Preparing For Breeding
During the off-season our birds receive 12 hours of sleep every night, and are awake the remaining 12 hours. As breeding season approaches we increase the hours they are awake (15 hours) to simulate the start of the spring season. This is the first step to get them starting to think about a future family.
All year-round our breeder birds are fed a high-quality pellet diet supplemented with daily fresh fruits, grains and vegetables. In preparation for breeding season I add additional protein to their diets in the form of home baked “Birdie Bread” (get the recipe here!), and commercial egg food.
The most important step is to give our breeder birds a special place to raise their family. My talented boyfriend builds wood nest boxes that attach to the side of each cage. They have a hole just large enough for the bird to enter, and a hinged door on the roof that enables me to check inside the box without removing it from the cage. I keep an eye on this box as I start seeing the birds show interest.
Eggs In The Box!
It is difficult to describe the feeling when I peer into the box and see a set of perfect white eggs staring back at me. So much hard work all year leads up to that very moment. Many breeders “candle” their eggs, shining a light behind each to check if they are fertile, but I prefer to be surprised and will usually just wait and see, crossing my fingers each day. I fight the urge to check in the box every day, doing my best to leave the busy parents-to-be undisturbed.
Hatching (0-14 days)
Our baby birds start their lives in the safety of their nest boxes, monitored closely by “Mama Bird” who sits in the nest with them keeping them warm and cozy through the day. “Papa Bird” is responsible for sourcing food, chewing it into soft “mash” and bringing it to the nest — breakfast is served! In these first few days I keep my nest check very brief, only staying long enough to see how many babies have hatched and ensure they are all alive and being fed. Toward the end of the 14-day period I will start seeing Mama Bird leave the nest for short durations, allowing herself a chance to stretch after many weeks of tending her eggs and infant chicks. These brief breaks in her day allow me more opportunities to check on the babies and see how their growth is progressing.
Hand-Raising (2 – 9 weeks)
At the age of 14 days the chicks are removed from their nest and begin the exciting hand-raising process. They live in a brooder unit (similar to an incubator) that monitors temperature to ensure everybirdie is cozy warm. The brooder is located on my kitchen counter, giving the growing chicks a chance to experience all of the daily sights and sounds of a typical household — blenders, toasters popping, vacuums, television sounds and our three dogs running around on the floor.
I feed the babies five times daily for the first several weeks, only reducing the number of feedings once they start eating on their own (see “The Weaning Process”, below). They are fed a specially formulated pablum that contains all of the essential nutrients that help them grow big and strong!
Socializing and Training
After every feeding I spend time handling the chicks, touching their faces, wings, tails and toes, teaching them that the human hand is a safe and loving place to be. This early handling goes a long way toward laying the foundation for stress-free nail trimming and harness training in the future. Whenever possible I have other members of my immediate family interact with the babies in this way, socializing them with different voices and smells. I also welcome families awaiting their baby bird to join me virtually for a hand-feeding and playtime with the chicks via Zoom online videoconferencing, giving the chicks exposure to additional voices.
When our baby birds are 7-10 weeks of age I do mini training sessions with each of them individually, teaching the babies to “step up” onto a presented hand and laying the foundations for a solid recall (that could eventually lead to adult flight training, and perhaps save the life of a bird who escapes out the window one day).
Take a peek at one of my training sessions with our female budgie baby. Notice that she is never forced to do anything at all — she makes her own choice to step onto my hand for the reward.
Disclaimer: the videos below are NOT an example of proper hand-feeding technique. I am allowing just one single drop at a time to come out of the syringe, and allowing the bird to reach for it herself (not minding if some gets on the floor). I would not begin training a bird like this until they are at least 7 weeks old and able to perch without assistance (and therefore able to pull away if too much pablum is in their mouth), and have begun eating on their own already. Once the baby is fully weaned I will switch to a different treat such as a pine nut, sunflower seed or piece of millet.
Indoor Flight Training Foundations – Stage One:
In this video my goal is to reinforce the bird for making her own choice to step onto my hand. Notice how she is never pressured to get on my hand — she has free will to walk away at any time — but instead makes desired choices to step up for a reward. Over time I challenge her understanding by moving my hand further away, requiring a few extra steps to get to me, and then by asking her to step up from a perch instead of the counter.
Indoor Flight Training Foundations – Stage Two:
In the next stage of training (not necessarily the very next session!) I start to teach the babies to fly to my hand, including how to ascend (fly up with lots of power) and descend (fly with great control downwards).
In their future homes, if these birds were to get outside by accident, escaping through an open window, I want to be sure they know how to maneuver their bodies down from a tall tree, or up from a window well, or valley. Furthermore, safe indoor free flight is a fantastic form of exercise for our feathered companions, and a great way to bond and build trust.
Indoor Flight Training Foundations – Stage Three:
Here’s a BIG step in our training! I start asking the baby birds to fly to a designated perch, not always my hand (thus generalizing the behaviour), and mixing in their new understanding of ascending (flying up with power) and descending (flying down with great control).
One the feathers have opened our chicks are able to keep themselves warm without the aid of the brooder unit. At this stage they are moved into a small cage to begin exploring a larger world. I take the cage to various rooms in my home, and when weather permits I even bring the cage outside or in the car to expose the chicks to the sounds of other birds, cars, children laughing next door and lawnmowers used down the street. I love watching them feel the breeze for the first time — they sometimes try and bite the invisible force that keeps hitting them in the nose! Visits outside are kept short so as not to overwhelm the babies, and they are never left unsupervised, even for a second.
At the age of 8 weeks our babies are fully feathered. This is a fun stage as I introduce the chicks to a shower for the first time, offering them a special shower perch that attaches to my tile with suction cups. The shower head turns toward a wall, allowing the chicks to enjoy the fine mist that fills the air.
The Weaning Process (6 – 9 weeks)
For those wondering about the weaning process, this is what it looks like! Once they reach the age of 6-7 weeks our babies are given a small cage with just a low perch or two that enable them to explore while keeping close to the variety of food dishes available. Each dish contains a different food for the to try — in the case I have pellets, fresh veggie mix, seed and a bit of the hand-feeding formula they are used to eating in a dish. Of course, they also have access to a water dish.
The babies are never forced to eat this food, but rather it is available for them to try on their own schedule. As they start eating more and more on their own I gradually reduce the number of times each day that they are hand-fed. I also move them to a larger cage to build strength climbing and flying. Eventually they refuse the hand-feeding altogether. After three full days of eating without assistance they are fully weaned and ready for their new homes!
Leaving The Nest! (9 – 11 weeks)
When our babies are fully weaned I contact their new family and arrange pick-up. For more information about the pick-up process please click here! Our birds go home with proof of the DNA test results that indicate their gender and a package of information to guide their new families.