Breeding Exhibition Budgerigars

Knowledge of the breeding patterns of the wild budgerigar is needed to improve the breeding results of exhibition budgerigars. This article outlines the important areas of wild budgerigar biology and their application to the modern day exhibition budgerigar.

The wild budgerigar is a remarkably successful species. For over five million years it has survived in the harsh, dry conditions of inland Australia. Its success can be attributed to a nomadic lifestyle and its ability to breed “on the run”.

Breeding activity is initiated in a similar fashion as for other bird species. It is dependent upon seasonal and climatic conditions but in many ways the behaviour of budgerigars is unique amongst birds. Its breeding activity is completely dominated by the availability of water and food. These are scarce resources across the vast dry regions of inland Australia.

Survival, rather than breeding, dominates the life of wild budgerigars. Seasonal rains and temperatures dictate the breeding cycle of wild birds.

Budgerigars do not breed in the heat of summer, even after summer rains, because the high temperatures rapidly kill off most desert grasses and dry up water holes. In nature, budgerigars reserve this time for the annual moult. Similarly, exhibition budgerigars should not breed, but be allowed to moult during summer.

Winter temperatures often drop below freezing in Australian deserts causing budgerigars to abandon their nests. Exhibition budgerigars should also not be allowed to breed when it is too cold.

Budgerigars in nature breed prolifically during favorable seasonal conditions and their cousins, exhibition budgerigars, have certainly retained this ancient and strong characteristic. Sadly, many champion exhibition budgerigars have lost this fundamental trait through poor selection. The consensus of opinion is that the breeding requirements of the modern day exhibition budgerigar are more demanding than those of wild budgerigars because of the increased size of their young.

In many Australian studs poor fertility has been reversed by those holding defiantly to the wise breeding principle of “selection of the fittest”. It is agreed that modern day exhibition budgerigars are more difficult to breed and need special attention. The fancier should see improvements in breeding results when the principles of the breeding habits of wild budgerigars are applied to the somewhat difficult exhibition budgerigar.

The following facts should increase the chance of breeding success and reduce the likelihood of breeding failure.

“General Timing” Guidelines

Fertility problems (albeit not in every breeding pair) must be expected when budgerigars are paired at the wrong biological time of the year, irrespective of the presence of artificial lighting or temperature control must be given to the notion of breeding condition, good health and the natural breeding cycle of the wild budgerigar. Many breeding problems are often remedied simply by breeding at the right time of the year.

My advice is to breed at the right time of year (see chart below) and then to reassess your breeding results. If infertility persists, “cleanse” the stud with a prescribed disease treatment programme. If fertility is good and the babies develop poorly, look more closely at the feeding system being used.

By following these simple rules, breeding success is guaranteed in all pairs except those with a genetic weakness.

Moult Guideline

Understand the relationship between the moult and the breeding season. The wild budgerigar can breed at any time of the year but generally does not breed in the heat of summer, prior to the monsoon rains. It is during these hot months of December, January and February that it replaces its feathers in what is referred to as the annual moult.

It is the completion of the moult and the beginning of the autumn rains that prime the wild budgerigar into breeding condition.

The fancier must also follow this same natural process with the aviary budgerigar and wait for the completion or termination of the annual moult before starting to breed. This applies to both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and is outlined in the chart below.

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About the Author: Dr Rob Marshall B.V.Sc., M.A.V.C.Sc. (Avian Health) is arguably the finest and most experienced veterinary surgeon in the world currently highly active in the field of avian diseases. His knowledge, supported by his extensive Curriculum Vitae, plus papers and books on avian health, is unequalled. His latest publication, "The Budgerigar Book", took 12 years to produce and is undoubtedly the most extensive volume concerning budgerigar health ever produced. Dr Marshall has his own veterinary practice in Carlingford, near Sydney, Australia.

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