COCKATIELS - A GOOD CHOICE

by Linda Greeson

Choosing Cockatiels for your first venture into bird breeding is a wise decision. It is not necessary to invest a large amount of money for either breeding stock or housing requirements. Except for Budgies, Cockatiels remain the most popular pet species, so the market for your chicks is always assured. They are hardy, prolific, sweet little birds who offer an endless variety of color mutations to play around with. Even the normal grays range from almost black to a light pale shade. The Cinnamons, Lutinos, Pearls and Pieds produce countless variations. All of these mutations exist in the White-faced. The production of Cockatiel mutations is still in its infancy. The breeder of these birds will always find new and interesting variations in the chicks he produces.

There is no need to search for proven pairs. Young cockatiels from different blood lines are all that are required. They will usually accept a mate quite readily and be willing and eager to start breeding by the age of a year. Although there is considerable variation, ten is the average number of young for a pair to produce in one year. We limit our birds to three clutches, followed by a long rest period.

L shaped bump out cages, 18 inches wide by 24 inches high by 48 inches long, are most satisfactory for breeding purposes. Any cage of these approximate dimensions will be acceptable. We use standard 12 x 12 x 12 cockatiel nest boxes, the bottom covered by a two to three inch layer of pine shavings mixed with a small amount of 5% Sevin powder. The entrance opening should measure at least three inches across and a nearby perch provided.

We use shallow, flat water dishes in the breeding cages as moisture is important in incubating eggs. You will observe your birds squatting in these water dishes, using them to soak their breast feathers, as well as for drinking.

We post an index card on the front of each nest box and use it to record the date each egg is laid as well as the date sitting starts. We also record the date on each new egg with a soft tip permanent ink marker. The same card later provides a place to record the hatch date of each chick and their leg band number.

The usual pattern is for an egg to be produced every other day for a total of five to six eggs. Some hens consistently limit their production to one or two eggs. Others keep on putting out eggs like little machines for a total of twelve or more. Egg production is heavily influenced by both diet and heredity.

On about the fifth day it is a good practice to check the eggs for fertility. This is done by holding a strong light behind the egg. A small dark spot with red veins extending all around indicate that the egg is fertile. If the egg appears clear after a week of incubation it can safely be assumed to be infertile and removed from the nest. As clever as the birds are about so many other details, they will faithfully sit on clear eggs for the required incubation period.

The usual routine is for the cock to sit on the eggs during the day and the hen at night while the cock does guard duty at the nest box entrance. Nature has provided the hen with a fatty pad on her breast which supplies warmth during the cooler nights. Often you will observe them both in the nest box together, having carefully divided the eggs into equal numbers for each to sit on. I am convinced that Cockatiels can count.

The birds sit so faithfully for such long intervals you will notice that they have single large droppings of a lighter shade of green than is usual. The nest box remains immaculately clean during incubation time.

As part of the incubation process the parents turn the eggs frequently, often every hour during the first two weeks. This movement of the embryo to a different position in the egg provides better use of food sources and more even distribution of heat. It reduces the chances of the membrane adhering to the developing chick. During the last days of incubation the eggs due to hatch are pushed to one side for a period of time each day. Those wise little parents know that they no longer require turning at this stage in their development.

At about the 18th to the 21st day of incubation, if you hold the egg close to your ear, you will be able to hear a faint chirping. A very small hole then appears in the side of the egg. The little chick within is working his way out of the egg with the use of a small, temporary protrusion on the upper side of this beak called an egg tooth. If you are fortunate enough to be an observer while this is all going on, resist your instinctive desire to help the chick. Interference by humans, even the most skilled, most often results in damage to the chick.

Most Cockatiels make devoted parents. Young birds, having their first experience, may be dismayingly negligent in sitting or more often in feeding their young. Giving them a second or even a third chance usually pays dividends. With maturity and experience, they usually settle down and perform well.

Except for banding the chicks on the 7th to the 10th day, the role of the breeder is now largely keeping the parent birds supplied with soft foods such as millet, corn, oats, and whole wheat bread in addition to their regular diet. We take our chicks from the nest for hand feeding at twelve to fourteen days. When the parents are doing a good job of keeping their crops stuffed, it is a temptation to leave the chicks in the nest for an extra week. The additional work involved in pulling them earlier pays off in tame friendly babies who completely bond to humans, hardly aware that they are birds.

By the time you have your first clutch of baby Cockatiels weaned, you will inevitably find yourself with a major problem - you will want to keep them all. Space available to house them and time available to care for them will eventually solve this dilemma, and you will learn to enjoy each succeeding clutch as it comes along.

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Last Updated:  April 26, 2013

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