Getting Started Breeding Cockatiels
By Debra Maneke
The first step in breeding cockatiels is of course selecting a good breeding pair. As I was told many years ago when I began breeding canaries and cockatiels, "Like Begets Like". This I feel is one of the most important pieces of advice that can be given to the novice breeder. A good example is easily seen in the Lutino mutation. The common bald spot is a genetic fault. Which means that if your Lutino male or hen has a bald spot the possibility that all their offspring will also have this trait is extremely likely, possibly even more extensive than the parents. They in turn will pass this trait onto their future offspring. As you select your first breeding pair seek out a reputable breeder for your first purchase. You may ask, "How do I know if the breeder is reputable?" Good question! A reputable breeder will be able to discuss the parents, grandparents and most likely great grandparents of the birds you are considering, he or she will be able to provide you with instructions on feeding, caging and basic care. They should also be available to answer future questions, within reason, as you progress with your learning and breeding of your new birds. Many first time breeders stop in at their local pet store, and purchase a pair of birds. This puts many first time breeders at a great disadvantage, most pet stores will not be able to give you any background on the birds. In many instances the pet store will not even be able to tell you how old the birds are or if they are related.
After selecting a pair of birds your next step will be preparing them for breeding. The quarantine period of 30-45 days will give your new additions time to acclimate to their new surroundings, diet and caging. During this time you can prepare the needed items for breeding. For every pair you set-up for breeding you will need a breeding cage, nest box, food and water bowls, mineral or cuttlebone, a supply of daily food items, ACS leg bands, a record book to record your babies for future reference. (ACS pedigree cards are excellent for record keeping), and proper lighting, which for breeding birds should be 13-15 hours of light daily.
The breeding cage should be as large as you can possibly supply. Many breeders use cages that are two foot by two foot by three foot long. These cages are of course "home made". Many pet stores may stock "Prevue 123 or 125" cages. These cages are a good size for a beginner’s first purchase. Another source for a good beginning breeder cage may be found with one of our current advertisers "Parrotatt".
After you have purchased or made your breeding cage your next step will be purchasing a nest box. The most readily available nest box will be wooden and will measure about 12 inches tall by 10 inches deep with a 3-inch round hole at the front of the box. (This hole allows your breeding pair access to the inside of the box.) The nest box should also have an inspection door either on the top of the box or on the backside of the box. The inspection door serves as a way to check on the pair as well as for removing baby birds for handfeeding. Many breeders have switched from the standard wooden nest box to the new box and holder that was recently discussed in the ACS Magazine. (Information on this type of nest box can also be found on our web site.) After choosing your nest box type, before attaching it to the outside of the breeding cage, place about 2 inches of "pine shavings" in the bottom of the box. This layer of shavings will help stabilize the eggs as well as absorb the droppings from the chicks.
Once your cage is set-up it is time for the pair of birds to be placed in the breeding cage. During mating, supply your pair with a well balanced diet, as suggested by the breeder that you purchased the birds from and some privacy. As your pair starts laying their eggs it is helpful to make a note of the date that the first egg was laid. Barring any problems your hen should lay 3-6 eggs, every other day, after she has laid her eggs she and her mate will start the incubating process. You will notice that the male will sit in the nest box during part of the day while the hen eats and rests outside the nest box. The hen will go back into the nest box when the male comes out to eat and in the evening she will sit on the eggs all night as the male guards the nest box opening. Many good breeding pairs will share the incubating chore, sitting together in the box most of the day. Coming out only to eat and relieve themselves. The incubation process will take 18-21 days, as a rule. When the chicks start to hatch it is very important to continue feeding a well balanced diet and to replenish the food during the day.
When your baby birds are around 10-14 days of age they should be banded with ACS closed, traceable leg bands, which should be ordered six weeks BEFORE you have babies ready for banding.
If you intend to handfeed your newly hatched chicks the best age for removing them from the nest box is when they are 2-3 weeks old. This is also an opportune time to record the band numbers on your pedigree cards or record book. If you decide to allow the parents to raise their babies they will need to remain with the parents until they are around 6-7 weeks old. Before you remove the parent raised babies from the breeding cage make sure they are eating on their own.
The most common mistake that novice breeders make is thinking that their breeding birds can be both parents and pets. It is the rare exception to the rule when we find a hen or male that can be both. In order for mating and incubation to be successful the birds must remain together. Removing one of them from the breeding environment can seriously affect the success of your breeding endeavors. Most pets that are used for breeding will loose their interest in you as a companion and may become mean when separated from their nesting mate. It should also not be expected that your pet can be used one time as a breeder, "just to let him or her have one nest of babies", and then be expected to return to a sweet, cuddly pet.