BREEDING SHOW COCKATIELS

by Linda Greeson

I find breeding Cockatiels to be a completely absorbing and exciting hobby. The many choices to make and the ever changing factors involved present daily challenges.

GETTING STARTED

Many prospective breeders start their career by searching for bargains and proven pairs. It is rare to find prolific, healthy pairs of Cockatiels for sale without a few strings attached. The proven label may be honestly used, but the owner may fail to mention to the buyer that these are problem birds. Unless there are unusual and verified personal problems forcing the sale, the owner is not likely to be offering you his best breeders at bargain prices. He is much more likely to be selling birds he wants to get rid of. It is wise to invest as much care in buying birds as you would in buying a used car.

Some enthusiasts start collecting Cockatiels from varied sources without the ability to differentiate a good specimen from a poor one, or even to recognize symptoms of illness in the bird. When you have found a bird that seems "just right" for your needs, take the time to carefully check its condition. Guarantees and immediate Veterinary checks are usually limited to the sale of the larger, more expensive parrots. If it is an adult bird or pair, ask for records of breeding history. Reliable breeders can be expected to have detailed records to show you.

Take the time for careful observation of your prospective purchase. A healthy Cockatiel is usually a busy, active bird. It sits on its perch proudly, with no hunching over or ruffled feathers. The eyes are wide open and clear. There is no evidence of loose stools, either in the cage or by fouled feathers in the vent area. When held in your hand, the bird's breastbone feels well padded and the crop reasonably full. Even this superficial examination will help to assure you that this is really the right bird.

In their eagerness to get started many are often too impatient to wait out an isolation period for each new bird. Catastrophe can be the result of introducing disease to the entire flock. These are times when familiarity with an Avian Veterinary is all important. "Be Prepared" is a good axiom for bird breeders as well as Boy Scouts."

MAKING BREEDING CHOICES

Early in my experience I felt that a detailed knowledge of genetics and a careful review of the birds' pedigrees was sufficient to make good breeding judgments. My decisions were largely made at my desk. I soon discovered that there are many variables other than pedigrees to be considered and that breedings planned on paper did not always work out as expected.

In setting up my pairs for breeding I have three main priorities to keep in mind. The obvious primary consideration is to be sure that the birds are of opposite sex. A mistake in this is usually made in pairing Pieds whose sex is more difficult to determine. Two of the same gender will often bond beautifully with a promising affectionate relationship - but no babies.

Since my primary objective is to constantly improve the quality of the birds I breed, this goal has a high priority. In order to improve quality I want their physical characteristics to complement each other. For example, in an attempt to achieve both width and length in the same bird I breed a bird dominant in width with one dominant in length.

Birds that are line bred (basically breeding related birds) for certain qualities will produce more consistently than birds that have been out crossed (bred with a totally unrelated bird). The time to outcross is when you have produced two lines of birds which have different qualities you want to combine in one bird. If the birds are dominant for each of the desired qualities, this usually works.

The birds themselves may not agree with my choice of a perfect mate. Compatibility, the third priority, then necessarily takes precedence. The importance of pair bonding to a successful breeding cannot be overlooked. Many Cockatiels have minds of their own about accepting a mate. The hen may be more interested than the cock and give up on her attempts to be fertilized. She then goes about nesting as usual but lays and tries to incubate clear eggs.

More often an eager cock finds himself with a reluctant hen. He may be so insistent and tired of his mate's "having a headache" that he drives her into the nest box and keeps her there without food or water. Occasionally a hen is badly plucked by an aggressive male. These pairs should definitely be separated.

We also encounter the "next door " syndrome. The cock ignores his own hen and spends his time actively courting the hen in the adjoining cage. In a case like this, wife swapping is the only alternative, regardless of careful selection by pedigrees. I make a practice of setting up my pairs in their breeding cages several months before providing them with a nest box and usually find some changes in my original plans are necessary.

I try to find an experienced bird to mate with a young, first time parent. A seasoned cock who fertilizes, sits and feeds well will teach his mate just how things are done. A mature hen, with previous experience, will also train an eager but clumsy cock in the mechanics of fertilization. One of the causes for the production of clear eggs is the cock mounting the hen from her side. The mature hen will help her mate until he gets it right.

Most Cockatiels can be considered ready for breeding at about eighteen months of age but this can vary considerably. Some settle down to the duties of parenthood at either an earlier or not until a much later age. Some remain flighty and inattentive to their duties until after they have had the experience of one or two clutches.

BREEDING FOR SHOW

A wise friend once told me "When making breeding choices for your cockatiels, in your mind spray paint them all black." This is easier said than done, but is advice I always try to keep foremost in my mind when setting up my breeding pairs. I have found concentrating on specific conformation traits helps me look past the pretty cinnamon pearl I am so fond of. Try going through your flock just looking at eye size, nothing else. Keep notes on which of your birds have the largest eyes. Go through your flock again looking only at crests - not only the length but the fullness and shapes and again keep careful notes. Learn to look for confirmation traits just as you would for color.

Most of us are too engrossed in color breeding to really make progress in achieving over-all improvements in our stock. Instead of making color the primary consideration, I work at producing birds with good confirmation qualities. Large size, good substance, longer length, good wing set, large eyes, good top lines, head size, and exceptional crests are some of my major considerations. Even sweet personalities and the important characteristic of producing good parents and consistently prolific breeders are part of genetic background taken into account.

Eradicating faults and accentuating good qualities in breeding stock does involve concentrated study of pedigrees. When I have succeeded in producing a line of exceptionally large birds who are satisfactory in other ways, but lacking in crest, I determine which of my stock have consistently produced long, sweeping crests. I then set up one of my "moose" birds ( the big fellows of which I am so proud) with one of a line not quite so large and satisfactory in other ways but outstanding for good crests.

This system for making my selections is not always successful by any means. The need for a series of trials stretching over several breeding seasons is part of the game.

When I have succeeded in producing a "moose" with a beautiful crest, I then must concentrate on producing a line of breeders where this is a consistent characteristic. I do not consider a bird that is just a single occurrence from lesser quality stock as a good prospect. A really good bird is one that reproduces itself and has siblings with the same characteristics I am looking for.

When I first started seriously breeding show birds, I had many problems with incorrect wing set. I repeatedly came up with beautiful birds whose wings crossed on their backs in a perfect X - a "points off" attribute for a show bird. Difficult as it was to do, I had to ruthlessly eliminate from my breeding program any birds whose offsprings came up with crossed wings. A considerable number of promising birds were demoted to pet breeding status before I succeeded in eradicating this fault from my stock.

It is inevitable that when making all these decisions color has to become a minor consideration. If your chief objective is to produce pretty, saleable pet quality birds, concentrate on making your choices on the basis of color. If your objective is the breeding of show winners, think of all your birds as having been sprayed with black paint and let color happen as it will.

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Last Updated:  April 26, 2013

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