Breeding Budgerigars in Earthquake City

Article by Lincoln Baldwin. Kindly supplied to by Terry Tuxford.

Lincoln and Fay BaldwinBreeding budgerigars this year reminded me of the racy days of the 1960s, when you put down a pair of birds and got 5 or 6 fertile eggs from each nest, and reared 6 or 8 from each cage over the two rounds.

In those days heads were the most important feature as it still is today.

For many years, our advertisement in the year book claimed the bold statement:

“Bred for Head, Winning with Type”

Type was important and you were advised not to breed buff to buff.

Fanciers of that era would be blown away by what is the norm on the show bench today.


This last season, we started pairing birds the earliest ever, because there was so much scrapping in the flights particularly amongst the hens.

Five hens were chosen primarily for their fitness and in 2 cases their poor breeding results in 2009.

They were put in the breeding cages on the 20th July with open nest boxes. 3 days later the cocks were introduced. Four of these 5 hens went to nest and laid.

The Earthquake

On the 26th August, we paired up another 6 pairs and the first of these laid on the 4th September, the day of the earthquake.

On the night of the big “rock and roll”, my wife got up at 4 a.m. and woke me to look at the sky.

It was a brilliant clear blue with a bright quarter moon lighting our back lawn.

Half an hour later all hell broke loose as we leapt out of bed. The noise of breaking glass and falling crockery was horrendous.

When that subsided, we could hear the birds in a frenzy of uncontrolled flying just crashing madly about in the breeding cages and flights.

I turned to Fay and said:

“That is the end of our budgie hobby”

We had 6 show cages in a line at the back of a shelf 50 mm wider than the cages and at shoulder height.

They fell to the ground, but only received minor damage to the cages although the fronts were badly damaged and needed straightening.

The mess in our lounge and kitchen was a mix of liquids, glass, vases, china, and pantry solids.

No power for 24 hours.

The street corner was cordoned off as a power pole was down. We checked on our neighbours and went back to bed.

Daylight Breaks

Come daylight we were up and taking stock.

4 retail shopping areas within a radius of 2-3 km, had severe damage and in one case the whole complex has been bulldozed.

At about 8 a.m. I went out to the birds.

The first 4 pair had young and the hens were in the nest.

The results were:

  • 23 eggs
  • 14 fertile
  • 12 young
  • 1 dead in shell
  • …and a feather-duster

There was very little chirping.

I turned the radio on, gave them their daily silver beet and the birds soon returned to song. I think they were glad to see me!

Post Earthquake

Between the 4th and 12th of September the second six pairings started to lay.

The results were:

  • 35 eggs
  • 32 fertile
  • 16 young
  • 10 dead in shell
  • 6 died

By early October the first 4 pairs were laying their second round, one cock with a new mate.

The results were:

  • 26 eggs
  • 24 fertile
  • 14 young
  • 5 dead in shell
  • 1 died
  • …and a nest of 4 scuttled

Then early in November the six pair of August pairings started laying again and other replacement pairs for cages that produced nothing and a replacement for a lovely large sky hen that must be barren.

The results were:

  • 33 eggs
  • 32 fertile
  • 18 young
  • 14 dead in shell

A high percentage of dead in shell we attribute to the December aftershocks culminating in the big one on Boxing Day (26th December). During December we had another 4 pairs laying.

The results were:

  • 28 eggs
  • 24 fertile
  • 18 young
  • 6 dead in shell


Emergency MeasuresTotal results for 2010:

  • 145 eggs
  • 126 fertile
  • 78 young
  • 36 dead in shell
  • …and 12 deaths

5 nests have had 7 or 8 eggs each and 2 other nests 9.

We have had extremely good fertility this season.

The high percentage of dead in shell we attribute to the aftershocks – 36 dead in shell and another 12 young dying is a very high percentage (33%).

On one occasion I was out in the garden beyond the flights, facing the aviary and actually saw the aviary house area lift as the quake rolled through and under me, quite spectacular!

