Cockatiel breeding is not especially difficult, but it will require your time and commitment, in addition to a lot of preparation.
Before getting started, there are some things to consider:
Pet or Breeder?
Owners should realize that their cockatiels can't be both good breeders / parents and remain devoted pets to them. Mating, nesting and raising a family will keep them busy and, as a general rule, they will concentrate on that and loose interest in their human care takers.
Of course, there are - as always - exceptions to this rule.
The first requirement is that the cockatiels are old enough to breed.
Cockatiels are physically able to breed when they are about 9 to 12 months old; however, sexual maturity is only reached when they are 15 to 24 months old.
With younger birds, breeding success is less likely and more problems can be expected, such as eggbinding (which could be fatal to your hen) or poor parenting skills resulting in babies being abused or abandoned; or simply being unhealthy.
Breeders will often try to pair up experienced breeders with the inexperienced - to allow the younger one to be guided by the know-how of the older. This is a good practice to follow.
There will be no successful breeding unless you have a true and compatible pair.
Same-sex cockatiels will go through the motions of breeding. Two males will mate and work their nesting box as a true pair would - except no eggs will be laid. Two females will do likewise, except both females will generally lay eggs - which means you are going to have 8 or more eggs in the nesting box. If you see that many eggs, you should realize that most likely you have two females in which case the eggs are going to be infertile. If this is so, do not remove the eggs. Allow the females to continue to sit on them until they themselves loose interest. The reason being that if you remove the eggs, they will continue to lay new ones -- depleting themselves of minerals and calcium, potentially resulting in health problems.
- This website provides information on cockatiel mutations and sexing your cockatiel.
It is very poor practice to breed related birds. It increases the chance of genetic defects - especially if no new genetic material has been introduced into an aviary for some time and related birds have been allowed to breed for generations.
The result can be weak or sickly babies, or babies with missing or deformed toes or feet, twisted backs, bald spots (as is often seen in lutinos) and internal genetic defects that can cause the death of the chicks.
The reason why breeders continue to pair up related birds is often availability or the desire to develop / attain certain mutations. With recessive genes, both male and female need to carry a genetic trait if they are to produce a certain mutation. The simplest way to attain that is by breeding related birds. Yet, it is not a recommended practice. Every effort should be made to find the desired traits in unrelated birds. Swapping breeding stock with another breeder presents itself as an option.
The breeders should be in great physical condition before allowing them to breed. The plumage should be clean and smooth; eyes clear; disposition lively and they should be of good weight.
You should never allow an overweight hen or cock to breed. Obesity in females increases the chance of egg binding or other health problems. One way to tell if a bird is overweight is to check the tiel's breast bone. In an overweight bird, you will feel a lot of flesh on each side of the breast bone. In a skinny bird, you will feel indentations / hard bones on each side (meaning you feel only the bones, no or very little flesh). The breast bone will be very prominent in an underweight bird, while you can hardly feel it in an overweight cockatiel.
If underweight, one concern could be disease -- especially if the cockatiel had access to plenty of food. Maybe the mate didn't allow the other to feed. In which case, several food dishes in different areas should be provided. Although -- considering that you ought to feed a variety of soft foods as well as a good seed mix, that shouldn't happen, unless the food dishes are too closely situated. This all being said, although having seen this behavior of not allowing the mate to feed in other parrot species, I have not seen it in my cockatiels. But I am sure it exists.
If your bird is overweight, a change in diet should be discussed with your vet.
In any case, neither underweight nor obese bird should be put into a breeding program.
Last, but not least, when breeding activities commence, it is time to line up homes for your chicks.
Decide Not To Breed or Reduce Breeding Activity?
In their natural habitat, cockatiels usually raise chicks in the spring and the late summer. In captivity, when food is plenty and conditions are optimal, they have been known to "double- or even triple-clutch" -- which means raising one clutch immediately after the other. This prolific behavior can be detrimental to their health and should be discouraged, as it depletes them of necessary nutrients and causes physical exhaustion, potentially resulting in serious health problems - especially for the female; such as egg-binding, prolapsed uterus, egg peritonitis or even death caused by breeding related problems.
It is recommended to only allow your bird to produce two clutches per season - better yet, only two clutches a year. But more often than not, hens will get started on laying a new clutch while they still have chicks in the nest box. If this happens, you may want to consider pulling the chicks so that the parents can concentrate on the new clutch; or at least provide supplemental feedings to them.
At the same time, if you want to stop birds from breeding, the following options are available:
- Remove the nesting box
- Reduce hours of light in the bird area. 10 to 12 hours of light is needed to bring cockatiels into breeding condition. Fewer hours of light a day (basically simulating "winter" non-breeding season) will reduce the urge to breed.
- Decrease Vitamin E consumption (which stimulates breeding)
- I truly dislike the practice of separating the male and the female to stop them from breeding. They are a bonded pair and it is, in my opinion, cruel to do so.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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