Fertility & Feeding


A common question put to me is “how do I achieve a good fertility so that I do not have two poor seasons that can easily put me out of the hobby?”. Firstly let me address a depressing scenario. Here we have the enthusiastic fancier who has, we can say, 20 breeding cages into which he can drop perhaps 30 pairings over a normal season. If he has small birds he may not have many fertility problems but with the larger big birds, especially hens, it becomes more difficult in at least 80% of the nests. It’s easy to breed with the “mice”, but not with the “rats”.

Fertility established after 3 daysOur fancier may well be feeding a number of items over and above the standard seed mixtures along with water and some vitamins that he has heard about – but really doesn’t understand. In some cases he’s not really interested and this is very true as I have found that in my book “The Challenge” fanciers love to read the “juicy bits” but when it comes to the two most important chapters in the whole book – the ones on feeding – they gloss over them. They are the vital chapters because without taking them step by step and understanding what is required, then a failed breeding season is very likely. Next stage is depression and that can be followed by “exit stage left” from the hobby. Two consecutive seasons like this and it’s a certainty.

Here in UK is a classic case of one such fancier who approached me for help. He was just not breeding birds of any consequence. You may know him. He is Geoff Bowley who is a quality judge and whose father won Best in Show at our biggest event some years ago. His fertility was appalling. Geoff is but one of hundreds who have called me over time with just this problem. My reaction is immediately to request every single item that goes into the husbandry of the stud in a nutritional sense. I write them all down as they list them. I can then assess what is going wrong and I can say that 90 per cent of cases are solvable instantly. This is based on having studied nutrition in zoology at school added to all the mistakes that I have made myself in the hobby. In my case, and I appreciate that the UK feeding methods are unlike diets abroad, I was searching for a diet that would stand the test of time year in year out.

Searching for the perfect diet

After the 2nd World War in 1945 the UK hobby just survived with a few dedicated fanciers with relatives who were fighting being pressed to bring home seed in their kit bags whenever possible. Forget the kit – just get the seed!! The birds were terribly small but bigger than the wild variety. Head qualities were non-existent. By 1975 however the British had forged ahead with the massive improvement in head qualities including depth of mask, spot size, backskull, but until recently not width of face with directional feather.

So how did the UK, now joined by Europe, improve everything? The answer lay with two areas – Nutrition and Selection – and thinking what exactly could be ahead in time but not yet achieved. You had to know a budgerigar’s features to the millimetre to be able to do that. The credit for these forward-thinking stages goes to names such as Harry Bryan, Angela Moss, Frank Wait, Maurice Finey, Joe Collyer, Doug Sadler, Alf Ormerod and Margery Kirkby Mason to name but a few. Binks was around but no more than that. Progress depended, they all agreed, on nutrition and everyone had their own haphazard ideas. All sorts of vitamins and mineral salts were thrust into the birds. Everybody had a biscuit tin full of seed mixture to which was added 12 teaspoons of cod liver oil and then a product called Kilpatricks Pigeon Minerals was added. This contained a multiplicity of minerals but mainly salt and carbon. The tin was shaken and the blackened mixture was given after 24 hours. That was THE most successful post war diet and into the 1950’s that still existed, but it was dead easy to breed budgerigars by the bucket-load. I never forgot it but by the 1960’s new products entered the markets which looked better. After a while I realised that even though they looked good they were made by “chemists” who understood their chemistry but they didn’t know anything about budgerigars and what they really required to make them highly fertile and far bigger than their ancestors.

ChicksNow I come up to the year 2000 and beyond. Size, feather growth and directional feather is all the rage. Few fanciers have the latter and to obtain them requires a big dip in the pocket. For many years now I have gone back to basics with a high vitamin A & D inclusion in the diet and this is where Geoff Bowley, in my opinion, was going wrong. Their birds look fit when you see them, but the big birds of today demand this high dose to give them the vital energy to reproduce instead of just sitting there or laying infertile eggs. I personally still use cod liver oil but in a lesser quantity at two teaspoons to 12 pounds of seed. I also use the Kilpatricks Minerals and it has shown me how important minerals are over and above grits and cuttlefish bone. “Binks has, I suppose, bred a fistful again” is something I hear occasionally. So Geoff Bowley was given my diet in full. He applied it fully and after a few months on it his birds were put down to breed. The results were terrific and he wrote it up in a magazine. However two years later I heard he was doing badly again which I found astounding. When I found out the reason it was Geoff who said “I really couldn’t get on with the cod liver oil, so I dropped it”. I was staggered but it proved my point 100 per cent. Today I find that if your birds have the right diet balance there is little need to trim the vent area. Thick feather there doesn’t matter if the birds are bursting with energy.

