Home | Bird Breeding (page 18)

Category Archives: Bird Breeding

Feed Subscription

The Peafowl’s Tail: the Mystery of Flamboyant Male Birds


PeafowlHave you ever wondered why, in most bird species, the male with the loudest song, brightest plumage or most spectacular display is usually successful in attracting a mate?  Given that birds have so many predators, and that the efforts of both parents are usually required to raise the chicks, it always seemed to me that females “should” prize males who went about their lives quietly and unobtrusively.  Wouldn’t these be less likely to attract a predator’s attention than those strutting about and singing for the entire world to see?

In no species is this phenomenon more clearly illustrated than the Indian peafowl, Pavo cristatus. The above-mentioned thoughts came to be with great force while I as contemplating the American Museum of Natural History’s spectacular Asiatic leopard display.  The exhibit features a leopard that has just captured a male peafowl, and the panoramic background painting depicts other peafowl flying off.  Viewing the scene, one can easily imagine how a huge, colorful train of feathers might hinder the peafowl in escaping predators.  Why then, does it assist the male in his efforts to secure a mate?

The answer is apparently to be found below the surface of what we see.  By displaying large adornments and reckless behavior (i.e. singing from an exposed perch), the male bird is, in essence, proclaiming his ability to survive despite such encumbrances.  He must, therefore, have sprung from fine genetic stock, and is perceived as being able to sire strong, healthy offspring.  The very act of growing such adornments or developing a strong voice also indicates his good health, and the ability to procure a generous amount of food.

Of course, here there arises a great temptation to make comparisons to human behavior, but I’ll leave such for my readers who are better versed in that subject than I!


For an interesting story on peafowl breeding behavior gone awry, please see my article Indian (Blue) Peafowl, Pavo cristatus and American Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo – an uneasy relationship.

Nests, Nest Boxes and Nesting Materials for Your Budgerigars, Finches, Canaries or Lovebirds


Breeding can be a quite complicated affair among birds, with nest site selection being of key importance in the process.  Sometimes, the mere presence of an appropriate nesting place helps to bring birds into breeding condition.  Conversely, a mated pair of birds may not reproduce if a favorable nest site is lacking.  While some species will modify a nest box or site, others will not – an entrance hole that is too large, for example, may doom your breeding efforts to failure.

All of the nests and nest boxes mentioned below have been carefully designed so as to meet the needs of a wide variety of birds.  Selecting the model appropriate to the types of birds that you keep is the first step in becoming a successful breeder.

Encouraging Breeding Behavior

As mentioned, the introduction of a nest box or site may bring about an immediate breeding response in some species.  This is most commonly seen among birds that, because they live in areas with harsh, unpredictable climates, must be ready to breed as soon as favorable conditions present themselves.  The cockatiel and budgerigar utilize this breeding strategy.

Humidity and Growing Plants

An increase in humidity, simulated by a room humidifier, mist bottle or hose, is a breeding key for many birds.  As the rainy season in nature usually brings with it a resurgence of plant growth, providing sprouting greens (using, for example, the VitaKraft Sprout Pot) as you increase humidity is always a good idea.

Insect Food

Increasing the number of insects offered to finches and other softbills is a time-tested technique for bringing birds into breeding readiness.  Novel insect foods, such as may appear at the beginning of the breeding season in nature, are, in my experience, particularly effective.  In zoo collections and at home I have found it useful to add wild-caught insects to my birds’ diets at nesting time.

The Zoo Med Bug Napper is a wonderfully suited to this purpose.  I also suggest that you experiment with commercial species other than crickets and mealworms, such as canned grasshoppers and silkworms and live waxworms, roaches and earthworms.

Light Quality and Cycle

It is becoming increasingly apparent that full spectrum light in general, and Ultraviolet A light in particular, is a vital stimulus to normal behavior, including reproduction, in birds (and many other creatures).  Always equip your bird’s cage or room with a full spectrum bulb designed specifically for birds, such as the Zoo Med Avian Sun UVB Bulb.

Manipulating the length of your pet’s day/night cycle, in accordance with that of its natural habitat if possible, is also desirable, or even necessary for some species.

Nests for Smaller Birds

Small, enclosed nest sites such as A&E Hanging Finch Nest with Leaves and Finch Nest in a House with Leaves are ideal for finches that naturally lay their eggs within tree cavities.  Included among these are zebra finches and the various nuns and waxbills.  Particularly choosy individuals may prefer with a piece of rolled cork bark over a traditional nesting hollow.

