Controlling “Unwanted” Egg Laying


Q: My female cockatiel lays eggs quite frequently—almost every other day. What could be causing this? Within the last three months, she had approximately twenty eggs to her credit. What are the potential risks? Can I prevent the chicken from laying eggs?

A: This is one of the most typical challenges we encounter in the field of avian practice: the bird that starts the egg-laying process but does not have a partner (the vast majority of which are cockatiels by the way). People have the misconception that a bird needs to be bred in order to lay eggs, which is, of course, not true. As a result, when anything like this happens for the first time, people are always really startled. There are a few different ways that people can encourage birds to start laying eggs. In the wild, the photo period (day/night cycle) plays a role because it signals the arrival of spring and summer, which is the best season for young animals to be reared. This is because there is more sunshine and the nights are shorter. However, because we turn the lights inside when it gets dark outside, the birds in our home setting are effectively subjected to “long days” on an ongoing basis. This prevents the birds from being able to follow their natural circadian rhythms. As a result, they might go through the process of laying eggs at any time of the year (remember the controlled indoor lighting that is used for egg laying chickens).

Nevertheless, there are more aspects to consider. In order for a cycle to start, it is necessary for the bird to be “comfortable” in its surroundings and relatively free from stress. The cycle could be disrupted if significant changes occur.

It would suggest that there is also a component of stimulus at play here. The photoperiod stimulates the bird to engage in sexual behavior, but it appears that other cues are necessary to initiate the reproductive cycle. It is not uncommon to find birds entertaining themselves by preening themselves on various objects and toys within the cage, as well as perches, or even on members of the household. The bird may covet a mirror or one of its favorite toys as an object of desire. The stimulation of the bird can come from other birds in the house making noise, or it can be as simple as touching the bird gently. Therefore, it is clear that all it may take to for a bird to start laying eggs is a relatively minor amount of stimulation.

In a typical scenario, a bird will lay a clutch of eggs including anything from three to six eggs, and then the bird will tend to the eggs until they hatch. You might see the solitary bird deposit eggs in a nest once in a while, and then watch it act as though the eggs were fertile while it sat on them. Because of this, many individuals advocate keeping the birds and their eggs together in the same cage. On the other hand, the bird will regularly lay one egg after another, typically paying no attention to the eggs that it has already laid. Should the eggs be taken out or left in the carton? It is dependent on the type of bird. If the bird “clings” to the eggs and sits on them, but does not lay any additional eggs while doing so (until she becomes bored with this behavior), you should leave the eggs in the nest. On the other hand, removing the eggs from the system in an attempt to remove the stimulus does not typically work on its own. To put a stop to this behavior, more measures need to be implemented.

Is the bird putting herself in harm’s way by laying these eggs? Absolutely! Overproduction of eggs can lead to a calcium deficiency, which can cause a condition known as “egg binding,” as well as weakness, frail bones with a high risk of fracture, and possibly even convulsions. Whether or not egg laying is desired in a bird, it is critical that the diet be supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, during this time. In the event that the bird is not using the cuttlebone or the mineral block, you can either scrape it over the food or supply a supplement in the water. The dangers are not as great if the bird is already eating a food that is well balanced; nonetheless, the majority of birds eat diets that are not well balanced, thus the stress of egg laying can have serious repercussions.

How can we prevent the laying of eggs? There is a scale of aggressiveness that ranges from mild to severe, and personally, I like to begin with the less extreme options. In the event that these don’t work, the next stages will be more complicated.

At first, I suggest setting the photoperiod so that it mimics “winter,” with long nights and short days. This requires keeping the bird in total darkness for 16 hours and exposing it to light for only 8 of those hours. This should be done consistently for a fortnight. It is not sufficient to have a light cover; it must also be dark. It is sufficient, in most cases, to place the bird in a room that is dark, to keep it away from the stimulations in the household, and to cover it. The elimination of stimulating toys and things (mirrors, for example) is another effective strategy. Petting the bird is a form of physical stimulation that should be avoided. When you are petting the bird, if you see that she is becoming particularly responsive, you should stop. If you have any other birds, you need to make sure they can’t hear each other or they’ll fight. Altering the surroundings of the bird by moving the cage to a new area or turning it around in a different direction is yet another strategy that can be utilized in order to “throw her off.” If the instructions are followed to the letter, there will be successful results. You don’t have to wait till the bird has started laying eggs to start them; you can start them as soon as the bird begins displaying sexual activity. These techniques can also help calm birds who are sexually aggressive, including females and males while they are going through their “cycle.”

In the event that these preventative measures are ineffective, we will need to take a more active approach with the use of hormonal therapy. To counteract the effects of the female hormone and put a stop to egg production, the hormone that is administered is either natural or synthetic testosterone. Testosterone is the male sex hormone. Additionally, it will calm a sexually aggressive female; but, if the sex of the bird is unclear, you do not want to feed additional testosterone to a male who is already motivated by testosterone. Injections are the most common method of administering testosterone, however it can also be taken orally. Cheque Drops, a synthetic testosterone analog, has been quite fruitful for us in terms of research and development (used to keep female dogs from going into heat). It can be taken in the water or directly by mouth, and either method is risk-free and easy to perform. In most cases, the treatment lasts for a period of thirty days and can be started as soon as sexual behavior is observed. Birds don’t seem to have any adverse reactions to the medicine, even though we’ve given them quite a bit of it.

However, there are some birds that do not respond to any of the aforementioned methods. In these cases, a different medicine called DepoProvera, which is a progesterone molecule, can be utilized. Because it can be used for long-term birth control, this medication has been getting a lot of headlines as of late. Due to the fact that it produces a relaxing impact all around. It is used extensively in the treatment of sexual aggression in birds, both in males and females, due to its efficacy in preventing egg laying activity and in quelling sexual violence. The adverse effects, which include increased water consumption, increased hunger, watery droppings, excess weight gain, lethargy, and the danger of developing diabetes with continued treatment, constitute a significant disadvantage of this medication. Therefore, extreme caution is required when utilizing this medication. It is safe to use it on a sporadic basis, but utilizing it on a consistent basis may result in complications. Some medical professionals are arguing for the use of implants that have been infused with hormones.

In the event that all other treatments are unsuccessful, a hysterectomy is the final option. Because ovary removal is both difficult and risky, the removal of the uterus is the procedure that is typically successful. The benefit of having surgery is that it will result in there being no more eggs. Nevertheless, because the ovary is still present, the bird will continue to exhibit sexual behavior. In addition, there is always the possibility of complications when surgery is undertaken. Therefore, the choice to have surgery should not be made lightly, and it should only be done in cases of chronic egg laying problems.

We can only hope that these suggestions will be sufficient to put an end to an issue that, if left unchecked, will eventually become quite hazardous for the bird.

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