ANCS Banner

 

Home
Aviary/cage
Behaviour
Breeding
Eggs
FAQ
Feathers
Genetics
Health/diet
Records
Showing
Talking
Weaning 

                                         

 

Breeding

A New Season Begins
Back to Basics
Bird Body Language
Hand Rearing
The Key to Successful Breeding
What Makes a Good Breeding Pair - Part 1
What Makes a Good Breeding Pair - Part 2
What Makes a Good Breeding Pair - Part 3

A New Season Begins

by Mike Ashton

Platinum & White-face PlatinumIt's the start of a new breeding season and we should be looking to pair our birds up for the coming season. The pairs that we have bred with over the past years should not need any encouragement, but what about first timers? If you are lucky, there won't be any problems but, realistically, there is usually at least one pair that just will not get on together. Don't give up. Try a few things first, like taking the nestbox out for a few days then putting it back, or splitting the birds up for a few days then putting them back together again, which usually does the trick. Another way is to put a good breeding pair in the next aviary, this might spur them on a bit.

OK, you have them sitting on a few eggs.... Now is the time to prepare for the chicks hatching. You will need to start putting extra food in every day, seed alone is not enough; you will need to supplement their diet at this stage. Firstly, fresh greens (e.g. spinach, celery) and sprouted seed is a must if you want to have big nests of 5 or 6 chicks. The parents need to fill up quickly when the chicks start arriving. We always use sprouted wheat and mung beans, with a vitamin supplement powder (Avian Vitalizer) sprinkled on top. Multi-grain bread is a good standby food, too. We find this extra food to the parents gives our newborns a good start in life.

Chicks So far so good, and 99% of the time there will be no problems from here on in. However, there is always the chance that first-time parents will be a little slow off the mark. If they don't seem to be feeding the chicks properly (you can check this by seeing if their crops are as full as they should be), you may have to make a quick decision to hand feed them, so be prepared to have some hand-rearing food ready. If you have to take the chicks out and find that they are cold, always warm them up first before you attempt to feed them.

Another thing to look for is in the larger nests, is that the last chick is getting fed properly and that the bigger chicks aren't getting his share. You may have to top this chick up with a little food once or twice a day. Or, if you have other birds breeding with chicks the same size, you may be able to swap them around or just foster them out.

When the chicks have fledged and you have some beautiful birds, well done! But they will not be ready to leave their parents until they are 7 or 8 weeks old. The parents will usually go straight back to nest and the whole process starts over again.

Top of page

Back to Basics
(A start up guide to breeding)

by Robyn Ashton

First step selecting your birds. Good health is the most important thing to look for when choosing your birds for breeding. Healthy birds breed healthy chicks, this is your ultimate goal so a little thought needs to go into deciding whether or not a bird is suitable to breed. Age is the next most important factor to consider. Birds will breed at a very young age but usually the results are disappointing and it can affect their future breeding success. It is far better to be patient, wait those extra few months and don't allow your birds to breed until at least 12 months of age. In the long run you will have far better breeding results and the birds will benefit by not being overworked too early.

Many people who want to start breeding make the mistake of thinking their pet bird will make a good breeding bird. They think all they have to do is buy a bird of the opposite sex and stand back. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. While some pet birds will go on to become good breeding birds most will not. Usually they are too imprinted on their human mates to ever accept a bird as their new partner. This then becomes a bit of a disaster and if it has been your first introduction to breeding it can be very off putting. I really think it is best to keep your pet birds as pets and if you decide you want to start breeding buy yourself a pair of suitable birds.

Not all birds are compatible so it is a good idea to give your birds a chance to get acquainted before you introduce the breeding box to them. Otherwise the hen will most likely start to lay eggs before the cock bird is ready and you will only achieve lots of clear eggs. It is very important that both the cock and the hen are in sequence with their breeding routine. The correct order of events would be that the pair become bonded by being together, after you feel confident that they are fairly well bonded introduce the nesting box , the cock bird should then work the box i.e.. Chew all around the hole, go inside and rearrange the shavings, and only when he is satisfied he has it as it should be will he let the hen go in the box. In the meantime mating should have been taking place and all being well within a very short time you should see the first egg appear. They may not start to sit until after the third egg has been laid, then they will take turns with the cock bird sitting all day and the hen sitting all night. There will always be slight variations to this as every bird is different but generally speaking if all the above procedures have taken place you are well on your way to achieving your first nest.

Aviary

Because cockatiels are quite prolific breeders they really need a reasonable amount of room in which to breed. While your breeding pair may look to have plenty of room in a small cage just picture how crowded it will get when 5 or 6 chicks fledge. A flight approximately 2 metres long and 1 metre wide will give your birds a bit of room to move. In the case of suspended aviaries, 1 metre high, or conventional 2 metres high. If you can go bigger fine but if space is a problem this is an adequate size for one breeding pair. Location of the aviary can also effect your breeding success. Your birds need a certain amount of peace and quiet in order to go about their business of sitting eggs and raising chicks.

They can't do this if they are constantly being disturbed by kids, dogs, cats, other birds or anything that distracts them from their job. Obviously there are certain things that are out of our control . We have had hot air balloons fly over, fireworks displays down the road at the local school, a swimming pool being lifted over a neighbour's house by an enormous crane, bush turkeys passing through, some things just happen. Hopefully though your birds feel secure enough in their situation that after a bit of excitement they will quickly resume normal duties.

Nest box

No doubt there are many variations on what cockatiels will breed in , both natural logs and home made or manufactured plywood boxes. The standard nesting box for a pair of cockatiels is 300mm high x 220mm wide x 200mm deep. The entrance hole should be 60mm in diameter and be 20mm from the top of the box with a piece of doweling for perching. If it is smaller the birds will sometimes refuse to enter. Suitable material should be placed in the bottom i.e.. Pine shavings, and a dusting of a carbaryl based lice powder i.e.. Skatta 7 will hopefully prevent any mite infestation during breeding. The positioning of the box can be quite important. It needs to be in a position where the birds can feel quite safe and relaxed about going to nest. If you have set your birds up but they won't go anywhere near the box chances are they don't like something about where you have put it and the best idea would be to change it to a different position.

Feeding

Now is the time to start increasing your birds food supply to allow them to build up in preparation for the upcoming chicks. Also as we all know how finicky cockatiels can be , if they haven't previously had access to a variety of foods they will have time to get used to them before the chicks arrive. Multigrain bread is a very good, convenient way to provide your birds with a quick way to fill up their chicks. Sprouted seed is also very good , wheat, mung beans etc soaked for a few hours drained and allowed to sprout slightly, rinsed thoroughly and presented to your birds will always be well received. It is also a good idea to sprinkle a vitamin supplement i.e.. Avian Vitalizer over the sprouts or bread to give your birds extra vitamins and minerals. Greens such as celery, silverbeet, endive are great. Sweet corn , carrot or whatever your birds enjoy.

Of course it goes without saying a good supply of quality seed , fresh water and calcium in the form of cuttlefish or calcium bells must be always available. You may get a bit of wastage at this stage but as soon as the chicks start to hatch you will be kept busy running backwards and forwards with extra supplies to help your birds feed their demanding babies. Obviously any left over food must be removed and discarded every day. At this time it is very important to provide your birds with their soft foods and vegetables early in the morning as this is when they are busy feeding the chicks, so forget about sleeping in as your birds will be hanging on the wire watching for your arrival. It is a good idea if possible to top up their supplies of greens and soft food later in the day as well as they go into the feeding frenzy to fill the chicks up for the night.

The more effort you are prepared to put in at this stage can make all the difference between your birds sailing through with 5 or 6 healthy chicks or struggling along with some of the chicks failing through lack of food and maybe only 1 or 2 of the strongest surviving. The parent birds also suffer greatly if they have to try and feed their chicks on limited resources.

Hatching

If you are familiar with your bird's behaviour it is pretty easy to tell when the chicks are near to hatching. More rapid changeovers start to take place as the hen will emerge more often to feed and also to bath so that she can go back in to the nest wet and create some humidity so that the egg shells are not too hard and dry thereby making it more difficult for the chicks to hatch Around 21 days from when the first egg was laid little chips start appearing in the surface of the egg as the chick prepares to emerge. Nothing beats the sight of that little ball of fluff rolling around in the nest, however it is important to give your birds some space and don't be tempted to interfere to much with the chicks at this stage. As long as everything is going well a quick look while the parents are out feeding should be enough .

Depending how many chicks hatch you may have to assess if there is too greater distance in age the smallest chick may need assistance either by supplementary feeding or moving to another nest where like sized chicks are. Ideally the chicks are all of a comparable size and receive equal amounts of food from the parents. Daily inspections are a good idea as the chicks progress just to keep an eye on them and to act quickly if any problems arise. Normal healthy chicks should have empty crops first thing in the morning and should quickly be filled up by the parents and then topped up throughout the day until late in the afternoon if you get a look at them should have lovely crops chock a block full to get them through the night Then the process starts all over again the next day. A healthy chick should have good skin colour i.e. a nice healthy pink, should be quite bright and able to hold it's head up high to be fed. If you want to put leg rings on the chicks around day 10 is usually the time, this can vary a bit from chick to chick.

