Breeding Cockatiels Part 1
By Eleanor McCaffrey Copyright© Notice: No portion of this text or photos
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The information on this site about breeding cockatiels is a brief and basic overview of the subject and it's not  meant to replace the recommendations of your avian vet. Breeding is strongly discouraged for those who work full time, for those who are full time students and for those who are new to the world of cockatiels. Although cockatiel chicks are precious little bundles of fuzz and miracles to behold, they are born completely helpless when they hatch. They are born naked, with their eyes closed and they are totally dependent on their parents for food and warmth. The life or death of a chick will also be held in the palm of your hand as well, because as the breeder, you are responsible for taking care of the parents and for monitoring the health, growth and development of chicks. Babies and parents will often have health problems that require treatment from an avian vet. If you can not afford to or you are unwilling to pay an avian vet if one of your birds develops a health problem, you should not even consider breeding birds. To do so would be completely irresponsible and heartless. 

Failure to Breed: Female cockatiels are fertile up until 8-10 years of age and males are fertile up until 12-14 years of age. There are always exceptions and it's possible for a very healthy, well nourished bird, with a strong genetic tendency for breeding, to be fertile for even longer. Breeding  cockatiels, even within these age ranges,  can be a disappointing experience. Birds that are bred in captivity do not always make the best parents. Both breeding and parenting skills are learned and genetically inherited behaviors. Breeding pairs that lack experience may traumatize, eat or abandon eggs and chicks from the first few clutches. Some adult breeding pairs may not produce a clutch of eggs for several months or years. Other pairs may never breed successfully at all because of infertility. Infertility in pet birds can be the result of nutritional, medical, behavioral or environmental problems. Some specific causes of infertility include: malnourishment, obesity, nutritional deficiencies, disease, bacterial or fungal infections, reproductive disorders,  hormonal imbalances, birds being too young or too old, improper mating due to inexperienced pairs not making actual physical contact, interruption of mating due to disturbances by a human or another pet near the nesting area, not enough time given for pairs to fully bond with each other, same gender pairs that are mistaken for a true male/female pair, forced pairing instead of allowing birds to choose their own mates, lack of water for bathing, unavailable soft foods which are needed to feed chicks, insufficient exposure to daylight hours and or UVA/UVB lighting, using the wrong type or size of nestbox,  nesting material that is unacceptable to a breeding pair, and improper humidity levels or indoor temperatures. (Source: Avian Medicine, Principles and Practices by Dr. Branson Ritchie, Dr. Greg Harrison and Linda Harrison, 1997)

Selecting Birds for Breeding Choosing a healthy, well nourished pair of adult birds that are not related to each other is vital for successful breeding and healthy chicks. A pre-breeding health check for breeding pairs by an avian vet, which includes blood tests and gram stains, is always advisable to determine if the birds have any sub-clinical infections or nutritional deficiencies. Another factor to consider is the age of breeding pairs. Cockatiels should not be allowed to breed until they are at least 18 months old. Even though they are physically "capable" of breeding as young as 5-6 months of age, young males can be infertile and young females can suffer from health complications like egg binding. When parents  are still juveniles themselves, breeding also depletes their own  young, growing bodies of the nutrients necessary that they need themselves to grow into healthy adult birds. The babies of young, juvenile parents may be born weaker and less healthy then the offspring of adult birds as we. Breeding cockatiels that are related to each other and with the same bloodline should also be avoided. Birth defects and health problems in the offspring of related birds are common. Some physical abnormalities associated with inbreeding include: Deformed, misaligned or missing beaks or nares,  deformed or missing wings, legs or toes, orthopedic problems that affect a bird's ability to perch, climb, walk or fly, malfunctioning organs, infertile offspring and offspring that are more susceptible to disease. Other problems associated with inbreeding include a decreased production of eggs, infertility of eggs and decreased hatching rates of eggs. Only healthy, adult birds that are from different bloodlines should be allowed to breed.

