Experience does enter the success equation to a degree, but many beginners are successful while others keep Parrots for years with very poor breeding results.
This is not only because they have too many birds and not enough time to devote to each pair, but because they lack the ability to identify with the Parrots in their care. Yes, it is all about caring and that derives from careful observation and trying to work out what is best for each pair.
It is wise to specialise?
While luck plays a part in any endeavour, would-be breeders who continually complain of bad luck should probably be substituting that term with “bad management” and lack of knowledge of the species.
The breeders, who specialise in one group or genus of Parrots, or in a few selected species, generally have much better results than those with a wide diversity of species. The knowledge of those who are continually changing the species they keep tends to be superficial.
Another advantage of acquiring two or more pairs of each species is that eggs and chicks can often be fostered, should the need arise. This is preferable to hand-rearing which is work-intensive and often, or usually, problematic for those with limited experience.
However, more importantly, parent-reared birds are usually superior for breeding purposes. Hand-reared birds, unless socialised with their own species as soon as they are weaned, usually have behavioural problems. Also, they are fearless and thus often very aggressive towards the keeper when they are breeding.
Without potential foster parents, you are more likely to need an incubator.
My recommendation to the beginner would be to buy a small model and upgrade to a more expensive one if this is eventually warranted.
A small incubator, suitable for a beginner
Do your homework
Individuality in all members of the Parrot family is very obvious. Added to this is the different range of behaviours natural to the great number of Parrot species kept in captivity – in the region of 200 species.
However, many keepers standardise the way their Parrots are fed and housed, with little consideration for the requirements of species and individuals.
Research into the requirements of the species to be kept is very important -- yet many new breeders buy on a whim, perhaps at a large show. The best course of action is to visit such a show and speak to as many sellers/breeders as possible of a species that seems suitable. Read books by reputable authors.
When designing breeding aviaries, remember that every pair must have their own enclosure, separated from the next by double welded mesh. Even young birds can cause a fatal injury to another in the adjoining aviary.
Aviaries must never be designed so that one is entered through a door in the side of an aviary with a common boundary; sooner or later a door will not be closed or wear will leave a gap through which a bird enters the next aviary -- almost certainly to be killed.
Aviaries should be built with a service passage running their length, with a separate entry door to each aviary.
Breeding aviaries should be double-wired and spacious, with some shade
For each pair of the commonly kept, medium-sized Parrots, such as Cockatiels, Redrumps, Ringnecks and Green-cheeked Conures, I would suggest an aviary at least 3.6m (12ft) to 4.2m (14ft) long, 91cm (3ft) wide and 1.8m (6ft) high.
Recommended size for the indoor quarters is 1.2m (4ft) to 1.8m (6ft) long and 91cm (3ft) wide. Half depth cages, that is, 91cm (3ft) off the floor and the same height, are adequate.
The area below can be tiled for ease of cleaning or a vinyl floor can be laid above the concrete. Here is a useful tip: the floor of half-depth cages can be constructed of a smaller gauge (thinner) welded mesh. This means that more waste falls on to the floor, making cleaning easier.
Problems in breeding Parrots are frequently encountered because the aviary is too small. This is especially the case with inexpensive birds such as Cockatiels, Rosellas and Ringnecks.
Some owners are reluctant to spend money in building them an aviary of appropriate size because the cost is so much higher than that of the birds. In fact, these fast-flying birds are more active and need a longer flight than, for example, a pair of Amazons.
Many Cockatiels have to tolerate cramped conditions and do reasonably well under the circumstances, because they are flock species with a relatively low aggression threshold.
But Ringnecks and other Psittacula parakeets are female-dominant species. A male can feel very threatened by the close presence of a female and might be too intimidated to breed.
Be aware of potential problems
The breeding season is the most stressful time of the year for many Parrots. Some females die, the most common reasons being a calcium deficiency that results in egg-binding, and being attacked by the male.
