I would like to share my beginning breeder experiences with novice breeders in the hope that they can avoid some of the mistakes I made.
My interest in cockatiels began with hand feeding them. I started hand feeding cockatiels in 1988 and I loved it. I had learned the basics from an experienced hand feeder and I added to my knowledge by reading everything I could on the subject, beginning with the ACS magazine. I also looked through old BirdTalk and AFA magazines and pulled out all articles on the subject, as well as picking the brains of other hand feeders. I never had more than 5-8 baby birds at one time so I was not overwhelmed. I will say that I enjoyed it in the beginning and I still enjoy it to this day (note: I have 2 baby cockatiels under by desk right now on the heating pad, shhh! Don’t tell anyone!).
The next step was to breed. At this point I knew nothing about genetics. I was told the best way to learn it was to read Tony Barrett’s article in the ACS magazine (I still have that article and labeled that magazine “genetics”.) It is important to learn the genetics whether you are breeding for pet or show birds. I did know my birds however. I knew which ones had been paired up previously and had done a good job. This is what I started with. I did study this article on genetics in the meantime. I read it once, let it sink in and then read it again and again. I think this was a very good place to start.
My flight cages and breeding cages at the time were in my Mom and Dad’s very large back yard. They are free standing cages with legs that are about 2 feet high. The cages themselves are approximately 5 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft (5 feet long, 3 feet deep and 3 feet high, not counting the legs, which were approximately 2 feet high). I had enough cages to use for flights and used the same cages for breeding, one couple at a time. The nest box would hang on the end of the cage, toward the rood of it and was protected from rain by a cover over and around it made of aluminum. To prepare the boxes for breeding, I would put Sevin dust (5 percent) in the bottom of the nest box and then pinewood chips about 3 inches deep. The breeding boxes over had been used previously and cleaned. I used these boxes over and over attempting to scrub them down and hang them back each time. As far as I was concerned, this was my first mistake. It is better to change the boxes at least once a year. They are not that expensive and it is well worth it for cleanliness sake. It is very difficult to get the boxes clean and dry. (Note: I know that Debra Maneke wrote a very good article on lining the nest box in the ACS magazine.)
The first bad experience I had with this was mites. They are horrible little insects. I found them when I inspected the babies in the box. I went ahead and pulled them even though they were a little young. I threw the box out. Ever since then, I change my boxes regularly (at least once a year) for new ones. You can buy the nest boxes from a feed store, someone in your area that builds them or at bird fairs and shows. They cost approximately $5-$20.
My next mistake was setting up 3 pairs at one time. Well, you can guess what happened. I ended up with 15 babies at once and this was very difficult to handle. I work full time and must take babies with me to work. If you have 15 with you, it gets a little noisy and people are going to notice! I certainly learned from this mistake. I may set up 3 pairs but I wait until one pair begins to lay their eggs, then set up the 2nd pair, wait till they begin to lay eggs and set up the 3rd. That way I get a maximum of 6 birds to feed at any one time.
I take a glance in the nest boxes from time to time to make sure everything is OK. I record the band numbers and color mutations of the parents on a calendar. I also keep a rough track of when the eggs were laid so that I know when they are due. I note the hatch date and the band number. It is important to keep good records, whatever your method may be.
When the babies are about 5-7 days old, the pine shavings are changed as they get wet and dirty with droppings. When the babies are approximately 2 weeks old, they are pulled out for hand feeding. If the parents are going to be bred for a second clutch, the nest box should be cleaned as well as it can be, with new Sevin dust and pine shavings.
I hope that sharing my breeding techniques (and mistakes) will be of some help to someone. Let’s hear from others on this subject!