 When to Breed Cockatiels:  The natural breeding season for cockatiels in the wild is Spring to Early Autumn. This is when breeding conditions are the most favorable, with warmer temperatures, more hours of natural daylight each day and when both food and rainfall are more plentiful. More hours of daylight, more frequent baths or water misting, a healthy diet that includes breeder's pellets as well as soft foods 3 months before breeding season and the presence of a cockatiel nestbox will encourage breeding in captivity. Cockatiels  are prolific breeders and they will breeding in captivity all year long, if allowed to do so. However, clutches should be limited to no more than 2 per year, the amount that avian veterinarians consider normal. Although indoor conditions are always favorable for breeding indoors, due to exposure to long hours of artificial lighting, an ample food and water supply and a sense of security, breeding continuously all year long, seriously compromises a bird's health . Every effort should be made limit a pair's breeding to no more than 2 clutches of eggs a year. Your birds need to rest during the remainder of the year to build up strength for the next breeding season. Breeding is physically and psychologically stressful for birds and stress impairs a bird's immune system. Excessive egg laying also depletes a female's body of calcium as well as other nutrients. Depletion of calcium from egg laying can cause seizures, egg binding as well as sudden death. Continuous breeding all year long also puts a tremendous amount of physical strain on a female bird's reproductive organs. A prolapsed cloaca and uterus (cloaca or uterus protrudes out from the vent) are usually associated with chronic egg laying and they both requires surgery to correct. It's important that you prevent your birds from over breeding. Only healthy, adult cockatiels that are well rested and well nourished, should be paired for breeding.

The Nestbox and Nesting Materials: Each breeding pair should have their own nestbox.  with 1 pair of birds per cage. The size of a cockatiel nestbox is,  9"-11"-12" with a 2 and 1/4 inch opening. Click Here. Line the nestbox with a several layers of soft but slightly textured white paper towels to absorb moisture and to prevent chicks from developing splayed legs or other leg deformities from a wet, slippery bottom. Make a small dent or well in the center. This is called a nest bowl and it will help to prevent the eggs from rolling around. Some birds will toss out the paper towels. Cloth baby diapers or unfrayed woven cotton towels can be used as a nesting substrate as well. They can also be tossed into the washing machine to sanitize as needed.  Wrong types of nesting materials include: any type of liter, corncob bedding, or walnut shells.  These  are all organic materials that will promote the growth of bacteria and mold spores when wet. The use of pine, cedar, aspen or other wood chips/shavings should also be avoided. Cedar is toxic and the fumes and dust from other wood type bedding materials contain fumes and dust that will irritate a bird's eyes and respiratory system. Another negative aspect of all of these unsuitable nesting materials is that they are not digestible and they cause digestive impactions if swallowed.  (Source of Hatching Information: Avian Medicine, Principles and Practices by Dr. Branson Ritchie, Dr. Greg Harrison and Linda Harrison, 1997) Some impactions can be treated by avian vets with digestive enzymes and antibiotics. Other impactions require surgical removal or they can cause death. The lutino chick in the upper left has a digestive impaction from ingesting aspen shavings. Other poor choices for nesting materials include shredded newspaper or terry cloth towels with loops. Toenails can get caught in strips of paper and towel threads, cutting off the circulation in a bird's leg. This can cause permanent neurological damage to toes, foot or leg and in some case, amputation of the limb may be necessary. 

Egg Laying and Nesting: Eggs are laid about 7-10 days after a pair mates successfully. The process of egg laying, from ovary to fertilization, development of shell to actual egg laying is approximately 2-3 days. You can expect your female to lay 1 egg about every 48 hours. until a clutch of 2-8 eggs is laid. Prior to egg laying and during the egg laying process, the female will have very large and odorous droppings, which is normal. Fecal matter will be retained in the cloaca until they are eliminated in the morning. (Failure to pass droppings could mean egg binding.  Information and symptoms of egg binding can be found on a link at the bottom of this page). Sometimes the parents will wait until 2 or 3 eggs are present before nesting on eggs. The purpose is so that most of the eggs will hatch around the same time. Eggs do not start to incubate until they are nested on and get warm and eggs can stay viable for up to 7 days before nesting is need. If parents are reluctant to go inside of the nestbox, hang a strip of millet seed near the entrance hole. 

Eggs laid on the bottom of the cage floor may still hatch although literature suggests that they rarely do. If your bird lays eggs on the cage floor, put up a nestbox and place the eggs inside. Hanging a strip of millet seed spray near the entrance hole may encourage them to enter the nestbox. If your birds will not accept a nestbox, you can try using an alternate type of nest on the bottom of the cage. Alternate, non-conventional nests include a shallow glass Pyrex baking dish, a glass, deep dish pie plate, a shallow glass soup bowl or a basket with several layers of white paper towels and placed on the cage floor.  Some birds may be more willing to accept an alternate nesting site once eggs have already been laid on the floor.  If they won't accept it, you can try putting the eggs on a folded cloth diaper, a folded dishtowel or a washcloth that does not have loops for toenails to get caught. (Always wash your hands with hot soapy water and  use a hand sanitizer before handling eggs.) Sometime breeding birds will reject an egg by pushing it to the side of the nest, abandoning it. The parents may  be able to sense a lack of movement inside of a defective egg. Because abandoned eggs become chilled quickly, the embryos will die if they are not moved back to near the parents, put inside of an incubator or placed with foster parents, (another pair of birds that have already been successful at breeding a clutch of birds.) .

