STARTING WITH BUDGERIGARS
A Pictorial Guide for Beginners
STARTING WITH BUDGERIGARS
A Pictorial Guide for Beginners
Housing and Equipment
Purchasing your stock
Breeding your birds
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Budgerigar.....
Many people become interested in Budgerigars through having a pet bird which is often kept in the house in an ornamental type cage with swings and toys. Or they may have seen them in an aviary at a local park or zoo; some may even have seen them at one of the various shows held by one of the many specialist area or local Budgerigar or Cage Bird Societies which are held mainly throughout the summer months up and down the country.
These local groups are generally affiliated to the governing body of the fancy (‘fancy’ is a term used to describe the keeping of birds) which is The Budgerigar Society, commonly referred to as the BS. The Budgerigar Society along with many of the local Societies offer prizes in the form of trophies, certificates and rosettes with cash prizes also given to those who exhibit the best birds at these shows, but all that is for later.
Housing and Equipment
Before purchasing any stock (another of those terms that you will come across within the fancy, stock refers to the birds), you will need to do a bit of research.
Firstly what type of housing can you provide for your birds?
This type of cage is not really suitable for breeding Budgerigars.
There are however larger all wire cages on the market now which are specifically designed for breeding birds.
An all wire cage designed to have a nest box placed inside or attached to the outside.
Even a simple cage made out of wood will suffice and many of the top breeders of today started with this type of cage to begin with.
Certain factors need to be considered before deciding on which type of cage to use, including material, space, ease of cleaning, the time you will be able to give the birds and above all if it is suitable for the birds.
If you can’t find time in the day to give them the time needed to look after them correctly, and depending how many birds you have this could be an hour or two daily when your interest increases and you have more birds and cage, maybe keeping birds isn’t for you.
The perches need to be secured to stop them turning and making them unstable for the birds when landing on them.
Unstable and smooth perches are also a major cause of hens laying clear eggs as they cannot grip firmly when mating takes place.
These types of drinker are very popular; fitted on the outside of the cage they are easily accessed for changing the contents, the blue colour aids with the prevention of algae growth.
Pots for holding seed and grit come in different designs and materials and must be able to be cleaned easily .
Stainless Steel pots
Where time is limited or when you are leaving the birds for a day or two
this ‘Weekend’ or 'Jam Jar' type of feeder is very useful.
There are a number of products on the market to put in the cage tray but the use of newspaper should be avoided if the birds have access to this as they will shred it to pieces in no time at all.
Purchasing your stock
There are a number of ways that people start with Budgerigars and they vary enormously not only in what it will cost but the ultimate outcome too.
Many people go to a local pet shop and buy a ‘pair’ from there, however I know it sounds obvious but when buying a ‘pair’ of Budgerigars to breed with you need to make sure that you have a male and female (the terms used are, cock for the male bird and hen for the female).
The easiest way to tell the difference is by the colour of the cere (where the nostrils are above the beak), in the cock bird this will be blue and the hen will show cream or brown in varying depths of these colours.
If you are simply setting out with the intention of breeding a few ‘pet type’ birds for your own enjoyment, which by the way is how some of the top fanciers (fancier is a term used to described people who keep or breed birds) started out before becoming involved in breeding and exhibiting the larger exhibition type birds, then purchasing from pet shops or local pet breeders will probably suit your needs.
It is at these Societies that you will find like minded people who are quick to offer advice they have gained over many years and pass on their knowledge in the hope that you don’t make the same mistakes they did.
Members of the local Society will more often than not advise you to join the Budgerigar Society and/or your local Area Society where on joining you will be given a code number which will enable you to purchase from them, closed coded leg rings for fitting on any current year 5 to 10 day old chick. This will identify that these birds were bred by you in the year that is applicable.
The rings show the year which is also identifiable by the colour, they have consecutive numbers and the breeders code number.
So you now know what to look for with regards to selecting a cock bird and hen, but there are other considerations to be made too.
The age of a birds is quite easy to ascertain if they are wearing closed coded rings, however if they are wearing split rings which can be fitted to the birds at any age it isn’t that easy.
The Iris ring of a Budgerigars eye is one way of telling how old a bird is, however this only applies if the bird is not a Recessive Pied or a Dark Eyed Clear (these are mutations which means that the structure of a gene has changed, resulting in a variant (Mutant) form), as neither of those two mutations ever get iris rings.
When a non Recessive Pied or Dark Eyed Clear bird has deep black eyes you can estimate that it is approximately four months of age or younger.
When a Budgerigar has a hint of an iris ring you can estimate your Budgerigar to be four to six months old, as before this is only for birds who are not Recessive Pieds or Dark Eyed Clears.
