By Penny Corbett
I recently started breeding birds. I have conures, quakers, parakeets, Amazons and macaws. I purchased some of these pairs after they bred once for previous owners, but some have not bred for me yet. What time of year does breeding season hit for different birds? What should I be feeding them? I have had success with my cockatiels and conures, but so far not with the larger birds. The mini macaws just huddle in the cage together toward the back. Also, one of my Amazon hens laid an egg one day and seven days later laid a second. Neither egg was fertile. Is this normal?
In your message you said you have just recently started breeding and you have had success with cockatiels and conures. You did not mention how long you have been breeding birds or how long you have owned the pairs that have not yet produced for you.
Many birds require a period to acclimate to their new environment. This transition period differs between birds and also depends on the area they now know as home. Acclimation may take months for some pairs or a couple of years for others. Sometimes when a proven pair of birds is purchased before they are ready to go to nest, a move won't disrupt their cycle and they go to nest within a short period of time after the move. They may also continue to breed as though they never left their former home. There are also pairs that breed soon after being moved, and then do not breed for some time, until they acclimate to their new environment. There are still others that successfully breed just after a move, and then never breed again.
If your mini-macaws are always huddling toward the back of the cage, I have two suggestions for you. First, take an honest and objective look at the area where they are housed. This is not the time to justify their placement, cage size or the amount of activity around the cage. Are they in a high traffic area? Is the cage about the same size as the cage they were previously housed? Are they busy "protecting" their territory from traffic — either human, animal or avian? Do they have close neighbors intimidating them? If they are not comfortable, chances are not very good that they will successfully breed for you.
The second suggestion is to supply them with a nest box very similar to what they were accustomed to. Some minis like to take cover in the nest box whenever anyone approaches the area. Some will dive into the box at the first sign of an intruder in the area. They may look out from the back of the box or peek out from the entrance. As they feel more comfortable, they may stay outside the box when someone enters the area or they may retreat to the security of the box as long as you own them.
Review the cage in general. The height of the cage may also be a factor. Birds that are more timid often feel more secure if they can perch high above the human eye level. Consider the size of the cage. Is it smaller than what they had before? Is the shape much different? Make sure the perching that has been made available is comfortable and suitable for them. Very smooth or slippery perching will not provide them with secure footing. Perches that are too large or too small can also make using them uncomfortable or insecure. Placement within the breeding cage may be an issue. Don't overlook the subject of lighting — is it much brighter or dimmer than what they have been use to?
There are several species of mini macaws with different nesting habits and personalities. Even the same species can have differences with individual pairs. The Hahn's pairs in my house are seasonal breeders. They all start and end about the same time each year, regardless of whether they were wild-caught or are domestic babies that have been held back for breeding. My yellow collars differ, one pair will cycle all year long but takes a break between nest. When I had severe or chestnut-fronted macaws, the two pairs I had bred about the same time each year. This is the experience I have had or I am having with my birds. I know others with the same species, and their birds have different breeding habits.
I suggest that you review your Amazons' diet. You may believe you need to add calcium to your birds' diet, but this may not be the case or may not be the entire solution to your situation. Calcium does not function alone. Chances are good that if there is a calcium deficiency, other deficiencies are also present. Insufficient vitamin D3 and/or vitamin A can cause problems with egg shapes. Breeding pairs should be supplied with a calcium source such as a cuttlebone and/or mineral block. Just adding the cuttlebone or a mineral block without reviewing the entire diet may be like putting a finger in the hole of a dam.
We do not have all of the answers regarding the diets of our birds, but we have enough information to know that one important thing (perhaps the most important), we can do for our avian charges is to supply them with a good, quality diet. Diet requirements differ for birds depending on whether they are neonates, adolescents or adults. The needs of a pet bird are also different than the needs of a bird in a breeding program. It is not good enough to feed breeder birds a good diet just before the go to nest or when they are laying and raising chicks. Breeder birds should receive an excellent diet year round. This diet will vary depending on what part of the breeding cycle they are in.
The infertile eggs can be the result of many things:
• an insufficient diet
• the cock bird not being old enough to fertilize the eggs
• birds not feeling secure in their environment
• birds not being in breeding condition at the same time
• the cock being too old
the list can go on and on ...
When you examine the breeding and housing environment for the Hahn's, chances are good that you will find the same or similar problems with your other breeding pairs of birds. Take your time and rethink the area you are using for your birds as far as the set up, cages, perching, light, etc. Do not make random changes, because every action you take will result in a reaction from you flock. You are striving for a comfortable and safe breeding environment for favorable breeding results. The diet is also an important part of the examination.
By duplicating, as much as possible, the diet, cage, nest box and environment of newly purchased breeders to that of their previous home, the transition period for all involved is much smoother. When this is not possible, it might take some time for both the newly introduced birds and former residents to accept the changes created by additions to the flock.
Columnist Penny J. Corbett has been breeding birds for more than 25 years. She has experience showing and judging many species, including color-bred and type canaries, finches, and softbills. She currently breeds mainly hookbills.