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Considerations Before Breeding

Written by Karine, TaffyWduck

First of all this is the question you should ask yourself before you decide to breed your birds... Why? If your answer consist in a variant of "it's for money", I sadly have to point out that breeding is far from being a lucrative business especially if you consider the amount of work it requires. I would also like to point out that birds have no conscious desire to form a family, the need for social interaction can very well be fulfilled by interaction with you and other birds without ever resulting in breeding.

Here are some things you HAVE to know before you breed your birds, if you go through with breeding and do not consider these points it would be irresponsible and downright dangerous for your birds.

  • Birds should not be bred until they are at least 1.5 years old. 2 years old is ideal.
  • Birds, especially hand tame and people loving pet birds, do not feel the NEED to have babies. While it can be healthy for most birds to have clutches, tame birds will often be lost as to how to care for their young since most of the tame birds themselves have been hand raised by humans have not experienced the care of their own parents.
  • Birds need to be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days before they are put together, unless they have received a complete blood work and veterinary examination (for BOTH birds) in the week prior to introduction.
  • Stuffing another bird in your current bird's cage will be seen as a territorial aggression and can lead to serious problems such as physical aggression. It can also deeply hurt the possible relationship between these two birds. Not to mention how it can affect the way your bird perceives you.
  • Breeding pairs should be on a varied and complete diet including, but not restricted to, the following:
    • Vegetables
    • Seed
    • Pellets
    • Whole grain pasta
    • Sprouted seed
    • Calcium supplements
    • Breeding formula
  • The cage used to house the breeding pair should be large enough to accommodate them, for example 24 inches square being BARE MINIMUM for a pair of cockatiel.
  • You should be aware of the complete genetic history of BOTH birds in case of genetic defects that could be passed down to the chicks.
  • You should have show quality birds, pet store birds are not suitable for breeding because you can't be sure of their genetics and they most of the time come from severe inbreeding or obscure places such as bird mills. (see end of article for details)
  • You should know BOTH birds and be aware of their behavior and personalities. Some birds are aggressive and as a result are not suitable for breeding since this is often passed down to the chick and will most of the time result in one or both parents being aggressive to the clutch.
  • Birds often bond for life and both parents help raise the clutch. "Borrowing" a male for procreation will result in depression and stress for the female, especially if they do bond and mate (there is rarely random mating in birds, they are most of the time monogamous, more so than most mammals).
  • It can take years for birds to get comfortable enough with their surrounding to begin breeding. Birds can like or dislike each other and there is no way to tell either way before giving them lots of time together to get to know each other.
  • Female birds that are in the process of breeding need additional calcium intakes. Failure to provide the hen with appropriate calcium intakes will result in frail bones prone to fracture which will often be hard to heal.
  • Laying females are prone to egg binding, which means that the egg is stuck in the oviduct and cannot be expelled. When this happens it is a matter of time before the egg either breaks in the oviduct, eventually causing the death of the bird, or becomes infected, also leading to the death of the bird. Signs of egg binding are the following (also see our "Egg Laying and Possible Issues" article:
    • Heavy panting
    • Paralyzed legs
    • Swelling in the vent area
    • Part of the intestine coming out of the vent (mostly caused by the hen trying to force the egg to come out)
    • Other signs can apply that fail to come in mind at this time... they will be added later on
  • A female (or male) raising a clutch by her/himself will often end up an overstressed and overworked bird, which can lead to death of both the parent and the babies. A single parent bird should be closely watched and helped by the owner by hand feeding the clutch so that the bird can rest, just as the other parent would do should he/she be present.
  • Hand feeding is not as easy as some make it out to be. The food formula can easily be inhaled, descend in the lungs, mineralize and cause chronic illnesses, malformation and most of the time death. Wrong formula temperature can cause crop burns and other sever wounds that are hard to treat and prone to infection.
  • Hand feeding requires the breeder to be around the clutch about every 2 hours at first, 24 hours a day, it decreases over the weeks to every 3 hours and so on. Going to college, working, being tired or other excuses are not acceptable for failing to provide the clutch with the required feedings, especially if you have a single parent bird.
  • A nest box should be of appropriate size depending on the specie of birds you are breeding. Some species require open nests and others require a nest box, like cockatiels and most larger parrots. Appropriate lining should be used in the nest box, anything else could cause harm to the young.
  • The clutch should be monitored at all times for sign of illnesses and deformities. Spayed legs are common and can only be treated if caught in time. The babies should also have their weight monitored to ensure optimal development.
  • Parents should be monitored at all time to ensure that they are not loosing weight (caused by overstress and overwork). Their dropping should be monitored to ensure that they are not sick.
  • Sick parents should receive immediate veterinary care by an avian certified vet. In case of infection, the clutch might have to be treated too. Most breeder agree that the emergency vet money required for a single breeding pair should be of about 1000$ to cover the cost of treating both parents and the babies in case of illnesses. This figure is argued because some believe that 1000$ is too OPTIMISTIC (read: you require more emergency money than that!!). Food supply, toys and other accessories are NOT included in that figure.
  • In the event where you were to begin breeding, you need to think about what you will do with the babies
    • Will you be able to afford keeping them all, which would mean additional cages, food, toys and vet fees?
    • If not, do you have good homes screened for them, meaning that you know the people willing to adopt and know for sure that they know how to properly care for a bird?
    • If some of the good homes you have lined up fail to go through with adoption, will you take the babies back and begin the process again? Because this is what a responsible breeder does.
    • Will you sell your babies to random pet stores, where they won't be fed properly, where you won't have a say in who gets to purchase them and what care and life conditions they are to receive? This is not what a responsible breeder would do.
  • Are you aware of how many unwanted pet birds are put to sleep each year because they were not suitable for their owners for X reason? (read: I'm off to college, I got married, I have a baby, I have a new pet, I have a new boyfriend allergic to birds, he screams, I don't have money, etc.)
  • Are you aware of the number of unwanted pet birds in shelters that would be perfect pets but are less desirable than a "brand new" baby bird?