Canaries, cordon blues and green singing fiches will readily occupy open nests.  For these and similar birds, choose the A&E Small Natural Open Finch Nest or Pet’s International Stick Nature Nest.

Larger tree-hole nesters, such as budgerigars and lovebirds, should be provided with the Hagen Parakeet and Lovebird Breeding Nest Box.

Nesting Material

A ready supply of the proper nesting material is an important factor in any breeding program.  Some birds are particularly choosy in this regard, either on an individual or species basis.  Certain species of hummingbird, for example, are most successful in constructing their walnut-sized nests when provided with mosses and lichens…even spider webs, much favored by free-living hummers, have their place as nesting material in zoo programs.

If your birds will not nest and all else seems in order, try adding a variety of nesting material…as with the sudden appearance of novel insect food, this can be a powerful breeding stimulus.

Eight-in-One Bird Nesting Hair and String fits the needs of most commonly-kept softbills.

Experimental Nesting Materials

Don’t hesitate to experiment, and to consider products originally designed for pets other than birds.

Some lovebirds add bark to their nests in the wild…for these you might try R-Zilla Douglas Fir Bark (marketed for reptiles).  Most softbills will use at least some dry grass when constructing their nests – L&M Animal Super Alfalfa Bits (marketed for rabbits and other small animals) is popular with many birds (in zoos, birds of all types raid the alfalfa bails set out for deer and antelope).  Small wild birds of many species utilize moss as a nest-lining.  Most softbills and some lovebirds will appreciate R-Zilla Beaked Moss Bedding or Hagen Forest Plume Moss (marketed for amphibians).

I have some written related articles that may interest you.  Please check out the following:

Feeding Insects to Pet Birds: Useful Products Designed for Reptiles

Product Review: Vitakraft’s Sprout Pot:  a Convenient Method of Supplying Your  Birds with Valuable Nutrients

Providing the Proper Type and Amount of Light to Pet Birds        

Lighting for Your Pet Bird:  the Importance of the Photoperiod

Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part II

Click: Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 1 to read the first part of this article.

The Importance of Insects in the Diet

The Melba finch’s beak is much thinner than that of those finches, such as the Gouldian, that rely on a seed-based diet.  In the wild this species consumes a good deal of insect prey, and such is particularly important in bringing the birds into breeding condition, and when they are raising chicks.  This is true of Melba finches to a much greater extent than for any other finch species.

Melba finches do well when provided with small crickets and mealworm grubs and pupae, but increasing the dietary variety is always a good idea.  Waxworms, Canned Caterpillars and insects collected with Zoo Med’s Bug Napper Insect Trap (moths and small beetles are especially favored) will help assure your success.  Higgins Eggfood is indispensible for Melba finches, both in and out of the breeding season.  The young are fed entirely upon insects for at least 10 days after hatching, so be sure to have plenty on hand.

In addition to the aforementioned foods, the basic adult diet should consist a mix of high quality Finch Seed, sprouts and a bit of romaine and other greens.

Eliciting Natural Feeding Behaviors

Melba finches in the wild and in outdoor aviaries forage mainly on the ground.  Dry hay or grass can be placed on the cage bottom – insects or seed scattered within this will keep them occupied for hours.

The Breeding Cage

Although success has been had in fairly small cages, I would suggest using one along the lines of the Blue Ribbon Peaked Bird Cage.  Melba finches favor an open wicker cup as a nesting site, which should be situated behind Hanging Silk or live plants.

Typical Reproductive Behavior

The male will indicate his breeding readiness by singing and commencing nest-building (provide dry grass or 8 in one nesting hair).  Females lay 3-6 eggs, which are incubated by both parents. Most importantly – these birds will not tolerate nest inspections.  Doing so almost guarantees that they will toss the eggs from the nest.

The eggs hatch in 12-13 days, and fledging usually occurs at day 19-21.  The fledglings are fed by the parents for approximately 2 weeks after leaving the nest.  They should be removed shortly thereafter, and can be kept as a group for 7 months to 1 year.  However, I suggest splitting them at age 5-6 months, as aggression triggered by maturity can come on quite suddenly.

Adult plumage is attained at age 7 months, but birds rarely breed before 2-3 years of age.

