The presence of a hen and a cock in a cage with a nest box does not guarantee the production of young birds. Those of us who have worked with dogs or cats quickly realize that rearing birds is a whole other animal. A male dog will almost always be attracted to any female dog in heat. When it comes time to procreate, few of the ladies are picky about their partners. Not so for birds.
Many of the bigger species, as well as a fair number of the smaller ones, may take years to connect. Many years may pass after they have formed a relationship before mating and producing viable eggs.
We chose to give Stumpy, our Blue and Gold Macaw, a mate since he was such a gorgeous specimen of this species. Henrietta, the huge hen we got for him, was immediately friendly. It took years for Stumpy to even let her sit near him on the perch. He had been our pet bird, pampered by the whole family as he matured. This slowed his bonding with another bird much more than normal.
Their friendship blossomed into love over the years. Stumpy fed and trimmed Henrietta and spoke to her in the same manner he spoke to us. We were hoping for the best, but the eggs she deposited were all transparent. We started to assume that Stumpy was unable to achieve fertilization even with a willing and experienced hen due to his congenitally malformed feet. They eventually repaid us with a gorgeous Blue and Gold baby ten long years after they were brought together. They fed and cared for it with expertise and dedication, and they seemed to be as proud of it as we were.
It is possible that a bird will never be suitable with the partner chosen by its owner. When a deeply linked couple is separated, this may be an intractable difficulty. I have not directly seen the loss of the surviving bird, but I am aware of how close we have been on a few instances. Sometimes it is unavoidable to be apart. When given an option, the owner must confront the hazards of the stress involved in separating a firmly connected couple and do it with caution. Often, the loss of one leads to the loss of both.
The hen may be more interested than the cock and abandon her efforts to mate. She then nests as normal, but lays and attempts to incubate transparent eggs. Some cocks are quite territorial and prefer to protect their cage area over their partner.
An eager cock is more frequently than not paired with a hesitant hen. He could be so demanding and bored of his mate’s “headache” that he pushes her into the nest box and keeps her there without food or drink. For usage with Cockatoos, where this sort of aggressive behavior is widespread, an unique “T” shaped nest box with an additional escape path has been devised.
A dominant cock may sometimes pluck a hen harshly. I have one pair where the female remains featherless around the head and back for the whole mating season. I discover their nest box, which has been meticulously lined with her soft feathers. I regard this as part of their mating behavior since both parents are devoted to the infants.
The “next door phenomenon” also occurs. The cock overlooks his own hen in favor of enthusiastically wooing the hen in the next cage. When this conduct continues for many weeks, wife swapping is the only option.
I have a large Cinnamon Pearl Cockatiel hen that I have put up with four different partners. Each selection was made after careful consideration of pedigrees and a quest for the ideal attributes to complement hers. I was eager to breed this exquisite hen and allowed her many months to acclimatize to each successive partner. She fell in love on the fourth attempt and went straight to the nest with viable eggs.
One couple of Cockatiels, whose nest box I had marked as “probably unsuitable” and was prepared to abandon, surprised me with a clutch of nine eggs and six chicks. I had never seen them dating or even cordial, but they had definitely gotten together at some point.
All breeding pairs must be surgically or DNA sexed unless they are dimorphic (visually distinct men and females). Because the DNA approach is less costly and more convenient, I now use it nearly exclusively. Surgical sexing may help determine if a bird is sexually mature and physically capable of reproducing. Experienced breeders’ expert estimates have been revealed to be incorrect. Two people of the same gender are frequently very compatible and connect with a promising loving relationship, but no chicks.
If you have the money and room, a good way to ensure compatibility in your couples is to put a lot of sexed birds in a big flight and monitor their preferences.
If natural selection is not a viable option, putting two baby birds in a single cage as soon as they arrive has been shown to be successful. They will both be terrified and find comfort in one other. They become pals by the time they settle down. This should not be undertaken unless the birds are kept under careful supervision over an extended length of time. It is not a foolproof procedure.
The most efficient technique to verify compatibility is to put two babies in a cage together, either just out of the weaning period or still needing some hand feeding. They connect strongly because they were allowed to grow up together without too much human attention to confuse them. They normally reach sexual maturity early in their development.
Quite frequently, the passage of time is all that is required to achieve compatibility in a couple. “Let’s give them another year,” is a common and frequently correct option.
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