Why Do Lovebirds, Canaries and Others Abandon Nests or Destroy Eggs?

Budgerigar pair

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Workman

Few bird-keeping experiences are more thrilling than watching your pets breed…or more frustrating than seeing them toss out their eggs or abandon the nest. Egg destruction and nest abandonment, rare in the wild, are quite common among pet birds of all types, including parrots, budgies, finches, canaries, lovebirds and others. While the reasons are often specific to individual bird species, some general considerations, including infertility, same-sex pairs, stress, and hormonal imbalances, apply to all commonly-kept birds.

 

Infertility

The production of infertile eggs is perhaps the most common reason that birds abandon their nests. This most commonly occurs after the parents have tended to the eggs for the entire incubation period (incubation periods vary among species, please post below for specific information). Generally, the incubating parent or parents simply stop sitting upon the eggs if they do not hatch on time. In some cases, the eggs will also be tossed from the nest (this typically happens among budgies, zebra finches and others that are able to re-nest quickly).

 

Infertility in either sex may be due to disease, age, genetic factors or, in some cases, a poor diet. Please post any specific questions below.

 

Society finches

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Gallo71

Same Sex Pairs

Same sex pairings are not at all unusual in captivity, and can be found among most species. However, they are most commonly seen in the highly social parrots, which include the lovebirds, cockatiels and parakeets (as parrot owners know, birds kept alone often treat their human companions as “mates”).

 

Birds that show little or no visible sexual dimorphism (differences in appearance), such as the various lovebirds, can be a real source of confusion to owners when same sex pairs form. This is also true for certain color phases of sexually-dimorphic species, as the distinguishing sex-based markings may be obscured.

 

Fischer's Lovebirds

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Takashi Hososhima

Behaviors such as singing, grooming and mate-feeding can sometimes be used to distinguish the sexes in “difficult” species, but even these are not completely reliable.

 

Colony Breeding

Many finches (especially the popular zebra and society finches) nest in colony situations in the wild, and multiple pairs may breed even in relatively small cages. Some lovebirds and other small parrots also nest in close proximity to other pairs in their natural habitats.

 

No matter how large your cage or aviary, however, space for multiple breeding pairs will be far less than would be available in nature. Squabbles, stealing of nest material, destruction of others’ eggs, and even chick-killing are all too common when more than a single pair nests in the same enclosure. The stress of the situation can also cause parents to abandon their nests or hatchlings. There are ways to design cages and aviaries so as to limit these possibilities; please post below for further information.

 

Macaw pair

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Riza Nugraha

Stress

From captive insects to mammals, a common reaction to stress is to cease breeding or to abandon/kill eggs and young. As many young, aspiring hamster breeders learn, the female will sometimes even consume her litter (which tends to dampen one’s enthusiasm for rodent-breeding!). A simplified explanation of this phenomenon may be stated as “why waste precious time and resources on young that may not survive in any event?”.

 

Breeding birds of all species generally maintain a heightened awareness of their surroundings. This applies even to long-term, otherwise handle-able pets, which may become flighty or aggressive when on the nest. Nesting birds may be upset by owners who check nests or candle eggs, noise, other pets, people passing near the cage and similar events. Consider the nighttime environment as well…light entering the room from outside, cats or raccoons peering in, and loud traffic can disturb birds, especially at this time (most need 12 hours of quiet darkness each night).

 

Gouldian Finches (yellow & silver morphs)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by myfinchdotcom

Other Captive Conditions

General captive conditions can also be sources of stress. For example, young birds, even if technically able to reproduce, often fail in their first breeding attempts. Un-natural day/night cycles can affect the ebb and flow of hormones, so that individuals come into breeding condition at different times. This often results in aggression between birds that are otherwise compatible. The close confines of captivity may change natural behaviors, frustrating the birds and causing nest abandonment or aggression towards mates or chicks.

