The Problem Of Poor Fertility In Budgerigars


Poor fertility in budgerigars seems to be a new condition that affects practically every birdroom. This article examines the various reasons and suggests some remedies.

Every living organism’s development is the product of the interdependent impacts of Nature and Nurture throughout the course of the individual’s lifespan. If the same individual could be cloned (exact genetic copies of the same individual organism), and each different clone could be reared in slightly different environments and fed on various different diets, it would be possible to determine the precise conditions and diets that are beneficial, or harmful, to that single organism’s growth and development. In this case, the individual’s Nature would stay the same, but the Nurture for each clone would be different. We can only speculate on the impacts of Nurture on budgerigar breeding and rearing without doing such an experiment.

When we talk to Nurture in the context of budgerigar breeding, it is more often referred to as “husbandry”; this phrase denotes the way of housing, feeding, and so on, all of which are under the direct control of the breeder; some breeders are better “stockmen” than others. However, part of the Nurture is beyond the fancier’s control, like as environmental circumstances. When we examine the several conceivable varied elements that go under the category of Nurture, we can see that there are numerous external impacts on the person.

  • Food
  • Water
  • Air
  • Light
  • Temperature
  • Disease organisms
  • Other factors

Food

Because most breeders give their budgerigars a primary diet of various varieties of canary and millet seeds, most budgerigars will consume the same food from comparable sources, but in varying quantities. If contamination of seeds developed in recent years was caused by the recent introduction of new pesticides to crops, this might be a source of issues. If this were the case, the impacts on wildlife in the producing regions would have been documented, and aviculturalists would have been informed by ornithologists and other environmentalists.

Water

The majority of budgerigars are fed “tap water,” which is far from clean. Nowadays, most water is best thought of as a dilute mix containing a plethora of toxins that even water treatment facilities cannot eliminate. Because large pollutants may reach high concentrations in tap water on occasion, it is safest to assume that levels of many dangerous substances are always present. There are very few watercourses in Britain that sustain flourishing fish populations, and if fish cannot thrive in water, it cannot help our budgies or their owners! It has been discovered that the sperm count in human males is now much lower than it was just a decade ago, and this phenomena is already influencing human fertility levels. Water is seen as a critical aspect. Water should have the same impact on budgerigars as it does on humans. Boiling all drinking water would vaporize numerous organic contaminants as well as eliminate many microorganisms that may taint water, making it less contaminated.

Air

Much of the air in the United Kingdom, like water, is contaminated and cannot be termed clean. With so many known contaminants in the atmosphere today, it seems improbable that any of them are useful, and the majority are almost certainly detrimental. If air pollution was a cause of infertility in budgerigars today, many other species would have fallen extinct as a direct consequence of air pollution. This has not occurred.

Light

Outside of your birdroom, there are still 24 hours in a day, and daylight hours change with the season, as they always have. Breeders did not artificially light their aviaries in the early days of the fancy, and budgerigars were prolific breeders because they bred naturally when daylight duration was optimal for reproduction, as do our native wild birds. Most breeders now utilize artificial illumination to try to induce their birds to reproduce in mid-winter, when daylight hours are at their lowest and the sun’s strength is at its weakest. The goal of utilizing artificial illumination is to “fool” the bird’s pineal gland into behaving as if it were spring, with 14 to 17 hours of continuous sunshine each day.

I’ve seen some crazy lighting management techniques advised, such as turning off the lights at noon for the birds to rest for two hours. For those who haven’t noticed, the sun does not set at noon. If birds rest naturally during noon, they do so when the light is at its brightest. If you use artificial lighting, it should be continuous for 14 to 17 hours or managed so that the lighting intensity in your birdroom is maintained for the comparable duration using electronic regulating equipment.

Temperature

During a typical British spring, the temperature is likely to remain between the extremes of O degrees and 15 degrees Celsius throughout the day, with little change from day to day. Incubating chickens can tolerate this temperature range and can seat their clutches, ensuring that the eggs are at the optimal temperature for full development. Nowadays, the daily variance of weather seems to change across a much broader temperature range than 15 degrees Celsius, and the weather often varies significantly on a day-to-day basis; warm summer-like days and chilly winter-like days frequently occur in succession. During the 17-day incubation phase of the budgerigar egg, the external temperature range may have ranged between 26 degrees and minus 5 degrees Celsius, a 31-degree variation; this temperature range is probably larger than a hen can handle. This, I believe, is the source of many of the “dead in shell” that seems to impact the majority of the eggs incubated at the same time.

