It is perfectly acceptable to use an incubator or any other type of electric "surrogate mother," particularly in the case of rare and expensive species. Most incubators should be kept at 99.5 degrees F. It is a costly loss to the aviculturist when a brood is lost due to the death of the female. In addition to the financial side, which is certainly a relevant issue to the professional breeder, man can use artificial means such as incubators in an effort to prevent extinction of rare species, which must, no doubt, be considered as the most important issue of all: basically man restoring what man has upset. These electric machines have saved many a species from extinction. I am thinking in particular of a few very valuable Australian parakeet species that would most definitely have become extinct had it not been for these mechanical mothers.
Unfortunately, it happens far too often that the female does not return to the nest to hatch the eggs she has just laid. This lack of desire to hatch her eggs can be caused by several factors. Feeding and housing seem to have an important influence on this desire. If these two requirements are up to par, we will seldom experience the female's unwillingness to hatch her eggs. However, it happens in the best of aviaries with the best of care. In most cases, the female will start sitting on the eggs after the third egg has been laid. If we see that the female has not started to sit on them after the third (and sometimes fourth) egg, we must take swift action if the eggs are to be saved. When the clutch is complete, but the female is no longer interested in them, carefully remove the eggs and put them in a cool place. There they will remain unspoiled for ten to twelve days, perhaps longer. It is not normally necessary to keep the eggs of any length of time, but I imagine that a breeder might want to know how long eggs may be kept. We could place the eggs under another brooding female, but the clutch might become too big and we could end up losing both broods. An incubator, then, is the only solution.
Personally, I place the eggs of a female who will not hatch them in my incubator when another female (possibly of same species) begins to have a clutch of her own. After six days we place all the eggs into the machine, including the clutch that belongs to the prospective foster parents, all unfertilised eggs are destroyed and replaced with good eggs from the machine (I am speaking of the eggs of the female that is willing to sit). Obviously, we do not just place the eggs in her nest, but wait for an opportune moment, such as when she leaves the nest for a few minutes to stretch her wings or perhaps when she is being fed nearby by the male. It is helpful to know that often species that are totally unrelated but of roughly the same size will adopt one or two foster children, however, it is wiser if we choose the same species to be foster parents. Red-rumped parakeets, incidentally, are excellent foster parents. More than once bird breeders have discovered that a nest of young birds that were hatched by parakeets actually consisted of four or more different species! Another good foster parent for smaller species, as well as red-rumped parakeets and paradise parakeets, is Bourke's parakeet, while Rosella species are good foster parents for all sorts of Rosella varieties. Even Lovebirds, Budgerigars, and Cockatiels can serve as foster parents for the smaller parakeet varieties. Lovebirds make excellent foster parents for Rosellas, Bourke's, Elegants, Turquoise, and similar parrots, while Budgies are only fairly good for Turquoise parrots. Quite a few breeders have separate pairs that are used exclusively as foster parents and which have never raised a clutch of their own. My experience here is that the best results are obtained with pairs that have never hatched and reared their own clutch or perhaps have only hatched their eggs.
This is particularly the case with Cockatiels. Regardless, be prepared to take a risk, as the chances of success or failure are sometimes only 50-50. After checking out the eligible foster parents, we come to the actual use of the machine. Personally, I have the most success with a smaller model electric incubator that is equipped with a horizontal egg tray made of fine wire. A piece of jute covers the wire so that the young chicks will not end up with their feet sticking through the wire, which could result in broken legs or feet. The breeding apparatus is heated with warm air that blows onto the eggs and goes out through the ventilation opening(s) located at the bottom or one of the sides of the machine. The temperature immediately above the eggs is approximately 39 degrees Celsius. I have the best results with a constant temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius. (105 F). A thermostat regulates the temperature. If the unit does not already come with a thermometer we should purchase one to check if the unit is working at the proper temperature. The thermometer should be placed just above the eggs against one of the sides so that the little mercury bulb is at the same level as the eggs. An incubator unit has double walls for insulation purposes to provide an even heat. I recommend the use of an ether capsule thermostat, since it is the most sensitive, hence the most accurate, the BI-metallic thermostat is not as sensitive, although quite popular due to its sturdiness.
I am sure that most of us have heard at one time or another that birds turn their eggs several times per day, for obvious reasons. Since we do not have a bird in the incubator to do this for us, we have to do it ourselves. Don't worry that the opening of the door will cool off the eggs too much, in fact, this breath of fresh air is even good for the proper growth of the egg. We should turn the eggs twice a day, in the morning around eight o'clock (so before you leave for work), and at night around nine o'clock. At these times also make sure that there is enough water in the water container at the bottom of the unit. This is imperative for the successful hatching of the eggs, without the proper humidity, the eggs will dry up inside. Many people use a hygrometer, which is a device to measure the moisture in the air, I consider this precaution a little far-fetched and certainly not necessary. Exercise caution when turning the eggs...perhaps a plastic spoon may be useful in this delicate operation. Once the eggs begin to show peck-marks or are ready to hatch, you can place them under a brooding hen, her own clutch should be removed and is generally regarded as lost, but we can, of course place them in the incubator too, so that we have made, so to speak, a complete circle. If we have more mating pairs, we can distribute the hen's eggs among them, assuming that these pairs have all started to brood at around the same time.
This is why we should mark everything, so that a control can be made without to much trouble. Our unit can also serve as well in the event that a hen suddenly deserts her nest, even when we do not become aware of this until several hours later. Parakeet eggs can endure more than ordinarily supposed. Many eggs are lost too, because the nesting box was too dry and the young had great difficulty in coming out of the egg, suffocating to death. To prevent this, we should always make sure that the bottom layer of a nest consists of moist turf on which we can spread large wood shavings or other materials. As you can see, humidity plays an important role in the success of a brood. However, occasionally a parakeet messes up the nesting material (or completely rid the nest of it) in such a way that the eggs end up in a completely dry nest cavity, as was reported by Dr. Groen in his excellent book Australian Parakeets. Some species can survive this dry condition, but most unfortunately, will be lost. The problem of moving or throwing out the nesting materials can be solved in nesting boxes that have double bottoms by drilling some holes in the upper bottom and placing a dish of water on the second bottom. Firmly pressing some grass sod in the nest box may help also, though the first method is superior to the second.
Possible problems with incubating eggs
If the birds hatch too soon, the temperature may be set too high.
If they hatch after their due date, the temperature may be too low.
If the birds die in the shell, the temperature may be too low or you do not have the proper moisture amount.
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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.