Fledging

All being well your chicks will start to fledge at around 4 weeks of age. Usually you can see them peeking out of the hole a few days beforehand . They usually drop back out of sight when they see anybody coming. Finally they will take the big plunge, sometimes with a helping shove from Mum or Dad. Once they are out of the box the parent birds start the long process of teaching them how to eat by themselves. This is fascinating to watch as the parent birds fly backwards and forwards encouraging the chicks. However the chicks are still dependant on the parents for around another 4 weeks and care should be taken not to remove them too early as they may not be weaned and able to feed themselves. The parent birds will usually start to lay again as soon as the first nest of chicks start to fledge and the whole process starts again.

Top of page

Bird Body Language

by Robyn Ashton

Have you ever taken the time to watch your birds really closely and notice the different behaviours they have that can indicate an enormous amount of information about each bird ? Just as humans have a definite body language so to do our birds. In this article I will go through some that I have noticed and I would love to hear from other members who may have made observations of their own while observing their birds.

Even without inspecting the nestbox it is possible to tell by the behaviour of a breeding pair when their chicks are starting to hatch. Over the 21 days your birds will most likely have been taking regular shifts of looking after the eggs with the male sitting all day and the hen sitting all night. The changeovers are usually fairly predictable the hen emerging around 6 or 7 am and the cock taking over and changing back around 5 or 6pm. Things are quite calm and orderly.

Then around 21 days after the first egg was laid the sitting routine goes right out of the window. Changeovers are much more frequent as each parent take a turn of feeding up and returning to the nestbox to feed the chicks. Things take on a much more frenetic pace and woe betide you if your late taking them their soft food and greens in the morning. You won't be met with the calm happy twitters of your grateful birds, more like an exasperated looking parent pacing the perch or hanging off the front wire of the aviary indicating in no uncertain terms that you better hurry up as they have babies waiting for breakfast. If you don't pick up on these sort of signals you may not be as in tune with you birds as you could be.

From the moment a baby bird hatches its very existence depends on its ability to convey to its parent that it is hungry and needs food. This carries on for as long as the chick is dependent on the parent bird for food and sometimes they will try it on even after it is weaned and usually the parent bird will respond with the bird equivalent to a clip on the ear.

The one thing I love watching the most is when a chick first emerges from the nestbox. After finally working up the courage to follow it's parent who has been patiently flying backwards and forwards from the nestbox to the front of the aviary to encourage their offspring to follow, for all the world as if it is saying come on watch me, you can do it. Then once that first giant step is taken the very next thing the parent starts to teach the chick is where the food is . The parent will fly from beside the chick to where the food supply is backwards and forwards until the chick follows and starts the long process of learning to eat by itself. Then once all the chicks are fledged and all demanding food from the parents at the same time you can soon see who has the dominant personality amongst the group or who is the more quiet one who usually is last in line for a feed.

Other examples of reading a bird's body language are when your birds go into a sudden panic and fly around madly then just as quickly go completely still, not making a sound. In my part of the woods this usually heralds the arrival of a bird of prey such as a hawk. I don't need to see the bird to know that it's there. One thing that fascinates me is that usually just before the arrival of such a bird you will often see some wild rainbow lorikeets screaming through the sky, yelling their heads off, as if in warning to other birds who don't have the lorikeets speed to escape, to take cover as danger is approaching. We have a lot of spotted turtle doves around here, unfortunately for them, much sought after by hawks for their lunch.

Their plan of action when a hawk arrives on the scene is to keep perfectly still so as not to attract attention to themselves. Usually after a short while one will panic and try to escape and is usually snapped up by the waiting hawk. Back to watching your own birds, obviously there are the signs to look for if you suspect a bird is unwell.

We all know that birds will try to hide the fact that they are sick for as long as possible, but if you are really in tune with your birds you should be able to pick up very slight changes in their personality and behaviour that may indicate they have a problem before it gets too serious. Things like sleeping a bit more than usual, changes in eating habits, irritability, being a bit dominated by the other birds more than would normally happen could all mean something is not quite right.

You can usually tell when a hen is about to start laying . She will get a bit of a humpy look to her stance and her dropping will become large and runny. She should however still be eating well and generally be in good health. This is the time to make extra sure you hen has a fresh and plentiful supply of calcium to replace what she uses up laying her eggs. If a bird is egg bound ( unable to pass the egg) she may go down to the floor of the aviary and appear in some distress. The first thing to do if this occurs is to keep the bird warm and administer a liquid calcium supplement such as Calcium Sandoz by mouth. If you are unsure of what to do or the bird doesn't seem to be responding contact your avian vet immediately.

Sexing your birds can be made easier by some careful observation of their behaviour. Young males will start to show tell tale signs of the first throaty whistles at quite a young age, but it is easy to miss if you aren't watching. It is best to observe them from a distance and don't stare at them or they will stop doing it. If you can't tell which one is making the noise look at their tails for a tell tale slight movement in time with the whistle. Once you have an idea a particular bird might be a male you can either shift him to a different aviary and continue to observe the rest of his siblings or make a note of his ring number for future reference.