If a thermometer that records maximum and minimum temperatures is kept in the birdroom, and the temperatures are recorded daily, and these temperatures are compared to the incidence of “dead in shell,” it should be possible to determine whether a large temperature range occurred during the incubating period. In the winter months, thermostatically-controlled heaters are essential to restrict the temperature range if substantial temperature variations are considered an issue. Similar huge temperature changes may occur while breeding budgerigars in the spring and summer months, but these temperature fluctuations are more difficult to manage without adding air conditioning.

Humidity is also connected to temperature, and protracted warm periods, as well as the use of artificial heating, tend to lower humidity. It is also vital to maintain the moisture levels of the air inside your birdroom throughout the year by keeping trays of water near heaters. The budgerigar in the wild is an opportunist breeder, and warm wet circumstances that occur when food is abundant urge the birds to reproduce; little doubt they would behave similarly if such conditions exist in your birdroom.

Disease Organisms

Most big species serve as hosts for a variety of smaller organisms, including bacteria, viruses, intestinal worms, insects, and so on. Some organisms are hazardous to the host if there are too many organisms transported; this results in a parasitic infection, often known as an infectious illness. Higher species have evolved an immune system that allows them to defend themselves against parasites of various varieties. It is completely normal for the environment to harbor a wide range of potentially hazardous illnesses, causing organisms, or pathogens. If a budgerigar with a normal immune system encounters a limited number of infections, the bird is considered to be “immune” to the pathogens against which it can now defend itself. Some bacteria are vital to the bird’s survival and dwell in the gut, mainly of the E.Coli strain; these bacteria are known as commensal organisms. (Probiotics are essentially budgerigar commensals).

Disease occurs only when the immune system is inadequate, overworked, injured, or is subjected to a violent parasitic onslaught. While it is normal to want to cure ill birds, it is the worst thing you can do for the rest of your healthy birds since the sick bird has a high number of parasite organisms that might infect other birds in the restricted environment of your birdroom. Treated ill birds are usually too damaged to be of further use in your breeding program, thus they are best disposed of at the first indication of sickness; the removal of the sick can only help the surviving healthy birds. Sick birds in the wild would get no care and die; this is Mother Nature’s way. Chronically or subclinically diseased birds will not be in optimal breeding condition and will hence fail to nest effectively.

Other Factors

Other variables that may have a significant impact on fertility that fall under the category of “nurture” or livestock husbandry include the use of vitamins and nutritional supplements, as well as the use of disinfectants. To my opinion, distinguishing between these two types of chemicals and contaminants is difficult.

It is only normal for a good stockman to want to offer the finest environment for his treasured budgerigars in order for them to reach their full potential, and to that end, many breeders seek to pack every vitamin, mineral, or addition into their budgerigars’ beaks without questioning why. Budgerigars are a member of one of the oldest bird groups and have been around for millions of years with minimal alteration, demonstrating their healthy interaction with their natural habitat. How have they survived as a species for so long if they need additions that were previously unavailable to them? If a budgerigar is fed a meal consisting of many different types of seed from various sources, this diet will be rich in vitamins. Vitamins in excess are recognized toxins that may cause death.

Similarly, how can wild budgerigars breed in such large numbers, returning to the same filthy nests year after year, unless the trees are washed down with potent virucidal and bactericidal chemicals before they go to nest? Of course, the answer is immunity. The recent introduction of strong disinfectants into the birdroom has resulted in the introduction of new chemicals into the budgerigar’s surroundings. If such chemicals kill germs and viruses, it’s difficult to understand how they may benefit the budgerigar when consumed on gnawed perch.

In the birdroom, cleanliness is required but not sterility. Bird droppings are high in ammonia, which inhibits the growth of many hazardous germs in the nest. It has worked for millions of years and will continue to function in the future.

