The Mating Game


The mating seasons are what make the feeding and cleaning and everything that goes into caring for a flock, or even a few pairs of birds, worthwhile. We anxiously anticipate those very few eggs in the bigger species, the Macaws, Amazons, and Cockatoos. We keep a close eye out for increased food intake, courtship, and more time in the nest box. We try to be as inconspicuous as possible since most of them value their privacy at this time. It is not difficult to decide whether to incubate their eggs or leave the parents to finish the procedure and nurture their own babies. For years, most of our big birds have been paired off. Our previous experience with them provides us with quite precise indications on how to handle their breeding efforts. Their conduct is quite constant year after year. Only new flock members make decisions more challenging.

Breeding the smaller types, particularly my Cockatiels, poses everyday hurdles for me. The many options available and the constantly changing circumstances involved make breeding a truly engaging and entertaining activity.

Early in my career, I believed that a thorough understanding of genetics and a rigorous examination of pedigrees were sufficient to make sound breeding decisions. My majority of choices were made at my workstation. I quickly learned that the texts did not address many factors, and that matings planned on paper did not always come out as predicted.

I have three key goals in mind while preparing my birds for breeding. I want their physical qualities to complement one other in order to boost quality. For example, if one of my hens is good except for her little crest, I will mate her with a cock with a wonderful, huge, swooping crest. I also attempt to choose birds with pedigrees that compliment one another. This is the simple part of making choices.

The birds may disagree with my pick of a wonderful partner. The third priority, compatibility, then takes precedence. Many people have their own ideas on accepting a partner. The hen may be more interested than the cock and abandon her efforts to mate. She nests as normal, but lays and attempts to incubate transparent eggs. Some males are quite territorial and prefer to protect their cage area over the hen.

More often than not, an eager cock will end up with a hesitant female. The male may be so demanding and fed up with his mate’s “headache” that he pushes her into the nest box and confines her there without food or drink. An aggressive male will sometimes pluck a female. I have one cock whose mate frequently remains featherless around the head and back throughout the mating season.

We also come into the “next door phenomenon.” The cock overlooks his own hen in favor of enthusiastically wooing the hen in the next cage. In these situations, wife swapping is often successful.

I have a large Cinnamon Pearl hen that I have “on paper” mated four times. She completely disregarded the first three men I picked for her for months at a time. She fell in love on the fourth attempt and went straight to the nest with viable eggs. I intend to keep them together permanently.

One couple, whose nest box card I had marked “probably unsuitable” and was prepared to abandon, pleasantly surprised me with nine eggs and a brood of six youngsters. I’d never seen them preening or wooing, much alone getting along. They had met at some point in the past.

The obvious first step is to ensure that your birds are of the opposing sex. Typically, this pairing error occurs with Pieds, whose sex is more difficult to determine. Two people of the same gender will often connect well and have a promising loving relationship, but no children.

I look for an experienced bird to mate with a young, inexperienced parent. A seasoned cock that fertilizes, sits, and feeds properly will show his hen the ropes. A mature hen with prior experience will also carefully instruct an eager but awkward cock in fertilization techniques. The cock mounting the hen from the side is one of the numerous reasons of transparent eggs. The older hen will assist her partner until he achieves success.

Most cockatiels are ready for mating at about eighteen months, although this varies greatly. Some people begin motherhood at a young age, while others wait until they are considerably older. Many are flighty and indifferent to their tasks until they have been through one or two clutches.

The vast majority of cockatiels are excellent parents, dedicating themselves completely to the tasks of sitting and nursing. Some people are consistently bad at their jobs. Again, one excellent parent coupled with a mediocre one will often compensate for the mate’s apathy by undertaking a bigger portion of the job.

Indeterminate layers are chickens that will continue to lay eggs and never sit. It is not uncommon to have twenty-five eggs from one of these birds to either foster or hatch in an incubator. The simplest way for me to distinguish chicks from fostered eggs is to use adoptive parents of various colors. When this is not feasible, I mark the fostered eggs and chicks with a gentian violet spot until final identification by bands.

Despite great research and care in determining pedigree breeding selections, the unexpected often occurs. Some genetic principles, such as those for sex-linked colors, provide remarkably precise findings. The effects of dealing with mutations and splits are less predictable. I recently mated a Fallow cock to a Fallow hen split. Genetically, I would anticipate 75% Fallows and 25% splits. There were no Fallows among the five chicks born; they were all splits. From a hundred chicks, 75% would have been Fallows, as indicated by the tables, but my five went into the 25% range.

Many aspects must be considered when making breeding decisions to improve stock quality. I assess overall size initially, as well as huge heads, big eyes, and decent length. Full crests and proper wing set are important to me. Another important factor to consider is personality. Color is only crucial in the development of uncommon mutations.

Line breeding is often efficient in generating the beneficial features we want. Careful research is essential before breeding a bird to closely related cousins. This sort of selection is confined to birds of exceptional quality with no discernible flaws.

When studying pedigrees, it is common to discover that your greatest stock comes from a single blood line. Grandma was a really huge Cinnamon Pied hen with a lovely crest that I had. Grandma appeared in the pedigrees of my finest stock on a regular basis for 10 years. She was a wonderful mother who never questioned my selections for her friends. I was very saddened by her death and cherished her descendants.

When we have chicks at different stages in the nest boxes in our unheated aviaries in Florida, the weather adds another element to our schedule. Around nine to ten days, parents normally quit brooding their chicks. Their internal time clocks seem to determine their choice to leave the chicks rather than the weather outside. Few parents will prolong their baby’s protection during a temperature dip. When a chilly night is forecast, I examine the older chicks’ nest boxes in the early evening. If I don’t locate the babies securely sheltered beneath the hen’s outspread wings, I bring them inside the warm home to begin hand feeding as soon as possible.

It might be tough to assess your own breeding success in early chicks. There just isn’t enough space to hold them all until they reach adulthood. I often use the gram scale to make quick selections. Unless it has a remarkable lineage, a chick that does not weigh 115 grams at 21 days is not considered show stock. The majority of remarkable birds may be spotted at three to four weeks, although some are late bloomers. I’ve sold a bird as a pet before and then regretted it when I saw it afterwards. A decisive judgment on overall quality cannot be reached until the animal is eight or nine months old.

Every year, I install additional cages to accommodate my ever-growing flock. I’m spending more and more time at my desk examining records. When a friend comes seeking for me, the family sends them to the cockatiel aviary since there is where I am most likely to be. My enthusiasm for producing bigger and better cockatiels grows even faster than their numbers in my flock.

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