Nest Boxes, Breeding Cages/Furnishings
(Pictures below text).
The Nest Box:
The 1st step is to buy a nest box to place in your spacious cage. The minimum space one pair of parakeets needs to raise young is a cage 24 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 16 inches tall (62 x 30 x 40 cm.) Two or more pairs need a correspondingly larger cage or an aviary. Parakeets brood in cavities, in their native Australia they use cavities in trees. Since they do not build nests but make do with bare cavities, you do not have to supply nesting materials. Pet stores sell nest boxes that suit parakeets. The box should be 7 to 8 inches high, 7 to 8 inches wide, and 10 inches long (14 x 18 x 25 cm.) These measurements are, of coarse, nothing more than guidelines. If you can find only bigger or smaller boxes, choose a larger one where the nestlings will have more room to move around. Also the air circulation is better, which is important for the clutch. The shallow nest hollow should not be directly beneath the entry hole but a little to the side. That way the female will not land on the eggs or nestlings when she hops into the box. Other important features are a landing perch (females prefer boxes with such a perch) and a top that flips up or front that flips down (to make cleaning easier). It is easy to build such a box yourself and very practical if you construct it so that both top and back wall can be removed (a feature not found in commercially available boxes). One researcher has shown convincingly in a scientific study that the size of the entry hole plays a role in whether parakeets accept certain nest boxes. Parakeet pairs were given a choice between boxes with entry holes measuring 1, 1 1/2, and 2 inches (2.5, 3.5, and 5.5 cm), respectively. The females all chose the 1 1/2 inch hole, and observation of parakeets in the wild shows that, they too, if there is a chance, select tree hollows with entries about that size. In my opinion it is better to mount the box outside the cage. Then the birds have full use of the space they are accustomed to, and they are not bothered by the keeper's checking on the eggs. If you want to attach a nesting box on the outside of a cage that does not have a door in the side wall, hang the box directly on the bars with two hooks and nip off a few of the bars with wire cutters so that the birds can slip in unhindered. When the brood has left the nest, simply close off the hole in the wall with some wire mesh.
The cage should be approximately at human eye level so that the contact between keeper and birds is maintained during the brooding period. The cage should not be near a radiator, because it is too dry and warm there and the fertile eggs can dry out. I would recommend letting the birds brood in a well-aired (draft-free!), not too shady room at normal indoor temperatures. This is the most favourable environment for hatching parakeets, even though these birds are remarkably hardy and immune to cold weather. Some breeders have outdoor aviaries and the parakeets have access from their heated shelter to the outdoors. It was exhilarating to watch them bill and coo and go through their courtship displays outdoors even in the deep of winter. The birds were obviously enjoying themselves. This is not to say of course, that you can impose just about anything on your parakeets, as I have, unfortunately seen done by some large-scale breeders who let their birds hatch in dark and dank cellars or in outdoor aviaries without any shelter at all. As in any other profession there are among bird breeders a few unscrupulous individuals who seem to have no sensitivity for the creatures in their charge. If you have several pairs that are going to breed in an aviary you obviously hang the nesting boxes inside the aviary. To avoid conflicts between the females, make sure the boxes are not too close to each other. I find a distance of about five feet between boxes is ideal. If the distance is less than that a strange female may keep perching in front of a box that is already occupied and interfere with the brooding. This is only for those who want to colony breed. The Australian biologist Edmund Wyndham observed in wild parakeets that birds nesting in the same tree got along peacefully as long as the entries to the different tree holes were at least three feet apart. It is also good to have several boxes for every pair to choose from and to hang them as high a possible.
Housing and Furnishings:
Proper housing is of prime importance, next to proper feeding and lighting. If you want to concentrate on raising just a few really top-quality birds, house them as couples in separate breeding cages or mini-aviaries. If you wish, you can put unrelated species of other birds in with them--perhaps one of the smaller Australian grass-parakeets or their relatives. Separate housing is the only way to properly plan, control, and keep accurate records on your birds. Keep an eye on each individual chick and note any observation on a separate index card or other record keeping system. The alternative to breeding individual pairs is communal or 'colony' breeding. If a colony consists of several pairs of healthy birds with the same color mutation, colony breeding is not such a disadvantage. It is harder to provide proper care to all the young, but breeding is done more easily and quickly. Even birds that have been domesticated as long as Budgerigars retain the habits of their wild relations in Australia, which breed in colonies. Well constructed breeding cages for Budgies are available commercially. I prefer models with dimensions of at least 24 inches long (60 cm), 24 inches deep (60 cm), and 20 inches high (50 cm). You can build the basic cage yourself and buy trellised fronts on the market to fit the 24 x 20 inch (60 x 500 cm) dimensions of the home-built cage. You also can buy fronts 12 inches (30cm) high with lengths of 24, 32, 40 and 48 inches (60, 80, 100 and 120 cm). I prefer the 32 inch length.
Cages require preparation. Even if bought new, they should be washed and disinfected thoroughly. Previously used cages also are cleaned, submerged in water with disinfectant, and thoroughly dried out before paint is needed, be sure to use lead-free paint. Get good nest boxes. Best for Budgies are the closed variety with an entrance hole about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter. The minimum inside dimensions are a 6 x 6 inch(l5 x 15 cm) floor with a height of 10 inches (25cm). Cages differ as to access for the breeder. I like the type with a sliding bottom. There also are models with a door on the side or back--or a roof that swings open. The floor of the nest box is completely filled with a nest base that has gradually sloping bowl shape inside it with a diameter of about 5 inches (12cm). In this nest bowl, put a handful of sawdust. Some birds will push this out of the box gradually, while others seem to appreciate it. Wild Budgies also like having rotted wood and similar natural material in their nest holes in most cases.
You can attach the nest box to the inside or outside of the cage. I prefer the outside. Attach it thoroughly, you don't want it to fall down by accident. The vibrations of a truck thundering down your street can spell disaster. Get everything else ready before the breeding season. Complete your records. Check the lighting, heating, and thermostat. Buy your supplies. Hang cuttlebone against the front of the cage near a roost. Stores also carry excellent calcium and iodine blocks for hookbills. prepare a bin for grit and another for water. Also get a couple of stalks of spray millet to hang in the immediate vicinity of the nest opening. The advantage of the millet stalks is that they draw the newly introduced female to the nest box, so that she can become acquainted with it promptly. This is important because she gets introduced to the cage first. Buy a starting supply of food. Be sure you have large enough seed bins. (We use large plastic garbage pails that have a lid that fits tightly in place.) Your birds should never be out of food. They should have enough each day to last till you come home. Remember that you also will soon have young to feed and they will need considerably more food than adults. The youngsters will eat practically half their body weight in food during the work day-sometimes even more. In 24 hours, consumption can even exceed body weight. One female captive Budgie can make more than 100 trips to and from the feedbin in a given day. Do replace food daily, however, to keep it fresh. And get the parents early-on to hatchling food, so that they will give it to their young as soon as they are hatched. Also be sure to make fresh drinking water available daily.
Sample of nest box shown to see inside, and a single breeding cage with nest box attached to outside of cage.
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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.
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