Putting Nature to the Test

In recent years I have been giving thought to the idea of how natural instincts of the budgerigar affects our exhibition type.

You read often from breeders, mostly from the UK and Europe, about how the colony instinct and the habits of wild birds are great indicators to breeding condition.

These ideas have spawned the idea of using all-wire breeding cages, especially here in Australia. They create a colony style breeding environment – but don’t get misled here, one of the real reasons for these cages are the easy to clean factor. You just take them out to the lawn area and hose them – job done.

I do have concerns about debris from adjacent cages contaminating other pairs, as very little is stopping the litter etc. falling out, but this is outside the scope of this article.

I have read about how some fanciers use the wild birds’ activities as indicators for pairing up, but, just because wild birds build nests, this does not indicate it’s time to pair-up. This to me ridiculous! I have strong doubts our birds carry enough of this kind of instinct to pair them up this way.

Wild birds have many and varied reasons to breed during different seasons.

Emperor PenguinsTake the emperor penguin that breeds during the winter in the South Pole. The hen goes out to sea, feeding during the winter, while the cock balances the precious egg on his feet incubating. They gather in a huge circle taking it in turns facing the winds on the outside and taking cover in the centre. The cock has to survive on his fat reserves. Just as the chick hatches, the season changes, and the hen, full from good feeding grounds many kilometers away far out in the oceans, returns to take over, allowing the cock to go off feeding. Why do they do this?

The answer is simple – the sea will be bountiful to raise the chick during the summer months much closer to the nesting site. Breeding at any other time would miss this cycle, limiting the success rate of raising young. Would this work with budgies – not likely!

Nomadic Evolution

Wild BudgerigarsOver millions of years of evolution, the budgies developed into a nomadic bird that chases the rains.

They arrive to build nests just as the rains come – producing an abundance of food – allowing many clutches to be produced.

In good years they breed by the millions, but during bad times they die in the millions. I doubt this instinct works with our birds.

In only 100 years or so I believe we have removed many of the natural survival instincts from our exhibition birds. I gave this a lot of thought. Does the colony instinct really exist? Do the rains bring them into condition? Do wild birds going through their natural pairing and mating cycles stimulate our birds into action?

I tested several ideas.

First I tried artificial rain, using sprinklers on the roofs – but that didn’t stimulate anything. There must be a smell that comes with the rains that helps to trigger things. Am I right with this?

Next, I gave the wire breeding cage colony type environment theory a go. If they see others doing it, if they hear others doing it, then everybody will do it right? Wrong! It gave me nothing but trouble and poor results. So where to go from there?

I gave the colony style a little more scope. I put 3 pairs into a flight serviced with 2 nest boxes per pair, all at the same height, feeding them the same as those in the breeding cabinets.

The result was interesting. I know Doug Saddler used the flight method alongside the cabinet method – that was with one pair per cage – but I had taken this one step further.

I found the hens started to develop cere colour and increased interest in the nest boxes. Pair bonds developed normally, all going well, maybe the theory is right. But as much as the cocks tried to encourage the hens to lay they just didn’t.

The normal feeding of the hen by the cock happened, she just did not let him go any further. I thought patience and it will happen? Well it didn’t. They paired, they got the food, water, greens etc. as those in the cabinets, but no eggs. Why?

They Went to Nest

After 3 months of trying, I transferred these pairs into breeding cabinets and guess what? They went to nest and produced clutches of healthy young. What does this mean to the colony theory?

My thoughts were on a lack of colony instinct, so I purchased three pairs of commercial small pet type budgerigars. The results were far different – chicks everywhere!

So why was this? Does this mean I am right? Do my birds not like breeding outside of cabinets? I think it may pose more questions than answers.

I do have another theory. I believe hens particularly like to breed in the same type of cage and nest box to the one they where bred in. Familiar surroundings appear to be what stimulates them. Is it a case of any-old nest box won’t do?

Does this mean so-called natural wild type instincts no longer exist in our birds? Is this why sometimes purchased older hens don’t breed, because they don’t like their new environment?

Let’s face it our birds are far removed from their wild cousins. Some hens show no inclination to breed, never going into breeding condition. Some cocks appear to have homosexual tendencies – when paired to a hen they avoid any contact what-so-ever – but put them into the flight and they chase other cocks around trying to pair bond. What does all this really mean?

Still looking for the magic answer? Me to!

However, I have proved to myself that our birds have many mixed breeding instincts and it is up to us, the breeders and only the breeders, to bring their birds into breeding condition and leave nature to look after itself.

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About the Author: Adrian Dunning is an avid fancier living in Australia. He started in our hobby at the age of seven. Due to an inherited genetic fault, Adrian is blind in one eye. For this reason his contact with the Australian Fancy has to be via the internet. He is currently heavily involved in pressing the Australian Government and related Agencies, to re-open the door for another massive import of quality outcrosses from the UK .

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  1. Nice article Adrian Dunning.

    Habib Ur Rehman,Pakistan

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