How to Breed Budgies
Everything you need to know
Are you ready to breed?
It sounds like a very rewarding experience, breeding and raising budgies and when everything goes to plan, it really is. But so much can go wrong and there is a lot of things to consider before you decide to take the next step of owning budgies… breeding them yourself.
Remember, from the moment you decide to breed you are bringing life into the world and need to be prepared to deal with whatever happens. This covers things such as, can you both afford and house any occurring babies? Even if you are hoping to rehome them, this is not as easy as you may think. If you have indoor budgies, think about the space you have, baring in mind that a budgie can have anything up to 12 babies in one clutch!! Although this is rare, it is possible… I had one hen lay and RAISE 9 chicks in one clutch before- so bare that in mind.
Another thing to consider is the age of your birds… a hen should be at LEAST 8 months old although many prefer a year. Cocks can produce from 6 months depending if they are ready or not, but again many suggest 8 months+.
You need to ensure that you know the background of your birds- are they related? Related birds will cause all sorts of issues to any chicks, especially if they are brother and sister.
Are your birds in breeding condition? The hen should have a brown crusty cere, the cock’s should be nice and rich blue (or pink depending on mutations- see my budgie colours page for more information). You need to check the health of both birds before deciding to pair them (see my checking health page for more information), as a budgie that isn’t in peak health can and will die during the process if they aren’t healthy enough to deal with laying eggs.
Is the cage the right size for breeding? They will need a nest box that you can easily access to check on daily to ensure the babies are being fed and issues such as splayed legs do not occur (more information on this below). This should be higher up in the cage as budgies feel safer this way.
You will need to invest in crop needles, syringes and hand rearing formula incase the hen rejects a baby or tries to attack it… which believe me, happens A LOT! You will also need millets for when the babies first start coming out of the box to help encourage them to eat themselves.
The hen needs added nutrients, greens, egg food and cuttlefish during the laying period to ensure she has plenty to replenish herself. Don’t be surprised when the amount of seed you give suddenly drastically increases either! Even before the babies start to hatch.
Breeding choices and possible issues
Ok, so you have decided you can cope with breeding budgies and take full responsibility. So the next thing to do is decide on how you are going to breed them. There are two different approaches- in a cage or in an aviary (known as colony breeding).
There are of course pros and cons to each of these approaches:
Aviary Breeding (colony breeding)
Pros- easier to manage as the birds choose their own partners, breeding box and still use the main facilities for both food and water.
Cons- birds choose their own partners! This means you have no control, so if you have related birds in the aviary, you can’t stop them from breeding with each other. It is difficult to stop certain budgies over breeding (budgies should only go 2-3 rounds and have a few months break in between to ensure good health of the birds). The hens have a tendency to fight over nest boxes and will (and have in my case) killed the chicks and hen in order to try and use the box they want. You also need to be careful that any chicks don’t fledge early as they may fall to their death accidentally.
If you choose to go down the colony breeding route you will need to ensure that you have at least twice the amount of nest boxes as there are hens in your colony. You will also need to make sure they are at the same height to help reduce the risk of fighting over one box as they will all want the highest breeding box. You will also need to make sure that no in-breeding can take place, this means you will have to remove any possible family connections. The floor needs to be soft incase any chicks fledge too soon, reducing the risk of injury or death.
Cage Breeding (controlled breeding)
Pros- much safer way of breeding without the risk of other hens attacking chicks or their hen, you can choose which budgies to breed, you can ensure they are all fit and healthy before pairing, easier to check on the babies’ progress, you can give supplements to specific boxes if needed without others having the same. If babies fledge early, it’s not as far for them to fall so do not hurt themselves and you can easily place them back into the nest box if needed. The babies will also not be at risk for being attacked by other birds thinking they are weak and an intruder.
Cons- it is more work… instead of having just one bowl of seed to fill or water source to re-supply, you will need to ensure that every cage is kept clean and filled with fresh water and seed daily.
If you choose to go down the cage breeding route, you need to set up a breeding cage. This should consist of the following:
A mineral block
Fresh clean water
A good supply of decent seed
A nest box at the appropriate height (as high as possible to ensure the hen feels safe to lay her chicks)
Somewhere safe for the cage- nowhere near where children or other pets can get to the birds and scare them. If the hen doesn’t feel safe she can refuse to lay which can result in egg binding.
A concave (an insert that has a dip in the middle- this ensures the eggs do not roll around which helps reduce the risk of DIS (dead in shell) chicks or the eggs being addled (when eggs of progressing chicks are rolled incorrectly, killing the embryo from inside the egg).
Bedding in the nest box- the hen will most likely chuck it all out, but this can actually help with her nesting instincts. Once the chicks start hatching, you can re-add the bedding so the hen is too distracted to worry about chucking out bedding and this will help keep reduce the risk of the chick getting splayed leg.
Issues That May Arise
So I often get asked about pairs not breeding. There can be many reasons for this:
The hen is out of condition
The pair have not bonded and do not take to each other (not every bird will just mate to anyone you know!)
They do not feel safe enough to reproduce
They are not old enough to breed
They haven’t been stimulated enough
The climate around them isn’t satisfactory enough for the hen
They do not have the appropriate diet
So here are a few things you can do to help this:
Firstly, make sure both are the correct age and are healthy and in breeding condition. 9 times out of 10, all it needs is a few more months to mature.
Place a piece of cardboard over the next box hole and punch a small hole in the middle with a biro. This will encourage the hen to use her beak to open it up, creating her own nest. In the wild the hen would be the one to find a good nesting spot, she will use her beak to chew through wood to create a nest, so encouraging her to do this through the cardboard can encourage her natural breeding instincts.
Some suggest placing the hen into the cage first before the cock, others suggest the other way round. I personally put them in together and find that this has not had a massive difference, but may work for you.
Fill the nest box with bedding that the hen can remove- again this will help encourage the natural nesting instinct in the hen.
Ensure they have access to fresh veg/leafy greens. In the wild budgies mate during the time where food is freshest and there is plenty available. This is because they want to make sure there is enough food around for their clutch once laid.
Make sure they have access to cuttlefish and nutrient blocks. Again, like above they want to make sure they have everything they need in their system before laying any clutches.
Consider where you have put the breeding cage. If you don’t have a birdroom (as most people don’t) they need to be in a safe place. Somewhere they are happy. They like having noise and movement around them, but too much will make them worry about predators and so stop the process. Also if you have other budgies, they like to be around the noise of others of their own kind. This actually helps reassure them and encourages them to lay their clutch.
The Next Step
Once your budgie has started laying eggs, you will want to keep a note of the date each egg is laid. A hen will lay an egg typically every other day. Once incubating starts (a hen will lay on the eggs, only coming out of the box to eat and defecate). If the eggs are fertile then the chick will start to grow inside the egg.
After 3 eggs have been laid (if the first one is fertile and the hen laid on them from day one) then you will be able to see signs of a embryo being formed. You can check this yourself by a process called candling. To do this very carefully pick up an egg and place a torch underneath it. Egg shells are a semipermeable membrane, which means that air and moisture can pass through it. This also means that light too can pass through, allowing you to see the embryo forming inside. At the beginning you should be able to see the forming of blood vessels running through the egg and soon a little red dot will appear looking like it’s blinking which is the heart beating! It is truly amazing to see. This is another reason why you need to make sure the eggs stay clean as if the egg becomes too soiled no oxygen or moisture will be able to enter or exit the egg as needed