Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014

Breeding Lovebirds


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Back: Normal Green Black Masked - Front: Blue Masked Mutation

Lovebirds with their mud potBreeding Lovebirds - is it a good idea?

Breeding lovebirds can be a rewarding, educational and overall challenging experience -- but it's EASY to get started. Provided you have a true and mature pair (at least 10months or older), they will go down to the business of breeding pretty quickly.

The other side of the coin is that bird breeding can also become addictive, expensive, tiring, and heartbreaking. I loved taking care of my breeder lovebirds and especially handfeeding and socializing the babies. Lovebird chicks are so adorable; they love snuggling into your lap or your hand. They are trusting and ever so affectionate. I fell in love with every one of my babies.

The toughest part for me was to find good homes for them. You get rather attached to them, but you cannot keep them all. So the next step is to find good homes for them. I was very dismayed about not finding many homes I felt comfortable with. Many times I wondered if my baby was going to be okay, as I had to "compromise" when it came to what I understood to be a good home. In the end I stopped my birds from breeding by replacing their fertilized eggs with dummy eggs. This was the end of my breeding activity.

Last, but not least, forget about making money. Lovebirds are so plentiful that people pay very little for one -- notwithstanding the many hours a day you spend handfeeding, cleaning up after the breeder birds and chicks, and socializing the baby. In addition to which, good quality food and supplies are expensive. This is a labor of love, not one of making money. Then, of course, come the vet bills ... I don't know of any breeder who makes money with birds. You do it because you love it and you understand the work and cost associated with your hobby.

Nesting Peachface Lovebirds


Pastel Blue Male Peach-face Lovebird Breeding Mutations:

To be able to potentially influence the genetic characteristics of the young (i.e., mutation colors), a basic understanding of genetics is necessary.


Sexing Your Lovebirds

Lovebirds are not sexually dimorphic, which means that you cannot visually tell if a lovebird is a male or a female. However, there are some subtle differences between males and females, but they are only SLIGHT differences and do not constitute a definite method of sexing lovebirds.

  • Hens are usually a little larger than male lovebirds, although her head may be slightly smaller.
  • Hens often have wider pelvises (as they have to pass eggs) and are usually a little broader than males and often perch with their legs a little further apart than cocks. Experienced breeders can quite often sex lovebirds by feeling their pelvic bones (under the tail). The male pelvic bones are closer together, feel pointier, less "flexible" than female pelvic bones. With some birds you can feel a distinct difference, others are "iffy" to say the best. Quite similarly to us humans, where some females are more "rounded" than others. It is not a definite method, but breeders are using it regularly -- understanding full well that it is not a sure method of sexing.
  • Lovebird ChicksDon't Trust Natural Pairings: Lovebirds don't always pair up male and female, but sometimes pair up with a same-sex lovebird. Breeders will find out about such pairing when both birds start laying eggs (10 or more eggs in a nesting box), or no eggs are laid at all. Of course, eggs laid by two paired females will be infertile.
  • DNA Sexing: If you want to make sure that the lovebirds are the correct sex, you could use a DNA service to test it. There are feather and blood DNA sexing services available. You send in samples and get the results in days -- at a much lower cost than having your local vet do it.
  • Nesting Behavior: One of the characteristics of an adult female lovebird is that they will tuck nesting material under their wings (please refer to image below) and carry it into their nest box. Males, or young females, will also try to do it, but usually the nesting material falls out very quickly. I have heard of the odd male who has mastered the art of "tucking and carrying" -- but I have never witnessed one myself. I have only seen adult females who were able to do that. It is a pretty good way of sexing a lovebird -- with accuracy maybe up to 80%.
  • Male Feeding Female: Males will be more likely to regurgitating for its owners or mates, as the males typically feed the nesting females.

Housing your Breeder Lovebirds

My recommendation is to start small when it comes to your breeding stock. Start with one pair and expand if you like at a later stage.

Lovebirds will generally breed well when kept as single pairs. Some lovebird species can be bred in a colony setting. The white eye-ring group of lovebirds are particularly well suited to colony breeding. This being said, the peach-faces are equally easy to breed in an aviary / communal setting - particularly if there was plenty of room for all. The major drawback of communal breeding is the fact that one has less control over the pairings. But if the caretaker isn't too involved in the genetics, that probably won't matter to many.

If indoor / cage breeding is preferred, get a good-size breeding cage - a cage that is large enough for you to put the nesting box in.

The cage / aviary should be large enough for natural branches, toys -- I love creative, fun homes for my birds. They spend their lives (or most of their days in their cages) -- make it a fun environment. SPACE IS IMPORTANT. The lovebirds at the very least should be able to "beat their wings" without hitting something every time. They need to be able to climb and play for exercise. I have heard the theory that supplying toys and the like will distract birds from mating or parenting. This is not so. The happier a bird, the better a parent it will be. Besides, we are not talking about automatic "breeding machines" -- birds are living beings. They deserve better than being exploited without consideration of their happiness and welfare.









White-face Medium Violet Pied Female and  White-face Violet American Cinnamon MaleAlternatively, if your preference is a larger aviary, please visit this website for samples of very attractive and functional outside and inside aviaries, including instructions for you to build them yourself -- if you are handy enough. It also has links to suppliers and ready-built aviaries / flights, if this is your preference.

Lovebirds are usually pretty social birds and many breeders keep a colony of lovebirds in one aviary. Because of their gorgeous colors, they make very attractive aviary occupants. However, they can be pretty noisy -- this is something to be considered if your neighbors are close and "noise-sensitive."


