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Helpful Hints to Improve Cagebird Breeding and Keeping

All Rights Reserved by G.A. Abbate, Sr.

    Keeping and breeding any species of birds will be a rewarding pleasurable experience only if the fancier takes the hobby very seriously. The fancier should be able to dedicate the necessary time to assure his or her feathered friends the best care, the best diet, and the perfect environment just as they deserve. The number of birds that anyone intends to keep should not be so large that it causes stress to the fancier. The number should be just enough so the fancier can dedicate whatever free time he or she has available and still do a thorough job.

For some of those fanciers who have been experiencing difficulties associated with bird breeding and keeping, you may find the following  hints helpful:

    1)Begin with healthy, disease free, strong, sexually mature unrelated pairs.

    2)A clean, fairly lit, room preferably with windows to allow natural lighting will provide the ideal  environment.   A clean room with a perfect temperature humidity index is an absolute necessity to reach your full potential of success in breeding and keeping birds. 

    3)A well balanced diet should be offered to the birds.

    a)A good seed mixture comparative to the species which contains all the nutrients necessary, including vitamins and minerals to the  proper ratio of protein that the birds' biological system will be able to fully benefit from the mixture;

    b)The food that is fed to the birds, especially the nestling food, should be as good or equal to human food. The nestling food or soft food, whatever you want to call it, has to be pleasant tasting, not sweet from added sugar or other artificial sweeteners, but palatable like food and again pleasant tasting to you.

    c)Make sure the water administered to the birds is not contaminated with lead. If you suspect that your water source is contaminated with lead or even bacteria or excessive chlorination, you should either secure spring water for the birds or provide uncontaminated well water. On the other hand, if your water source is not too badly  contaminated with lead or bacteria, you can simply fill up a couple of jugs with tap water a couple of days in advance, then let it settle overnight thereby allowing most of the chlorine to evaporate. Be sure to use it  within the next few days and this should alleviate some of the problems related to excessive chlorination. If you wish, you may also boil the water and let it cool to room temperature. This will also produce the same effect  and alleviate some of the problems associated with excessive chlorination.

    4)The cups and feeding utensils should be kept sanitary especially the water cups to avoid the contamination of many types of bacteria.

    5)The room where the birds are housed is also the house of many avian parasites that, in turn, suck the bird's blood causing many adverse situations in the birdroom. Therefore, the room must be sprayed regularly all year round--religiously every two weeks with a good pyrethrin base spray, suitable and safe for cagebirds yet effective in controlling avian parasites, including red mites. The spraying of the birdroom should take place a couple of hours before dark. The spray stream should be concentrated in crevices, in cracks and corners, and wherever these devastating and destructive parasites hide. From a distance of approximately 36" you may spray directly on the birds with a very fine mist. Do not saturate the bird's plumage and avoid excessive spraying over the food and water cups. Remember a very fine mist for just a few seconds is all that is required to effectively spray your birdroom and control avian parasites.

    6)The birds should receive water for bathing at least once a week. If you have the time-everyday is even  better!! Remember birds in the wild state bathe every day, the same as clean people do. Don't take that privilege away from the birds in captivity. One tablespoon of Listerine added to a gallon of water and supplied as the  bird's bathing water is very beneficial. The Listerine will act as a mild germicide which means it will alleviate their itching and scratching and it will also help control feather dust in the birdroom. Also, try misting the bird's feathers regularly with a mixture of one tablespoon of listerine to one quart of water. Budgerigars and other hookbills in general, will really benefit from this practice. Once or twice a month a special bath of  one tablespoon of Epsom Salt diluted in one gallon of water should be provided to all types of birds, especially the feeding parents. The Epsom Salt bath can help to neutralize any sourness in the digestive system. Remember birds only have their beaks to do most of their chores. The adult birds, especially canaries, tend to eat their young's excretions when cleaning the nest and consequently, experience sour digestive systems and then will not  feed the young. The parents also tend to consume excessive amounts of rich foods and again may not feed the young due to an upset digestive system. By supplying the Epsom Salt bath once or twice a month and especially when  the parents are feeding the young you can alleviate most of the above mentioned because birds drink before bathing.

    7)Supply a small amount of a good mineral grit mixture daily to all seed eating birds. The grit should contain a variety of clean sterile mollusk shell, egg shell, sea sand, etc., with the addition of essential minerals, such as nickel, copper, iodide, etc., etc.   As humans need a full spectrum of minerals in their diet, birds in captivity must have the same. Remember that birds in the wild state care for themselves. In fact, they have the entire natural territory at their disposal to gather their food and their minerals. To duplicate what Mother Nature offers, a complete mineral mixture should be before the birds at all times. This might be contrary to what some experts say; "BIRDS DO NOT NEED GRIT". Through my personal experience with birds and from when I encountered birds that were dead only days after they were taken from their natural habitat, I totally disagree with the so-called experts' statements. In other words, I witnessed some freshly trapped birds that died after a few days of being in captivity.    (I was not the trapper and their death was due probably to the fact that they simply could not adjust to being captured.) Upon opening them up for examination, I found their gizzards full of grit they had acquired in the wild state before they were trapped. This proved to me that they definitely have access to grit in the wild state and should be offered the same in captivity.  Birds in captivity require a good mineral grit mixture to aid in their food digestion; they need a mineral grit mixture to aid in the production of fertile and hatchable eggs.  Let's not deny them that.