If your Budgerigar has very distinct bright white iris rings which can be seen very easily then you can estimate the birds age to be eight months or older.
Once a Budgerigar has a full white Iris ring you will no longer have to estimate his or her age, all you will know is that it is an adult.
A young Budgerigar is also easy to distinguish from an adult because until it has its first full moult at about thirteen weeks old it is termed as a barhead (this term is self explanatory if you note the bars on the young birds head) and it isn’t until after these bars have been moulted that the bird will be in the adult plumage that it will retain throughout its life
A Barhead Budgerigar
Some unscrupulous breeders will often sell on birds that are either too old to breed or they have found problems with them in the past such as breaking/eating eggs, attacking the cock bird/hen/chicks/youngsters or some other trait that they have. The problem of this type of bird being passed on to an unsuspecting newcomer is usually overcome when you are a member of your local Society and you purchase your birds from other members, their reputation means more to them than the price of a bird.
The diet for your birds should be quite varied and if you listen to other fanciers you will find they almost all feed a mixture based on canary seed, often mixed with millet seeds and a variety of other seeds. Some mixtures such as the WRP mix are specially blended and contain almost twenty different types of seed.
Budgerigars also take readily to sunflower hearts, oats and groats which can also be washed, rinsed and soaked overnight in clean cold water before being fed to the birds.
General Seed Mix
WRP Seed Mix
Millet sprays offer Budgerigars the opportunity to ‘forage’ as they would in the wild and a small proportion of millet is fine in a Budgerigars diet.
However it should not be the main part of the diet as millet is missing some amino acids and essential nutrients and has no vitamin A whatsoever which is an essential vitamin for birds.
As stated a varied diet should be available at all times and especially when the birds are breeding, bringing up youngsters and moulting.
As well as water and a varied diet as described, the birds should also have access at all times to cuttlefish bone which is a good source of calcium and grit which is said by some to assist in the digestion of seed.
They can also be given iodine blocks which usually have a twist tie and attach to the cage wires and contain essential vitamins and minerals including iodine.
As a general part of the birds diet, and essential when the birds are feeding chicks and rearing youngsters and also to bring the pairs into breeding condition, a proprietary soft food and some grated or blended fresh vegetables which can include such as;
Carrots (including leaves), Broccoli (and stalk), Beetroot including leaves), Chicory, Chard, Parsley, Sweet Corn (tinned in water or fresh), Celery, Spinach, Peppers (Red/green/yellow), Pakchoy, Parsnip, Fennel, Cabbage (green/red), Cucumber, Peas (tinned in water or fresh), Courgette, Radish, Kale, Turnips, Green beans, Chinese bean sprouts, should be given daily.
You should now have everything ready, with a suitable cage to house the birds, all the equipment, drinkers and food for them and you are ‘chomping at the bit’ to get the birds breeding.
If you have purchased birds from a pet shop and there is no reason why you shouldn’t start with the lesser pet type birds as these are usually a lot less expensive and easier to learn how to manage Budgerigars with than some of the expensive exhibition type birds, the pairing up process will be simply a matter of putting the cock bird and a hen you like together as long as they are both in breeding condition.
An indication of the birds being in breeding condition is by looking at the cere, in the cock bird it will be bright blue and the hens’ cere will be from a rich chocolate brown colour down a pale cream. With hens one of the best indicators is their habit of chewing almost anything they can once they are ready to nest. You will also notice an increase in activity between the pair with the cock bird flitting from perch to perch and a lot of head bobbing and him feeding the hen with regurgitated food. All these signs should be taken together and not in isolation to show that the birds are in breeding condition.
With your birds in condition and ready to breed you will need to introduce a nest box either inside the cage or attached on either side of the front on the outside of the cage and accessible to the birds through a removable door or fitted to either the left or right of the cage as an integral part.
The choice of nest box is merely a personal or space constraint decision as once in condition and ready for breeding the birds themselves won’t mind what they have available, as long as it is clean, dry, well ventilated and dark. These are some of the nest box types available;
Desk type with hinged top.
Wooden 'Box in Box' type.
A 'Box in Box' constructed of plastic.
It is usual to put a block of wood inside the nest box with a depression at one end (known as a concave) where the hen will lay her eggs.
This depression will prevent the eggs from rolling around in the box and make it easier for the hen to incubate.
A good tip from a Yorkshire Budgerigar Society member is to drill a hole in the bottom of the nest box, one inch from the back which can be used when you are trying to remove the concave by pushing a blunted nail or similar in the drilled and hole then removing the concave using a hammer.
A handful of Gold Chip (a popular cage and aviary bedding product which is suitable for all types of cages, aviaries and nesting boxes) or something similar that is dust free is placed over the concave in the box.
