Breeding Room Thoughts

Over the years, I have been known to write articles in all manner of magazines and books, on a worldwide basis, about breeding quantity as well as quality in exhibition budgerigars.

I also know that some breeders just do not think it possible to do this easily with the larger birds we have today by comparison to those bred in the past. I beg to differ, when one takes a stud of birds as a whole.

I am not talking about individual birds which just refuse to breed at any price. I am discussing the total number of birds bred on the perches at the end of a complete breeding season.

This however has to be related to the actual number of pairings that have taken place. It is not good enough to say you have bred, say, 100 chicks and divide by 10 breeding cages, to get an average figure per pair produced. To be accurate you have to divide the total chicks by the actual number of pairings that you have made. This gives you the full reality of the success or failure of a season.

Evolving a System

It is of vital importance, particularly post the Millennium, that one has to create a system of breeding big budgerigars along with all the other desirable exhibition features.

A big budgerigar will always beat a smaller one given other similar character features when judged.

The old phrase is that you are better trying to breed “rats” by comparison to “mice”.

Some fanciers will only buy the bigger-framed birds and there is a lot of merit in that, but that said the value of a bird is primarily related to the qualities of the head overall from the base of the mask upward.

It is no use having a big bird with very poor head features.

Breeders generally, in my experience, develop their own techniques and believe they have found a “secret” to do well and breed birds of quality year in, year out.

It has been known that some who have struck lucky and bred a nest from some outcrosses, that turn out to be really outstanding, describe themselves as geniuses as livestock breeders – that is until a few more seasons have past and the full realisation that they are no such thing brings them crashing down.

We are all “playing” with different systems, inbreeding, outcrossing and so on, in the hope that super winners emerge. Great when one does, but sustaining it, is, dare I say it, “The Challenge”.

Establishing a strong feeding system has to be coupled with your breeding system. this. One cannot succeed without the other.

Selective Breeding

1986 vs 2010Selective breeding has resulted in the development of the budgerigar from the 1840’s to what we see on the bench today in certain colour forms.

This is mainly in the grey, grey greens, light greens and skyblues as a generalisation.

In photographs seen on websites, as well as in books and magazines, we can see a super quality bird, but cannot assess its size overall. It may look a wonder bird but may be very much a medium sized bird.

An analogy is that you cannot gauge how big or small a person is on TV. Nobody realises, for instance, how big was Les Martin’s Best in Show at the UK Budgerigar Society – both as a breeder in 2009 and as an adult in 2010.

My own Grey Green cock BA23 43 86, which won against a field of 4500 entries was very similar in size, but not with the directional feather that has developed in the past 7-8 years. To achieve such size, or power, as I prefer to call it, one has to have a perfect feeding system that works. Without it you are sunk as you can breed that potential super bird, but if it is badly fed it simply falls back into the pack.

To Beginners & Novices

The finest advice, especially to the beginner, is to do next to nothing in the first year once you have decided that this is the hobby for you.

Why? Simply because you have not the experience to design the right aviary and buy the right stock to start with immediately.

A year can be a long time when you are keen to get going, but believe me by reading, listening to lectures, going round as many aviaries as you can and developing the “eye” for quality and the prices for quality birds, this approach will give you a head start and save you a great deal of unnecessary expense in the long term.

Learn the basics first. It is a technique that you have to learn and where assessing quality on a budgerigar is concerned, some never learn it. Many so called judges prove that from time to time.

When you have done your apprenticeship, buy big birds if you can, but be wary of buying hens that are not only big but thick around the vent area – this is usually a sign of previous attempts to breed with them. They can be trouble.

All breeders should have a pedigree system. Amazingly very few fanciers ask for a pedigree and certainly sellers don’t offer them unless asked, because they can take up a great deal of time to complete unless they have a computerised system that can faithfully be completed all the time.

Better to start a system from the beginning and insist on obtaining a pedigree, even if only two generations back. If you do not have a system you cannot know what you are doing and neither can any subsequent buyer have any confidence in purchasing stock from you.

The Feeding Book

All fanciers should have a “Feeding Book”. You have to record your feeding system down to the minutest details. If you have a poor season you can look back at how your stud was fed in the previous season and conversely if you have a super season, you again look back and stick to that technique.

