Courtship and Mating:
By their courtship behaviour you can tell when two birds have accepted each other. Courtship behaviour, or courtship display, is the collective term for all behaviour leading up to the actual mating. Parakeets make charming pairs. They often sit together, preen each other, and rub beaks. It is the male who initiates the mating by going through his courtship display to arouse the female sexually. Both are sitting close to each other, and the male starts singing to his beloved while puffing up the feathers on his head and throat. As he sings he moves away from the female a couple of inches, then moves closer again and taps his bill against hers several times in succession. This performance is repeated several times with growing excitement, visible in the rapid bobbing of the head. The pupils of the eyes are narrowed, and the plumage on head and throat is still puffed up.

Two Budgies in mating position.

Feeding the female is part of the male's courtship display. The bills of the two birds are hooked together at right angles as the male chokes up food from his crop. This display feeding--which is part of the mating ritual in many bird species----serves the purpose of pacifying the female and also allows the male to stay next to her and, if possible, to mount her. Females are often aggressive toward males before the courtship display or try to flee, and the ritual feeding calms their fear and aggressiveness. If the male's wooing is successful, the female assumes the copulating position. She looks almost transfixed, with the head thrown back, the head feathers slightly puffed, the wings held close, and the tail feathers raised up in the air. (She does not change her position during mating.) This stance is a signal for the male to mount the female. But first he hesitates a moment. Then he approaches her from the side at a right angle, cautiously lifts one leg, and then briefly stands on her back on one foot. After this "foreplay" he climbs up with both legs, lowers his tail, and moves back and forth sideways. Since the tail feathers of the female are raised high, the cloacas of the two birds can touch. Now the male spreads one wing over the female and executes the copulating motions.

To my knowledge this spreading of the wing over the female is unique among birds. Presumably this posture helps both partners keep their balance during mating, for young and inexperienced parakeets often lose their balance. The difficulties usually arise in the first phase of copulation, either when the male mounts the female or when he tries to press his cloaca against hers. Before falling off, the male often tries to right himself by hooking his bill into the female's. Usually these difficulties are overcome after a few tries, generally after the first or second day. Difficulties sometimes persist, however, if the birds have been kept singly too long or are wrongly imprinted.

Difficulties could also be due to perches that are too smooth. Partnerless males still engage in display behaviour, courting surrogates such as a shiny holder of a water dish or other objects sticking out from a wall. Courtship behaviour is stimulated in parakeets primarily by factors such as diet and the presence of nesting boxes, as well as the company of other parakeets, so that there is usually no problem inducing this behaviour in birds kept under optimal conditions in an aviary. Occasionally a single pair of parakeets refuse to show any interest in mating even though the setup seems perfect.

This is because parakeets naturally live in flocks and the presence of other pairs stimulate sexual behaviour. Laboratory examinations have shown that the testes and ovaries are larger in birds that could see and hear other pairs than in ones that had no contact with other birds. (Testes and ovaries produce the substances that trigger courtship behaviour. To encourage a reluctant pair to mate, introduce a second pair of birds. But please make sure the cage is spacious enough. If it is not, you may be able to borrow a pair of parakeets (in their own cage) from an acquaintance until your own birds are started on the mating cycle. Once your birds have raised brood this difficulty is taken care of for good. If you need to borrow birds, borrow them form a breeder who also wants to stimulate his birds to breed. This way when he gets them back they will be ready to breed for him. Courtship comprises a whole complex of behaviour patterns that ultimately lead to the mating of two birds. The parakeet male has to do a lot of wooing before he wins his mate. In a flock of birds both the males and the females are free to choose partners on the basis of individual preference. If a bird is kept singly and the owner introduces a new bird of the opposite sex, the course toward pair bonding progresses from mutual tolerance to gradual acquaintance to overtures of greater closeness on the part of the male to a generally positive response of the female and with some luck finally to actual mating. But not all couples placed together will end up mating. Many bird couples exist in harmony for years and go through many phases of courtship behaviour but never reach the natural goal of producing young they fail to get into breeding condition.

Feeding the Partner:
Normally the only birds that beg for food are young birds still under parental care. But occasionally females will beg food from males. These females repeatedly open their bills and emit sharp but not very loud chirps that resemble the begging calls of young birds. I have never seen a male begging from a female. Begging and feeding seem to strengthen the bond between two partners the way mutual head scratching does. Both types of behaviour are practised outside the mating and breeding cycle. While the birds are raising young the male always brings food to the female. During the courtship period however, or when the male is feeding the female to strengthen pair bonding, there is often no real passing of food. The birds are only rubbing bills. In these situations the male does not bring up food from his crop but only acts as if he wants to feed his mate.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca