The Answer Box
By Max Kennedy, A.C.S. Panel Judge
Do you have any questions concerning your cockatiel breeders ? The best way to find the answer to 90 ½ of your questions is in the "Answer Box" of each breeding pair - the NEST BOX. Many answers come from quietly observing the nest box from a hidden position in the aviary. The remainder of the answers come from at least one daily look in the nest box.
Recently I visited a man's aviary to sex some birds for him. On seeing a hen come out of her nest, I asked him if she had babies. His reply was that he didn't know because he was afraid the birds would quit the nest if he looked in the box. Curious to see, I took the lid off and looked in the box. There were two youngsters with pin feathers, eight or nine unhatched eggs, and the dried up carcasses of six or seven babies the parents had never fed. Had he checked his next box daily, he could have saved them by fostering them to feeding pairs. This same thing was true in other nests in this aviary. Therefore, let me recommend that beginning the first day you set up your pairs, condition your birds to a daily check of the nest. There are exceptions I suppose, but I haven't had a pair quit the nest yet that I purposely conditioned to a daily look in their box. To check the nest box, simply lift the lid, peek in, stir the nesting material (I use cedar shavings), and replace the lid.
The following answers might be found in the nest box:
Has the hen been in the nest yet?
When egg laying time is near, the hen and cock seem to continuously work with the nesting material.
Is it time for her first egg?
The hen usually will spend the night in the next box before she lays her first egg.
Is the cock bird doing his part?
Since the cock bird shares incubation of eggs, he should be on the eggs from about 7:00 to 10:00 daily.
Are the eggs fertile?
After 5 days of incubation, blood vessels should begin to appear in egg yoke when candled by a light bulb.
What do you do with a nest of eggs which appear to be infertile?
You have 5 days or more to make this decision since it takes that long to see if egg number 6 is fertile. You have two choices: Either dispose of the eggs or use the pair as possible foster parents. If the eggs are disposed of, the pair should begin a new clutch of eggs in 2 or 3 weeks. The latter works well if you need foster parents.
When will the fertile eggs hatch?
When you see the first egg, it is important to mark your calendar. It takes 21 days usually. But it is possible to hatch in 18 days and some as late as 23 days. Remember cockatiels lay every other day and of course they will hatch every other day.
Do those eggs in the box have dead in the shell?
You will find that eggs with dead in the shell will usually darken or discolor.
Now the first egg has hatched, is the parent feeding it?
The baby's crop, located in front of the breast bone, will show crop milk if the parent has fed it. A baby will normally live 24 hours after hatching. If after 20 hours the parent still hasn't fed it, it must be moved or hand fed until the parent takes on the responsibility. When checking the boxes and finding the babies haven't been fed as usual, something is wrong. First check the water supply, second check the food supply and lastly, check for intruders in the nest box. The intruders could be a pair of birds getting ready to set up housekeeping in a box already occupied. However, since they will be stronger than the parents, they will keep the parents out of the nest box most of the day. Therefore, the intruders must be moved to another flight. Intruders also will sometimes fight the young in the nest, leaving broken skin marks across the backs of the young. Again they must be moved from the breeding pen.
What should be done if a nest box has babies with feathers missing?
I don't know the cure, but I know there are two choices. Foster babies to another pair or leave them with their feather picking parents. They will fully feather in about 6 weeks after weaning. Try to find out whether one or both parents are picking. You may want to dispose of the guilty.
What is done when a freshly laid egg is found in a box of young chicks?
This can and will happen to most pairs at different times. If the young will be out of the next box in 5 or 6 days, I suggest saving the eggs (turning them daily) and returning them to the nest after the last chick has departed. When this happens 4 or 5 chicks should hatch the same day. If the babies have more than 5 or 6 days left in the next box, you should either foster the eggs to another pair or dispose of the eggs. This way the hen will come right back with another clutch shortly after all the Young have left the nest. Finally, you look in the nest box that had 5 babies yesterday and now they are all gone. What do you do now? Count heads! You may be standing on one!
All the above was written taking in consideration that you have a good feeding program and that your cockatiel room is free from vermin and that only cockatiels share the breeding flights. Since about 90% of the success in breeding cockatiels centers around the next box, don't you think it's time for you to check your "Answer Box" rather your NEST BOX!