September 2001 Magazine
Teaching responsible breeding techniques is the primary goal of this series of articles. Ignorance harms birds. We must endeavor to learn all that we can to ensure that our cockatiels can breed successfully. In this article, we will take a glance at the many topics that must concern breeders. Future articles in this series on responsible breeding will attempt to cover major topics in more detail.
An overview of those topics related to cockatiel breeding would include nutrition, pair bonding, setting up nest boxes, identifying a true pair, incubation of eggs, parental jobs, hatching of chicks, handfeeding or parent raised, problems of neonates in the nest, healthy hens, egg binding, early chick mortality.
Problems that affect chicks that are being handfed include sour crop, crop stasis, psittacosis, polyoma virus, yeast infections, calcium deficiencies, splayed legs and other neonatal problems.
Equally important is early socialization of the chicks, learning to play with toys, helping the chick to acquire the skills needed to be an independent member of the flock. Weaning, teaching the chicks how to eat and providing a variety of foods to meet the nutritional needs of the chicks. Giving the chicks the emotional security and independence that produces trusting loving pets who enjoy being a part of their human flock.
There is much that we need to learn as responsible breeders, while endeavoring to give our cockatiels everything needed to produce healthy, happy chicks. Breeding birds is a challenge and a decision that should not be made impulsively. It is a decision that must be well thought out and based on adequate knowledge of what is involved in breeding cockatiels responsibly. An informed decision based on real knowledge is the best way to prepare for breeding.
This vital preparation allows us to work through the problems that may be encountered while breeding our cockatiels. Requirements for breeding successfully are many and a knowledge of the birds' needs and habits are necessary to ensure the safe and successful breeding of our cockatiels. Good husbandry skills are critical to any breeding program.
Where do we begin? Be sure that you select birds which are old enough to breed. The hen should be at least 18 months old and it is probably safer if she is 2 years old. A male must be at least one year, however fifteen months makes him that much more mature. They start having hormones at nine months, but really aren't ready to breed then. Think of these early months as if the birds were like twelve year old humans having sex. Cockatiels usually breed in early spring. Because they are photosensitive, they find the longer daylight hours as a stimulus to breeding.
An important aspect of breeding is making sure that the pair is in excellent breeding condition. A pair should be given a clean bill of health by an avian vet before breeding begins. Any hen with a low blood calcium level should not be allowed to breed. Its necessary to work with your avian vet so that the hen will have the needed calcium so that she can lay eggs successfully without damaging her own body. Hens with low calcium levels are prone to egg binding, soft shelled eggs, and this increases the risks of egg yolk peritonitis which can result in the loss of the hen. Good health in the parent birds is a must in order to have viable eggs, increased hatchability, and healthy chicks.
Once that is established the next logical question when deciding to breed is do I have a true pair? Cockatiels are not sexually dimorphic which means that they are not visually distinguishable as male or female. DNA sexing is required by blood or feather to ascertain whether there is a true pair. About the only cockatiels that can be visually sexed are the normal grays and that can fool you because the male doesn't start to show the bright yellow face until he is four months old. I've been fooled a number of times. Some of the mutations can be visually sexed if you know the parents genetic background.
Do the birds demonstrate a pair bond? This can be seen by mutual preening, sitting side by side on the perch, and eating from the same food dish. Most often you introduce the birds by setting up cages side by side and allowing periods of play for the birds to get to know each other. It is important when introducing a new bird to the flock that strict quarantine measures be followed before any introductions.
Are the birds unrelated? Inbreeding inflicts suffering on the birds. The recessive genes that come with inbreeding can cause physical deformities in the chicks as well as congenital defects in vital organs. Breeding unrelated pairs is the most responsible choice that can be made. It establishes good blood lines in the birds and prevents needless suffering.
Once you've established that the pair is unrelated the next step is to determine compatibility. Not all cockatiel pairs are compatible and it is important that this be determined before allowing the birds to breed. All cockatiels make fantastic pets, however not all cockatiels make good breeders. And there are some cockatiels who should never be allowed to breed.
Absolutely essential to the success of any breeding program is feeding your birds a nutritious diet. The diet must contain all the elements of a healthy diet which would include vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids. Cockatiels need these to maintain excellent health and to put them in breeding condition. Understanding the complexities of the diet is key to producing healthy and happy chicks. Everyday new things are discovered about the needs of captive bred parrots. Responsible breeders are always studying and learning new things. This is vital to the successful breeding of their cockatiels.
Cockatiels thrive on a low fat diet and are a species of parrot more prone to fatty liver disease. The fat content of most seed mixes is above 8%. Unless the nutrients choline, biotin, amd the amino acid methionine are adequately supplied in the diet, fatty liver disease may result. An amino acid deficiency causes a loss of skeletal muscle and results in a negative nitrogen balance in the body of the birds that adversely affects the cockatiel's health and well-being.
Besides having too much fat, seeds have an unbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio which makes much needed calcium unavailable to the bird's system. Much of the phosphorus in seeds is a component of phytate which is not efficiently digested by avian species. Vitamin D also plays an important role in regulating calcium and phosphorous. With this knowledge we understand that a varied diet containing nutritious foods is needed to keep our cockatiels healthy and in good breeding condition.
It is equally important that the breeding pair be given the foods that they need for their chicks before any chicks are hatched. If the parents are not given the right foods the chicks will die or will suffer from various vitamin deficiencies. Toes that are curled inward are associated with a riboflavin deficiency in cockatiel chicks. Choline and riboflavin deficiency causes feather achromatosis in cockatiels. A calcium deficiency may result in chicks that have splayed legs or rickets. Some foods adversely affect the absorption of calcium and make it unavailable to the birds. Sunflower seeds have a calcium to phosporus ratio that is unbalanced and inhibits the normal absorption of calcium which is critical for the production of normal egg shells and healthy bones. Foods like spinach contain oxalates which also affect the normal absorption of calcium.
As we can see there is an abundance of information that we need to have so that our cockatiels can breed successfully. Time spent in making sure that your cockatiels are in excellent breeding condition, having the most nutritious diet possible, and meeting the physical and emotional needs of your cockatiels is a good investment. This investment reaps the reward of producing happy healthy cockatiel chicks who are a joy to those who share their lives with them.
Some links to read for further research and study:
Importance of Adequate Calcium & Phosphorus in the Diet
Importance Of Adequate Calcium Part II Growing Birds and Laying Hens
Calcium, Phosphorus & Vitamin D3 in Your Bird's Diet
Feeding Our Birds Part I - Nutritional Needs
Feeding Our Birds Part II - A Healthy Diet
Kitchen Physician II - Foods As Natural Medicines
Kitchen Physician XIII - Greening Of The Parrot Diet
The Truth about Vitamins
Winged Wisdom Note: Iris, Bob, and their three children live in Maryland. They are owned by 19 birds. The flock consists of a bare eyed cockatoo, a Congo African grey, a quaker, a senegal, a green rump parrotlet, a lori and 12 cockatiels.
A pet bird ezine, pet bird e-zine, for pet parrots & exotic birds. Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises
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