Practical Management


The first half of the debate will include questions about how to handle budgies while they are unwell, and then it will be an open forum with back-up questions and answers included if needed.

How can I treat an off-color bird that requires medicine or food given straight into the crop?

In response to your inquiry, I provided a crop needling video. I then showed the procedure first, followed by observation while others participated.

Remember to keep the budgerigar in your left hand, facing you. Insert the crop needle slowly and spin downward toward your left thumb. You should be able to feel the crop needle’s ball against your thumb.

I generally use an 8 gauge crop needle and have had tremendous luck with budgerigars from 3-4 weeks of age onwards, especially when feeding a hand-rearing meal. An 18 gauge crop needle is used for medicating big chicks to adults, while a 22 gauge crop needle is used for medicating 3-4 day old to 2-3 week old chicks.

I use three different gauges of crop needles: Crop needles in gauges of 8, 16, and 28
How should I proceed if the veterinary surgeon requests that I inject my budgerigar?

I’ll start by demonstrating the approach I employ. Always inject into the muscle after feeling for the keel bone. Alternate from left to right of the keel bone each time the bird is injected to assist reduce bruising.

I normally massage the injected region after I remove the needle. It is critical that you ‘bleed’ the needle of air prior to injecting the bird by flicking your finger onto the syringe (needle facing up) and pressing the “plunger” until air bubbles are no longer present and only liquid is coming from the needle.

Do you have any tips for identifying certain budgerigar diseases?

In a nutshell, “No.” Prior to therapy with any medicine, your Veterinarian must make a thorough diagnosis of any alleged condition. Some fanciers may “treat” their sick bird with a mixture of medications in a hit-or-miss procedure that may kill the bird or mask the true disease, making diagnosis difficult for the veterinarian. Some of these “cocktails” have proved ineffective because they undermine each other’s benefits. As previously indicated, consulting with a veterinarian is the best policy.

What steps should you take before bringing new birds into your facility?

All budgerigars introduced should be isolated for 6 weeks. By quarantined, I mean completely separated from your aviaries, limiting the danger of disease transfer if, by chance, a problem existed. During the quarantine period, feces and crop samples should be collected by your Veterinary surgeon or, if possible, collected by you and sent to the Vet for testing for worms, coccidiosis, psittacosis, and other diseases. My preference, especially with imported birds, is for the veterinarian to bring his microscope and necessary equipment to my establishment, allowing for on-the-spot testing for canker and megabacteria, as well as “setting” the slides with feces and crop samples for further examination and testing back at the clinic. A spread sheet is created that lists all of the birds to be tested, with results updated when they become available. Individual “problem” birds may be separated into holding cages for particular treatments, which is the beauty of this approach. If everything is clear, it might be a good idea to treat the birds with an adequate probiotic at this point to colonize the stomach and exclude dangerous bacteria.

Introduce to the quarantine facility, around 2 weeks following the arrival of the new birds (again, only if all tests are clear), either a “control” bird or droppings from your own aviary-kept birds (it would probably be a smart idea to have had some tests done on these budgerigars at the same time as the birds that are in quarantine, to ensure all is well). This allows for the introduction of “good” germs from aviary-kept birds to isolated animals without posing a significant danger. Prior to releasing the young birds into the current flock, it is important to ensure that the “good” bacteria is compatible.

If feasible, introduce newly bought birds during the breeding season, when the birds may be coupled promptly (if breeding fit), and the period of breeding serves as the quarantine period. The concept of isolation in wire breeding cabinets will be called into doubt. I use transparent perspex dividers to keep people apart. Farces and crop testing are still required for the birds.

All aviaries may benefit from the usage of “control” birds. By “control” bird, I mean a fit bird of lesser quality that will travel with your needed birds (2-3 each trip) for the purpose of being available for blood sample or autopsy if a problem develops during that flight.

Is it worthwhile to fix broken eggs?

Yes.

So, how do you go about fixing broken eggs?

Many eggs have been preserved, and many more might have been saved if more time had been spent assessing the severity of the damage. Whether the egg has just been put through to the early embryo stage, a “laser” lamp may be used to see if the white is full of air bubbles; if this is the case, the damage is too severe. If the embryo is visible and blood seems to have “gathered” on one side of the egg, the damage is potentially too severe to save, but it is worth a try. Within reason, almost all other broken eggs should be restored. Selleys Aquadhere PVA non-staining, non-toxic wood working glue is on hand, as are dry shells from hatched eggs or transparent eggs that have been opened and dried for the mending procedure.