Aggressiveness while Breeding: When a pair of compatible, bonded cockatiels are breeding, they will either nest on eggs together or they will take turns nesting on eggs. Breeding pairs should not be separated unless one of the birds is in danger of being in  jured by a very aggressive mate. A very aggressive bird can injure, mutilate or kill a mate. The male is usually the offending partner and his actions will include pecking at the female's feet, eyes, nares or chasing her around the cage, blocking her entrance to the nestbox or not allowing her access to food or water dishes.  Some speculate that the male wants to mate with a non-cooperative partner. Male jealousy of the attention that the female is giving to eggs/chicks has also been cited as a cause.  Mild squabbling between partners during the breeding process is normal. The female may get upset if the male wants to enter the nestbox or the male may not allow the female to nest on eggs once they are laid. This usually subsides as the breeding process progresses. After eggs hatch,  females may take on a more passive role, while the male takes on a more dominant role feeding the chicks.  It's normal for the parents to be aggressive towards you when breeding. They are doing their job and protecting their eggs and babies. 

Humidity, Egg Turning and Broken Eggs Provide your birds with a shallow dish of water to bathe in  each day. When parents wet the feathers on their lower body feathers, eggs are kept moist during the nesting phase. This will help to maintain the humidity level that embryos need to develop properly.  Your birds will also turn the eggs once every hour during the day and some pairs will also turn them during the night. Turning eggs helps to maintain a uniform temperature on both the upper and lower side of the egg. Turning also prevents the baby from sticking to the shell membrane and it  helps organs to develop properly. If you notice eggs that with a hairline crack, you can repair them by applying a thin coat of white, non-toxic, water soluble glue such as Elmer's Glue. A Larger crack can be repaired by placing a tiny piece of gauze or a single layer of unscented tissue over it and then applying several coats of glue. Wait 30 minutes between applications. The area repaired has to be minimal or oxygen exchange through pores in the egg may be impaired. Repaired eggs should also be watched closely during hatching because the chick may have trouble breaking through a large, thick seal and may need help during hatching. Since the glue is water soluble, applying sterile water with a small paintbrush to moisten the repaired area will allow you to carefully remove the tissue during hatching. Always wash your hands with soap and hot water and use a hand sanitizer before handling eggs. Eggs are porous and harmful bacteria on your hands will get inside of the egg, harming the chick.

Candling and Fertile Eggs: By candling eggs, (looking at them under a very bright light) you will be able to see if the eggs are fertile. Candle the eggs on day 5 of actual nesting. Eggs will become more difficult to candle as the growing chick fills the shell. For the professional breeder, Avian BioTech offers a digital egg monitor called The Buddy, that can detect the heartbeat of a live, bird embryo by placing an egg on a cushioned pad.  If this is out of your price range, then purchase a  candling light that you can hold directly over the eggs in the nestbox without having to touch or move the egg. Click Here  Use extreme care when handling the eggs being careful not to roll, shake, tilt or spin. Always wash your hands with hot soapy water and use a hand sanitizer before touching the eggs and don't hold them for too long.  Eggs are porous and any harmful bacteria on your hands can enter the egg, harming the growing chick. Eggs that are held too long will overheat and the chick will be destroyed.

Fertile eggs will have a red spider like appearance. There will be a dark spot in the center and you will see red veins developing. There will also be a white space inside of the wider part the egg. This is called the air cell and the air cell will get larger as the chick grows. Eggs that have not been fertile will not have red blood vessels. They will appear clear with a yellow glow from the yolk. Infertile eggs should not be removed from the nestbox unless they are broken or cracked. These additional eggs will help to maintain warmth for fertile eggs and they will protect fertile eggs from rolling around. Mark each fertile egg with a non-toxic, soft, felt tipped marker so you will know when to expect hatching. A few days before the expected hatch date, eggs should be candled one more time, to monitor for live chicks and to see if the chick has re-positioning into the air cell. Put a small dot with a felt tip marker on top of the egg so you will know which side to put back down into the nestbox after candling. Be extremely careful to keep the egg level, making sure that that the egg does not tilt, roll over, turn to the side or turn around. If the chick is already in the process of hatching, it can lose orientation. If an egg was fertile and the embryo died, you will see a patchy or solid ring of blood around the circumference of the egg. A "blood ring"  will lack the tiny, spreading blood vessels that are visible in a living embryo because those tiny veins have died and clotted. (A link to an article on the bottom of this page, "Eggs Not Hatching", will explain some of the main causes of DIS (Dead in Shell) babies. Please take the time to read it.) 