Some males die feeding a large nestful of chicks, or perhaps even because a pair of the same (or a closely related) species is housed so close that territorial aggression causes extreme stress. Such birds might defend their territory to the degree that they neglect the female, or they vent their aggression on her with fatal results.
Where breeding pairs of the same or related species are housed in close proximity, the area of the aviary that contains the nest-box is best screened with solid partitions. This gives a pair a greater sense of security.
Broken eggs and mutilated chicks can ensue if male aggression is not reduced. Some Parrot species are naturally more aggressive than others. Such species can prove very difficult to breed if they have visual contact with others.
Cages only 1.8m (6ft) long are entirely unsuitable for active birds like the larger parakeets. Little pleasure is to be gained in keeping them in cages – and breeding results suffer along with the birds. Even in a 3.6m (12ft) flight they can only open their wings a couple of times – but at least they can fly.
This is so important for their well-being and for that of their young. Birds bred in cramped conditions are unlikely to be strong flyers or healthy breeding stock. Resist the temptation to cram in as many pairs as possible. And remember to allocate at least one aviary for young birds.
Only a few Parrot species are not aggressive and welcome the company of their own kind when breeding. They have evolved to live and breed in close proximity and aggression levels are very low.
Species that can be bred on the colony system are Budgerigars, Cockatiels and Peach-faced Lovebirds.
The great advantage of colony breeding is that the Parrots are able to choose their own mates. Incompatibility is a major reason for breeding failure among the larger Parrots. Many Parrots just tolerate their companion but will never breed unless they have a change of partner.
This reason for breeding failure is often overlooked. If after many years one partner dies, it can be very difficult to persuade some birds to accept a new partner.
Making Up Pairs
The hatching of chicks is an exciting event for all breeders. Regular inspection of the nest-box is advisable unless the parents are extremely aggressive or very nervous, in which case the use of a nest-box camera is recommended.
I would urge all breeders to ring their chicks. Identifying the individual -- and the breeder where the ring carries the breeder’s code or initials -- is important as it reduces the likelihood of related birds being paired together after they are sold.
The ring should also provide the information, throughout its life, of the year it hatched. Ringing is especially important for breeders of mutations who need to keep track of parentage.
Inexperienced breeders might be apprehensive about fitting closed rings -- but this is easy if carried out at the correct age.
In Budgerigars and others Parrots, where two toes point forwards and two backwards, the ring is placed over the three longest toes and moved down until it meets the fourth toe. This toe should be gently eased through the ring, using a wooden toothpick or a sharpened matchstick.
If this appears impossible because the chick’s toes are already too large, smearing them with Vaseline (petroleum jelly) and gently easing the ring on might prove successful. On no account force the ring or the chick’s leg could be broken.
It is important that the breeder knows the correct ring size for the species. If a chick is ringed too early it will immediately be apparent because the ring will be too loose. Remove the ring and wait a couple of days, or the ring might get lost in the nest litter.
Chicks are usually ringed just before their eyes open. There is slight variation when comparing species due, in part, to the size of the tarsus -- the part of the leg immediately above the toes. This is where the ring stays.
The age at which chicks of the same species should be ringed can differ according to growth rate. This is influenced by the proficiency of the parents or the hand feeder, diet, ambient temperature and the number of chicks in the nest.
The ring details (including colour) should be recorded immediately in a book kept for that purpose. The information can later be transferred to a computer if desired.
Soft foods for young birds
While chicks are in the nest, the parents need different foods. Many Parrot chicks have died because the parents have filled their crops with dry sunflower seed which is very difficult to digest.
Depending on the species or preferences, rearing foods should include egg food (home-made or proprietary), soaked and sprouted seeds, pulses (peas and beans) and maize that have been soaked overnight then cooked, frozen thawed sweet corn, tender young corn cobs and, of course, the time-honoured rearing food, chickweed.
Smooth sowthistle, tender young dandelion leaves and seeding dock are also very valuable.