Here are the questions that I often receive about breeding birds and the answers that I give. The number one question is the most common problem although it is seldom asked.
How old do birds have to be in order to breed successfully?
This varies from species to species. Generally the smaller birds mature quicker and can therefor breed at a younger age. Some finches can successfully breed at 6 months of age and some of them should be one year. Budgies should be about a year of age, but they could be a couple of months younger and still have healthy babies. Lovebirds, cockatiels and similar sized parrots should be 18 months before breeding. Amazon parrots, african grey parrots and similar sized parrots mature and can breed at about 4 years of age. The large macaws will be 5 years or more before they will successfully breed. Any of these species can breed at younger ages and may even have healthy babies, but breeding younger, more often produces small, unhealthy babies that may not survive.
What size cage do I need to breed birds?
Again, this is obvously going to depend on the species and size of birds you have. The other obvious answer is the largest cage you can afford and have room for. The large birds such as macaws need a huge cage, whereas finches and canaries can breed in cages as small as two feet long.
What should I feed the babies?
At first, you do not feed the babies. The parent birds will feed the babies whatever you give them to eat themselves. Just make sure that you give them nutritious foods to feed their babies (fruits, vegetables, seeds, pellets, egg food, plus whatever else you normally feed your birds). You will be surprised at how fast the food and water disappear when babies are being fed, so make sure you give them more than usual. If you are going to take the babies for handfeeding, you need handfeeding formula which must be mixed fresh at each feeding. The age you take them for handfeeding varies with species.
How long before the eggs hatch?
Finch or canary eggs can hatch as early as 14 days, budgies at about 18 days, cockatiels and lovebirds 19 - 21 days, amazon parrot sized birds at 25 - 27 days and the larger macaws at 27 – 30 days. These days are based on when incubation begins – often birds do not incubate until the 2nd, 3rd or even 4th egg is laid.
Is it ok to look in the nestbox?
It is best to leave the breeding and nesting birds alone, except for giving them fresh food and water each day. If both parents leave the nest when you give them fresh food, it may be ok to take a quick peek. If they do not leave the nestbox, then leave them alone unless you want scrambled eggs or injured (or dead) babies. If you are concerned about counting days until hatching begins, just take note of when the hen disappears into the nestbox to give you an approximate time. When you hear peeping from inside the box, you know you have a chick. Many breeders will install a small web cam in the box to keep an eye on what is going on.
Why do some of the eggs not hatch
Some of the eggs may not have been fertilized. Some eggs may have been jostled (see scrambled eggs above). Sometimes fertilized eggs just stop developing and the baby dies either very early in the incubation period or just before hatching. Occasionally, a chick ready to hatch, is unable to cut through the shell to complete the hatch. If you have your timing accurate, it is possible to assist this chick in its hatch and save this baby.
Why did the baby die?
Some dead babies were never fed by the parents – often due to the parents being too young. Some dead babies have full crops at the time of their death and it may have been killed when the parents were frightened or defending their nest. Sometimes, it is just because there was something wrong with the baby.