Ask Lafeber

Question:

December 18, 2021

Bird Breeding


I am thinking about breeding cockatiels for a living. I want to make sure I do it correctly and with love and kindness. Is there a website you recommend to become informed or any advice to help my decision?


Answer:

Hi Pam,

Breeding birds takes a lot of patience, but if your birds do produce healthy chicks, it can be fun and rewarding. However, the one thing is it isn’t is profitable – not if you plan to breed in a responsible and humane manner. At best you might pay for your expenses and maybe end up with some extra spending money, but you won’t be able to make a living from it. Not only are there all the costs involved, but generally you would be selling to pet shops, and they will not pay much for each bird, because there are so many baby cockatiels available. To sell to the public, your costs go up even more with needing permits, advertising, insurance, etc.

There is no way to responsibly breed cockatiels in a flock or colony. This is the bird equivalent of a puppy mill and you will end up with poor quality birds and a high mortality rate. You need a separate cage for each pair. Cockatiels are very territorial when they are nesting. Some pairs won’t breed if they can see other pairs, so you need visual barriers. Other pairs won’t breed if they can even hear another pair, so that pair would be of no use for breeding.

Cockatiels should be at least 2 years old before you give them a mate and set them up for breeding. While they are capable of breeding at a younger age, they are more likely to establish bad breeding habits which will ruin them for ever being a good breeder. Young birds are often more interested in mating than settling down and caring for eggs, so they tend to not sit on the eggs at all, stop too soon, break and eat the eggs, not feed the chicks, or even kill the chicks. And young hens are at a higher risk of becoming egg bound and dying.

Cockatiels will breed when the days are longer, food is abundant, and they have a safe, private place to nest. In the wild, this is only once a year, and then the season changes and the pairs leave the nests and move on until the next year. In captivity, we tend to provide these perfect conditions year round. However, a pair should not be allowed to continue breeding over and over. They should be limited to two clutches per year, which is one more than they would have in the wild. Forming and laying eggs is very hard on the hen’s system, and then feeding chicks adds to that stress. She and the male need to recover after each clutch. So once the chicks leave the nest box, or are pulled for handfeeding, you have to remove the nest box and make the pair rest for 6 months. With many pairs, you need to reverse the breeding conditions by limiting their light, feeding less fresh foods, and making changes in the cage or moving the cage around. So you need another room where the birds can be moved when they are resting. If you do not rest them, they will keep producing clutch after clutch, and eventually the hen dies from exhaustion and poor health. In some cases, males can die from being over bred.

Breeding birds need a nutritionally balanced diet like seeds or our foraging diets. They also need dark leafy greens, chopped veggies and some fruit. When set up for breeding, they need a daily egg food. This can be a commercial dry egg food or you can cook an egg with the shell washed, crushed and cooked with the egg. Each pair should also have a cuttlebone. You hen especially needs extra protein and calcium while breeding.

You have to decide if you will hand feed the chicks or co-parent – handle the chicks daily but let the parents feed them. Either takes times and had pros and cons. And you have to consider that you might not sell all of the chicks. If you keep them to breed, you have to feed them for two years until they are old enough for a mate. And the mate can’t be related – never allow related birds to breed.

You would need to start with good breeding stock. Ideally from someone who breeds cockatiels for show. These birds will have been selectively bred and have strong genes. If you just buy cockatiels from a shop or a breeder, you don’t know what you are getting. You could be getting birds with inferior genes or even birds that are related. So your start up costs are high, and you could be looking at a couple of years minimum before you see any chicks. Never buy “proven” pairs. Nobody sells a good breeding pair unless it’s a breeding going out of business. Some breeders will claim to be downsizing and will sell their “proven” pairs. This will be pairs that are not producing chicks for some reason. Maybe they don’t sit on the eggs, don’t feed the chicks, destroy the eggs, etc. I can’t warn you enough that proven pairs are generally anything but a good breeding pair.

You also need to consider vet care, as birds will need it from time to time. Birds get sick, injured or develop an issue, such as a hen getting egg bound. Birds need a Vet who specializes in Avian medicine, and it can be quite expensive.

You can do everything perfectly – high quality pairs, the best food, cages, housing, etc., and still not see any success. That’s where the patience comes in. But if you can figure out how to get them to breed and produce chicks, that’s where the rewards come in. Again, don’t do this with the idea of making money. It’s a fun hobby, and can pay for itself if you get good production from the pairs, but you won’t make a living from it.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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