I went into the breeding room immediately. Not a sound from them. The hens with chicks were out of the nests, but those with eggs were still in the nest boxes.

How Did This Happen?

So, what was happening at night when some of the worst aftershocks took place?

What has contributed to the high percentage (87%) of fertile eggs?

What have we done differently?

Some Possible Theories…

  • Firstly

    Our matings also coincided with the majority of hatchings occurring just on or after full moon (i.e. pairing about 3 days before full moon).

    This is what pigeon breeders, who, after extensive studies, found gave the best results.

    In the case of pigeons, it was a question of speed and reduced their losses with their racing stock.

  • Secondly

    Although we had used the Massey Pigeon Complementary Feeding Oil spasmodically last breeding season, this season we started using it early in July.

    Although directions were given on the bottle for rearing young pigeons through to racing pigeons, I decided that, as pigeons eat whole grain, putting oil on seed was sufficient for them to get the oil – but not so for budgerigars.

    We decided to allow the oil to soak through the husk to the kernel where it would be more likely eaten by our birds.

    With this in mind I already had an aluminium container 250 mm high and 150 mm diameter with a lid. It holds approximately 3.5 litres of seed when full – ideal for the flight birds and sufficient for the 15 pairs in the breeding cages.

    We poured in 40 mm of plain canary seed and adding a teaspoon of oil on top in a circle and repeated until we had 4 layers of oil plus a cover of seed over the last one.

    Approximately 3 litres of canary seed in total.

    We left this for 24 hours to get high concentration of oil into some of the seed.

    We then stirred it with a flat paddle to mix it thoroughly and left it for another 2 days.

    This treated seed was darker than untreated seed and could be seen to have absorbed the oil. To use this oiled seed we mixed 1 part treated to 4 parts untreated seed mixture. This meant that theoretically 1 in every 5 seeds the birds eat is rich in oil.

    Those of you who have used it will know it is not tacky like most oils and penetrates readily if allowed to stand. We keep a lid on it and it does not appear to deteriorate over the time it takes to be used. The manufacturers say to keep the bottle refrigerated.

  • Thirdly

    It is widely accepted that trees and bushes coming to the end of their life will often produce an abundance of flower or fruit in a last ditch effort for the species to survive.

    Could this be the case with our budgies with over 4,000 aftershocks?

    We don’t think so, because other Christchurch breeders would also be having a good season.

    Unfortunately that is not the case and I have not heard of anyone having anything like the fertility we have experienced this year.

Perhaps none of these three reasons have anything to do with the pleasing results we had this breeding season and it is the result of a number of coincidences just chipping in to give us a season to be thankful for.


Baldwin flightsOn 22nd February 2011 at one in the afternoon, a third earthquake (of 6.3 magnitude) hits Christchurch, New Zealand.

The depth is a “shallow” 5 km and it is centred near Lyttelton.

The surrounding rock structure of the hills sends shock waves equivalent to an estimated 1.25 times the strength of the September 4th quake – hence the destruction of the entire city centre!


Filed Under: Breeding



Terry Tuxford About the Author:

Terry Tuxford first began breeding budgerigars in 1979 and joined the BS in 1980. He was elevated to Champion in 1985 when he went into partnership with Brian Poole. This partnership is probably one of the longest existing partnerships in the UK hobby today having lasted some 27 years so far and is still going strong. Terry and Brian are also partnered by Yvonne Tuxford who joined the BS in 1990.

Terry demonstrated his penmanship early in his budgerigar career and wrote in the second edition of Budgerigar World. Little did he realise then that in just over 8 year’s time he would become editor following a 20 month apprenticeship with founding editor, Gerald Binks. Terry went on to edit a total of 245 editions up to May 2011.

In 1993 Terry took his Budgerigar Society Judges final examination and was awarded Subsidiary Judge of the Year and has gone on to judge the Budgerigar Society World Show on three occasions as well as many top shows at home and abroad. He is also an accomplished speaker and has been a guest at societies throughout the UK as well as Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and many other European countries.

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