It is critical that budgerigars encounter a restricted number of potentially harmful microorganisms in order for the birds to build immunity to them. Furthermore, the regular operation of an individual’s immune system keeps the system “alert” to the advent of various strains of germs and protects the birds’ future self-protection. Trying to establish a sterile environment by eradicating every single insect in the birdroom is detrimental to your birds’ health. I am not supporting filthy circumstances, but rather a common sense approach to cleanliness. I believe that sodium hypochlorite is the greatest cleaning chemical to use in the birdroom (“Milton” or a proprietary “nappy sterilizing” solution.).

Noise and Sight

The budgerigar is a social creature that lives in groups with other members of its kind. In the wild, individuals of enormous flocks of budgerigars reproduce concurrently with one another. Budgerigar breeding grounds are quite crowded and noisy. If budgerigars are not to be produced in colonies, it seems obvious that if couples are to be maintained in cages, they should not be secluded from the sight and sound of other birds. Few birdrooms have transparent perspex or wire barriers between breeding cages, and many lack flights of birds in front of breeding cages.

The budgerigar is a “talkative” species that possibly vocalizes as much as any other animal on the planet. While I’m not aware of anybody studying the lexicon of budgerigar language, the chatter must signify something to other budgerigars, otherwise they wouldn’t have evolved such intricate vocalization. Budgerigars in large groups tend to vocalize more than they do in small groups, implying that they are more at peace with their environment and hence feel comfortable enough to nest and reproduce. A radio playing music seems to stimulate budgerigars to vocalize, and this background noise likely keeps the birds from being constantly attentive to outside sounds of danger, making them feel more comfortable for mating.

Closeness

If you feel you are providing the proper “nurture” for your birds and have had multiple straight successful breeding seasons in the past, the issue of inadequate fertility must be due to the “nature” of your birds.
If you have been breeding budgies for a long time, it is extremely possible that the majority of the birds in your stud now are distant descendants of just a few progenitors from many generations ago. Unless you mate your birds each year with bought-in, unrelated stock, within a few generations, almost all of your birds will share more than 90% of the same genes, whether you think you are outcrossing, line-breeding, or in-breeding. In a confined population, such as a budgerigar stud, all of your birds will ultimately be distantly related to one another.

Natural Selection

The process of selection that acts in the wild is known as “survival of the fittest.” That is, budgerigars that can withstand the rigors of their environment live long enough to pass on their genetic information to their progeny. Those who are unable to deal with their surroundings, for whatever reason, do not have the option to have children. The world is brutal; some good specimens fail the test, but inferior specimens never pass. The genetic material handed down from generation to generation in the wild may hold The Secrets of Survival. Those who did not become parents must have lacked vital genetic information. Natural Selection refers to the method of genetic selection based on survival of the fittest. Mother Nature couldn’t care less about deep undivided masks with massive markings, directed feathering, little tucked-in beaks, and so on. If such traits, no matter how little, boost the budgerigar’s chances of survival, they will be maintained and passed on to the next generation. The absence of such traits in wild budgerigars would imply that possessing such qualities gives no benefit to life and, more likely, is detrimental to survival.

Natural selection does not exist in your birdroom. We have artificial selection in action here. You now create the rules, not Mother Nature. Do you use the survival of the fittest principles in combination with the selection of the desired elements of the exhibition Budgerigar? If you do not brutally remove poor breeders, low vitality birds, weaklings, and other misfits, no matter how near to the Ideal such individuals look, you are retaining the same genes that make such birds inferior to the “fittest” animals. You are, in fact, weakening your birds. If this artificial selective weakening continues year after year, you will finally have a strain of gorgeous but weak budgerigars. I’m sure no breeder ever tries to damage his stock in this manner, yet it’s a common mistake committed by many breeders of various species.

Fertility is Paramount

Many breeders will undoubtedly blame inbreeding for the loss of fertility in animals (and plants), but inbreeding is not the issue in and of itself. The issue is that fertility is usually an afterthought until things start to go wrong. When it comes to picking your breeding team, fertility should come first, followed by every other attribute. Pairing two gorgeous birds to create no progeny is an useless activity. It is considerably preferable to generate a dozen offspring of somewhat lower quality than one or two every coupling; at the very least, you may improve on the lesser-quality birds by picking the finest from a viable strain.

