HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.



BREEDING COCKATIELS

Cockatiels are not difficult to breed and raise if they are provided a comfortable large flight in a quiet place and given a well-balanced and nourishing diet to promote good breeding condition. I have raised hundreds of these birds through the years and their obviously happy contentment and willingness to breed in captivity makes the cockatiels a delightful and indispensable part of my bird collection. They are peaceful birds, being not at all aggressive, and will not harm even the smallest finch. I do not recommend keeping cockatiels or attempting to breed them in an aviary with any other species birds because the more aggressive species will injure or kill them and the presence of any birds will distract them from nesting duties. Cockatiels may be cage-bred or they may be bred in colonies. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods and individual must decide which of these methods of breeding is most practical for him or her, according to the circumstances. There are obvious advantages to cage-breeding. One can keep very accurate and detailed records of various matings and offspring and can quite easily determine whether or not a particular bird is a steady, dependable breeder. Any fault or illness is quickly discernible to the person who cage-breeds his birds. There are also disadvantages to this method of breeding which should be taken into consideration. Many times cockatiels just will not accept the mates which we choose for them as they like to select their own naturally and much time can be lost during the breeding season if they are slow to go to nest. Females tend to become overly fat when confined to small cages and the diet must be supervised carefully or there is the possibility that the eggs will be infertile. Very often, the female will become egg-bound due to lack of exercise. Occasionally, an egg-bound hen can be saved if quick measures are taken, but many times irreparable damage has been done and a good breeder lost. Cockatiels are strong flyers and just must have adequate space in which to exercise, otherwise, they cannot be maintained in proper condition for breeding and rearing young.

I colony breed all of my cockatiels very successfully and recommend this method if one has the space and wishes to breed several pair. Colony breeding is very practical for those who are on a busy schedule as very little time each day is required to take care of them, and of course, cleaning is limited to one pen. These birds are friendly to each other in colonies and I have often watched a male feeding babies other than his own. The worst that ever happens in the breeding room is an occasional harmless argument over a nestbox which may delay the nesting for a day or so. I have never had to remove a pair from the breeding room. The best way to begin with cockatiels is to locate a reliable person who is well known for raising quality breeding stock and select youngsters which can be kept together in a large flight so the birds will grow used to each other and eventually choose their mates. When the birds are a year old remove any extra males or females, leaving only pairs in the pen and put up the nestboxes, allowing one extra box so the birds can pick and choose their homesite. Put a 3-inch layer of sawdust or shavings into each box. One should not expect great results the first breeding season since the cockatiels do not reach maturity until the age of two years and will settle down and raise many lovely babies after this age. Vigorous, healthy cockatiels are long-lived and will continue to breed and raise families for at least ten years.

Once a pair is mated never, never separate them because they mate for life and it is a sad sight to see their grief and frustration when separated. If, for some reason, one must separate a mated pair, remove the bird altogether from sight or sound of its mate, for cockatiels will not pair up with another bird as long as they can see or hear their former mate and some will never mate again. Occasionally, because of a tragic accident or illness, a bird will die and the mate will usually be found sitting quietly beside it. When the victim is removed from the pen, the mate will fly wildly about, calling constantly. This behaviour sometimes goes on for days and, to prevent disturbance to other breeding birds, it is wise to remove the distraught bird from the pen and place in a large cage in another area. A new mate should be obtained for the cockatiel as quickly as possible, and the pair should be kept to themselves until they become acquainted. Under no circumstances should this pair be placed in the colony breeding pen until the current season is ended, because the introduction of a strange cockatiel into the pen seems to disrupt all of the nesting activities. If the pair shows signs of mating after a time, then it would be advisable to cage-breed them at this time. If a breeder cockatiel should develop an illness in the colony pen which requires treatment, it should be removed along with its mate to a hospital cage for treatment, since separation from its mate is so upsetting that it is usually more harmful than the ailment. The natural breeding time for cockatiels is spring and autumn, but if a temperature of about 65 to 70 degrees is maintained in the aviary, the birds can be put to work at any time.