 

Some individuals, male and female alike, seem never to get the hang of nesting and/or rearing the young, even when conditions are ideal. Inbreeding has been proposed as one possible cause of this, but we still have much to learn.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Breeding Lovebirds

Society Finch Care and Breeding

Lovebird Breeding Problems: Cautions for Small Parrot Breeders

Abysinnian Lovebirds

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Klaus Hofmann

Watching a pair of Lovebirds as they bond, and then court and rear their young is one of the most rewarding of all parrot-keeping experiences. Unlike many parrots, Lovebirds are often happy to settle down and breed in modestly-sized cages, and most make fine parents. But while mated pairs may produce clutch after clutch of eggs, aggression (to owner and mate), infertility, ailing chicks, and a host of problems can arise – many of which take owners by surprise. Today I’ll review some of the concerns most often brought to me by Lovebird owners, and others I’ve experienced while caring for these and other small parrots in zoos.

 

Distinguishing the Sexes

The commonly-kept lovebirds, such as the Peach-faced, Fischer’s and Masked, are not sexually dimorphic, in that males and females are identical in appearance (Abyssinian, Madagascar and Red-faced Lovebirds are sexually dimorphic, but these species are not common in the trade). Experienced breeders can often hazard a very good guess as to the sex of mature birds (via shape of the pelvic bones, overall size) but individuals vary greatly. The most skilled old-timer of my acquaintance estimated that he was correct 85% of the time.

 

Nest box

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

If you can observe each bird for some time before buying, you’ll have a better chance of picking a pair. Females of commonly-sold species carry nesting material tucked into their tail feathers, and males tend to feed females rather than vice-versa…but some individuals try to reverse these activities! To confuse matters further, same-sex pairs often form.

 

Aggression

While mated pairs usually get along very well, getting to the “mated pair” point can be trying for bird and bird owner alike. Lovebirds can be quite pugnacious (a group under my care at the Bronx Zoo bullied their small antelope exhibit-mates; please see article below), and are often very picky when it comes to mate selection. Also, captive conditions can affect hormonal output, so that the birds may come into breeding condition at different times of the year. Unwelcome mating attempts can lead to serious battles.

 

Lovebirds – even friendly, long-term pets – invariably become very protective of their nests and chicks, and often remain aggressive towards people throughout the breeding season.

 

Hybrid Lovebirds

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Infertility

Infertility is especially frustrating to owners (and, one would imagine, their pets!) because we become aware of it only after the normal incubation time has passed and we are expecting chicks any day (I do not recommend candling eggs to check for fertility…please post below for further info).

 

Infertility seems to be more common now than in years past, if my experience is any guide. Poor diet, inbreeding, age, genetics, and a host of other factors may be involved. Please see the article linked below for detailed information.

 

An Embarrassment of Riches

It is possible to do “too well” at Lovebird breeding.   Spurred by ample food and ideal living conditions, some pairs breed too often, draining the female’s calcium stores and jeopardizing her health.

 

Finding homes for the birds you produce can be a daunting task. Cute as they are, Lovebirds can be noisy and difficult to tame, and proper care takes a good deal of time, effort and money. They are not a good pet choice for most people. If you care about the fate of your birds – and all private breeders that I’ve met do – you may have quite a job finding appropriate homes for your youngsters.

 

Fischer's Lovebird

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by BS Thurner Hof

Cost

Keeping and breeding Lovebirds takes time and money, even if all goes well. If medical problems arise, chicks are abandoned by parents, or you wind up keeping extra birds due to incompatibility, expenses can mount quickly.

 

It is not realistic to think that you will earn a profit (or even break even!) by selling baby Lovebirds, as small and large scale breeders typically produce more birds than the market can bear. Most pet stores have established relationships with breeders, and do not accept birds from others.

 

“Home-Bred” Does not Guarantee Good Pets

Lovebirds generally make great parents, and will vigorously resist attempts to check on or remove hatchlings. But if the young are left with their parents until they fledge, taming may be a long and ultimately unsuccessful prospect. Experienced keepers desiring human-bonded pets usually remove nestling Lovebirds at age 1-2 weeks, and hand-feed them. However, hand-rearing should not be attempted by novice breeders. Please post below for further information and references.

 

Some folks do quite well with a middle-ground technique. Young birds are removed from the nest and handled for a short time each day, after which they are returned. Owners are spared the difficulties of feeding the delicate chicks, and the birds tend to respond well to human contact after fledging. However, this process can evoke extreme stress in the protective parent birds.

 

t238363Tips and Additional Information

Wood shavings should cover the floor of the box to a depth of 2-3 inches. This will help to prevent the splay-legged condition that is often seen in chicks raised on hard surfaces.

