By Penny Corbett
A large part of breeding success depends on your understanding of the breeding season of the birds you acquire. Depending on the time of year you introduce new birds into your facility, it is possible that the current year's breeding will be lost. Other breeding success factors involve health and routine.
Any and all entries and re-entries into an aviary/facility must go through an appropriate quarantine period, regardless of where the birds came from or how well you know them. There is no reason to skip quarantine. Most bird breeders don't knowingly sell or give away birds that are ill. Unfortunately, it is possible that a bird breeder might not know there is a problem and the stress of a move on the birds might be enough to compromise the birds' resistance, bringing the problem to light.
During quarantine, observe the pairs as much as possible. Get to know their likes and dislikes and how they act toward each other. Make notes mentally and physically on anything you notice that might be a sign of a possible problem. Pairs that do not get along very well are not generally very good breeders, if they breed at all. You often hear of mate aggression and abuse in cockatoos, but it can happen in any species. What you notice during quarantine can prevent disaster later — it also gives you insight into the birds' preferences so you can place them in the best location when they leave quarantine.
When acquiring new birds, ask the previous owner questions. The best chance of continued success is to duplicate the previous setup as much as you can. No one will know these particular birds as well as the people who had them prior to you. They can tell you all of the little idiosyncrasies of each bird. They also have the history on nesting, egg laying, hatching, rearing, etc., which will alert you to any possible problems.
Whenever possible, keep the care the same for the birds as it was in their previous home. This is not a good time to make major diet changes. Feed the same diet that the birds have been on and make any necessary diet improvement only gradually. If it is not possible to feed the same diet, make it as close as possible. [This only holds true if the setup and diet were up to standard, not if they were substandard. — Ed.]
Read articles outlining a species' nesting information, such as when the normal nesting period is for the species in the authors' facility or specific region. The article may also include tips that have led to breeding success, along with any particular problem the author may have encountered. This type of information is more current and useful to you than reading breeding season information in a book or two, which may or may not be current and correct.
Another good source for breeding season information for your general area is local bird breeders or those in surrounding states. If you do not know any, check with local and specialty bird clubs, classified ads and local veterinarians. The Internet has many sites with classified ads listed by state. Looking over these ads will also give you an idea of seasons.
Birds breed at different times of the year in varying parts of the country. Birds housed outdoors may breed at different times than those housed indoors. Wild-caught pairs may breed within the pattern of those in the natural habitat, or they may adapt to the conditions and climate they are currently kept. Many domestically bred species have a different breeding season than their wild-caught counter parts, even within the same facility.
One of the things I have learned over the years is that there is no such thing as "always" or "never" regarding bird breeding behavior. In time, the pair or bird that "always" or "never" does something, changes. For more than 15 years my blue-headed pionus started nesting at mid- to-late March. Last year, they started laying in October. They have yet to go to nest this year — they may go again late or wait until spring. For me, this past breeding season was packed with events that never happened before.
There are some species that breed year-round or do not have a specific breeding season. There are also individual birds that differ from most others in the species. Conditions of the facility can play a part in breeding seasons. Besides controlled length of day, indoor facilities that have a controlled environment can extend breeding season into cooler months with heating and into hotter months with air-conditioning.
Baby bird season, when most pairs will nest, generally starts early spring through early summer. Many pairs will stop breeding during the hottest and coldest times of the year.
There are many things you need to know about the species you acquire. Find a good mentor to provide you with guidance along the way. You may need more than one mentor if you are working with more than one species of bird. A good mentor can pass along all of the "secrets" they have gathered through years of bird breeding. This gives you the advantage of knowing what most pairs like and dislike without using trial and error. Some species do better in a particular style of nest box and box placement may also be an issue for some species. Cage placement can also make a difference.
Penny J. Corbett has bred and kept birds for more than 30 years. She has bred several species including hookbills, softbills, canaries and finches. Corbett serves as Judge of American Budgies and Pet Birds in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York areas. She has also been given numerous awards for her own birds, and she has received several bird breeding awards.