These birds should not be allowed to nest during the winter months if no heat is provided, because cold temperatures will cause hens to become egg-bound and tiny babies will chill and die in the nest box. Cockatiels will not brood their young constantly after the babies are 4 or 5 days old and they must huddle together to keep warm. Cockatiels have a great curiosity about everything and it is very amusing to watch them run about investigating all the nestboxes as soon as they are put up. Within a few days the pairs will choose a box and settle down to nesting duties. A clutch of 4 to 8 eggs is laid and both parents take turns incubating the eggs and frequently sit in the nestbox together, arranging eggs and nesting material to suit themselves. Usually the female does the incubating at night and during the day the male incubates the eggs. Eggs are laid every other day and the birds should be disturbed as little as possible during, this period.

I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of teaching the birds to like vegetables, fruit and soft foods. The only way to do this is to offer a small amount each day until they become used to the foods and develop a fondness for them and if roasting ear corn, carrot, whole wheat bread, oat groats, etc. is given to them regularly during their first year, then when babies hatch, they will feed these food to them and one can look forward to a successful breeding season. Cockatiels cannot raise a nestfull of babies on dry seed alone and must have these soft foods BEFORE the eggs hatch in order to produce sufficient crop milk to feed the tiny babies. They are good parents and feed their babies well and when one finds a nest of dead babies it is not usually the fault of the parent bird but, most often, is caused by improper diet. The babies may become chilled and develop digestive problems and cannot eat. When soft foods are not provided, the parents will attempt to fill the little crops with hard seeds until the crops become packed and cannot digest. This causes "hard crop" and, consequently, dead babies in the nestbox. During the breeding season it is absolutely essential that an ample supply of fresh mineral grit, mineral block, oyster shell, cuttlebone charcoal and salt be available to the birds at all times. They will consume quantities of it and all these items are very necessary in their diet to prevent egg-binding and soft-shelled or infertile eggs. The charcoal is beneficial to their digestion and prevents constipation and they need small traces of salt just as humans do which mineral blocks contain. If a little L-shaped frame fashioned of heavy wooden strips is used in one corner of the nestbox, the eggs will not get scattered about and the tiny babies will be kept together also. Many times small babies chill and die when they wander over to a corner of the box away from the parents and become chilled. After the babies grow larger, the frame can be removed from the nestbox.

Baby cockatiels, when first hatched, are not a very beautiful sight except to the owner but it is miraculous and fascinating to see change in their appearance at the age of 4 to 5 weeks. If there are more than 4 chicks in a clutch, the parents must work very hard to keep the little crops full. The male will do most of the feeding and the babies should be checked daily while the parents are off the nest to be sure they are getting enough to eat. Occasionally, it is necessary to foster out one or two to another pair with babies the same size or give a supplemental handfeeding once daily, preferably late afternoon. However, if the parents appear nervous and upset when one is near the nestbox or handling the babies, then it is wise to stay away completely and let them take care of the babies as best they can. At the age of 4 to 5 weeks the babies are full feathered and will begin leaving the nestbox. At this stage of growth they are almost as large as the parent but have a smaller crest and short tail. If the pair is in good condition, frequently the female will begin laying a new clutch of eggs before all the youngsters have left the box but the male will continue to feed them until they are about 8 weeks old. Just as soon the youngsters are observed eating on their own at the feed table, it is advisable to remove them from the breeding pen because if they are left in the pen with their parents some will continue to beg for food and return to the nestbox, thereby distracting the parents from nesting duties with a new clutch of eggs.

During the breeding season, the female begins to look somewhat ragged from sitting on eggs and caring for babies and quite often the male plucks head and neck feathers from his mate during courtship, which does not enhance her appearance. A shallow dish of clean water should always be available to the females for bathing to refresh themselves and also provide moisture for the eggs during incubation. Breeder pairs should not be allowed to raise more than three clutches of babies per season. If no heat is provided for the birds, then the winter months are an ideal time to rest them. Simply remove the nestboxes from the aviary, but leave the pairs together. Many aviculturists band breeder pairs in order that more accurate records might be kept. I use the open, numbered bands and enter the numbers in my record book and I keep an account of offspring produced. Banding enables one to know the age of individual birds and is also an invaluable aid in culling a colony of cockatiels, which must be done occasionally if a bird is sterile or is otherwise unfit for breeding purposes.

Taken from the book "Cockatiels Care & Breeding by Jo Hall"

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.