By Penny Corbett
I have a pair of white-fronted Amazons (Amazona albifrons) that have laid eggs two years now, but none have been fertile. What can be done to get the hen to lay fertile eggs? Both birds were imported and are about 10 years old.
The white-fronted Amazon is the smallest of the Amazons. It is often incorrectly called a spectacled Amazon because of the coloration of the face; red feathers begin just about the nostrils and run around both eyes. This red coloring resembles spectacles or glasses. This Amazon is dimorphic, which means the adults can be sexed by coloring or lack of it. In the adult male the alula and primary coverts are red, in the female they are green.
The True, Bonded Pair
Take a good look at your pair and make sure that you have a cock and a hen. Many of the cocks have a more intense coloring around the eyes (most often due to the fact that there are more red feathers in this area and less green). The hens will often have green feathers scattered here and there under and behind the eye area.
Once you know that your birds are a true pair, make sure they act like a pair. Just because you have a male and female of the same species housed together with a nest box does not mean that they will automatically set up house. If one of the pair is not happy with the mate you have provided, it is possible that they will never have fertile eggs and raise chicks. If a pair is bonded, they often sit side by side on a perch. They often preen each other and even share food and toys. Amazons generally have an outgoing personality, so this behavior can be noticed during routine servicing of the pair. If you have not seen this behavior, try observing them from a distance to see if they preen each other and generally act like a pair. If they do not sit near each other and there is a constant battle at the food dish, most likely your pair is not compatible.
At 10 years of age the pair should be mature enough to breed. Unfortunately, you do not know the exact age of these birds. When infertile eggs are involved, it is most often the male that needs to be addressed. There could be many reasons for the infertile eggs you are experiencing, it could also be a combination of reasons.
• The pair may be compatible, but their mating skills may not be perfected.
• Their cycles may not match, meaning they are not in breeding condition at the same time. (This can sometimes result in aggression in the pair.)
• The location of the breeding cage may not be suitable. Check to make sure there are no other "threatening" factors involved, such as another pair of Amazons close by or too much activity around the cage.
• You know the hen is old enough to lay, but it is possible the cock is past his reproduction years. If the male is too old to fertilize the eggs, this pair will never have fertile eggs no matter what is done. If you have access to a good veterinarian that surgically sexes birds, contact the vet and request your bird be "sexed" to see if it is still in its reproductive years. The vet will inform you of the best time to have this exam performed. Inform the vet ahead of time so he or she is aware to not just check the sex of the bird but the condition of the reproductive system. This exam can provide other valuable information as well.
A Proper Diet
Diet deficiencies or excesses can also result in pairs being infertile. Extended deficiency of vitamin E may result in infertile hens and testicular degeneration in cocks. Medications can also cause infertility, but this is normally temporary. Poor perching and inadequate exercise can cause both infertility and obesity. Amazons are prone to being overweight, especially males.
Take a good close and honest look at the diet being supplied to your pair. Is it a good healthy diet? Is it consistent in quality? Are the birds offered vegetables, greens and other food items? A good diet should be fed to breeding pairs of birds all year round and not just when it is getting close to breeding time. Birds expected to raise young should be in the best possible condition. They should have clean quarters, plenty of exercise, stable, clean perching in a variety of diameters, the proper nest box and an environment that is secure and stress free. After taking a good hard and honest look at the your birds' conditions, examine any and all issues and make the necessary corrections.
A change in diet may trigger breeding. Some bird breeders have had success with trimming the diet back to a good, basic diet, but not providing all of the extras for a period of a few weeks. After this basic period, the diet is supplemented with the extras. This practice duplicates, in part, the conditions of pairs in the wild. Breeding normally occurs when the food supply is abundant and varied. Some breeders swear that feeding sprouted seeds is important to help bring a pair into breeding condition. Others swear it is the supplying of greens or other fresh foods. There are bird breeders who increase the protein level much the same as the "breeder" pellets or the breeding formulas for poultry. Regardless of what the reason is, these practices have worked for these bird breeders successfully year after year. Birds and other animals need a large volume of good food to raise their families. When food supplies are in short supply, the production of babies decreases.
Light And Environment
The proper and consistent length of day can play a part in breeding success. The light period in the area should provide a long enough day for breeding, and it should not differ from day to day. For instance, the pair should not have a consistent 14 hours of daylight Monday through Friday, but have a different schedule of daylight on the weekend. The lights in the breeding area should be on timers so that they can go on and off every day at the same time, providing consistency in the times the day starts and ends, as well as the overall length of day.
Many times the determining factor in a particular pair's success in breeding from one owner to another is change. Change of environment can often make the difference in breeding success or lack of it. Moving the pair to a different breeding area or place within that area may be the answer. If you have another pair of white-fronted Amazons that is proven, the unproven pair may learn how to perfect their breeding skills if they can be in view to watch and learn from the proven pair. Again, take all necessary precautions not to threaten the territory of the proven birds.
Factors To Consider
As previously mentioned, the fertility problem you are having may be the result of more than one issue. Once it has been established that your pair is a true and bonded pair, carefully examine their environment to make sure there are no threats. If you suspect something might be perceived as a threat by the pair, correct it. If one or both of the birds is overweight, they will need to shed some of the extra grams. Exercise, the proper diet and correct portions will solve the weight issue. Proper and secure perching can be a factor. Without stable footing, mating may not produce the desired results. Soiled, insecure, worn or chewed perches should be replaced.
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.