Fundamentals of Breeding Budgerigars

Let’s Breed Budgerigars by Terry A. Tuxford

When it comes to breeding budgerigars, and I suspect many other types of livestock, there are more exceptions to the rules than rules themselves.  Much of the success shown by established breeders is based more on experience than applying the rules, and it is gaining this experience which provides support to the exhibiting structure as laid down by the Budgerigar Society.

Despite all the good advice that has been written about buying stock, feeding, line breeding, general management, and that awful subject – dare I mention it – yawn! “Genetics”, all the newcomer to our hobby really wants to do is “breed some budgies”.  This article offers advice on how to do just this and suggests ways in which we can best put success for this objective on our side.

Setting The Scene

While we should not expect the newcomer to have an extensive set-up, we would wish to ensure a basic requirement, which is:

  1. Somewhere to breed the birds, perhaps a garden shed, 6′ x 4′ would do, or a brick out-house, which is weather-proof.It would make sense to try and utilise something which you may already own, so you can make your own mind up, in the future, to the extent in which you wish to pursue the hobby.
  2. The intention to cage breed rather than colony breed in an open aviary.

Basic Design

One may consider that a 6′ x 4′ garden shed to be too small for a birdroom, but we all need to start somewhere so I will base my design detail on this size.  If you are fortunate enough to have something larger then you can increase your layout size and scope accordingly.  If you have nothing available which is existing, I suggest you either talk to an experienced bird keeper or write to the BS office who can put you in touch with another breeder in your area before making any outlay.

The first task following the emptying of the shed is to make it comfortable for the birds and by that, I mean making it draft proof.  This should be carried out by lining it with a faced hardboard which is readily available in several designs and is relatively cheap.  The void between the lining and shed should be filled with insulating material.  If the door opens inward, I suggest modifying it so that it opens out thus giving you more room inside.

Fitting Out The Shed

The exact details for fitting out our shed will depend on where the door and window is, generally the door is in one end and the window in the side.  The other factor to consider is headroom and this will vary depending on whether you have an apex or pent roof, but I will assume there is a working height of 5′ 6″.

It is most likely that it will be possible to purchase a second-hand block of 4 breeding cages and these should be installed before the inside flight is constructed to make sure it all fits.  The breeding cages need not be a single block but may be individual cages and you can purchase or even make them, depending on your skills, pockets or patience if used ones are not available.  These cages should be stood on a plinth to get the bottom one off the ground and so reduce draft and the necessity for low bending.

Nest Boxes

There are two basic types of nest box one can choose from, internal to the cage and external to the cage.  Today, it is generally recommended to use externally mounted nest boxes.  These of course use up valuable room in our small birdroom so for this exercise I would suggest that they are mounted inside the breeding cage.

Whilst not utilising any space this can present further problems, the first being access to the chicks for checking, cleaning and ringing purposes and so therefore the nest box door should be accessible.  To give the hen privacy when incubating the eggs, the entry hole should be facing the back of the cage.  The other problem is that budgerigars are very destructive, and the box will be badly chewed and needs to be of strong construction.

A Flight Outside For Exercise

To ensure your birds get plenty of exercise and because the inside flight is fairly restricted you should consider placing a small outside flight alongside the shed with access via a small bob-hole.  The size 3′ x 6′ would be convenient and may be constructed from four standard flight panels and a door panel, quite cheaply.  As some of the birds will be inclined to roost outside you should partially cover the roof and sides to give them some protection from the elements.  Perches may be made from 5/8″ diameter or 5/8″ square hard wood or a natural alternative would be branches from a fruit tree such as apple.  An ideal medium for the floor would be pea shingle or similar.

Electricity

You will note that I have made no reference to an electricity supply, this is because at this stage in the hobby, and the recommendations I am making, it is a non-essential requirement.  Conversely if it is easily laid on, it may be convenient to install a light.

With a stock cage under a small work surface and a good secure lock on both flight and shed we are ready to introduce our budgerigars.

Final Preparation

Our small birdroom is suitable for housing four breeding pairs of budgerigars and flight space suitable for up to 24 birds.  Next, we will look at the acquisition of our initial stock and how to tend them.

Before we go and purchase our budgerigars, we should ensure that we are ready for them in so far as we have feed pots, water dispensers and feed etc. available.  To assist with this, I would suggest the following shopping list:

            5          Water fountains for the cages

            1          One pint dropper drinker for the flight

            5          Seed pots

            5          Grit pots – small

            1          Seed tray

            1          Grit pot – large

            5          Small Iodine Nibbles

            1          Aviary size Iodine Nibble

            7lb       Tonic Grit

            1lb       Millet sprays

                        Cuttle fish

            28lb     Good quality budgie seed mixture

            3lb       Budgie tonic seed

            3lb       Clipped Oats

                        Softwood sawdust or shavings (untreated)

The budgie mix, tonic seed and oats should be mixed together.

