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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.



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


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.


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.



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 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


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.



Further Reading

Masked Lovebirds as Pets

Infertility in Captive Birds


Breeding and Keeping the Nonpareil Finch or Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch

Nonpareil FinchWhen translated to English, the French language name for this little finch – Nonpareil – means “without equal”.  The name suits the gorgeous bird perfectly…so much so that aviculturists of all nationalities have adopted it.  Also known as the Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch (Erythrura prasina), the brilliantly-colored Nonpareil has long been among the most desired of all Southeast Asian finches.

My first experience with these beauties came while working for a bird importer.  I was captivated by their colors, but despaired over the stress caused them by shipment and confinement to quarantine facilities.  Fortunately, an experienced private breeder helped me to learn the keys to keeping them alive and well.


The 5.5 inch-long male Nonpareils are clad in “grass green”, bright red and brilliant blue, and sport elongated central tail feathers.  Females have shorter tails and are not as gaudy, but are also quite colorful.  While most related parrot finches are attractive (please see photos), none are as spectacular as the Nonpareil.

Yellow-bellied individuals are found in some wild populations, but are not common in captivity.  Birds originating from Borneo have more blue in the plumage, and are considered by most to be a subspecies.  Although few aviculturists see any need to experiment with color mutations, largely-green and pied strains have been established. Read More »

Keeping the Tawny Frogmouth with Notes on its Natural History

Tawny FrogmouthPhotos of the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), with its huge yellow eyes, gaping mouth, “expressive face” (an impression given by the feathery “eyebrows”) and owl-like plumage, have captivated me since childhood.  For years, I stalked Whip-poor-wills, Nighthawks and other of its relatives that dwelled in the USA.  Actual contact with a Frogmouth was delayed, however, until I began working at the Bronx Zoo.  But it was worth the wait, and I soon came to spend many days and nights cramming food into the capricious maws of hungry Frogmouth chicks…as much to my delight as theirs!


Although superficially resembling an owl in plumage, silent flight mode and nocturnal ways, the Tawny Frogmouth is classified in the order Caprimulgiformes. Numbered among this group’s 118 members is the cave-dwelling Oilbird, the only bird known to navigate via echo-location.

Tawny Frogmouths are placed in the family Podargidae, along with 14 relatives.  Three Tawny Frogmouth subspecies – the largest being 3x the size of the smallest – have been described.  Other species include the Papuan Frogmouth, of the Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea, and the Marbled Frogmouth, a rainforest dweller found in northern Queensland and New Guinea. Read More »

Green-Cheeked Conures – Captive Care and Natural History

Uroko viviThe decision to purchase or adopt a parrot requires careful consideration. For all their wonderful qualities, these intelligent, social birds are very demanding of one’s time and finances, and not suited to all homes. One species, however, stands out as an “almost” safe bet.  The Green-Cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) adapts well to many different situations, and is less likely to display the behaviors that frustrate so many parrot owners. Although not trouble-free, it may well be the best choice for many parrot enthusiasts.

Pet Qualities

The word “fun” invariably arises when Green-Cheeked Conure owners speak about their pets. Even by parrot standards, they are curious and playful. Their affectionate nature and willingness to be coddled is often compared to that of a well-socialized cockatoo. These qualities, along with their small size, have skyrocketed Green-Cheeks into prominence in the pet trade. When I first began working for NYC bird importers in the 1970’s, they were unknown, and were uncommon as recently as 20 years ago. Read More »

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