred in captivity only colonially. The original breeding results at Loro Parque, where several pairs were introduced together in a large aviary and allowed to pair and start breeding, established for many the definitive word on breeding this species: they will only breed in a group in a large aviary. This is how the late Juan NAME and Criadeiro Rostan bred them in Brazil. I saw several pairs in a planted aviary at Juan´s place, where the corners contained the nests, and the breeding group at Rostan, which was housed in a central aviary with many enclosures emerging from it, so that the pairs could separate to breed but still remain members of the flock.
Czech breeders have shown that this is not the only means of breeding this species. I saw single pairs on eggs and/or young in the aviaries of Jan Nedelnik, NAME and Zdenek Vandelik. These pairs were visually obstructed from seeing each other—a factor regarded as key to success in Brazil.
Jan Nedelnik is known for his amazon parrot collection. He has bred the Red-necked Amazon Amazona versicolor and St Vincent Amazons Amazona guildingii, both rare and bred in only a handful of collections worldwide; the arausiaca has bred to my knowledge only in one other collection. He was also breeding the Black-billed Amazon Amazona agilis. This species is unique and like Alipiopsitta xanthops, the Yellow-faced Parrot, may well prove to belong to a genus other than Amazona.
Zdenek Vendelik has shown that some small conures can be bred on the colony. I saw Cactus Conures Aratinga cactorum being bred in groups. This is not necessarily an easy species to breed.
Czech breeders have also shown that parrots can be far more tolerant of cold than believed. Breeders in northern Florida become very concerned when we have the occasional cold spell where temperatures drop near 0 degrees F. I saw Golden Conures Guarouba guarouba, Red-necked Amazons Amazona arausiaca and even Hawk-headed Parrots Deroptuys accipitrinus perched outside during days where the temperature oscillated around 10 deg F and was told by more than one breeder that in winter they do not provide heat beyond freezing to the birds. The breeding success and overall condition of the birds during my visit clearly showed that parrots can adapt to an array of conditions.
All Czech breeders provide an enclosed shelter to their birds. Their aviaries can be the envy of many, being long and well designed. Those used by Jan Nedelnik, for example, measure a total of m, with of this being the shelter part. The birds are fed sprouting seeds, pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The level of professionalism was evident everywhere. When I visited Cestmir Drozdek, probably the most successful breeder of Pesquet´s Parrots Psittrichas fulgidus I the world, producing young in 2012 alone, we were able to compare experiences: the species is tolerant and seems to like a certain level of cold, which contradicts earlier claims that it is solely a lowland species that requires hot, steamy environments; that nest excavation is critical to success; and that our advancing knowledge can lead to successes only dreamed about 10 years ago.
This same aviculturist was breeding the Great Philippine Hornbill Buceros hydrocorax. He earned the first breeding for this species CONFIRM. I saw a youngster, which was removed from the nest and comfortably perched on Mr Drozdek´s hand. This was a highlight of my avicultural career comparable to the first sight of a Kawall´s Amazon Amazona kawallii or seeing Palm Cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus in the wild. The attention to detail, extreme hygiene, immaculately planted aviaries and condition of the bird left me inspired. Here was a humble man whose successes with hornbills, Pesquet´s Parrots and some others sets him apart in aviculture the world over. I was honored to shake his hand on leaving.
For me, the Czech Republic was like finding a hidden treasure. Aviculture had advanced very far rather quietly from the rest of the world. They have a hand-rearing manual (title ) that would be the envy of the English speaking world, a colored magazine (EXOTEN) that is full of sound information and spectacular photography, maintain communication amongst breeders regularly and all willingly open their homes to visitors and their countrymen.
My days in the Czech Republic exposed me to a gem that had escaped me during the 40 years that I have been an aviculturist. I was so impressed at the warm reception and level of aviculture that I am already anxiously awaiting a return visit to this land of wonder.