The fanciers who have the most attractive budgerigars selling their “culls” to other fanciers would cause the issue of inadequate fertility that appears to beset most studs in Britain. If those “culls” are discarded due to known low fecundity (but apparently unbeknownst to the purchaser), the low fertility genes will be passed on to the next stud and so on. The customer, having paid a high price for Mr. X’s birds, will stick with such inferior breeding birds since they are cosmetically superior to his own. The new owner will likely to preserve the few offspring from the imported birds and then mate them with his finest own-produced birds in order to “increase” the quality of his stud (which it will most certainly accomplish), but inadvertently, the stud’s fertility has now dropped dramatically!

Many breeders argue that good grade budgerigars have poor fertility by nature, and some breeders take pleasure in the fact that their birds are “difficult breeders” in order to show to themselves that their birds are of extraordinary quality; this is nonsense.

Cull the Culls

If breeders really cull their “culls” rather of selling them to other breeders, and bred for fertility for the following several seasons, the budgie hobby might easily address its current predicament. Fertility could be boosted like any other trait in the exhibition budgerigar if randy cocks were mated to prolific laying hens, and their progeny mated to “excellent” specimens, and this operation repeated each year.

The capacity to fly is critical in wild budgerigars. Unfortunately, many budgie breeders believe this talent is optional. If birds who can’t, won’t, or don’t fly don’t receive this natural exercise, they are unlikely to be upset by the arduous task of mating! Breeders often refer to broad-shouldered birds as having “power,” yet nothing could be farther from the truth if the poor individuals with “strength” are unable to fly!

These birds are the contemporary version of the dodo, which you don’t see very often. Why, oh why, do some breeders try to breed with such birds, when it’s evident that they’re runts?

A recent issue of Budgerigar World told the story of a hen that had previously refused to reproduce for two seasons. Is Mother Nature’s message not reaching this breeder? Even if this hen now has children, the progeny are likely to have a gene or genes from this hen that will impair the fertility of the stud as a whole when recombined in distantly related offspring in future generations. This breeder is creating a rod for himself. No matter how appealing a bird’s appearance is, if fertility is poor, such a bird should be avoided. Ignore this at your own risk!

Parallel to the issue of infertility in budgies nowadays is the problem of lifespan in many birds. Once again, this issue is most likely the outcome of breeding from birds with genetic characteristics that result in short lifespans. This issue is unlikely to be caused by in-breeding via father-daughter or grandfather-granddaughter matings, since these two generations are unlikely to be living at the same time, during the age of sexual maturity.

Test the Problem

To determine if sterility in your stud is caused by poor bird husbandry or by the birds themselves, I recommend the following tests:

Purchase four pairs of little “typey” budgerigars from your local pet store. Then:

  • Combine two of the dogs’ hop pairings.
  • Pair two of the pet store cocks with two of your “normal” hens.
  • Pair two of your “average” cocks with the pet store hens.
  • As a control pair, couple together two of your own “average” type pairings, for a total of eight pairs.

Analyse the Results

Draw lots for the pairings to eliminate prejudice on your side. Follow your standard breeding pair management process, and then analyze the outcomes. If your management is not to blame, I believe your cocks are more likely to fail to produce viable eggs than the pet store cocks, and both sets of hens will most likely lay eggs if they are in breeding form.

In contrast, the thoroughbred racehorse has the finest preserved lineage records of any animal kind. The original foundation stock consists of just three stallions and forty mares; all racehorses living now are descendants of those 43 horses, and every racehorse’s lineage can be traced back to the breed’s inception. Every racehorse in the world is distantly or closely connected to every other racehorse. Fertility is not an issue. The Racecourse Test requires racehorses to pass a “survival of the fittest” test, and only the finest horses are utilized to produce the following generation. If an expensive stallion produces bad offspring, he is barred from future breeding activities, regardless of his original worth; he is permanently removed from the breeding stock. Poor fertility stallions are rarely kept since they generate few offspring, and mare owners want to breed foals! Male thoroughbreds have a high sex-drive, and as a result, castration permanently excludes at least 90% of males from reproducing. The thoroughbred population has extremely few “genetic illnesses,” and weaklings are mercilessly removed.

The Lesson is there

Furthermore, a thoroughbred racehorse may run far faster than any of the original foundation stock that contributed to the whole “gene pool” of today’s racehorses. Breeders have discovered and shown over and again that strict selection criteria combined with brutal culling is the best approach to make improvements in livestock and keep those gains for generation after generation. The message is there for everyone to see: it is possible.

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