The Importance of Grit

This is a subject that is a bit obscure to many fanciers especially when they read articles by a few veterinarians “that grit is not necessary”. I find this point of view bizarre. Nature has provided birds with a toughened muscular section of their digestive tract called the gizzard. It will only function given grit in both soluble and insoluble forms. E.G. Sharp granites and shell grits. No grits and the gizzard lining becomes ulcerated and breaks down and another distressed bird is found on the floor soon to die. Take shows for example. What is the first thing the birds go to on return home especially in your country where they are away from home for longish periods. You know they go immediately for the grit pots. The “grit not necessary brigade” is very wrong in my personal view for giving out such bad advice. Birds do not have teeth so that is replaced by a gizzard and its contents. No “teeth” no proper digestion and nutritional conversion.

Let me turn to the presence of grit in the aviary. Ask yourself, “How often do I top it up or replace it?” Chances are you just see the grit there and think the birds turn it over except that they do not! What they do is choose the particle they want from the top surface and the smaller particles are rejected and a dust accumulates. You will have seen this I feel sure but have you replaced it regularly enough. In flights it is so easy to overlook this important management practice. It also extends to every grit pot when the birds are breeding. They do the same and the bowl looks fine and full but the birdbrains only take the top layer. Remember the swallowed good grits are expelled once they are worn down in the gizzard and require replacing. If none is available then the chick rearing process is affected and dead or scrawny chicks may be the result. You are the sole provider for your stock. Any failing will be reflected in your breeding or health conditions. There is no substitute for quality husbandry.


Filed Under: BreedingFeeding



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. Megan says:

    One of my cock birds had a nest last year, but no chicks came from the eggs.

    This year I was looking at the eggs and I don’t think they are fertile.

    Is it that the cock bird is infertile or is there another reason?

  2. Gerald Binks says:

    Hello Megan,

    There are various reasons:

    1 – He is too young or too old.
    2 – The female will not accept him.
    3 – The female, commonly, will stay in the nest box and will not mate on the rare occasions she emerges.
    4 – Budgerigars have an approximate 11 day sperm “blank” period and if mating does take place in that period infertility results.
    5 – Your husbandry and feeding input is incorrect in which case infertility is the result. Breeding birds need a high percentage of vitamins A & D ,and a source of iodine in very minute quanties in their diets, but be warned – twice as much as it says on the bottle does not mean it is twice as good. Be accurate relative to the dosage relative to the weights of the bird(s).

  3. Megan says:

    He had eggs with a different hen last year and the cock and both the hens were bred in 2008.

    I use calcium in the water and I also have zebra finches and already I have 3 chicks. The hen does stay in the nest. The other hen and the hen the cocks with now are sisters, and they both stayed in the nest only to come out when I’m checking the nest.

    Thanks Megan

  4. Michael says:

    Hi Gerald

    First i want to thank you for this website and for the information you have on it – it’s amazing.

    I’m a new breeder into English show budgies. It’s amazing what a big difference there is between breeding “normal” budgies (big good size) and the English size – as we call them here down under.

    I do not know why is it – just need more energy or something else?

    Anyway, i just started to use cod liver oil after I read your article 3 days ago (too soon to see a difference I guess),and I would like some information from you:


    I will be mailing you the price of THE CHALLENGE soon – I heard it’s great from Warren Wilson.

    Kind regards – hope to hear from you soon.


  5. Dear Michael,

    As you will realise, I am aware of the Australian quest for size and the current ban in place on importing exhibition budgerigars, again, into your country.

    A very long time has elapsed since the first group of 500 birds (the Henry George Syndicate) went through two quarantines, followed by eight similar syndicates.

    Australia is now desperate to get fresh “blood” from the UK again, as can be imagined, as continual close breeding loses size.

    I see that you have introduced cod liver oil (CLO) as recommended, but unlike the UK, where high temperatures are not common, Australia is “slightly” different.

    Instead of mixing in CLO 24 hours in advance, I would advise that it is mixed into the seed mixture and fed immediately to the stock and any scattered seeds removed daily – if you can do that.

    CLO is slow to go rancid compared to CLO emulsions – but even so, do be cautious.

    Seed hoppers are useless if you are feeding CLO-treated seed.

    Regarding my feeding and your intent to buy “The Challenge”, I suggest that you wait to read it in full – otherwise you are taking bits of this or that out of context, which can easily precipitate french moult unless certain guidelines are taken.


  6. Michael says:

    Hi again Gerald,

    Regarding Cold Liver Oil (CLO), I do exactly what you said – I mix it into seed and give it straightaway.

    Regarding the ban, I was speaking with Jean Painter a few months ago and she said exactly what you said – i.e. we desperately need new blood.

    I believe some some breeders are working on that as we speak.

    Thanks again for your reply.

    Kind regards,


  7. don bait says:

    Mr Binks,

    I have been a budgerigar breeder now for almost 5 years, and I would like to know whether it is true that pairing a big hen with a big cock bird is dificult for successful breeding?

    Don Bait


  8. Gerald S Binks says:

    Dear Don,

    The short answer isw that there is no problem provided that the hen, if she is a big one, is not enlarged around the vent area – such hens are difficult to breed with.

    Of course, both birds need to be in full condition if successful results are desired, so your feeding programme has to be near perfect. May I recommend that you obtain a copy of “The Challenge” which will explain, in depth, a great number of your questions and of course it can be obtained via this website – click on Challenge advert for full details.


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