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Bird Reproduction – How Natural Social Behaviors Affect Captive Breeding

Bird breeding is rarely as simple as putting a male and female together and hoping for the best.  Even Budgerigars and others that been captive bred for thousands of generations remain influenced by ancestral behaviors.  Understanding this will greatly improve our success at keeping and breeding birds in captivity.

Social Behavior in General

Macaws, Amazons and Conures in EcuadorThe majority of pet trade birds are highly social creatures.  Although they may squabble during the breeding season, the presence of flock-mates is a strong breeding stimulus.  Indeed, many aviculturists cite the absence of additional individuals as the main reason for breeding failures among well-bonded pairs.

Even reliable captive breeders such as Budgerigars may not reproduce if held in single pairs.  The addition of another pair, or even housing the pair within sight or hearing of others of their kind, often spurs nesting.

Aggression (Adults)

Despite the fact that group situations may encourage breeding, we must also bear in mind that birds living together form themselves into cohesive flocks.  Newly introduced individuals, even those suitable as mates for unpaired birds in the flock, may be attacked, especially during the breeding season.

Oddly enough, larger flocks are often more peaceful than small groups (a rule that I’ve found applicable to creatures ranging from fishes to baboons!).  Aggression tends to be meted out among several as opposed to 1 individual, and non-target birds often “get involved” and divert aggressors’ attentions.

Aggression (Chicks)

In most cases, youngsters should be removed from their parent’s cage once they are feeding on their own.  Otherwise, they may interfere with the rearing of later broods, or may be attacked by the male (monk parrots and other colonial nesting species are often exceptions).

Usually, smaller, short-lived species (lovebirds, parrotlets), and those that inhabit harsh environments (grass parakeets) are likely to attack newly-fledged youngsters   Such birds are evolutionarily adapted to reproduce often, or to be ready as soon as the unpredictable rains arrive, and so are usually eager to re-nest.  However, despite being opportunistic breeders, budgerigars and cockatiels are often tolerant of fledglings.

Macaws and Other Long-Lived Birds

Hyacinth MacawsLarge, long-lived parrots usually raise only a few chicks each season, and may not breed every year.  Unlike the species described above, most inhabit environments that offer predictable weather patterns and food sources, and so they can “afford” to spend a great deal of time in imparting survival skills to their young.  Macaws, African Gray Parrots and similar species are, therefore, usually quite tolerant of their youngsters long after they have left the nest.

Mate Choice

Birds can be quite choosy (maddeningly so!) when it comes to mate selection.  This is especially true for macaws, Amazons, African Grays and other long-lived parrots.  Their pair bonds span many decades, so it behooves them to “get it right” the first time (I’ll avoid here the obvious parallels one could draw regarding our own species!).  If you are intent on breeding, it would be prudent to purchase a bonded pair or individuals that mutually groom and spend time near each other.

Some species deviate from the usual “parrot pair model”.  Certain Australian Parakeets, for example, have “difficult” relationships outside of the breeding season…they remain as a pair, but the females become somewhat aggressive towards the males.  In the close confines of captivity, they can make life quite miserable for their unfortunate mates.  As always, research your pet’s natural history thoroughly.

Further Reading

To read about what behaviors to expect as spring returns, please see Spring’s Effect of Parrots and Other Birds.


Hyacinth Macaw image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio
Macaws, Amazons and Conures in Ecuador image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hjallig


  1. avatar

    very informative thanks, do u feel its the same with conures of different species but closely related?

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words. I do feel that most of what is mentioned in the article does apply to conures – I’ve kept large groups of Patagonians and a few other species in zoo exhibits and they did seem to be very well-synchronized in their breeding. Closely-related species might affect each other in the same way – several are known to hybridize.

    Off topic, but perhaps you might enjoy this unique note on Conures and False Vampire Bat Predation.
    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Thank you! This gave me the info that i needed for my small animal care class 🙂

  4. avatar

    Hello Shelbie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for taking the time to write in; much appreciated.

    Please let me know if you need any further information…I’ve worked with just about every animal at the Bronx Zoo and have taught their keeper education classes as well.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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