The Birdman is in the House

The Hagen Avicultural Research Institute, affectionately known as HARI, celebrates 25 years of being at the forefront of parrot breeding, nutrition and disease control. Mark Hagen, HARI founder and director, recently took us on a tour of the world-renowned aviary. The tour was co-hosted by Josee Bermingham, long-time HARI custodian and avian expert.

Dogs may be man's best friend. But birds are not far behind.

This is evident when you tour the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute (HARI) with Mark Hagen, founder and director of HARI.

Perched atop a mountain in idyllic Rigaud, Quebec, HARI is a well-respected, 25-year-old aviary dedicated to research in disease control, nutrition, early parrot education and breeding.

Soaring Exhilaration
As Mark Hagen guided us through a maze of rooms that house Canada's largest privately-owned collection of parrots, we were immediately struck by his passion and affection for birds.

His unbridled enthusiasm was quite palpable as he greeted virtually every bird with an energetic Hello. The birds responded with cheerful tweets.

The birdman was in the house. His presence put a exhilarating charge in the place. His beloved avian family chirped with excitement. The interaction was really inspiring.

Deep Family Roots
Birds at HARI are housed in large, separate areas according to species. There are segregated rooms for Amazons, Macaws, Quakers and other Psittacine species.

The current collection of birds come from an original breeding stock that was imported from South and Central America in the mid to late 1980s. The aviary started out with 400 wild caught pairs and now has about 250 pairs, many of which are captive bred.

Amazing Amazons
Our first stop was the amazon room. As we moved along, Hagen excitedly named every species: Yellow-Naped, Hawk Head, Mexican Double Yellow-Headed, Orange-Winged.

"One year, all six imported pairs of Orange-Winged Amazons produced young, allowing HARI to set up 3 unrelated pairs from these HARI-produced stock to keep an unrelated gene pool," said Hagen.

The vivid colours and rich feathering of these birds are remarkable. All birds at HARI, including the amazons, have been raised on Tropican hand-feeding formula, granules, sticks and biscuits almost exclusively since hatch, he noted.

"Amazons can typically live 50 to 60 years and breed for about 30 years, " he said.

All cages are equipped with wooden perches and real bark to help create a natural and comfortable environment. As we moved from one cage to the next, the birds climbed to higher positions.

"This is to show dominance over us," he explained.

If you're shopping for an amazon, Hagen recommended the Yellow Crown Amazon, because of its more favorable companion behavioral traits.

Majestic Macaws
In the next room, we visited a remarkable variety of macaws housed in large 10' x 10' x 5' aviaries. We saw Blue and Gold, Green-Winged, and Scarlet Macaws. They all have access to larger aviaries outside, where they go during the spring, summer and fall to air out.

Sanitation and disease control at HARI is vital and managed meticulously to stop the potential spread of bacteria and viruses that can wipe out whole bird populations. That's why bird species are housed in separate, well-ventilated sections. UV sterilizers were also recently added to sterilize air in the air ducts. Visitors must also dip the soles of their shoes in a shallow tray of treated water as they enter and exit.

The macaw section, in particular, is ventilated by positive pressure, which continuously circulates air to the exterior, expelling any potential dangerous air-borne contaminants or viruses. In addition, every macaw pair is housed separately.

Birds of Many Colours
As we moved to the next room, we were greeted by a colourful spectrum of South American and African bird species, including Sun Conures, Patagonian Conures, Senegal Parrots, and Black-Headed Caiques with Apricot-Coloured Necks.

The final room contained a large collection of quakers and conures. We moved briskly through this area as the excited birds produced an almost ear-splitting shrill of tweets and chirps.

Rave Party for Birds
We were then led outside, where we saw the outdoor aviaries, including the ones connected to the main facility. This is where the macaws hang out, mainly between May through November, weather permitting.

Nearby, there is an even larger aviary where juvenile amazons are brought together for pair bonding and eventual lifelong breeding.

"This big area is like a huge rave party for birds, where male amazons get a chance to select their lifetime female partners," said Hagen.

"A lot of CSI-type tests are done at HARI using DNA blood tests to determine sex, as males and females of almost all types of parrot species look the same," he noted.

Uplifting Friendship
Birds in general make wonderful friends for life. As we saw at HARI, they are intriguing, interactive, inspiring and invigorating.

If you're considering buying a bird, Hagen suggested starting with a budgie or a cockatiel. They make excellent companion birds.

Bird-keeping is also not as complicated as one may think, he explained.

Today's bird cages and accessories are designed to make keeping birds so much easier and convenient. The availability of advanced bird food, such as Tropican and Tropimix, and supplements, such as Prime and Clay-Cal, have contributed to improve quality of life.

It's also important to educate yourself about the specific physical and psycholgical needs of bird species. The Hagen Home Bird Care Guide is a good starting point.