Nesting

Lovebirds reach sexual maturity around one years of age. Many can be sexually mature earlier - but it is not wise to breed them younger than a year.

Setting up the Nest Box:

I have always used a cockatiel nesting box; although at times they have settled down in a parakeet nesting box. But I always preferred to use the cockatiel box since smaller boxes would get messy quickly, and as the chicks grow, parakeet boxes get VERY crowded.

Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) I provided my lovebirds palmfonds, tree twigs/branches, dried grass, leaves, spray millet, eucalyptus (refer to "safe woods - some caution advised), shredded / unscented / white paper towels, and even newspaper to tear up and carry into their nesting box. Decomposed non-toxic saw dust, wood shavings or other suitable materials are great to line the box with, to soak up any droppings.

  • Nesting log / nest-box material: Add about 2 inches of decomposed suitable nest box litter to the bottom of the box to help stabilize the eggs and absorb the droppings from the chicks.

    Options for suitable nesting material are decomposed non-toxic saw dust, corn cob, shredded newspaper, clean straw / dried grass or wood shavings (i.e., Aspen shavings or wood chips). The larger wood chips the better, so the parents don't feed it to the babies or the chicks accidentally ingest it.

    Please note that some wood shavings - such as pine, cedar and redwood - give off aromatic hydrocarbons (phenols) and acids that are toxic and can cause dermatitis, allergic symptoms and irritation of the digestive tract. They should not be used in cages, aviaries, or nestboxes.

Do make sure not to give any poisonous or chemically treated (insecticides / fertilizer) plant material to your birds. This website will provide you information on toxic and safe plant material for your birds. For non-toxic insect and weed control, please visit the Green and Healthy website.

If space allows, offering a choice of nest boxes, and placed in various locations within the aviary, can allow the parent birds to make their own choice.  Once a pair has chosen a specific nest-box and been successful in it, offer that one to them each breeding season.  Try and keep that one for their exclusive use.  Once a pair has chosen its nest-box, the other ones can generally be removed.  If the "spare" boxes are to be removed and moved to another flight, ensure the nest-box is cleaned to ensure the receptacle has the minimal contamination of mites, parasites and pathogens.

Peachface Lovebird tearing up paper


Male Madagascar Lovebird (Agapornis canus canus aka Agapornis cana cana) - also commonly referred to as Grey-headed Lovebird Lovebird Mating and Parenting

Courtship begins when the male feeds the female; then mating will happen which may be lengthy and repeated several times a day for several days. The male climbs onto the females back, often holding on to her flight feathers for a good grip. Eggs can be laid as early as 3 to 10 days after mating, then one or more every other day. Typically the clutch contains 4 to 6 eggs.

The incubation time is approximately 22 - 25 days and it can take up to 24 hours for a chick to work itself out of the egg. It's best not to interfere with the process, except when you found that the youngest chicks tend to get neglected by the parents. For appropriate advice, please visit this webpage.

The egg sac contains needed nutrients for the chick to absorb. I was over-eager in the beginning and pulled the chick from the egg -- causing it to die. A common mistake that inexperienced breeders make. Nowadays I would only observe and assist only if I notice that the baby is in trouble. When a hen is brooding, she may not come out of the nest box very often. The male will go into the nest box and feed her. Once the babies have hatched, the female and female will feed them. I liked to provide mashed hard-boiled eggs to my parent birds to help them feed the chicks. They really LOVED it -- and it had the protein and calcium they needed for the chicks. I grind up egg shell (from boiled eggs) and provide it to my birds (breeders or not) -- as this is an excellent source of calcium for them. I also provide various soft foods to them. You will be amazed at how quickly the food disappears once there are babies to be fed. Always make sure to provide a constant supply of food, so that the parents can get on with their challenging job of feeding their babies.

  • Chicks with yellow-white down are blue series babies, such as dutch blues, cream faces, etc.). If the chick has an orange down, this means it'sa green series baby (normal green, lutinos, red-face, etc.).
  • Photos of Peach-faced Lovebird Chicks (normal greens and 1 lutino)

Lutino Lovebird with chicks


Lilian’s Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), also known as Nyasa Lovebird Lovebird Chicks:

The average clutch consists of 4 to 6 eggs. On a couple of rare occasions, I had a compatible pair lay 8 eggs -- and they all hatched, which is an achievement. I had to constantly provide them with fresh nestling food to feed their big family.

The average incubation is 24 days, varying from 22 to 25 days. Both hen and cock share in incubating the eggs.

Nest inspection is generally not tolerated.  If nest inspection is necessary, wait till both parents have left the nest.  They tend to be very aggressive and protective of the nest area when breeding.

Pulling / Socializing the Chicks:

I pulled the babies from the nesting boxes once they were one or two weeks old, as I enjoyed handfeeding them. I found it difficult to tame them once they were kept with their parents for four weeks or longer without daily interaction with humans. If you want to handtame them -- I would recommend to start socializing them at one week or two, but not much later than that.

Some breeders told me that they were very successful at taming babies by taking them out of the nestbox on a daily basis and socializing them, and then putting them back with their parents after they were handled for 30 minutes or so. This way, they didn't need to handfeed them -- yet the chicks became tame.

Lovebird babies wean at approximately 8 weeks of age, with some earlier and some later. They should be weaned onto a good variety of foods, including fresh fruits/ veggies, leafy greens and herbs (my birds love parsley), pellets and seeds.


For further information, please consult the following websites:


Species Research by Sibylle Johnson

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