Many years ago I, personally, took one of the expert's advice and I stopped giving mineral grit to my birds. As a result so many of my birds  died because they were egg bound: some females laid just one or two eggs and some females laid no eggs at all. Since then, I have been feeding mineral grit to my birds and I experienced only normal to excellent results. Cuttlefish bones should also be kept before the seed eating birds at all times. Cuttlebone assures the seed eating birds a supply of essential calcium. Softbill birds also require mineral in their diet. For the  softbill bird, however, the mineral should be supplied in liquid form and mixed with their soft food. 

    8)Many fanciers, for fear of insecticide contamination (or so they say?), feed no greens at all to their birds. However, I  suggest that you feed a small amount of non-contaminated greens and fruits to all seed eaters, as well as softbills, daily. The best greens to feed the birds are wild dandelions, chickweed, chicory, escarole, and kale.  Among the fruits, the best are apples and pears. Other fruits, such as berries, bananas and strawberries also can be fed in small amounts. If you obtain the greens and fruits from the supermarket wash them thoroughly several times before you feed them to the birds. If you can, plant your own in your backyard. The seeds are plentiful and readily available in every hardware store or plant store --escarole, chicory, dandelions, you name it. I personally plant my own. Everyone should attempt to do the same. Also remember your backyard, neighborhood parks, or fields are all good sources for gathering greens. I repeat, feed a small amount daily. Don't overdo it.   Remember that cagebirds are not cattle and everything mentioned above should be done in moderation.

    9)As humans, we cannot live on bread and water alone. Birds cannot survive in captivity on dry seed and water  alone. If we observe the birds in the wild state they eat their seed in the milky stage or they choose seed that has fallen to the ground and is partially swollen by moisture. Seed in this form is highly nutritional so,  every serious and concerned fancier should gather uncontaminated seed in the milky or semi mature stage from the wild state and supply it to the birds in captivity. For example: The head of the dandelion, the seeding of the  chickory, wild millet, wild lettuce, rye grass, plus many more varieties that the wild birds eat in the outdoors should be fed to the birds in captivity whenever possible. This will assure success in producing healthy  strong beautiful birds of all species, from the smallest finches to the largest parrots.

    10)Soak seed for small and large birds should be fed to all birds all year round. Soak seed should be offered  even more so when seed in the milky stage is not available. For canaries and small finches in general, offer a mixture that contains a variety of small seed such as, millet, canary, rape, buckwheat, etc. with the addition  of a mold inhibitor plus added minerals. The desired amount should be soaked in water for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature then rinsed under running water and should be fed to all seed eating birds. A small amount per day  all year round will suffice. For larger birds, such as parrots, macaws, and other large hookbills in general, you should offer a mixture consisting of a variety of seed and legumes, including corn, buckwheat, wheat, a variety of nontoxic beans, and a selection of peas. Again, be sure the mixture contains a mold inhibitor along with beneficial minerals. As for the smaller birds it should also be soaked in water for 24-48 hours at room  temperature, then rinsed under running water and fed in small amounts to all hookbills all year round as a supplement. Both types of soak seed mentioned above, can be mixed 50% with a nutritious nestling food and fed in a small amount to the birds. Providing the mixes you offer contain fresh and wholesome ingredients fit for human consumption your birds are assured total nutrition. 


Remember, when breeding is in progress, all birds require at least 13-14 hours of either daylight or artificial light. This is especially  true for canaries. Keep in mind that breeding should begin only in the springtime, depending on where you live.

