As the vast majority of seasoned aviculturalists and particularly breeders are now entering their 50's and 60's, many have, or are considering retirement from their hobby and looking forward to some leisure time, a rarity when you are working with livestock! Since I have been breeding birds for the past 15+ years, I admit to having pretty much no life, as caring for the flock is a 24 hour, 7 day a week occupation... and I love it!
I do however realize the importance of passing along this wonderful hobby and experience to the younger generation so that proper domestic breeding of these awesome birds will continue to flourish. To this end, and to give back to the avian community, I have made it my focus to assist and train many beginning aviculturalists who have expressed an interest in the breeding and showing aspect of the hobby. I am very pleased to have a number of youngsters under my tutelage with the breeding of cockatiels and a few adults who have had success with the lineolated parakeets, African Greys and budgies, following what has worked for me in my breeding programs. Allow me to share below:
My dear friend Maryann, who has a vast knowledge of avian care already, and is awesome with sick and injured birds, wanted to give her two english budgies the opportunity to do what Mother Nature intended... start a family. Having never bred birds before, she began to research and ask lots of questions so as to give her birds the best opportunity for success.
What she found was that breeders often don't use the same methods or feeding practices and that there are many confilicting issues in print. It's difficult to know what the best advice is and what route to take. Digesting all the info she had been given, Maryann went with her gut instincts and used my suggestion of thinking about what the birds in the wild would do to help her make decisions. The results are pictured below! These are first time parents! This maiden hen is raising 7 chicks successfully!
Now if you haven't gone "Awwwwww" at least once, there's just got to be something wrong with you! My congratulations and pride go out to Maryann and her extremely successful first attempt at breeding her budgies!
I wonder if you can help me with a question. Remember Kiki,? Well, she is out of her cage the majority of her day now. She loves to fly around and to sit with me etc. The problem I am experiencing lately and it seems to be getting worse (she did not do this before) is that she is very territorial. For example, if I try to use my scotch tape, a stapler, change the toilet paper roll, etc. and many many other examples. she will fly down or onto your hand and bite... really hard. If someone new comes to the house she will fly to them immediately and land on their shoulder and bite.
It is painful and I don't understand why she is doing this. I am not sure what to do about it to get her to stop. I am starting to put her in her cage when she bites like that or to gently tap her on the beak or spray her but nothing is working. Can you shed any light or maybe suggest something I can do to make her stop biting? She is still also very cute and lovable when she wants to be but she really has this aggression about her. I appreciate any thoughts you may have on this.
This is a common issue with parrots that have reached sexual maturity and there are a few things you can do to improve the undesirable behaviours. First, understand what is going in Kiki's mind. (too often we try to put our human values upon our parrot's behaviour and misdiagnose the problem) She's now a sexually mature bird and is feeling Mother Nature's call to reproduce. Once a parrot is mature, they regard their human flock family in one of 3 ways: you are either regarded as a parent figure (usually the person the bird was most comfortable with as a baby), a sibling, or a mate. The person chosen as the "mate" figure is the bird's preferred person upon maturity and it doesn't matter what that person's gender is. In the wild, it's normal and natural for a bird to protect it's mate. Kiki is doing this when someone enters the room that she perceives is a potential danger and is trying to protect her "mate" by attempting to drive the danger out... this is why she's flying at strangers and biting. She's actually trying to protect you! (and you thought she was being nasty!)
Now, be aware that some parrots, males in particular, (are you SURE KIki is a hen??? as the behaviours you mention are more suggestive of a male) will turn around and bite their "mate" first in an attempt to get her to back away from the "danger"... males will especially do this, as in the wild, if there's danger, they'll nip their mate to get them back into the nest, always putting themselves between the danger and their hen. Kiki loves you and is doing her best to keep you safe! Puts a different spin on the behaviour doesn't it, once you understand what exactly is going on.