As the drying period increases, employ just a thin layer of adhesive. Choose and shape the patch for the repair with care. Allow the adhesive to completely cure before returning to the nest box. I normally hold the mended egg between my lips while doing other aviary tasks. The patched region of the egg is then placed on some fine sawdust to examine whether the sawdust sticks to the egg; if so, I wait a little longer, retest in the sawdust, and restore to the proper nest box. The most common error is returning the egg with wet glue and subsequently discovering the egg connected to the hen as she exits the nest box.

What do you feed your birds, and does it remain consistent throughout the year?

  • It is critical to feed a variety of high-quality “dry” seed all year.
  • During the warmer months, a daily supply of soaked or sprouted seed must be considerably decreased.
  • A steady supply of greens, such as silver beet.
  • A supply of gum leaves and branches on a weekly or biweekly basis.
  • A steady supply of both hard and soft grits.
  • A daily water supplement, such as Calcivet daily and Soluvet three times per week (note: you may mix the Calcivet and Soluvet together) before to and during the mating season; after the breeding season is through, discontinue the Calcivet and lower the Soluvet to one to two times per week.

My feeding plan is reviewed on a regular basis. I’ve already mentioned that if you see a “good” practice in someone else’s aviary and it fits your objective, start it. My seed is mostly cultivated in Queensland for me and fed in huge, separate pots per variety. Larger containers provide the birds with more food room, minimizing stress. The following animals are fed dry:

  • Plain Canary
  • Jap Millet
  • White French Millet
  • Red Panicum
  • Grey Striped Sunflower
  • Bandicoot Oats
  • Wild Seed Mix

My soaked seed mixture consists of the following ingredients:

  • 10 triticale components
  • 10 parts Bandicoot Oatmeal
  • Aviclens is applied to 1 part “small” mixed seed. This mixture is steeped in water for 12 hours before being washed, drained, and given twice daily. During soaking, Aviclens inhibits the fermentation process, lowering the danger of bacterial contamination of the seed.

I feed the birds silver beet every day, unless they are receiving a “therapy” via the water. If this is the case, all soaking seeds and silver beet feeding will be suspended until the “therapy” is finished. After the “therapy,” the silver beet and soaking seeds are progressively reintroduced (ie., in smaller amounts). During any “treatment,” gum leaves and branches are also removed since the birds are more inclined to absorb moisture from this source than than the drinking container. Just on “treatment”, I remove the drinking containers from the aviaries and breeding cages (if no chicks are present), at around 2pm and reintroduce at about 10am the following day, thereby encouraging all of the birds to enjoy a portion of the “treatment”. I give the birds a 1 to 3 day probiotic course after every given “treatment” or display. In the aviaries, I like open drinking cups made of ceramic, glass, or enamel. I dislike the bottle with the “drip” mechanism because I don’t feel the birds receive a fair chance to drink in an aviary. The birds like eating and drinking together, just as they would in the wild. I also feel that the danger of sickness is increased by this technique since every problem bird leaves a “concentrated version” of the issue at the little exit.

Hard grit from Broken Hill, shell grit, Mount Gambier limestone, dolomite, and cuttle fish are always accessible, and beach sand is sprinkled beneath the aviary perches.

Minor tweaks are made to this regimen throughout the moult and breeding seasons; if I believe the birds need anything more, I provide it. Millet sprays are one of these extras; in fact, the nursery cage is overrun with them, since they seem to be a favored source of intake for the “weaned” birds.

The budgerigar’s diet will differ from aviary to aviary – it is the breeder of these birds who has the last word on what is provided to the birds, not the birds themselves, thus we owe it to them to give them the finest that is available to ensure a long and productive existence. What are your thoughts?

Would you breed with birds afflicted by French Moulter while remaining a visual French Moulter? If this is the case, would the children or subsequent descendents be affected? What do you think is the cause of French Moult?