Compatibility is very a important factor in breeding. If you have the opportunity to let your birds select their own partners you will see they have very definite ideas about who they want to be paired with. If you have an aviary with equal numbers of young un-bonded cocks and hens it is quite often the case that one of the hens has the attention of all the males or conversely one of the cock birds has all the young females trailing after him. I don't know what that exactly says about those more popular birds body language to the other birds but I think I'll let you figure it out for yourselves!!

Top of page

Hand Rearing

by Robyn Ashton
It is recommended your first hand rearing experience be in the company of either an avian veterinarian, or, an aviculturist well versed in this process.

Hand-rearing can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be a nightmare if you find yourself in an emergency situation needing to feed abandoned chicks and not having the first clue regarding what to do.
This situation can be avoided with a little bit of forward thinking and also preparation. If you are going to breed birds, at some point you will find yourself in the position of needing to be able to hand-rear a chick or chicks. It could be that the parent birds reject their chicks; you could have a death of one or the other parent birds; or any number of other situations could arise. If you have put some thought into what you will do if an emergency arises, your likelihood of a successful outcome is greatly increased.
Ideally your first experience with hand-rearing should be a pre-planned event. Chicks that may be suitable for pets could be removed from the nest at around 3 weeks of age. You will need to have a suitable container to keep them in, something around the same dimensions as a nest box will suffice at this stage. Shavings or paper towel will need to be replaced daily in the bottom of the box. At 3 weeks of age the chicks will need around 4 feeds per day. These feeds need to be scheduled starting in the morning, lunchtime, around 5pm and the last feed around 9pm. You need to leave around 4 hours between feeds to allow the chicks crops to empty before feeding again. If you are feeding the chick the correct amount it should easily digest it all in 4 hours. If this is not happening, you are either feeding too much or a chick has a problem with its crop and it is not emptying at a normal rate.
It is very important to use a suitable hand rearing food especially designed for parrots. Egg & Biscuit on its own is not a suitable hand-rearing food as it does not contain everything a baby bird needs to grow and flourish. There are several good quality hand-rearing mixes on the market. Roudybush is particularly good and is used by many of the professional "hand-rearers". This product can also be kept (dry) in the freezer for a longer life, which can be very handy when you need some urgently.  You need to follow the manufacturers instructions for feeding but generally the best idea is to mix up the required amount, depending on how many chicks you are feeding, and combine the dry food with some boiled water. Bring the food up to the required temperature and maintain a stable temperature by using the double bowl method (Container with hand rearing mix sitting in a slightly larger container filled with hot water to keep the food at optimum feeding temperature.) Check once you have added the water to the formula that the density is something like a yoghurt consistency. Nice and smooth, but not too thick and not too thin. Method of feeding is really a personal preference, using either a small spoon with bent up sides or a small syringe.
As long as the food gets into the chick without too much ending up all over the place is the main thing. Try to clean up any food that gets onto the feathers as you go along, rather than waiting until its sets rock hard and is difficult to remove. Once you have done a bit of hand feeding, it is something you get a feel for as to the method etc. The most important thing is to get the food to the chick at a good temperature. Food that is too hot will burn the crop, but food that is too cold will also cause problems, with the crop slowing down.
Chicks will often refuse cold food, even if they are hungry. I have always used the method of testing a bit of the mix on the inside of my wrist or to my lip to test the temperature, much as you would with a human baby. This enables you to best decide if the mix is too hot or too cold and adjust accordingly. Generally a chick of around 3 to 4 weeks would eat approx 10mls per feed. It is best not to overfeed as this too can cause crop problems.
From the age of about 4 weeks you will find that the chicks begin to attempt to fly. This would be the stage at which they would leave the nest box if they were still with the parent birds. This is the time that you can move them from their "holding box" into a cage. Once they are in a cage you can start introducing the chicks to seed, water and other foods (while still maintaining their regular hand feeds). Initially they will play with these new foods more so than eat them, but gradually they will get the hang of it and start to become more interested in eating on their own. Also provide the chicks with a calcium supplement such as cuttlebone or a calcium bell.

As the chicks get a bit older, you can gradually decrease the number of feeds and encourage them to start experimenting with other foods like seed, sprouts, greens, sweet corn etc. Millet sprays are also a good way to get young chicks used to eating seeds. Generally from around 4 to 5 weeks, feeds would drop to 3 per day. At around 6 weeks 2 feeds per day, and then hopefully by 7 to 8 weeks they are just about fully weaned and may only need one top up feed each day.  Naturally this can vary from chick to chick so you need to assess each chick's individual needs. Chicks are usually easier to wean if there is more than one, as they learn from each other. If you are trying to wean a single bird you may need to be a bit more creative with things to tempt them to start feeding themselves. If the chick is a bit inclined to just sit on the perch and wait until you bring the next feed along, try removing the perch to encourage the chick to walk around, nearer the food on the floor of the cage. Usually by the time the chick walks through the foods you have provided, it will start to try them and hopefully decide they are worth eating.