So, what to do? First and foremost, you MUST flight trim Kiki, even if you disagree with the harmless and painless proceedure. Let's discuss the pecking order importance in parrots and perhaps you'll understand why this is SO important to maintain with companion birds. Like pack order in dogs, birds have a very strong instinct to know where they stand in the pecking order. Every flock has an "alpha" bird and the rest all want to be as far up on that pecking order ladder as possible. To a bird, physicality is everything. If they can be higher than you, including being on top of your head, then they consider themselves dominant over you (ie. higher up in the pecking order) and this is when aggression and behaviour problems occur. Flighted birds know they can fly up upon bookshelves, picture frames etc. to get away and be higher than you. Retrieving them can be quite the game of chase!
Once you clip the power flights (usually the first 5 outermost flight feathers on each wing, as long as the feathers are fully grown and there's no blood in the shaft - if you don't know how to do this, seek out someone who does!) then the bird can fly but only in a downward glide. They are literally grounded and once on the floor, they are reliant upon you to pick them back up, as without those power flights, they cannot get height or speed. (which is a good and safe situation for all companion birds - now they cannot smack into windows, sliding glass doors or mirrors and can't escape outside). Understand too, that your head is the only "living" thing to your bird. Everything from your neck down is simply a place to perch. Flock birds will naturally want to be on your shoulder to be as close to your head (the "other" bird) as possible. Once on the floor, your head is wayyyyy up there... very much higher than the bird is and this re-establishes the proper pecking order. Now they realize they are below you and generally the behaviour returns to a more amicable state. You can reinforce your higher position by placing a properly flight trimmed bird on the floor for a few moments so they can see how much higher up you are.
With any companion animal, positive reinforcement, reward and praise are the most important training tools. Negativity, shouting, hitting and being overly dramatic simply doesn't work and can actually make the undesirable behaviour worse. (Birds LOVE drama and will continue a negative behaviour to make the drama happen again!) Get into the habit of having you bird's favourite treat in your pocket when they are out and acknowledge positive behaviours only, with treats and praise (abundant praise... even for the smallest accomplishment - you'll be surprised how much your bird relishes your praise and excitement when they do something you like!) Ignore the unwanted behaviours, hard as that may be. Giving attention to negative behaviours teaches your bird to continue them as you've unwittingly rewarded them with your attention!
Once you pick your flight trimmed bird up from the floor, praise them, have them do some step ups from hand to hand and reward, reward, reward. Companion birds want to please and learn just like puppies (and kids for that matter!) do... positive reinforcement. So praise, praise, praise !
I hope after following my suggestions you will see a marked improvement in Kiki's behaviour and would love to hear an update as to her response. It won't happen over night, but with lots of praise and proper flight trimming, you should have your sweetie back on track in no time!
"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be."
Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring
The interaction between experienced breeders and those new to the hobby is critical to achieving results and success. Jane has been an excellent mentor and our interaction between the mentor and novice breeder has allowed me to experience great success in the past few years. Most recently Best Hookbill in Show, Best Parrot in Show, Best Current Year Parrot, Best Current Year Hookbill in Show, 2nd Best Current Year Hookbill and Best Current Year Cockatiel in show.
Jane voluntarily lends me her knowledge, advice, help, and guidance. I find myself very lucky to have such an amazing friend and mentor all in one person. I've put myself in some very sticky situations in the past couple of years. To struggle alone through rough and troubling times is one of the hardest things a novice breeder can do. There were quite a few times where I called upon Jane at wee hours in the night for advice and help. Sometimes it'd be something small like, help! my bird has a broken blood feather or trouble with night fright. Other times it'd be something a little more serious like eggs breaking, chicks being plucked or problems with handfeeding. Jane has always kept my chin up and head on straight. She has kept me from becoming over confident and is someone who has challenged me to challenge myself in producing some of the finest show stock in Canada.
Jane, you have taught by example and guided me with patience. Your time, efforts and devotion to mentoring me have made such a difference in my breeding program. Knowing what and how to do things in a breeding environment can often be hard hurdles to climb and manoeuver through - but with your help -- your knowledge, commitment, grace, and overall dedication to the husbandry and management of avian species, breeding has helped me grow from a novice to champion breeder in just a few years. Your drive and passion for the hobby has allowed me (KAP Aviaries) to achieve inspiration and confidence. Without your guidance I may not have continued breeding past the first year.
Thanks Jane for all your support
Maryann sports her new green hat!
Pineapple and Candyman ... The Journey continues....
When the eldest bubs were 4 weeks old, mom got anxious to go to nest for a second round. I found that she wanted nothing to do with the chicks once out of the nest. She would actually look down on them on the cage floor as if they were aliens. It was very odd to watch.When I saw that she was being rough with them and actually squeezing her way past them in the nest box entrance hole, when their heads were sticking out, it concerned me. I actually saw her jam her way in and almost break the neck of one of the chicks by forcing her way in before it could retract its head back into the nest. It made a pained squeak and that is when the hen was removed back into flight cage. Dad continued to feed the bubs and worked very hard. At this stage, I reintroduced cooked rice and veggies and this time, both he and the babies helped themselves.
I now started to let the older 4 chicks come to the exit panel on the nest box and fussed them up, when all of a sudden, whoosh, off went the first chick. I was horrified thinking she would fly into something or crash land and hurt herself. I was amazed to see, she flew with caution and landed safely on the drapes. I was amazed because, I have large cockbirds from 4 months old from various aviaries that flew at breakneck speed straight into the walls, tv, floor, ceiling with ZERO finess. I assumed she would do the same. I was wrong. It wasnt long before chick 2, 3 and 4 joined her, and they were off.
So now I figured, I would simulate fledging in the wild. I started by putting out feed, millet, water and veggies on top of the cages and let the chicks and dad out of the cage. It was really fun and educating to watch them grow strong by following dad around and begging for food. Soon they were all self sufficient and feeding on their own. The last 2 chicks would beg either dad or older siblings for food and they all obliged and took care of the young ones. As days went by, I found the chicks would anticipate me uncovering them and cram themselves against the cage bars, squishing and trodding on each other, jockeying for position to be the first to get on my hand and out of the cage for flight time. It was rather humorous, to me, not them.
I will include a few pics to show that all chicks are super tame and use me as a bird tree numerous times during the day. They have absolutely no fear of me and my huge "beak". In fact, I think it rather helps lol. I think this is from daily inspections of the nest box during growth. I would open the front door to vent the box if I saw that the bubs were panting and I would just stick my mug in there and talk to them. It wasnt long before the chicks started to use my face as a chew toy. They graduated from nibbling my nose, eyes, mouth and hair, to jumping out onto my shoulder and then off to the great beyond. Now they think they own me!
I now have 7 fledged healthy bubs, which was well beyond all my expectations for a first time effort and a maiden hen. I feel Pineapple and Candyman have shattered and overcome all the potential hazards and hardships of raising a first clutch.
Note: Pineapple was donated to me from Jim and Diane's stud. Candyman was donated to me from Peter and Cathy Decesare's stud.
I would like to thank Jim and Diane Gilchrist for all their help, advise and infintate patience. No matter how early or late in the day I called, how stupid or repetative my questions were, they always made time for me and gave me the best advice, encouragement and valuable information.
I would like to thank Peter Decesare for his expertise in pigeon raising which he now uses to raise his budgies and other birds he shows. His common sense approach to raising all kinds of birds was a great help.
I would also like to thank Jane Gillespie for featuring my pair on her website and for her moral support when I would second guess myself. She would convince me that I was doing everything right and not to worry. It was a team effort and it took a village to raise my bubs. I pray I have the same success next time around. Ciao for now.
Some words from Maryann herself...
A bird in the hand...
Pineapple and Candyman
Kalpesh and "Einstein"
his first bred Congo African Grey baby girl - best hookbill in show.