Now, before my comment that pet store birds are not suitable for breeding offends anyone here, here are my reasons for firmly believing so:

  • You cannot know the genetic history of a pet store bird.
  • Pet stores are known to use bird mills or backyard breeders as a resource for birds.
  • Pet store birds are often not on a suitable diet and can be hard to put on a proper diet, let alone a breeding diet.
  • While they make perfectly acceptable pets (and as we all know they are as loving, funny, special as show birds) they do not have the optimal genetic quality to be bred. Why would you want to breed a bird who possibly has a genetic disease that could be spread to the young?

My birds all came from pet store, though 2 are rescues but I'm lucky enough to know where they come from. I love them to death and wouldn't trade them for the world. They are beautiful, intelligent, funny and special, but that does not make them suitable for breeding. I am not trying to diminish the quality of these birds, but I strongly believe (and most reputable breeders do so too) that if you can't be aware of all the genetic history of both parents you cannot breed them in good conscience. In the past, there has been debates about whether or not pet store birds are suitable for breeding and I know that it is impossible, sadly, for us all to agree on that matter. However, I am certain that everyone here wants what is best for his or her birds and would not go through with something that might be dangerous for them.

When we talk about bird mills (or any *animal* mills) we refer to a company that breed birds for money, caring only about production and not about the well being of the breeding animals and their clutches. They always have many birds available, many mutation all year long because they do not respect the natural breeding cycle of the animals they reproduce. These birds, especially the ones used for breeding, do not live a long, healthy and fulfilling life. Usually they die lonely and abused for either lack of proper medical care or mate abuse (often these birds are paired because of their color mutation and not because they are suited for each other and bonded). While we do hope that proper legislation will one day prevent such places from operating, in the mean time we can do nothing but love our birds to death and give them what their parents were denied... proper care.

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