This chapter instructs the reader in the management of breeding pairs of budgerigars in order to maximize yield. We are here concerned only with the production of the greatest possible number of chicks. As soon as the fancier has gained success in the practical aspects it is very important to learn the techniques of stock improvement: inbreeding, line breeding, and heterosis. These methods must be mastered in order to improve a stud. These advanced ideas are beyond the scope of this introductory article.
There are three management schemes used to raise budgerigars: colony breeding, cage breeding, and flight or semi-colony breeding. Only the first two methods are used in the U.S.A.
Colony breeding utilizes pens or flights about three feet wide, eight feet long, and six feet high. Twenty pairs are housed in this pen. Much larger flights can be used. A good rule to follow is to allow one square foot of floor space per pair. Thus a flight twenty-five -feet long by four feet wide could house one hundred pairs. The flights should never —be much taller than the fancier. Extra height does not trouble the birds but makes it more difficult to catch them.
A number of small pens are easier to work than one large flight. With the small units only the individual pen is disturbed during cleaning. It is also easier to stop the spread of disease. About twenty-five percent more nest boxes than breeding pairs must be used per colony. Some hens will try to control more than one nest box. Without an excess of nests, other hens would be unable to breed. All the birds must be added to the colony at the same time. Squabbling severe enough to stop nesting might result if birds are added later. At any rate the new additions would never establish a nest. The same number of cocks as hens should be added, to the flight. Having extra cocks is simply a waste of birds. Extra hens are dangerous. These unpaired hens will fight constantly with the mated birds, raiding nests and killing chicks.
Colony breeding was the original method of breeding budgerigars. It is still used by the majority of commercial breeders of American parakeets. The only advantage of this system is a reduction of labor. Colony breeding is wasteful of space and feed.. Less young are produced per pair in colonies than in cages. No pedigree control is possible. Because of this lack of control, exhibition budgerigars should not be colony bred.
With cage breeding one breeding pair is kept to each cage. Most breeders keep the adults in flights, sometimes but not always segregated according to gender, outside of the breeding season. Cages twelve inches high, by twelve inches wide, by eighteen inches long are sufficient for birds that are kept in flights when not breeding. By using a larger cage, eighteen inches long, by eighteen inches wide, by twenty – four-inches long-an exercise fight is no longer needed. Each pair may be kept in the same cage all year long. Breeding activity is initiated by installing a nest box. Breeding activity is terminated by the removal of the nest box. Birds are stimulated into breeding activity by light.
Of course, the birds must have a year round complete diet, the temperature must be above forty degrees, and the birds must be at least five months old. Five months is a minimum. Twelve months is better.
If natural light is used, the birds will develop the urge to breed in March or April in the continental United States. By using full-spectrum lights and a timer, breeding may take place at any time of year. Gradually increase the light until the birds are awake for sixteen hours per day.
Cocks in breeding condition will have bright purple ceres. They will constantly attempt to feed other birds, cocks and hens. It should not cause undue worry if the cocks seem to spend more time with each other than with the hens in a flight. These birds almost always become perfect fathers. Breeding cocks are active and nervous, constantly rubbing their beaks and ceres along the perches and wire. They also bob their heads up and down. The ceres of hens in breeding condition will most often become dark brown. Some hens have white, grey, and even whitish blue ceres. This does not necessarily mean that such hens will not breed.
Place the hen in the breeding cage first. Leave her alone, for twenty-four hours before adding the cock. Budgerigars very rarely injure each other. A small percentage of hens will not allow a cock to mate. Do not worry if you do not observe copulation or even the cock feeding the hen. After a few days the lien should start to sit
in the nest box. After about a week the first egg should appear.
Budgerigars do not mate for life. Occasionally pairs do prove incompatible. If no nesting activity is observed after a week, shuffle the non-producers about. A small number of exhibition hens, unfortunately very often the best, refuse to mate.
Budgerigars tend to mate one cock to one hen per breeding season. Sometimes extra use can be made of a show winning cock. After the hen lays a full clutch of eggs, the cock is placed with a different hen. The eggs from the first lien must be placed under a foster mother. When the cock is removed the hen will most often abandon the eggs. The new hen that the cock is placed in with must not be sitting on eggs. The first thing that the cock will do is to destroy the eggs. After the second lien lays a full clutch, the whole procedure is repeated. The cock is now placed back with the original hen or with a third hen.
Some cocks do not accept this swinging method of breeding. A large number of foster pairs are needed to support this production scheme. This method is only practical to double or triple the number of chicks sired by a show winning cock.
There are two reasons to use foster parents: emergencies and to increase production. The maximum number of young that any one hen shouldbe allowed to raise is six. If more chicks are in the nest they should be fostered out to other exhibition pairs with one or two young. Rarely, a hen dies while raising. Again the young must be fostered. There are three ways to be certain of the identities of such babies. If the young are mature enough they should be banded. Gentian violet, iodine and other antiseptic stains may be used to mark chicks. Chicks may be fostered to nests certain to contain only young that are differently colored, for example Lutinos.
Some breeders keep American budgerigars to raise the English birds. When the eggs are taken from the hen she will lay another clutch. By handling the eggs in this manner, four to eight clutches can be obtained from each exhibition pair instead of two to four. The eggs of the foster parakeets must be within a few days of the same
age as those of the show birds. The eggs of the inferior stock are discarded. Foster parents are a must if the cock is used with multiple hens, as outlined previously.
Budgerigar eggs must be given the greatest possible care. The eggs should not be moved or touched without good reason. A flair or other broad felt tip pen should be used to mark the day the egg was laid. It is simpler to mark the number of the day rather than the date. An egg laid on December 31 would be marked 365 rather than Dec 31 or 12/31. Mark the egg across the broad surface of the shell, not at either end. A mark over the air sac at the one end could kill the egg. If the egg is to be fostered, the identity of the mother and father must also be noted.
The egg may be candled by holding it up to a bright light. After a few days of incubation, the veins will be visible. Do not be
too quick in throwing an egg out. Some hens do not start to sit until several eggs are produced. Once it is certain that a clutch is infertile, discard it so that the pair can start a new nest. If only a few eggs of a clutch are clear, infertile, do not remove them. The breeder might be wrong. Even if the eggs are clear they tend to act as heat retainers. Such extra eggs also keep the hen from sitting too tight and crushing
the newly hatched chick.
Some British fanciers are experimenting with flight or semi-colony breeding. This is used as a last resort for very high quality birds that refuse to cage breed. The birds are paired up in cages. Two pairs will be released in a flight perhaps four feet by twelve feet. The extra exercise and competition has allowed young to
be extracted from these massive birds that had refused to mate. This technique is used by only a few in Britain. All the top breeders of Budgerigars in the United States use cage breeding exclusively.