 

Wild lovebirds carry fresh bark into their nests, possibly to increase humidity. Captive lovebirds will readily utilize moistened cypress for this purpose. Lightly spraying the female lovebird when she is out of the nest will also help in this regard (do not spray within the box itself).

 

Peach-faced and several other lovebirds tuck nesting material within their feathers to transport it to the nest…don’t miss watching this unique behavior if you have the opportunity.

 

Peach-faced Lovebird chick

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Toumoto

The Eggs and Chicks

Female lovebirds usually lay their first egg 7-10 days after copulation, with an additional egg being produced at intervals of 1-2 days thereafter.

 

Usually, the hen sits and is fed by the male. Male Masked Lovebirds, however, often sit near the hen, but it is not clear if they are actually doing anything useful!

 

The eggs hatch in 20-27 days, and the chicks leave the nest after 35-50 days. They are fed by their parents for an additional 2 weeks after fledging, by which time they are usually completely independent.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Masked Lovebirds as Pets

Infertility in Captive Birds

 

Parrot Illness In Winter

Blizzard, N. Dakota

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Saperaud

Wintertime always brings a spike in posts and calls concerning sick parrots. I often tap avian veterinarian friends for assistance, and most also report seeing more ill birds at this time of year. Respiratory ailments seem to dominate, and many owners attribute this to drafts and low temperatures (as we’ll see, this is not actually the case). While otherwise-healthy people tend to shrug off “winter colds” as an annoyance, the dangers that respiratory illnesses pose to parrots, finches, doves and other pet birds are extremely severe. Left untreated, these infections will always worsen over time – usually quite quickly – and will often prove fatal. Also, as it is impossible to distinguish, via symptoms, common respiratory concerns from psittacosis and other diseases that may be transmittable to humans, a prompt call to your veterinarian is always in order.

 

Are Drafts and Cold Temperatures a Concern?

Drafts and rapid changes in temperature do not specifically cause birds to suffer respiratory distress. However, they can stress the immune system. The same may be said of birds that are kept, long-term, at lower-than-optimal temperatures. Tolerance for such conditions varies by species.

 

Blue & Gold Macaws

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Olaf Oliviero Riemer

If the immune system is over-worked or otherwise compromised, bacteria, parasites and fungi, which are ever-present in the environment, can take hold and sicken your pet. Minor underlying health problems, which may have been suppressed by the immune system when all was well, may also become severe. So, while drafts and such may not actually cause illness, they do “set your pet up” to become sick. Please see the article linked below for further information on heating your bird’s cage or bird room.

 

Acclimation to colder-than-recommended temperatures is often possible, at least with some species, but this must be done properly; please post below for further information.

 

Symptoms

Most bird owners quickly know when all is not well with their pet. While respiratory ailments can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens, the symptoms are similar. Puffed feathers, wheezing, nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, appetite loss and/or general lethargy are the most common warning signs. Tumors, smoky environments, and even allergies and less-common problems may also be involved.

 

Heron with Chlamydiosis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Joelmills

What to Do?

Your first step should be to speak with an experienced avian veterinarian. A specialist is preferable, as the causative agents of respiratory diseases can be difficult to identify, and some illnesses are more commonly seen in certain bird species or families than others (please see photo of heron afflicted with chlamydiosis). Please post below if you need assistance in locating a local avian veterinarian.

 

Do not take any steps to treat your bird before speaking with your vet (other than eliminating drafts, etc.). You may be instructed to clean your bird’s nares (nostrils) or raise the temperature a bit, but do so only after consultation. Common avian bacteria can cause serious problems if, for example, they become established in one’s eyes, and the risk of a zoonotic disease (one that can be transmitted to people) must be considered. Your vet can advise you as to appropriate precautions if any type of home treatment is recommended. Of course, an appointment with the veterinarian should also be scheduled.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

Heating Your Bird Cage or Bird Room

 

Why is My Parrot Sneezing?