Hatching: Cockatiel eggs hatch 18-21 days after nesting begins. A few days before hatching, the air cell (located at the wider side of the egg) will become larger and start to tilt. The  baby will then reposition itself and move into the air cell. This is called "drawdown". Once inside of the air cell, the baby starts pneumonic breathing with its lungs. As the chick becomes more active during the hatching process, oxygen inside of the air cell will be depleted and carbon dioxide levels will increase, causing the baby's abdominal and neck muscles to contract. The contractions of the neck and abdomen will force the chick's back up against the shell, causing the feet to push against the opposite side of the shell. Muscle contractions of the neck will cause the "egg tooth", located inside of the beak, to start puncturing and breaking away at the inner shell. The first visible external sign of hatching will be  an external pip mark. An external pip mark is a small bump or dent with tiny cracks on the outside of the shell. The pip mark will become larger, encircling the entire shell in one direction, as the baby chips away at the shell and hatching progresses. Once the shell is punctured and the baby starts to breath room air you may be able to hear vocalization. 

You can expect cockatiel eggs to hatch 24-36 hours after the first appearance of the external  pip mark. NOTE: Signs of hatching problems include: no external pip mark 36 hours after the air cell tilts; no change in appearance at the original pip mark site after 48 hours; if a baby pips 1/4 to 1/2 way around the egg and then stops for an extended period of time; if the  baby reverses directions  to return to the initial pip site and if vocalization ceases. Contact your avian vet if any of these situations occur. The baby may need assistance in hatching. (Source of Hatching Information: Avian Medicine, Principles and Practices by Dr. Branson Ritchie, Dr. Greg Harrison and Linda Harrison, 1997)

Visually Inspect Each Newly Hatched Chick to evaluate its physical condition. Normal, healthy chicks will have yellowish-pink skin with a supple, warm feel. Dehydrated nestlings will be thin and wrinkled, with dry skin that looks red or muddy and feels sticky to the touch. Chicks with white, cool skin are either hypothermic, (abnormally cold) or moribund (close to death). Right after hatching the parents will remove pieces of egg shell and other materials from the chicks. When they are finished, the baby will look clean and fluffy. Empty egg shells from the nestbox should be removed as soon as possible after hatching to prevent bacteria from growing. Parents may wait 6-8 hours until the baby is dry before giving them their first feeding. Nutrition is already being provided by the yolk sac which was absorbed prior to hatching. Dehydration is the most serious complication right after hatching.  If the baby is dehydrated, administer 1 drop of warm Pedialyte and do not repeat unless you can see the fluid pass through chick's crop and the chick has passed 1 dropping. Some breeders will routinely give all babies 1 drop of warm Pedialyte or sterile water (boiled 10 minutes then cooled)  when they first  hatch to help prevent dehydration. If a normal dropping is passed, one drop is administered every hour. Hand feeding newly hatched chicks with formula during this period should be avoided because the crop is so tiny. As the baby starts to grow and begins to consume more food, the crop will stretch out gradually by itself. 

Note Females that are laying eggs will lose calcium. Provide plenty of additional calcium in her diet from a cuttlebone, fresh dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, endive, chard, parsley, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, watercress, broccoli leaves and stalks. Low blood calcium will cause soft shelled eggs and egg binding as well as seizures or sudden death.  CLICK HERE to read more about EGG BINDING It may save your bird's life. Female cockatiels are fertile until 8-10 years of ages and male cockatiels are fertile until 12-14 years of age.  However, it is very possible for a healthy, well nourished bird to be fertile for even more years. Most healthy, well nourished females are capable of laying eggs their entire lives. However, eggs laid by geriatric birds are usually "duds" and can not be fertilized

Click Here For Breeding Part 2
Click Here to See Hand Feeding Video
Click Here to Find an Avian Vet

Breeding 2 Hand Feeding Video Formula Recipe See Me Grow!
How To Hand Feed Feeding Schedule Weight Gain Chart Feeding Problems
Crop Remedies Lockjaw Bordatella Egg Binding Candled Eggs
Incubation Process Eggs Not Hatching How to Make Brooder Babies-Diseases
Avian Pediatrics Splayed Legs Fixing Splayed Legs Fixing Splayed Legs 2
Lori's Babies NaDeana's Babies Gretchen's Babies Georgia's Babies
Home Cheryl's Babies Baby Precious Breeding 1

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