Eve Spain July 2017
Deciding to breed should be a conscious decision. We prefer people take steps to prevent nesting behavior and breeding. Following some simple steps to discourage egg laying that may become chronic will help prevent unnecessary deaths and vet bills
Simple steps to prevent hormonal behavior
- Decrease daylight hours, (cloak for at least 12-14 hrs sleep)
- Decrease soft food intake
- Decrease vitamin E consumption, (wheat products, nuts & wholegrain, sunflower seeds, introduce more pellets to the diet.)
- Remove happy huts, nest boxes and anything that looks like a nest or dark crevices near your cage or environment
- Change your birds cage around (perches, food bowls etc)
- Move the location of the cage
- Keep your birds distracted and stimulated with some nice big fresh bird safe branches with foliage to chew on; a busy bird is a happy bird! Also a foraging box in the bottom of the cage is hours of fun for them.
- Cockatiels should never be given a nest box unless they are at least 18 months of age, are bonded and mating.
Considerations to make before deciding to breed.
Before you decide to breed please consider
- What are you going to do with the chicks? Cockatiels are prolific breeders.
- Are your birds suitable to breed?
- Do you have the time, energy and resources?
- Do you have the necessary knowledge and support?
- Is your cage set up sufficient? An outside aviary with a flight approximately 2 metres long and 1 metre wide or larger is recommended.
- Are you prepared to intervene?
Having made a conscious decision to breed here are our recommendations on how to breed successfully.
Before attempting to breed please consider do you have the time, energy, resources, knowledge and support including a relationship with your avian vet? Do you have proper cage, proper breeding box, nesting material, brooder, food and feeding utensils? Do you have a plan for the babies? If its a 100% yes to all of the above then you are ready to breed.
The steps for successful breeding starts prior to the start of a new breeding season you should be looking to pair up your birds for the coming season. 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 nest box 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.
Now that you have them sitting on a few eggs it is the time to prepare for the chicks hatching. You will need to start putting extra food, fresh greens, sprouted seed, pellets a big clutch of 5 or 6 chicks will be very demanding. 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, boiled eggs whole grain pasta. We find this extra food to the parents gives our newborns a good start in life.
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.
Steps For Breeding
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 18 months of age. Before you introduce a nesting box your birds should be bonded and mating. 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 right 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 clutch.
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. An outside aviary is our recommendation. 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 sunshine and 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 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.
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.
Start increasing your birds food supply to allow them to build up condition in preparation for the upcoming chicks. Also as we all know how finicky cockatiels they will need be eating a varied well balanced diet prior to breeding. In addition to their normal diet 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 and greens such as silverbeet, broccoli, endive, Sweet corn, carrot.
Of course it goes without saying a good supply of quality seed and pellets, 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.
If you are familiar with your bird's behavior 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.
These parents suffer terribly at our hands during nesting if we constantly handly their chicks by take them out for photo opportunities A bird sees lots of imminent threats and dangers be it household pets or children playing nearbye.
You should be mindful that its not necessary to hand feed to have a tame bird. please do not traumatize your birds by taking their babies away at a couple of weeks old to hand raise. Consider how terribly traumatic it is for them to lose their chicks. Please be as respectful as possible with the parents. They are nest protective remember minimize interruptions and disturbances.
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.
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 dependent 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.
Bird Body Language
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.
Learn to read your birds warning signs, some birds will tolerate you checking on them and their babies some don't and you need to respect that. They are nest protective and they should be. Their relationship will change with you while they are nesting, the nest and the babies come first not you, so they will protect whats theirs from you and by checking too often it makes the parents very nervous and anxious to the point where they will attack their babies, over preen (pluck), maybe not feed them adequately and get so nervous they leave the nest and you have lost your babies,
Even without inspecting the nestbox it is possible to tell by the behavior 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. Here 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 behavior 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!
A more in depth discussion about caring for your chicks