Let’s Go Shopping

As mentioned earlier our set-up is suitable for up to 24 budgies but this is certainly not the number we intend to buy because the whole object is to breed our stock.  What we ideally need is four pairs which will all perform satisfactorily in the breeding cage but because we are dealing with live creatures, which can be unpredictable, I would suggest six hens and five cocks as our initial aim.

Our objective is primarily to breed budgies and so quality of stock is not so important other than to say we should be avoiding pet quality birds which are often available from small commercial aviaries and back-door colony breeders. Secondly, as we intend to be successful there will, later, be our own surplus to dispose of, so we should be looking for more of the attractive coloured varieties rather than green and grey green birds.

The Ideal Seller

The ideal person to buy our budgies from would be someone with 3 or 4 years’ experience, selling reasonable quality budgies at about £10 to £20 each, and so we would be looking to pay around £150 for our initial stock.  All birds purchased should be under 2-years old, and an ideal mix of colours and pairs could be:

  • Normal, Opaline including Cinnamon Blues
  • Normal, Opaline including Cinnamon Greys
  • Dominant Pieds – any colour
  • Spangles – any colour

In terms of planning and selecting pairs you should avoid Grey x Grey and Dominant Pied x Dominant Pied.

When you are buying birds is an ideal opportunity to find out from the seller some of his management practices, how he feeds his birds and what supplements he feed. You should soak up this information like a sponge.

Home At Last

On arriving home with our new acquisitions, I would recommend that initially they are given access to the inside flight only.  This will give them an opportunity to settle in before allowing them into the outside flight, which can be after a week or so.

Sawdust would be a good medium for the floor of the inside flight, seed and fresh water should always be available.  Millet sprays may be fed occasionally as a treat with cuttle, iodine block and tonic grit also in situ.

To recap – so far we have a fully equipped birdroom of modest proportions, a small outside flight and a selection of six hens and five cock birds, plus an overwhelming desire to breed budgerigars.

The Seasons

For the normal production of exhibition budgerigars for breeders concerned with showing, the breeding season commences anytime between September and November when their stock is in its first phase of breeding condition.  At this time, heat and especially light in the birdroom is essential and in addition to this, due to inclement weather and other untoward conditions, this is not always the easiest time for production of numbers.  In the Northern hemisphere breeding condition re-occurs again in early March, when the days are becoming longer and the weather warmer; it is at this time we will begin.

Breeding Condition

To recognise breeding condition is essential if good results are to be obtained.  The cock bird should be bright eyed, in good feather with a bright blue cere.  He should be continually active and busy in his movements.

The hen should be equally active and keen to chew your aviary to pieces, her cere should be a rich brown colour but this is not always the case.

The age at which you can safely breed budgerigars is subject to some disagreement but to be on the safe side, hens should be 12 months and cocks 10 months.

Making Ready And Pairing

Before introducing a bird into the breeding cage they should be made ready; each should have sawdust in the nest box and on the floor, seed, grit, cuttle fish, an iodine nibble and fresh water should be made available.  Making sure your birds are in full condition, the hens are placed in the breeding cage, after making a note of her ring number on a record card.  The surplus hens should then be removed from the flight and put into the stock cage leaving the cocks on their own.

After two days of segregation the two sexes will be calling to each other and the hens will have entered the nest boxes.  At this time, the cocks are placed in the breeding cages, after once again noting their numbers and the date paired.  It is not unusual for the hen to assume the mating position almost immediately.  A brief courtship will follow, with the cock rapping his beak against the hens, and jumping from perch to perch.  The cock’s eyes will be dilating most noticeably and then mating will take place.

Oftentimes it does not, and this should cause no concern, as some birds are less vigorous than others and need a little longer.  If after a few days the hen has not been in the nest box and they are not showing signs of pairing, it would be as well to split them up for a while and try later or to try another pair or partner.

Budgerigars are very accommodating, and daily nest box inspection will cause no problems.

The First Egg

The hen will spend more and more time in the nest box and after 4 days her droppings will begin to change.  They will become increasingly wet and copious and at about the tenth day the first egg will appear.  At this time, your first eggs will bring feelings of great pleasure and excitement of things to come.  Eggs are now laid on alternate days and may vary from 3 to 10 in number, 6 being the average.