Only when you are confident the chick is able to sustain itself without your help, is it considered to be fully weaned.

Emergency Situation Do's & Don'ts.
The biggest mistake people can make is to try and feed a "chilled" chick. Imagine the situation. You find an icy cold chick abandoned by the parents but it is still alive. Its' crop is completely empty so it is really a normal reaction to try and get some warm food into the chick quickly. Unfortunately this is more likely to hasten the chicks' demise rather than help. The correct procedure would be to warm the chick up first, either in a purpose built hospital cage, or if this is not available, some type of warm environment i.e.. a hot water bottle, lamp etc. Be careful not to overheat. Give the chick a small amount of warm water (with some electrolyte solution if available) to assist with rehydration. Once you are confident the chick has returned to a more normal body temperature and is moving around, and hopefully looking to be fed, this is the time to feed it with some nice warm food. Observe how well the chick digests this meal before you feed again. If the crop doesn't appear to be working too well it may be necessary to consult your avian vet.
It is very important when hand feeding chicks to observe good hygiene practices. Utensils need to be thoroughly washed after each feed. Keep the chicks nice and clean, as well as their environment. If you take these simple steps you will avoid many of the problems that may arise through bacterial contamination. The more time and effort you put into the process of hand raising a baby bird, the better the result will be.
Do not rush the weaning process. It is usually counterproductive and this sometimes makes it harder to wean the bird than if you take the time to gradually decrease the hand feeding. Give the chick plenty of time to get used to the idea of feeding itself. Hand-rearing does take time, and is not something you can rush. So before you take on the job, realise the size of the commitment you are making and be prepared to do it for as long as the chick needs your help.

Top of page

The Key to Successful Breeding
Is Good Management

by Robyn Ashton

Whiteface-Lutino Hen & Whiteface-Cinnamon CockAs we approach the year 2000 it would be nice to think that bird management is keeping up with the times and that some of the old, unsatisfactory practices will be left behind in the old century.

One thing I would definitely like to see left behind is the practice of selling baby birds before they are independent and able to feed themselves. Not only is this an extremely cruel thing to do to the baby birds themselves, as most of them endure a slow and painful death by starvation, but it also causes great stress to the unknowing purchaser.

Whiteface-Lutino Hen &
Whiteface-Cinnamon Cock

I started to think about all the main reasons problems occur and in most cases  it usually comes back to shortcomings in management, some of which are quite accidental. I have made a list of the most usual reasons why things go wrong.

UNDERS & OVERS

Under Aged:
Trying to breed birds when they are too young is a sure way to start on the road to disaster. Just think about it this way: a cockatiel under the age of one year is still developing itself. How can it possibly do a good job of hatching and rearing a batch of chicks when it is still needing all of it's energy to grow into a mature bird?

Underfed:
Once again, it is an awful lot to ask of a pair of birds to produce and raise a clutch of healthy chicks if you are not prepared to put the effort into providing them with sufficient nourishment in the form of good seed, soft food, greens and clean, fresh water every single day.

Under Weight:
You may be feeding your birds an excellent diet but they still don't appear in good condition. Why? Look for the reasons it may be worms it may be illness, but whatever the reason, don't ignore it, check it out. And don't let them breed until you are sure they are in top condition.

Under Achievers:
This is a fault with neither the birds nor the bird keeper. Sometimes, a bird or pair of birds just won't fulfil your idea of what they should be. Just look at dogs or cats or people, there will always be some that are not going to be good breeders. You can try different partners this may help but if not maybe the bird will make a good show bird or just a pretty inhabitant of your aviary.

Overcrowded:
This can cause a myriad of problems, from feather plucking to interference with nests (in a colony breeding situation). You will also find the more dominant birds will monopolise the food creating the environment for weak birds. It comes back to common sense, don't breed or buy more that you have the room and the time to look after.

Over Bred:
Cockatiels are such willing breeders that sometimes they have to be regulated to avoid them becoming tired and calcium deficient. Don't let them breed repeatedly; take the nestbox away and give them a long break between breeding seasons.

Over Stressed:
I never ceased to be amazed at the stressful environments that birds are placed in and then expected to breed prolifically. It is very stressful for the birds to be placed in a location where there is a lot of noise and activity, never allowing them the chance to feel relaxed and calm about the safety of their nest site. And they should never be in a situation where they are under constant attack from other birds, dogs, cats or birds of prey.