Techniques used by Australian aviculturists to breed this and related finches are discussed at:


Click here for an image of the Melba Finch.

Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 1

The hardy Melba finch is among the most popular of the Estrildidae (an order of approximately 130 species of waxbills and grass finches), but after reading most husbandry accounts, you would quickly abandon any hope of breeding it in captivity. Most authors suggest not even attempting such unless you can provide the birds with a large, well-planted aviary.

True, I have observed this bird to breed regularly in huge zoo exhibits, but I also know of hobbyists who have accomplished the same indoors, in surprisingly small quarters. Today I’d like to pass along a bit of what I’ve learned from them.

A Mix of Sensitivity and Aggression
I think that aviculturists often give up on this bird because they fail to realize how long pairs may take to settle in – both to each other and to their cages. Melba finches are quite sensitive and, while new birds may calm down and feed normally, they will not reproduce until conditions are exactly to their liking. They are easily stressed by conditions that might not phase related finches.

Mature pairs may take 6 months to 1 year before settling down to breed. Under no circumstances should more than 1 pair be housed together – even in large zoo exhibits I have had trouble with aggression. Pairs housed in the same room, but in different cages, may also inhibit one another from breeding… this is less likely if sight barriers are utilized.

Range and Description
Native to southern Africa, the Melba finch frequents dry savannas and overgrown, thorny scrub. It forages in pairs or small groups, and does not form large flocks.

Males have scarlet-orange to red faces, with traces of red on the breast. The gray underside is marked with white streaks, while the chest, wings and back are olive. Hens are somewhat duller overall, and lack red coloring on the face. Adults top out at 5 inches in length.

Reproductive Triggers – Humidity and Insects
A colleague who bred Melba finches in a small, standard-sized finch cage identified an increase in humidity and insect food as keys to her (or the birds’!) success. This makes sense, as budgerigars, cockatiels and other finch species hailing from arid climates are stimulated to reproduce by the onset of the rainy season (or even a passing storm).

Humidity can be increased via a small room humidifier, but several contacts have reported that daily misting with a water bottle works just as well. I have noted that many zoo birds respond to seasonal “rains” delivered via a morning and evening hosing of their exhibits, so misting could well deliver the stimulus needed by caged finches.

Check out an excellent picture of a Melbra finch here.

Click: Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 2, to read the conclusion of this article.


Introducing the Pin-Tailed Whydah or Widowbird (Vidua macruura)

An Under-handed Reproductive Strategy
At first glance, it might seem odd that East Africa’s pin-tailed whydah is such a popular aviary bird, as this resourceful sneak lays its eggs in the nests of other species, and relies upon the unwitting “foster parents” to raise its young. This reproductive strategy, termed brood parasitism, is shared by most the whydah’s 18 relatives, all classified within the family Viduidae. I should point out that adult whydahs do not (as is the case with a better known brood parasite, the common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus) toss out or eat the host’s eggs, and the fledglings rarely dislodge host chicks from the nest – the foster parents usually raise both successfully.So, in order to breed pin-tailed whydahs, one must have at least one mated pair of host birds, synchronized to lay eggs at a time favorable to a mated pair of whydahs. As successful and aspiring breeders can imagine, this can be very tricky, and will likely consume no small amount of time, space and money.

However, upon first viewing a male whydah in courtship flight, I immediately understood why many people happily put in the effort. The breeding male trails a fabulous, 10-12 inch tail from his 5-inch long, finch-like body, which itself is boldly marked in black and white. What’s more, his bobbing flight is often punctuated by falcon-like dives, which add to the drama of the display. Three to six females, or more, may line up to view his efforts.

Breeding Whydahs
Those of you with spacious outdoor aviaries, and tempted to take on a new challenge, might wish to consider this fascinating bird. Its usual host, the red-eared waxbill (Estrilida troglodytes) is common in the trade a reliable breeder. The waxbill’s courtship behavior usually brings the whydah into breeding readiness in short order.

If you do take on pin-tailed whydahs, bear in mind that they are polygamous in nature, and so are best kept in groups consisting of 1 cock and 2-6 hens (males are intolerant of each other). If you lack the space required by these gorgeous birds, by all means try to see them in a zoo or, better yet, in the wild (they are quite common throughout much of East Africa – the name “whydah” is drawn from a Nigerian town of the same name).


You can read more about whydahs in the wild and captivity at:

Scroll To Top