Assuming that you have carefully implemented a similar program, as stated above, you shouldn't have any problems breeding cagebirds of all  species.  However, no matter how careful one may be it seems that either from lack of sufficient time to take care of the chores in the birdroom or through negligence, sometimes problems unexpectedly arise.  If this is the case, you should be prepared to cope immediately before the situation becomes worse. Many times a female bird, whether it is a canary, finch, budgerigar, cockatiel, or large parrot, will abandon the eggs.   Before this happens, you should take measures to prevent it. For example, after a female canary builds a nest and just when she begins to incubate the eggs, you should very carefully attempt to remove the eggs from the nest and set them aside. Then remove the built nest from the pad and sprinkle a generous amount of pyrethrins powder between the built nest and the nest pad. Reshape the nest (try using a light bulb, it works well) then carefully replace the eggs inside the nest and return the nest to the cage. In 99% of the cases the female will continue to sit, incubate, and hatch the eggs and she will feed the youngsters to maturity without experiencing a parasite problem in the nest. Also, the nest should be cleaned again when the baby birds need to be banded, which should occur approximately 18-20 days after the incubation begins (remember that 13 days is the incubation period for canaries and most finches plus you must wait until they are between the age of five and seven days old before they can be banded).    Be sure to remove all of the excretions in the nest during this cleaning. Again, sprinkle a generous amount of pyrethrin powder between the nest and the pad, reshape the nest, carefully replace the babies in the nest and return them to the cage. It is important now to offer the parents water with Listerine for bathing, as previously mentioned. The parents will continue to feed the babies to maturity. Basically the same procedure holds true for other birds, such as budgerigars, cockatiels and parrots. Simply sprinkle a generous amount of pyrethrin powder between the two layers of wood in the nest box. Keep in mind the warmth of a wood nest box is the ideal place for avian parasites to live and breed. Consequently, they begin to suck the blood of the youngsters as well as the parents. This will make your bird's life very uncomfortable and as a result most feeding parents abandon the nest and the youngsters.   The youngsters become so weak they cannot even raise their heads to be fed, etc.  Trust me, you want to avoid this devastating situation caused by these horrible parasites. 

Sometimes due to negligence or lack of time some foods may turn sour before the birds. This will make the youngsters sick as well as the feeding parents. Again, if you correct the situation as soon as it is discovered the loss will not be so great.   Thoroughly clean the cage, supply an Epsom Salt bath as mentioned previously and then offer something highly appealing to the birds, such as fresh moist nestling food, fresh soak seed, a small amount of greens or a small amount of fruit, in order for them to begin the feeding process again.

During the warm muggy summer months you should only supply a small amount at a time of moist food to avoid spoilage. In other words, only what the birds will eat at that feeding. In addition, in every cage where baby birds are present a good dry nestling food should be at their disposal. It is better for the birds to run out of moist food and eat the dry food  then to have them eat spoiled sour food. Good parents will continue to feed the babies with the dry nestling food and the dry seed diet that is available in the cage. 

As many of us don't care for leftover food birds too prefer to have freshly made food. I repeat, try to prepare only enough moist food that you will use for the feeding, rather than preparing a large amount and storing it in the refrigerator. Birds prefer freshly made food.

Retired folks have all the time in the world to care for their birds, and therefore, I suggest feeding nestling food at least three times a day. On the other hand, working people, like myself, can only attend to the birds in the morning and in the late afternoon when they get home. Therefore, twice a day will have to suffice. To feed canaries and other small birds,  for example, in the morning moisten some dry nestling food with some water and feed it to your birds.   If your birds are used to fresh boiled eggs you may add it to the nestling food. (Remember to simmer the eggs for five minutes and let them cool in the same water). Feed the required amount and then repeat the process in the late afternoon.   The late afternoon feeding should be at least three hours before the light in the birdroom shuts off or before darkness arrives.   In either case, quickly feed the birds and leave the room. Birds need their privacy, too!     For those people who handfeed their youngsters, such as cockatiels, parrots, and hookbills in general, again, prepare the nestling food fresh for each feeding. Mix only the necessary amount you will use for that feeding. Throw away the leftovers. Don't let the food sit around with a chance for it to go sour or develop mold. Trying to reheat the food will be a big mistake.    In~most cases, this will result in the loss of youngsters.   Don't blame it on the food, but blame it on your own negligence.

When the smaller baby birds, such as canaries and finches begin to eat on their own they should be removed from the parents' cage and placed in a separate clean cage.    Soak seed and soft food, as well as a dry complete seed diet, should be supplied. As they mature and begin to crack the dry seed more and more, the amount of soak seed and soft food should  be reduced gradually and eventually to very small amounts per day. The same is true for all other species of birds, including small and large hookbills. As they mature and begin to eat a well balanced dry seed diet, the moist  food should be reduced and eventually offered only as a supplement in small amounts. Thus, you will begin to train all seed eaters to follow their natural instinct to crack the seed, thereby exercising their beaks and consume a well balanced dry seed diet. 

At the end of the breeding season, about a couple of weeks before the molt begins, red orange canaries and other red birds should receive red carotenoid in their food and water to maintain deep red lustrous plumage. Non red birds should also receive some form of yellow carotenoid to help the growth of new plumage. Both types of carotenoid will assure the birds beautiful and colorful plumage, sometimes even better than what is found in the wild state.

Also, at the end of the breeding season if you were using artificial light in the birdroom the setting should be reduced to a minimum. All birds should be allowed to go through the stressful molting period in a quiet and peaceful manner. This means try not to disturb the birds and only supply the same amount of light as what is outdoors. 

During the molt the birds should receive water for bathing as often as possible.   Don't forget the listerine! (Incidentally, I don't have stock in listerine, but it is good for the birds). Again, I repeat, spray your birdroom every fourteen days with a fine mist of pyrethrins base spray. And don't forget to give the birds plenty of peace and quiet.