Overweight:
When you are trying to do the best for your birds, sometimes you can do a bit too much of a good thing. Overweight birds have the same problems as overweight people. Strain on the heart and lack of exercise can contribute to less-than-successful results. Don't overfeed the birds, and make sure they are able to get plenty of exercise.

Overproduction:
Overproduction leads to overcrowding, so be sure you aren't breeding just for the sake of breeding. Think about numbers, where you are going to house them or whether you actually be able to sell them. Overproduction affects everyone because if the numbers become too great, it spoils it for everyone.

Over Anxious Owners:
We've all been there, hovering in anticipation of that first chick to hatch. Sometimes, though, too much interference can do exactly what you are trying to avoid. Checking the chicks every five minutes to make sure they are still alive only serves to put unnecessary strain on the parent birds, who must wonder what on earth you are doing, sticking your head in their nest. Don't anticipate problems that may never happen. You should do your job and let the birds do theirs.

It seems to me that successful breeding is based on good old common sense and quite a lot of hard work. You don't have to be particularly clever to get a pair of birds to breed, but you do have to be pretty smart to know how to give them everything they need prior to and during breeding, and to know when to stop breeding and reassess where you want to go with your birds.

Top of page

What Makes a Good Breeding Bird?
Part 1

by Mike Anderson all rights reserved

Breeding Pair of Cinnamon Cockatiels
Breeding Pair of Cinnamon Cockatiels

Question: What Makes A Good Breeding Bird?
Usually a lot of effort by two parties the seller and the buyer
and a bit of luck! A lot of people tend to overlook the important contribution of the latter party.
If you purchase a healthy bird from fertile stock with good parenting qualities, you have achieved a part of the equation by owning a bird with good potential. Here ends the seller’s contribution! The rest is up to the skills and resources of the buyer, and that important element of luck. But assuming that the buyer purchases a healthy bird with good potential, what are some of the things that can go wrong?

1/ The pairings are not very compatible, resulting in one or more of the following situations: an unwillingness to breed at all; or one bird makes an effort but is not well supported by the other; and/or the pair goes through the motions but do a poor job – they just don’t make a good team

2/  When the nestbox is introduced, the hen is keen to breed but the cock is not ready, and before he starts to work the box she has already laid eggs. When this happens, although the eggs may be fertile, the cock normally will not incubate.

3/ The cock works the box but the hen won’t go through the entrance hole even though it’s large enough. Eggs on the floor of the cage are often a sign of this being the case. Some hens require an extra-large entrance hole, and some will only enter the box through the top (you need to take the lid off). In the wild, cockatiels often nest in broken tree limbs, the entrance of which may be the same dimension as the nesting cavity.

4/ For no obvious reason the pair is not happy with some aspect of the new environment and just will not breed, despite there being no problem with other birds breeding in that establishment.

5/ The birds go to nest and all seems well but they suddenly abandon their eggs before hatching. Possible causes are red mites (you might not see them), night frights, irregular food supply, insecurity, e.g. other birds worrying them, disturbances from rodents, possums, etc or too much human interference.

6/ The birds seem to be incubating well but the eggs appear to be infertile or dead in the shell. The hen may have had a night fright that you are unaware of and left the nest long enough for the embryos to die. If the embryos are in the early stages of development, the eggs will appear as if they were infertile, otherwise they will present as dead in shell.

7/ The chicks seem to be doing well but one day you find that they have all died for no apparent cause. This can happen particularly in cold weather with small chicks, if the hen gets a night fright and leaves the nest.

Another variation of the above is when chicks become chilled but don’t die and the parents won’t feed them. Cold chicks will not feed – they must be warmed up first. Once a chick has become cold and lethargic, it won’t beg for food from the parents and the parents won’t feed young that don’t respond with the usual begging routine. This is nature’s way of ensuring the most vigorous birds survive. It is futile to blame the birds for not feeding their chicks when they are just responding to natural instincts.

8/ The parents do a poor job of feeding their chicks or even abandon them. It may be that the food supply is inadequate or irregular. Birds are creatures of routine and are stimulated to breed well when conditions are right and there is a good food supply. In the wild, birds may abandon nests when continuity of food supply is not good. The most successful breeders provide their birds with a good supply of suitable rearing food on a routine and consistent basis. It is also important to educate breeding stock to eat the correct rearing food before they have chicks, otherwise they may just ignore it. This is just one example of the many reasons why cockatiels may neglect their offspring.

9/ The parents attack and injure young in the nest. Birds are capable of getting angry and frustrated and venting their emotions on their young (just like some people). Too much human interference or distractions that upset the bird’s routine and sense of security can cause this.

