Breeding Problems – Gerald Binks, UK

We often hear about “Cabinet Reshuffles” in connection with Governments in order to bring about, one always hopes, a distinct improvement.  On the other hand it’s an admittance that “we got it wrong the first time – nobody is much good at what they are doing”.  To some extent this analogy applies to the aviary.  Very often we find pairs sitting there and being totally uncooperative when it comes to doing any work, which come to think of it, could be cause at the Ministers as well!  There is nothing else for it – we have to have a re-pairing session and do a similar cabinet reshuffle if matters are to improve.

Gerald Binks Bird Room

Gerald Binks Bird Room

Why are such pairs inactive?  The causes are fairly numerous.  There is the obvious assumption that one or both of the parents are out of condition or too young.  That may be true, but look further than that.  What exactly happens when a bird comes into breeding condition or otherwise and what are the stimuli which cause it?

Chemical messages or ‘hormones’ as we know them, are liberated into the blood stream, from what are known as the ductless glands, which as a group, form the “endocrine system”.  The science of endocrinology is of great value to both human and veterinary science.  Some of you will be familiar with the fact that iodine is a necessary factor which has to be included in the diet for budgerigars in order to assist the thyroid gland.  This gland is one of those which form the endocrine system.  However, it is not the thyroid gland with which I am concerned in this article.  The two main ductless glands that cause our birds to stay out or come into condition are the pituitary, gland and the gonads which form the sex organs.  The pituitary which is sited in the mid brain area, controls the complete functions of all the other endocrine glands.  It is in fact the conductor of the orchestra.

Pituitary Gland

The effect of light, specifically the increase in its duration and intensity, has a great effect on the reproductive cycle.  This triggers the pituitary gland.  The hormones from many of the other endocrine organs entering into the blood stream, and the subsequent displaying, mating and the production of crop milk are the result.  Under our usual ‘artificial conditions’ where we house our budgerigars, the nutritional factors are involved in the health and reproductive ability of our stock.  Interestingly enough, latitude plays a part in determining laying and such related activities.  In poultry, peak production is in April, whereas inAustraliaandNew Zealandit is in October.  These months both correspond to the ‘springtime’ in both latitudes and coincide with an increase to a point where the longest daylight occurs.

So light, whether it is artificial or daylight has a big bearing on matters.  This in fact has raised a point in my own mind.  We have one block of 12 breeding cages, which relative to the other four ‘blocks’, does not breed so many chicks as the others.  I should think we have more “cabinet reshuffles” in that block, certainly over 50% per annum, than elsewhere.  Why this is so eludes me, but it is certainly in the darkest section of the aviary from first light until the artificial lights come on at 1600 hours.  What is important is the gradual lengthening and shortening of the daylight in the reproductive process.

Nearly Dark Nesting Box

Gerald Binks Nest Box

Gerald Binks Nest Box

There has never been any doubt in my mind that budgerigars, while needing the stimulation of lengthening hours of light, also need a dark or nearly dark nesting box.  Many hens are totally disinterested in those nest boxes which are facing the light.  The interior is too well lit, the hens do not feel secure and the knock-on effect is they have no desire to lay.

Next we must consider each of the sexes.  It may be that you have a line of cocks or hopefully only the odd one that is sexually indifferent to any hen, preferring the company of his own sex.  It is an established fact that homosexuality in birds does occur, but happily they are in the minority.  Similarly there are cocks which are just plain lethargic.  If they are like that, no amount of displaying from the hen will achieve any response from such a bird and the end product is both birds sitting there doing nothing except look at each other.  This situation can easily be the other way round; the hen being the guilty partner.  She may be young, may not have associated with the males since she was 4 months old and may be thoroughly ‘put off’ by the whole experience.  This is why I have stressed before that the hens have to be left alone with the nest boxes accessible for three days, before the cocks are introduced.  It greatly helps to avoid the problem just mentioned, if they have had 3 days of ‘nesting stimulation’ before their mates arrive.  At least you have a much better chance if one of the partners is ‘on the boil’ to start with.

We then have those hens which appear to go to nest, swell up in the abdominal region, their droppings being loose in the normal way, but at the end of the two weeks following pairing, there is no sign of an egg.  These, the fanciers call ‘internal layers’.  If you feel the abdomens, all you feel is the increase in the size of the ovaries etc. but no signs of anything firm like an egg.  Is there an answer?  In a word – no.  You may as well get the cock working with a more reliable hen and press on.  Such hens are very irritating, but in my experience they are best left in the flight for a few months and are then tried again with what I call the ‘problem group’ at the end of the breeding season.

Infertile Eggs

Checking Eggs For Fertility

Checking Eggs For Fertility

Of course we have those pairs which produce infertile eggs.  Very often one will find the first egg infertile, unless one adopts the procedure I do with the hens prior to pairing.  However this is not to say I do not have pairs with completely infertile clutches – far from it.  One of the reasons of course is that some hens become ‘box bound’.  The hens remain in the nest boxes and deprive the cocks from the opportunity to mate.  Some fanciers have been known to close off the nesting holes for five minutes each day to allow the cocks to fertilise such hens.

Round, smooth perches are another cause.  Years ago when our pedigree birds were much small than they are today, such smaller, light weighted stock could easily mate on a round perch.  However, big, massive show birds, in particular the hens, are unable to grip on such a perch when mating.  A square perch is a must for all breeding stock today enabling the hens to grip easily and feel secure.  Another reason for infertility is the number of ‘buff’ or coarse feathered birds we possess today.  Such birds have great length of feather and this can preclude successful mating, if this feather around the vents is especially dense.  Some fanciers, knowing this, deplume the offending feathers in the areas prior to pairing.

Infertility can of course be caused by a vitamin deficiency, namely that of Vitamin E.  However it should not be a problem because grain contains Vitamin E in its fatty part.  Sometimes Vitamin E is called the anti-sterility vitamin and it is found in abundance in wheatgerm oil.

So these are a few of the problems which may occur during any season.  Do finally remember some birds do not like the colours of their partners.  Birds can see colour beyond doubt and there have been innumerable cases of hens not liking their partners because their body colour is not suited to them, or vice versa.

With all these problems you have to take some form of action and try the offenders with different partners.  ‘Cabinet re-shuffles’ are a necessary evil, but the sooner you effect them, the better chances you will have of success.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. Priyank Dhami says:

    Dear Gerald sir,

    Thanks for this article.

    As I have some point stuck in breeding but I got the clue from this article & its helpful.

    Thanks & Regards,

    Priyank Dhami.

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