If you have a copy of “The Challenge” and you are in trouble, may I recommend the two chapters on “Feeding” to you.

At first glance they look complex, but study them in depth and you should be able to see what your diet lacks or where you have force fed too many vitamins and other faults. It’s all there if you take the time and trouble to digest the contents to achieve better and final good results.

One easily created fault is that it is so easy to forget buying this or that product that is part of your system and it is only when you look at your Feeding Record book that it reveals the mistake(s).

Lastly, record any changes that you make in the diet when you do them – not later as they get forgotten.

Feeding Technique Advice

If you are a raw beginner, you will have been around aviaries in that first year and listened to the feeding advice from very experienced breeders who have been breeding budgerigars for years.

Do not necessarily expect all of them to reveal everything they do!

Some may leave out an item which is a “key” factor in their technique. Others will be fully open.

The breeders you are looking for are those who have, say, 40 pairs of cages which are nearly full of chicks, year in year out.

Now here is the important point. Keep your eyes wide open. Look at exactly what is being fed in each cage and also what has been consumed and look for the leftovers that are still in evidence. What minerals and vitamins are going in, both in solid and solution via the drinkers? What packets are on display and what bottles are present?

The seed mixtures everyone looks at as though that is the main clue. Unfortunately it is only part of the whole input and frankly I feel that, provided you have a high percentage of canary seed, which has the highest protein content, all the other conventional seeds we use are just the fillers to the diet – but they have to be there.

Reproduction – what you put in you get out

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are your birds looking as though they are active and keen to breed?
  2. Are you hens calm and relaxed and good incubators?
  3. Do some hens scream their head off when you open the boxes and scatter the eggs? If so make a note to not use them again.
  4. Is feather plucking a problem indicating the hens are nervous?
  5. Do the hens emerge from the boxes when slightly disturbed or not?
  6. Is the fertility good or spasmodic? Are the cocks too young and lacking experience?
  7. Are the hens basically all feeding well apart from the odd pair that produce scrawny retarded chicks that eventually die?

Such questions are limitless, but are all basically geared to: “what am I doing wrong?”

In 99 per cent of cases it is your husbandry and lack of attention that is at fault. You are the provider and in full charge of your livestock. If you are not prepared to put in the effort – why bother being in the hobby at all?

If things go wrong, it’s your fault, not the birds – apart from the standard irritations they dish out in this or that nest.

I have personally made many mistakes over the years and have tried to learn in the process, but when I make the same error twice, I really get angry with myself!

Check the Temperature

When your birds are breeding in the Northern hemisphere a temperature setting should be 10 degrees Centigrade (50 degrees Fahrenheit) from experience.

Lower than that and eggs get chilled very quickly when a hen is off the eggs for any reason for a period. It takes time for them to excrete, mate and fill up their crops and addled eggs can appear later on quite easily.

In warmer countries, breeding is far easier, as Reinhard Molkentin in South Africa confirms having previously experienced breeding in Germany.

Of course heating charges get worse year by year and you can run up big bills, but you have to balance your affordability against the results you are getting.

In conclusion, remember that the first round chicks are not always fed as well with the rich crop milk required – especially from young hens. Their crop milk does not flow as well until the second or subsequent rounds when the chicks are much fuller in the hand when still in the nest at four or five weeks of age.

It is these latter rounds that are frequently the rounds that produce those “Rat Sized” birds!

One of these in the hand gives great pleasure and makes the efforts and overhead expenses worthwhile.

Happy Breeding!

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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. Dear Gerald,

    After reading this article I realise that everything is possible and nothing is beyond “dreams”!

    Best Regards
    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan

  2. Omar Suarez says:

    It is a shame that we are so far away and it is difficult to bring birds from your stock to our country, Venezuela, and thus improve our birds……

    lastima que estemos tan lejos y sea dificil traer aves de su linea a nuestro pais, venezuela, y asi mejorar nuestrar aves……

    Omar Suarez, Venezuela

  3. Hello.

    Although I am not completely raw to the hobby (I used to show as a beginner in the 1970’s), I have already gained some valued advice through reading this article.

    You are right in saying to visit as many bird rooms as you can, as I only dealt with one person at the time.

    I am just contemplating whether to start up again.

    Malc Richings, UK

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