Ocellated Turkey: The “Other” Thanksgiving Turkey

Male Ocellated Turkey

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bruno Girin

Stories about the North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallipavo) and its domestic cousins abound as Thanksgiving approaches. And certainly this impressive and economically important bird is worthy of attention (please see articles linked below). But there is another turkey – and only one – a breathtakingly beautiful bird that is largely overlooked by zoos and private aviculturists alike. I had the good fortune of working with this species, the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), at the Bronx Zoo. Bringing to mind a turkey-peafowl hybrid, this fascinating bird is threatened by poaching and habitat loss, and deserves more attention from bird enthusiasts. Today I’ll take a look at its natural history and captive care.

 

Description

The male Ocellated Turkey’s body is clad in a mix of highly-iridescent bronze and green feathers; in the sun they are truly spectacular. The hens are a bit less-brilliant in color, but still very attractive. The blue-gray tail feathers are adorned with large, round blue and bronze spots (ocellus). The bright blue head and neck bear red and orange nodules, which are more pronounced in males.

 

North American Wild Turkey

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by D. Gordon E. Robertson

A blue crown, which becomes larger in the breeding season, tops the male’s head; red eye rings develop at this time as well. The leg spurs, used when battling other males, are noticeably larger than those of the North American Wild Turkey (please see photo).

 

Somewhat smaller than their North American relative (and much smaller than barnyard versions!), males usually top out at 11-12 pounds in weight.

 

Range

The Ocellated Turkey is found in Mexico and Central America, where it ranges from the Yucatan Peninsula to central Belize and northern Guatemala.

 

Ocellated Turkey habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Allan Patrick

Habitat

Ocellated Turkeys inhabit brushy grasslands, thorn scrub, open lowland forests, rainforest edges, riverside thickets and abandoned farms. Open habitats are utilized during the breeding season, but they never wander far from thick cover.

 

Diet

The natural diet appears to be as varied as is that of the North American Wild Turkey. Leaves, berries and other fruits, nuts, seeds, small snakes, lizards, spiders, worms, insects and other invertebrates are taken with equal relish. Field studies indicate that chicks subsist largely upon insects, but captive born youngsters take a wide range of foods.

 

From egg to adult, Ocellated Turkeys face predators ranging in size from coatis and snakes to pumas and jaguars. Consequently, they remain wary and alert even after several generations in captivity.

 

Ocellated Turkeys in Captivity

I kept Ocellated Turkeys in heavily planted-outdoor exhibits provisioned with heated shelters. They were somewhat high-strung and always on guard, but did fine as long as dense cover was available. I do not believe they would thrive in bare exhibits. Although some European zoos allow their turkeys outdoor access on warm winter days, those I’ve worked with seemed quite cold-sensitive and were kept indoors during the late fall and winter.

 

Ocellated Turkeys are not fussy eaters and readily accept commercial turkey chow, but I strove to provide a great deal of dietary variety. They especially favored the crickets, mealworms and other insects I tossed in most days, and continually searched the leaf litter for snacks at other times.

 

Breeding in zoos is sporadic, with more success being had in Europe, especially Belgium, than in the USA. They are rare in private collections, and remain very expensive.

 

Status in the Wild

Ocellated Turkeys are classified as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN and are listed on Appendix III of CITES.

 

They are hunted, often illegally, throughout much of their range. Males lose much of their characteristic caution during the breeding season, and make easy targets as they display in open grassy areas. Habitat loss to logging and agricultural expansion also threatens their survival.

 

Even in undisturbed habitats, their apparent “tastiness” to non-human predators results in significant losses. One study found that 85% of the chicks hatched in June did not survive until September; 30% of the breeding hens were taken by predators during the same time period.

 

The Ocellated Turkey’s stronghold appears to be in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala and northern Belize, but detailed surveys are lacking.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Wild Turkey Raised by Peafowl

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caatinga#mediaviewer/File:Caatinga.jpg

The Best First Bird: My Choice for “Perfect Pet Parrot”

Gray Cheeked Parrakeet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by markaharper1

Choosing a “Best First Bird” from the hundreds of captive bred species is very challenging because personalities vary so much among the same species. The qualities you seek in a pet should guide your decision.  For example, do you want a quiet bird, one you can interact with, or a pet to observe in a large flight cage with a mate? Bearing that in mind, today I’d like to introduce you to my hands-down favorite parrot, the Gray Cheeked Parakeet or Pocket Parrot (Brotogeris pyrrhopterus). Also known as the Orange-Winged Parakeet, this delightful bird is an excellent choice for those new to parrot keeping and without the space needed for large species. And trust me, its attractiveness will not dim as you gain experience, for those of us who started out keeping these little guys remain enamored of them decades later. No doubt my experienced readers will have other favorites; your thoughts will be of great value to novices, so please share your experiences by posting below. Please also post below if you’d like advice on choosing your first finch or softbill.

