What About Nestboxes?: Especially Tiels

One of the major decisions facing any breeder is deciding what type of nest box will work best for his breeding birds. In the wild, the choice of a nesting site is not a problem. Parrots are cavity nesters and will nest in tree cavities or in the hollows of large limbs. The exception to this is the Quaker parrot of South America who builds the nest from twigs and sticks.

A research study showed that when parrots were given a nest box there was a significant rise in the hormone levels of the cock and the hen. Therefore a nest box can be the trigger for getting a pair of birds to breed. The article Avian Reproduction: Triggers and Hormonal Changes will help you to better understand the triggers in avian reproduction. Dr. Pesek has done an excellent job of explaining this for us.

Wooden nest boxes are considered to be better because the birds are able to chew on the wood. Chewing is another stimulus for breeding. The birds while engaged in the act of chewing are further stimulated to go to nest producing fertile eggs.

In a study of breeding cockatiels it was found that some domestic tiel hens would not enter the nest box unless the entrance was enlarged. The tiel cock and hen will spend time chewing on the entrance to enlarge it before entering the box to use it for a nest.

When breeding parrots in captivity some thought has to be given to what type of nest box to provide for successful breeding. There are several types of nest boxes available these include metal, plastic, wood, and cardboard boxes from which to choose.

Metal and plastic nest boxes are going to last longer than others. Parrots usually are not able to destroy a metal nest box. This durability would seem to make this a good type of nest box to use, especially with those parrots who are more destructive. A major disadvantage is that these boxes, if used outside absorb heat and stay hot. The metal does not cool down and the inside of the box becomes like an oven. Even if the nest box is located in the shade during the summer, the inside of the nest box can get so hot that the eggs and the chicks are lost.

Another concern for the breeder is what type of nesting substrate should be put in the nest box for breeding birds. There are different types of substrates available some of these are bird pellets, dog food, and some have suggested using oatmeal. While these are digestible they have a very limited ability to absorb liquid. And once contaminated with old food and droppings, the wet fecal matter is ripe for growing bacteria, mold, and fungus. Other bedding such as cedar shavings may cause respiratory distress in young chicks. The use of corn cob bedding, soft facial tissue, and grass fibers is not recommended as these substrates do not provide a good foot hold for the chicks and this increases the possibility of splayed legs.

Pine shavings are thought to be a good substrate, however any type of wood shavings should have a low dust content. Too much dust may cause respiratory or eye problems because the dust from the shavings acts as an irritant. Wood chunks can be used in the nest box, but care must be taken when using these because if the parents or the chicks chew on the wood chunks it is possible for the crop to become impacted. This may result in the loss of the birds or chicks. The following article Cage liners and Bedding Substrates explains about cage liners and the same basic priniciples apply to nesting substrates. This article will give more detailed information about the use of different or various nesting materials.

A large nest box that is well lighted is not natural for any species of parrot. Well lit tree cavities simply do not exist in the wild. Most parrots will reject a nesting site that is too large or one that is well lit. In the wild it appears that parrots choose cavities that are narrow and deep and seem to prefer smaller spaces when choosing nesting sites. Parrots in the wild will choose sites where the entrance is too small to allow the bird entrance into the nest. Therefore the bird must chew on the opening in order to enlarge it. It would seem that there is evidence to support the theory that for parrots to go to nest they need to be able to chew on wood. A breeder is wise to provide his nesting birds with plenty of wood to chew.

What about lighting in the nestbox? In the wild, tree cavity nesters have chicks that are essentially in darkness until the the time that they fledge. In this environment where there is little or no stimulation, the chicks are able to engage in only extremely limited movement because of the very tight space. They lay in the nest motionless, digesting their food and cannot help but gain weight. It is normal and natural for parrot chicks to grow as fast as possible and this is accomplished by a dark area which greatly restricts any movement on the part of the chicks. Young chicks have eyes that are more sensitive to light, so this is another reason why darkness is necessary in the nest box. With light, the chicks receive more stimulation and are more active. Activity uses up the calories that are needed for building healthy bodies. It is better for the chicks to eat and sleep so that they gain the weight that is needed for healthy growth.

Cockatiels are cavity breeders. They prefer to breed in the hollow of a tree or a large limb. The nesting box is one of the triggers for breeding pairs and a suitable nesting site is important for any pair to breed successfully. It would seem that Cockatiels are not particularly fussy about their nesting site and will readily accept a breeding box. Other triggers for cockatiels are increased hours of daylight, more baths, and an increase in the amount of fresh and soft foods that are fed. Most cockatiels are prolific breeders and will double clutch.

I use a 12″ by 12″ by 12″ square nesting box for my cockatiels. One with an access door in the back of the box is the type I prefer, in order to check on the eggs or chicks or even to candle the eggs. I find it easier for getting the cock and his hen out of the box, so that I can take care of candling or checking the crops of chicks.

Nestboxes which open over the top of the hen can cause problems. If she is spooked by someone looking in over the top of her, she could trample the chicks or break the eggs as she tries to get away. All parrots are afraid of things coming over the top of their heads because that is where predators come from. In order not to unduly alarm the hen, I prefer a back or side entrance to look into the box. It is wise to knock on the nestbox door before opening it, as this announces your presence and may help prevent the hen from panicking.

A nestbox that is too small for the tiels can cause problems with larger clutches. It is better to go with the somewhat larger box, especially with hens who have five or more chicks in a clutch.

When cage breeding it is better to attach the nest box to the outside of the cage rather than place it inside. There should be a perch placed a small space below the entrance to the nest box. This gives the cock a place where he can see into the nest box and also watch what is happening around the nestbox. Male cockatiels are quite aggressive when their hens have eggs or chicks, so it is wise to be very cautious or you may receive a rather nasty bite.

Bedding substrate is important for the chicks and it can’t be a slippery material, as that may contribute to the developement of splayed legs in the chicks. When breeding my tiels I use pine shavings that are about 2 inches deep, so that the chicks have firm footing in the nest box and can move easily. It’s important that the bedding be relatively dust free. Bedding that can be become wet and moldy after being contaminated with fecal matter should never be used. Dirty bedding most often results in dirty chicks who become sick from living in such an environment. Nesting hair or string should not be used. This can easily become wrapped around a tiny toe or foot, cutting off circulation. The breeding pair will work the nest box, removing whatever bedding they don’t want. I’ve had a male literally throw bedding out of the entrance because he wasn’t satisfied with what I had given them. So I had to go back to the pine shavings which is what this particular pair of breeders preferred.

Cockatiels are chewers just like any parrot. In the wild there isn’t any nesting substrate, so they will chew around the entrance to the tree cavity and the wood chips from chewing will be used by the birds as substrate for their chicks. In my opinion wood boxes are preferrable. They give the birds an opportunity to chew and it would seem to indicate that chewing on the board is a key factor in triggering breeding activity.

There are many reasons to breed cockatiel chicks. The most obvious is the love for the bird and the desire to produce healthy, happy, loving chicks who are a joy to those that own them.

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