Breeding Behaviour – How and Why to Discourage It

Unless you are an experienced breeder I strongly discourage allowing your birds to breed for several reasons. There is already an excess in available Cockatiels in Australia and too many that need rescuing.  We don’t need more people adding to this. Furthermore, because our fids are often taken from their parents at a very young age and never get to see other birds being parents, they do not know how to properly parent their young. This means owners will often need to step in and start hand raising the babies. This is extremely time consuming (very young will need feeding every 2 hours day and night), expensive (you’re not going to sell any mutation for more than what you spent on all the food and equipment), and dangerous and life-threatening to the young as they can easily die from improper feeding practices.

Even breeding and nesting behaviour alone (without babies) can cause many behavioural and health issues in our pets – from becoming aggressive, to chronic egg laying and egg binding (which can both be fatal), to feather plucking.  Please follow these essential steps to discourage breeding and breeding behaviour as much as possible to ensure your birds are happy and healthy.

Unlike cats and dogs who have been domesticated over thousands of years, the natural instincts in parrots are still their strongest drivers. This ranges from their natural fear instinct to fly away at sound of the drop of an anything, to searching for the perfect nest for their next clutch of babies. This is why even breeding behaviour (especially when directed at a human or any object other than a bird of the same species) is something to be discouraged.

In the wild breeding season starts towards the end of spring so that when the chicks are born the weather is nice and warm, but not too hot. In captivity, if given the right stimulants, pet birds can breed all year round.

The process of laying eggs is very draining for hens (females/mums). They must be given plenty of fresh foods, access to fresh water, calcium and other nutrients. Even if provided with all the necessities, hens can still become egg-bound or create soft-shelled eggs, or suffer from chronic egg laying. The results of these are – at the least, extreme pain – and at the worst, death. Due to the extreme toll egg-laying takes on a hen, every time she lays a clutch, time is taken off her life. A hen should not lay more than 12 eggs in a year (see A Word from a Breeder below).

I cannot discourage breeding, or breeding behaviour, enough. It is your responsibility as their owner to protect your birds from these mental and physical dangers. Below are some suggestions for how to limit breeding and nesting (behaviours) to ensure a healthy environment for your fid:

 

  • REARRANGE THEIR ENVIRONMENT

    Ideally you should be rearranging their cage (and even the room if possible) every month. This includes swapping or getting new branches so they remain rough for the ‘tiels to sharpen their beaks and claws on and even pull of bits of bark (bottle brush is great for this!). This helps keep their minds stimulated and prevents boredome, and works as an early preventative to nesting behaviour. If the birds don’t feel like they have a safe, comfortable place to raise their babies then they won’t. (That’s not to say make them feel anxious, but don’t let them feel so comfortable that they know the set-up like the back of their claws). For a list of safe trees to use, please view the link at the bottom of this entry.

  • NEVER PET/TOUCH THEIR BODIES!

    Did you know not to pat your bird anywhere other than its head and sometimes neck? The rest of the body is erogenous and they will likely get angry and broody if you pat them there. Hens will show that they are turned on by doing a sort of ‘dance’ and making clucking-type noises. Birds (male or female) may also start regurgitating if they are developing an unhealthy/romantic relationship with you. If your ‘tiels are doing either of these then you need to take immediate action to stop it!
    You are their parent, not their mate!

  • WHAT NOT TO DO (THE FEMALE ‘MATING DANCE’)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRH1vCxPZ38
  • LIMIT FOOD

    You can always add more later in the day if they eat it all.  The aim is not to reduce their food intake but make them think less is available. If there is not enough food to feed their young they won’t have any.

  • CHANGE FOOD

    Reduce/eliminate as much fatty foods as possible – sunflower seeds, nuts, etc.

  • REDUCE DAYLIGHT HOURS

    Aim to give increase their sleeping hours from 12-14 to 14-16.  If this is not practical, at least make it seem like night-time for 16 hours (close the blinds, turn on a lamp, cover the cage, etc)

  • ELIMINATE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE CONSIDERED A NEST

    Dark corners; empty tissue boxes/takeaway food bags; under bed sheets/towels; upside down laundry baskets, etc. Their number one goal is to breed so you’ll be surprised with what they can come up with!

  • PUTTING A GRATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CAGE

    Ideally Cockatiels shouldn’t have a grate at the bottom and just newspaper (or other safe substance) so it is gentle on their feet. But if your birds are burrowing under the newspaper and/or shredding it to bits then it’s time to break the habit by placing a barrier over the top (eg the cage grate)

  • PROVIDE PLENTY OF ENTERTAINMENT

    Native flora (Bottle Brush, Gumtrees & Eucalyptus, Banksias, Grass Seeds, Grass, etc. Check the link at the bottom of the entry for a list of safe plants); foraging toys; play gyms; home-made toys; toys from pet stores (NO ROPES!) or from local independent providers.

  • HORMONE INJECTIONS / IMPLANT

    If you’ve tried all of the above and your bird is still exhibiting breeding/nesting behaviours, it’s time to seriously consider getting hormone injections or an implant. Remember, if your bird is displaying these behaviours it’s not alone. They will have things going through their minds. No one will ever truly know what would be going through their mind, but it’s widely accepted that they will at least be feeling frustrated from lack of appropriate response from a (cockatiel) mate, or if they have a mate but the hen isn’t laying eggs – frustration from not having babies.
    Over time the frustration associated with breeding behaviour can result in further issues, including feather plucking which can be expensive and/or impossible to resolve.

 

A WORD FROM A BREEDER:

Laying eggs takes a lot out of your hen and she needs to recover those lost vitamins and minerals with a really great diet with a huge variety of fresh foods. Our hens are allowed to lay two clutches a year of usually up to six eggs so that 12 eggs over twelve months. In between that we give her a break so her body has had a good long time (a whole year even) to recover what she lost. Also if her eggs have a streaky or uneven texture or appearance it means she is getting way too low in the necessary minerals. Make sure she has no cosy places in her cage that might look like a nest. Also make sure she gets a full 12-14 hours of undisturbed sleep at night and concentrate on that good diet.

 

EXTERNAL RESOURCES

As usual I refer you to Cockatiel Cottage for more information. This website is a fantastic source for all information on Cockatiels.

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