 

Pet Qualities

The ease with which Gray Cheeked Parakeets adjust to human companionship is my primary reason for recommending them to folks without parrot-keeping experience. Within their native range, it is said that even wild-caught adults make fine, handle able pets. Captive born youngsters, even if not hand-raised, offer new owners the best chance of obtaining a friendly, hands-on companion. One may even be able to train an adult that has little human contact…a virtual impossibility with many other species.

 

Bee Bee Parrots

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Of course, taming and training must be done properly…please post below for further information. But it is worth the effort, as well-adjusted Gray Cheeks are the most charming, affectionate and entertaining avian pets one could hope for!

 

Midway in size between lovebirds and cockatiels, Gray Cheeks are small enough to accommodate in most homes, and generally not quite as noisy as many parrots. They also break the parrot mold by tending to bond with all familiar people, rather than to their primary caretaker alone. Despite their diminutive size, well-habituated Gray Cheeked Parakeets are usually quite fearless, taking on dogs, larger parrots and strangers indiscriminately. While very amusing to observe, this aspect of their personality can get them into trouble, so watch yours closely!

 

Gray Cheeks do not have a reputation as talented mimics, but some individuals do quite well in learning to repeat words and sounds.

 

A number of the Gray Cheek’s relatives, including the lovable Bee Bee Parrot, are popular among bird enthusiasts (please see photos) and also suitable for beginners. Please see the articles below and post any questions you may have.

 

Description

The 6-8-inch-long Gray Cheeked Parakeet is clad in various shades of yellowish to bright green, and sports blue highlights with a gray chin, forehead, and cheeks (no surprises there!); small bright orange feathers decorate the under-wings.

 

Plain Parakeet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dario Sanches

Range and Habitat

The Gray Cheeked Parakeet occupies a limited range in Ecuador and northwestern Peru, where it may be found along moist and dry forest fringes, in thorn scrub, and on ranch and farm outskirts.

 

Status

Wild populations appear to be much reduced from former years, due to over- collection for the pet trade and habitat loss. Certain sections of their range now lie within protected areas, so there is at least some hope for their future survival.

 

When I started working for bird importers back in the 1970’s, Gray Cheeks rivaled Budgies and Cockatiels in popularity. Breeders here in the USA did not make up for the shortfall caused by the prohibition on importing wild parrots, so that today captive-born individuals are not always easy to find. However, they are well-worth searching for!

 

Housing

Although not very large, Gray Cheeked Parakeets are quite active and, like all parrots, are prone to stress-related disorders when kept in small enclosures. Large cages or aviaries stocked with a variety of parrot toys are ideal, and daily out-of-the cage time is essential. Pairs that are closely confined may over-preen one another to the point of severe feather loss.

 

Fresh produce

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jina Lee

Diet

Fruit and greens figure highly in the natural diet, and are essential to your pets’ long term health. Provide your Gray Cheeks with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, and be sure to search out “exotic” varieties if these are not available from your usual store. Pomegranate, prickly pear fruit, apples, kiwi, carrots, peas, corn, dandelion, kale and many other types of produce will be readily accepted (introduce new foods slowly to avoid digestive upset).

 

The balance of the diet should be comprised of a good small parrot seed mix. Dried fruits and vegetables are relished, and may be used as training aids.

 

Breeding

Breeding should be given more attention by pet keepers, especially given this species precarious status in the wild. So far, results have been sporadic, but this may be due to a lack of interest, given the huge numbers of inexpensive, wild-caught animals that were available early-on.

 

Gray Cheek clutches average 4-6 eggs, which are incubated for 24-30 days. Only the female incubates, but the male often sits beside her in the nest hollow – the mothers among my readers must, I’m sure, wonder just how “useful” this is!

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

 Bee Bee Parrot Care

Dutch Law Prohibits Hand-Rearing Parrots

 

 

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