Breeding your birds
You have everything in place and you have introduced your birds to each other and the breeding cage setup. You should be wary at this point and pay very close attention to their behaviour for the next couple of weeks to make sure that the birds are compatible. Although being of a gregarious nature (they are sociable and like to live in flocks) sometimes a pair of Budgerigars for whatever reason may not be well-suited and might even fight and one could kill the other.
Don’t worry if they are a little unsociable towards each other when you first introduce them as this is normal, but if they become overly aggressive remove them and pair them with another cock bird or hen. When the birds are happy in each other’s company they will preen and feed each other, the cock bird will follow the hen around bobbing his head and chattering with excitement. If you see the birds are doing everything as described above, then you have pair that are compatible and they should be mating and nesting soon.
When your Budgerigars mate the male will do a ‘dance’ consisting of flitting from perch to perch, chattering, bobbing and raising the feather on his head. He will then start to move from side to side on the perch the female is on while bobbing his head in an excited state and tapping his beak against the females’ beak. He does this to excite the hen and soon after she accepts the cock birds advances she will stay still and start arching her back and raising her tail. Her tail will point upwards and while her back is arched, the male will mount her (this is often called ‘treading’) and place his vent against hers. During the ‘treading’ the hen will need to grip firmly onto the perch which is why a firm square perch placed furthest away from the nest box entrance is advocated.
While ‘treading’ he will moves his vent against hers from side to inseminate her by what is known as ‘touch mating’ after a few seconds he will be done and will fly away from the hen. Loose or smooth perches are often the cause of hens losing their balance during mating which can result in clear eggs being produced.
The mating process will not last very long but will be repeated several times a day.
After mating has taken place the hen will start to focus on the nest site box and you will notice changes in the hens appearance and she will be in and out of the nest box to begin with, staying for longer and longer periods as she prepares the nest for the eggs she is about to lay.
Her abdomen will swell with her rump slightly raised and bobbing up and down slightly. Her droppings will become larger, more copious and smelly which is natural and nothing to worry about.
Again at this time you will need to keep an eye on the hen to ensure that there are no complications and that she is not becoming distressed at all.
Within a week to nine days the first egg should be laid and subsequent eggs laid on alternate days.
The hen will then spend most of her time in the box incubating the eggs only leaving the box to feed, drink and mate. Occasionally a hen will lay her first egg in the cage rather than the nest box which is common for first time (what are termed ‘maiden’) hens.
If the egg is still intact it can be gently removed and placed in the nest box where she will soon get the idea that her eggs are supposed to be in the nest box.
The hen should be checked daily even if she is in the box to make sure that both her and the eggs are okay. Many breeders mark the eggs with special markers or pencils and keep accurate and precise records so they know the parentage of the chicks and when the eggs are due to hatch.
It is often not until after the second or even the third egg has been laid that the hen will start to incubate the eggs. Incubation can take from 18 to 22 days for the eggs to hatch depending on when the hen starts to incubate.
The newly hatched chicks are very frail, their eyes are closed, they have long necks and they cannot support their heads.
The parents will not feed them for several hours after they hatch, however they have nutrient supplies from their own yolk sac.
Once hatched the chicks need checking frequently to make sure that they are healthy.
Before begging for food the newly hatch chick will have to use up all the nourishment and nutrients from the yolk sac, however if you notice that it has been quite some time since hatching and the chick still hasn’t been fed, where possible you may need to foster it to another hen preferably with chicks of her own but at least a hen who is incubating eggs. If you do not have another hen which is incubating eggs then I’m afraid the only alternative is to start hand feeding with a chick rearing food.
A few days after hatching the chick should have a healthy pink coloured skin, looking and feeling active and healthy when you hold them.
If on the other hand the chicks are lethargic without the bright colour skin they are more susceptible to illnesses and an even closer eye must be kept on these to check that they are being fed correctly.
Before the feathers develop and cover the crop you can see inside this and a chick that has a full crop means in most cases that it is well-fed and healthy and should be growing well.
The chicks and youngsters should be picked up daily to help them get used to being handled.
Leaving the nest
The youngsters will not leave the nest (fledge) until they are 30-35 days old and when they first come out of the box into the cage you must keep a close watch on them as the parents occasionally attack them (in the wild they would drive them away from the nest) as they prepare to mate for the next round.
Once the youngsters are feeding themselves they can be removed from the parents and placed in a cage with birds of a similar age which is often referred to as a ‘baby’ or ‘nursery’ cage for them to grow and build up strength in their wings.
And after all your hard work and concerns, all being well you should after six or seven weeks have a well developed friendly Budgerigar.
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