Incubation And Hatching

Under normal circumstances the time between laying and hatching is 18 days assuming fertility.  Testing for the presence of an embryonic chick may be carried out on the sixth day after incubation has commenced.  This may be achieved with the use of a Candling Torch available from the Budgerigar Society, this device shines a bright light into the shell enabling blood vessels in the yolk to be seen quite readily.

On the basis that everything is in order, the first chicks will hatch out followed by its nest mates on the following alternate days.

Eggs and Chicks On The Move

Due to several circumstances it would not be unusual to wish to transfer eggs or chicks from one nest to another.  It could be that a particular clutch of eggs is exceptionally large or perhaps the hen dies.  If you transfer eggs, they can be marked with a felt tipped pen and placed in a nest which already has eggs that are due to hatch at a similar time to those being transferred.  On no account should eggs be transferred into an empty nest – they will almost certainly be smashed.

Chicks may also be transferred, similarly only into nests which have at least one chick already.  Very young chicks will be accepted very easily but once over three weeks old and starting to feather, more caution should be observed in case they are rejected by the hen or attacked and killed.  It is preferable to ring your chicks before moving them so as not to lose their identity.

Crop Milk

When hatched the chicks should be pink and healthy, and squeak to be fed.  Feeding is carried out almost exclusively by the hen by regurgitating a substance from her crop, known as crop milk.  There are two points worth noting on the feeding of chicks by the hen, the first being that baby budgerigars are fed on their backs which is most unusual for birds and secondly the hen is able to grade the feed she is giving to the chicks depending on their ages, so that the older the chick the more seed content of the crop milk.

Ringing

This operation probably causes the most anxiety amongst new breeders but surprisingly one soon becomes adept at doing it.  The rings themselves may be purchased from either the Budgerigar Society or your Area Society and carries your own personal breeder’s number, the year and a sequential number making each ring unique.  They are also a different colour each year so that the age of the bird may be easily determined.

The age at which to ring the chick will depend on the size of its foot but will be between 6 and 10 days.  If you ring too early the ring will fall off and you will have to repeat the process after locating the lost ring in the nest box.  This is preferable to leaving it too late because then it will be impossible to carry out.

The ring may be placed on either leg and to do so the chick’s leg should be held between thumb and forefinger, support the chick in your hand and group the three largest toes together and slide the ring on.  The ring should be positioned up the leg and the back toe will be trapped underneath it, with either a ringing tool or sharpened matchstick this toe can be released.  Initially, this process is not as easy as it sounds but soon becomes second nature.

Growing Up

Once the chick is rung, growth rate is extremely rapid and over the next four weeks this small pink bald creature will transform into a baby budgerigar known as a barhead.

During this period both parents will be hard at work making sure their offspring are well fed and the chicks should be handled daily to enable you to check that their feet and beaks are kept clean and for them to gain confidence in being handled.  After about 5 weeks the hen will start laying again, there being a nest box full of chicks these eggs will be kicked around and possibly broken.

The chicks, if not ejected from the nest box by the hen, should be removed and placed on the floor of the cage.  They may return to the nest but should again be removed.  During the period between now and when they are weaned the cock takes up the bulk of the feeding until the chick is around 6 weeks old.  At this age they may be removed to a stock age for eight to ten weeks before releasing them into the main flight.

Aggressive Cocks

When the chicks arrive on the cage floor the cock may attempt to mate with them and when he gets no response will attack them.  To avoid this a small platform may be placed on the cage floor for the chicks to retreat to.  These attacks are not usually continuous and most of the time all will be peaceful.

Cleaning Nest Boxes and Cages

During this romp through the cage production of budgerigars we have not yet spoken about hygiene.  Out of the breeding season it is good practice to clean out cages regularly but during the breeding season many breeders adopt deep litter techniques.  This means that we do not clean our cages until the end of breeding and will only remove heavy soiling.  As far as the nest boxes are concerned, I would suggest removing some of the waste and replace with fresh sawdust regularly and completely at the end of the first round.

Soft Food

During the breeding season the basic seed diet requires supplementing with a soft food.  There are a number of egg type soft foods that consist of a dry biscuit crumb that can be moistened by the addition of grated carrot.

The End Of Your Breeding Season

To be fair on your adult birds no more than three rounds of 3 or 4 youngsters should be taken, when this is done any remaining new eggs should be transferred or thrown away, the nest box removed and the pair allowed to rest for 2 or 3 weeks before returning them to the flight.

No breeding season will be completely free from problems but by following the details of this article, plus reading other articles, and talking to other breeders, yours should be minimal.  The most important factor of the hobby is to enjoy it and of than I am sure you will.

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The Budgerigar Society, 8 Garvie Brae, Tayport, Fife, DD6 9PR.

Tel 01828 633030

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