10/ Sometimes, young birds just get it wrong through lack of experience or perhaps because the cock is not sexually mature and the eggs are infertile. When this happens the birds can get themselves into a negative breeding cycle where one problem leads to another and all their efforts are unproductive. Skilled intervention at this point may quickly put the birds into a positive routine where their efforts are rewarded and they more rapidly acquire positive incubation and parenting skills. Two examples of dealing with this problem are given here:

11/ The cock is not sexually mature and the eggs are infertile but the parents are incubating. If possible, give these birds some fertile eggs to foster. They will then rear chicks and be in a positive routine, and next time the fertility will probably be right.

12/ The eggs are fertile and the hen is sitting well whilst the cock is on and off the nest all the time, though after a week or two he settles down. Unfortunately, the embryos all died in the first week! However, if the breeder has the resources, it is a good idea to either place their eggs in an incubator or under other birds whilst at the same time giving the young pair some infertile eggs to sit on until they settle into a steady incubation pattern. Once they are settled and incubating well, their original eggs can be returned and no harm has been done (it may be helpful to keep a few infertile eggs on hand for such purposes).

These examples illustrate a few of the problems that may be encountered when breeding cockatiels. Such problems do not necessarily mean that the individual birds involved are destined to be poor parents or breeders. It is not at all unusual for some top breeding birds to get off to a shaky start with their early nests. If we are experiencing problems and we characteristically blame the birds, bad luck, the seller and whatever else comes into mind, we are overlooking our own important contribution in providing the optimum environment, conditions and management required to assist the birds in realising their full breeding potential.

THE ART OF SUCCESSFUL BREEDING IS TO

Start out with healthy birds from good, proven breeding lines and then bring out the best in them. It is this second point that is the main challenge for us as breeders to achieve. Experience, skill, intuition and resourcefulness will always be rewarded with achieving overall good results.

Top of page

What Makes a Good Breeding Bird?
Part 2

by Mike Anderson All Rights Reserved

Normal Cockatiel CockIn Part 1, I discussed some of the difficulties that can be experienced in the normal course of breeding with potentially good birds. In this part I will highlight some of these points with experiences I have encountered over the years.

Three examples come to mind which highlight the importance of compatibility. The first was a whiteface cock that I had tried with two different partners. He was quite prepared to mate and his eggs proved to be fertile. However, he was completely uninterested in entering the nestbox, let alone incubate.

Normal Cockatiel Cock

For two seasons he just adorned the aviaries, being unwilling to breed and, consequently, unsaleable. In the third season I had a spare hen and gave him another chance. They just clicked! He began working the nestbox and thereafter became a model partner and parent. Whilst this above bird redeemed himself after being given an acceptable mate, the next example shows a similar problem from the opposite perspective.

This pairing involved a split whiteface cock and a whiteface hen. Neither had bred before, and in their first two nests together they produced 15 chicks from 15 eggs. Both incubated and parented perfectly (I fostered a few chicks to reduce their load). After giving them a good break, I attempted to re-mate these two "super birds" with partners that would enhance the range of colours I could produce. The hen took to her new partner quite well and continued to be very productive and to display excellent parenting qualities. However, the cock was a great disappointment with his new mate. His standards really dropped and his poor incubation and parenting efforts resulted in very few chicks being produced. He just wasn't the same bird in this new union!

The third example is that of an albino hen that I sold as a juvenile. The new owner was convinced the bird was no good because it was not interested in its partner and had not bred for him. I was confident there was nothing wrong with the bird and that the problem was a management one. To prove a point I bought the bird back at 14 months of age and set about getting it to breed. As compatibility seemed to have been the problem, I put it by itself in one side of a double suspended, and put two young cocks that had never bred before in the adjoining side. By the end of the first week there were signs of a budding romance developing between the hen in question and one of the two potential suitors strategically placed next door.

Week 2 saw the young hen and her potential mate together in the same cage getting to know each other a little better. Week 3 saw the introduction of a nest box, and eggs were produced by the end of week 4. They hatched and reared 4 chicks and went on to become a productive and reliable breeding pair. The same hen was later sold and continued to breed quite successfully with a new partner.

This last example deals with a pair of birds of proven compatibility and breeding willingness, but which were very particular about environmental factors. We've all heard stories of pairs that wouldn't breed, no matter what was done for them, but then obliged the new owners after being sold off, or given away out of sheer frustration. Well my story is slightly different in that these birds bred well for me but wouldn't oblige in their next environment.

The subject birds are a pied hen and a cinnamon cock that have legendary status in my aviaries. In their first 9 nests (over a period of 3 years), they laid 54 eggs and produced 52 chicks -- all parent-incubated and reared. After being rested for 9 months, I lent these birds to a fellow aviculturist as a favour to help boost his breeding stock. Although the birds went to an establishment with suspended breeding cages and nestboxes very similar to what they were used to, they just would not breed. No amount of cajoling, changing cages and nestbox positions could get them to change their minds!