If it’s a good bird, I’d say “Yes” to the first of the three questions. On his most recent trip to Australia, Jeff Attwood stopped by my shop and noticed a Grey Green Cock of remarkable quality. He advised that I reduce the breeding cage perches to 12mm from the floor. This worked well for me. The first round chicks in the first year were flawless FM, as were the first round chicks the following year, however in the second round of both years, I had two FM chicks in each nest. It should be mentioned that another couple had an FM chick in the first year, and a number of pairs did in the second year, so I couldn’t confirm anything from this.

Prior to the proof that French Moult is caused by a virus, I tossed around numerous thoughts about it without ever coming up with anything definite. The feather issues usually appeared to occur near the end of the breeding season, in my case in the summer (December). Until a few years ago, I was usually able to create two or three French Moulters. There were around 5 or 6 FM and about 7 tail-less miracles last year. There were 35 FM and 2 or 3 tail-less marvels the year before. There have also been a few instances when the tail and, in some circumstances, parts of the body feathers seem to have a quill inside a quill, akin to a “break” in wool after a sheep has had some type of setback.

My original idea was that since it was the end of the mating season, the birds would be losing some of their breeding fitness, and I might not be providing them the full attention they need, such as boosting the protein level in the final month of breeding.

The next notion was that a mite was to blame, but since it was happening in various nests and with random birds, this theory was called into doubt once again.

Scientists have identified a virus and are, I think, in the final phases of developing a vaccine for the virus, which has opened up the potential of “managing” one of the fancier’s issues. Even with this information, I dispute the random selection of the birds that actually become French Moulters. As a result, I feel all three proposals have some relevance to the situation. If the adult birds’ nutrition is inadequate, it is possible that some of the kids will not be “completely” nourished, making them susceptible to a virus or other types of illness. As a result, within any one nest, some birds may be more sensitive than others, which may explain why not all of the birds inside the nest are afflicted.

This virus may be transmitted by the air, but it can also be transmitted by a mite. When French Moult is detected, there always seems to be evidence of mite – this may not be the case in all aviaries, but the aviaries that I have seen in this country that have had French Moult have also, on the whole, had signs of mite. The presence of the mite, as well as the mite’s activity of sucking blood from their hosts, may break down the bird’s resistance, rendering the bird exposed to the virus, or the mite might be the transfer agent?

Concerning “short tail syndrome,” there have been reports of success by feeding sick birds vitamin “K,” a blood clotting agent, via the crop? I have yet to test this, but I will, through crop and injection, on birds that have been this way for 10 -24 months. A pharmacist warned me that if I took too much Vitamin “K,” it may lead to a heart attack – so proceed with caution.

Do you count the eggs as they hatch? Do you empty the nest boxes in between rounds? When should the young be removed from the nest box?

Yes, I number all of the eggs and also put the cage number on them, such as Egg 1 Cage 2 = 1:C2. On the nest box data form, I then enter the date the egg was deposited and the nest it was transported to. I want to distribute the eggs around the breeding cages as insurance against losing a whole nest of eggs if the hen dies on the nest or her eggs are destroyed, etc. I want to wipe out the nest boxes between rounds and replace the sawdust. This may be problematic if a hen has already begun to lay since she, or even the cock, may try to wipe the sawdust out, risking the eggs shattering. I like to remove young animals at 3 1/2 weeks of age and put them in a “protected” spot on the cage floor (a cover with a concave base, openings in the front and one side). The concave is filled with seed in the morning and at night, and millet sprays are applied to encourage the chicks to eat; the cock continues to top them up, and the hen may resume laying round 2. At 4-5 weeks, the chicks are completely weaned.

What advise would you provide to someone who is just starting out in the hobby and wants to buy birds?

I normally encourage first-year amateurs to avoid purchasing pricey birds until they have gained some knowledge of breeding procedures. In fact, I advised several novice fanciers who wanted to buy birds from me to return in 12 months to see whether they still wanted to spend their money. Some do and have kept up with the pastime. Others are grateful for the counsel because they did not continue. Once the beginner fancier develops an eye for a bird, regardless of where they get it, they should strive to buy one cock and two hens, or even two pairs that are ideally related and from a nice background.

Note from the Editor.

This essay was adapted from Nigel Tonkin’s notes for a talk delivered at the Queensland North & Central Zone Budgerigar Council’s 22nd Annual Golden Cob Australian Championship Budgerigar Show in 1996.

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