All too many birds are difficult to breed in captivity, but the opposite problem – chronic egg laying – is common to some popular species as well. It is most often seen in cockatiels and budgerigars, but is by no means limited to them.
A hen that produces multiple clutches on a regular basis will be prone to a host of medical problems, the most frequent and dangerous of which is calcium depletion. Without adequate calcium, egg-binding (wherein the bird cannot expel her eggs) and osteoporosis are likely.
Adaptive Value of Rapid Onset Breeding
It’s no coincidence that many of the species prone to chronic egg-laying are native to harsh environments, where weather conditions or food shortages may prevent breeding for periods of a year or more. These birds must be ready to lay as soon as conditions are favorable, and so come into breeding condition very quickly, and produce multiple clutches whenever possible.
Such species respond more to the presence of certain environmental cues – i.e. rain or sprouting greens, than to gradual seasonal changes (as do most other birds). Budgerigars and cockatiels are classic examples of opportunistically breeding birds.
Common Factors Influencing Egg-Laying
We must, therefore, keep in mind the effect of environmental conditions that might not, at first glance, seem important to us. A high fat diet, too much food, or a very long photoperiod (i.e. if the bird is kept in a room that is lit for 16 hours or so) may signal the arrival of “good times” and function as a breeding stimulus. Even daily misting with a water bottle might be at the root of the problem, functioning as a mini “rainy season”, especially if the bird has not been regularly sprayed in the past.
The presence of a possible mate or nest site is an important factor…please bear in mind that an imprinted hen may very well see her owner as a mate, and be stimulated to lay by normal daily contact. Females isolated from males may also react to birds of other species, or even to toys. Nesting material or nest sites work very well in inducing reproduction – budgerigars may lay at any time of the year when provided with a cavity or nest box.
Correcting and Treating the Problem
Sometimes, the problem can be resolved by removing the egg-laying stimulus, i.e., shortening the photoperiod. In some cases, hormonal therapy (i.e. human chorionic gonadotrophin injections) may be necessary.
Chronic egg laying can quite easily lead to your pet’s early demise…if all else fails, removal of the ovaries and uterus (salpingohysterectomy) will prevent ovulation. This was formerly a quite serious operation, but can now be performed endoscopically on most bird species.
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