Eventually they were sent home in disgrace with their reputation in tatters. However, home had changed. Whilst they had been away holidaying, we had moved from a 24-perch suburban block to 2.5 acres and had built new cages. Their new home environment and cage was different again, but that did not stop them from laying within 2 weeks of their return. Since then, they have continued to impress with their willingness to breed and to produce exceptional results.

If we think back on these examples, it appears fairly clear that environmental factors and partner compatibility can play an important role in the breeding performances of our birds. Remember, in captivity our birds usually have little choice in these matters and it is up to us to provide the conditions that bring out the best in them. Sometimes this might mean making changes to partner selection, cage or nestbox design and location, or attending to diet or health problems.

Top of page

What Makes a Good Breeding Bird?
Part 3

by Mike Anderson all rights reserved

Lacewing Platinum-Pearl Hen In this third and final part of what makes a good breeding bird, I will outline examples of problems that might be encountered, such as red mites and chicks becoming chilled, as well as relate some of my experiences of the ways in which cockatiels react when their sense of security is threatened.

At some stage or another most aviculturists have experienced red mite invasion in a nest of chicks.

When this happens the mites become very obvious, as their numbers build up and they swarm all over the youngsters. However, regular nest inspection usually identifies the problem before any real harm is done.

Lacewing Platinum-Pearl Hen

When birds are incubating, however, regular nest inspection is not always appropriate and red mite invasion not necessarily so obvious, though the effects can be quite devastating.

About four years ago I was breeding with a usually reliable and productive whiteface cock and split whiteface hen. My first disappointment with them came when they abandoned a clutch of eggs for no apparent reason just before they were due to hatch. On that particular occasion I just removed the nestbox with the eggs inside, placed it in an old shed and forgot about it.

Some time later the same thing happened again. Except this time I removed the eggs before taking the box out. In doing so, I disturbed the nesting material and thus discovered an infestation of red mites hidden under the litter.

In this particular situation, the mite infestation that had driven the birds from the nest could have easily gone undetected as they had previously, and the birds labelled as unreliable incubators. Their reluctance to incubate and abandonment of nest is quite understandable, given the level of discomfort they must have been experiencing.

These days I always put carbaryl powder under the nesting material when setting up the box, and have not had the same problem since. Skatta 7 and Garden King European Wasp and Flea Kill are suitable for this purpose.

Chicks and eggs often become chilled when the hen leaves the nest during a night fright. When doing the rounds of my aviaries one quite cold morning, it became apparent from the extra feathers around the cages and the look of the birds that they had experienced night fright.

The signs were ominous when a pair of birds with very young chicks were both off the nest. A nest inspection revealed that all the chicks were cold and apparently lifeless. At first I assumed they were all dead and continued with the morning feeding routine.

A little later, second thoughts and a subsequent inspection revealed that the chicks were not actually dead, though they were cold and quite lifeless. After warming and reviving them, they were fed, placed back in the box, and the cock took over the parenting duties for the day. However the hen had lost interest in her maternal role, and the chicks had to be taken down to the house at night to feed and keep warm. In the morning they were placed back in the nest for the cock to take care of.

This arrangement continued for three days until the hen resumed her duties. On the third evening she entered the box to brood her offspring, and from then on there were no more problems. It is important to know that cold chicks must always be warmed up first before feeding because their digestive systems will slow down, and feeding them in this conditions will cause problems. Moreover, cold chicks in the nest appear lethargic and parents will not feed them.

In the above example, the hen's initial response to being frightened from the nest during the night was to abandon the nest. Without human intervention this nest would have been lost once the hen’s sense of security and routine had been upset.

We don’t always have the opportunity to respond in a timely way, and the reason for birds neglecting their parental responsibilities is not always as obvious as it was in this case. The point is, there is often an understandable and logical explanation for why birds fail to parent, but many times the reason is not always apparent to the aviculturist.

Learning more about our birds, their needs and the likely problems that they encounter in any particular apicultural environment, allows for appropriate preventative and remedial measures to be implemented, and is often the fine line between breeding disasters and breeding successes.

Top of page

Return to Articles Index

CONTACT DETAILS

The Australian National Cockatiel Society
P.O. Box 1248
Fortitude Valley Qld 4006
Australia

secretary@cockatielsociety.org.au

{COPY RIGHTS 2004 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED} 
Australian National Cockatiel Society Inc
See our Copyright Notice for information contained on this site

Australian National Cockatiel Society would like to thank their generous sponsors..

 

Please help us by supporting

them!

CLICK HERE TO VIEW OUR SPONSORS!