Most budgie owners stop short of becoming bird breeders. But there are still plenty of enthusiasts who like to add to the ever-growing budgerigar population of the world. Given the right materials and space, budgies breed easily, and as long as you present them with a suitable environment you can usually rely on the birds to simply get on with it, without much intervention from you.
Budgies in an aviary tend to pair up. However, many breeders – especially those who breed birds for exhibitions – are looking for the magic formula, the two birds whose combined genetic heritage will result in the perfect show bird. In a mixed flock, this means intervening to pair Opaline with Opaline, Crested with Crested, etc. If your aim is sheer colour and variety, though, letting them match up and get on with it by themselves will do the job.
If your chosen pair of budgies fails to bond, you can take it as a sign that you need to do a fresh spot of budgie matchmaking. Give them a day or two before intervening, however – it is common for a pair to be defensive or belligerent at first if they’ve been thrown together for the first time by a hopeful breeder.
Budgie Breeding Season
Budgies in the wild breed during wet spring and summer periods, which means they find themselves in the mood for much of the year in northern Europe. They also need long daylight hours to stimulate the mating instinct. In the UK, many breeders pair up birds in November in order to have new birds ringed (i.e. a ring put on their legs) in the new year. This annual ringing is synchronised for January 1st in the UK, and it means there are new, young birds ready for spring shows.
Stimulation for breeding birds can be provided by artificial light. They need 12 hours of light a day during this time, and the sunshine that makes it through your windows (if the birds are indoors) is not enough to satisfy their vitamin D needs (sunlight being a necessary part of vitamin D metabolisation). You will find suitable fluorescent lights at a specialist pet store – ask other breeders for advice on availability and the specific requirements of your cage or aviary set up.
Budgie Breeding Age
Budgies are physically able to breed after six months, but should not be allowed to do so until they are at least 10 months old. A younger bird will often fail to be a good parent. There’s no hurry – once they’ve matured, females will be able to breed for four years, and males for six.
First-time mothers sometimes lay eggs outside the nesting box. This is fine, as long as you put the egg in the box as a signal that this is where the others should be laid. Once she’s settled on an egg in the cosy box, she won’t repeat the mistake.
Budgie Breeding Food
A varied and nutritious diet should be a permanent fixture in your budgies’ life, and you don’t have to change the standard feed during breeding. You should, however, provide a protein-rich side dish such as egg food (see the recipe in the Budgie Recipes section, above).
Budgie Breeding Cages
If you keep lots of budgies, you will need to give them personal space for breeding. This can be in the form of compartments in an aviary, or you can install the pair in a breeding cage. This should measure at least 60 x 40 x 40 cm. It will need to be equipped with standard budgie accessories – at least two perches, a mineral block, a cuttlefish bone, plenty of seed and fresh food and water, and a nesting box. The cage will also need two doors – one for access (for your hand) and the other for allowing passage to and from the nesting box – if you are breeding the birds in a cage, this should be attached to the outside.
Once the chicks have weaned (at about six weeks) you will need to transfer them to a large cage, or a separate section of the aviary. This should be supplied with plenty of food, water and perching space.
Budgie Breeding Box or Nesting Box
Budgies need cavities to mate and nest in – something that simulates the tree holes they favour in the wild. Nest boxes made of wood are a perfect substitute. Budgies are minimalist nesters, and need little more than a dry floor area to lay their eggs on, lined with a soft nesting material (untreated wood shavings or shredded paper will do).
The floor of the box will need to have a concave section, to help the chicks grip – this will prevent the condition known as splayed feet, which sometimes occurs if the chick has been standing on a hard, flat floor. (See Budgie Splayed Feet, above).
Install the boxes in your aviary, or fix one to the outside of the cage (whichever is applicable). This should be done in such a way that the female, (and, later, the chicks) has access to the cage via the open (i.e. removed) door.
Cleaning Budgie Nest Box
Nest boxes should be cleaned with a solution of one part white vinegar to two parts water, before the female budgie has settled in.
Budgie Courtship and Breeding Behaviour
Once paired, budgies reach peak fitness when the cock’s cere is a vivid blue and the hen’s is chocolate brown. They begin to perch, feed and preen together. Providing bathing water helps get them in the mating mood. The male displays to his mate, with lots of head-bobbing and feather-fluffing, his pupils often dilating to pinpricks. He accompanies this with a bubbling, liquid song, often working himself into a hyperactive state of all-singing, all-dancing eagerness.
The female watches and listen to these antics closely, but does not join in. She has her own mating season chirrup, and the male often joins in with her when she shouts it.
The male persistently courts his mate, tapping her beak with his own to stimulate her. The female eventually lifts her tail in the air, raising her wings a little to let the male know that his wooing efforts have been successful. The cock bird then ‘treads’ the hen by performing the ‘cloacal kiss’ – touching the vent or cloaca (an all-purpose repository for sperm, droppings and egg-laying, common to most birds), and rubbing from side to side. The process is swift, but will take place several times that day.
Budgie Not Mating
If there’s no action, it may be that the birds are too young, or too old. If they’re still bickering after a few days together, they simply don’t get on. Occasionally a bird will opt to be celibate, probably due to suppressed hormones. This may be a temporary condition, or it may be a saintly lifetime’s commitment.
Budgie Nesting Behaviour
Budgies make very little fuss about nesting. The female will inspect the nesting box; or, if one is not provided, she will start scratching around in the corners of the cage or aviary for a suitable spot. Other members of the parrot family like to shred paper and collect dried grass and line their nests, but not budgies. If you put these items in the nesting box to make it warmer and softer, that’s fine, but don’t think the hen is going to help you!
A hen who has felt the hormonal surge of the mating season may start searching for nesting opportunities beyond the cage, if she is allowed free-flight in a room. The space behind the books on a bookshelf, or that cobwebby area at the back of the hi-fi are the sorts of places that will appeal to her. This behaviour is sometimes accompanied by heightened aggression. You can take her mind off nesting (if that’s what you want) by confining her to the cage for a couple of days. Check her diet, too, and go easy on the high protein foods, as these tend to bring on the nesting urge.
Budgie Behaviour Before Laying Eggs
Once mating has finished, the hen will install herself in the nest box, arranging the minimal furnishings, and emerging to eat and feed on the mineral block and cuttlefish. The male will start to feed her with regurgitated food as soon as she is nest-bound. Her abdomen will be visibly swollen as the eggs develop, as will her vent. Her droppings may be larger than usual, with a slightly different hue as she stocks up on the protein and minerals she needs. This is perfectly normal.
The female will spend up to ten days in the nesting box before producing eggs. During this time she will emerge to poo and to nibble on her mineral block – an ideal time for you to check on progress in the box and to remove egg shells or dead chicks (always with scrupulously clean hands). Otherwise, she will stay put.
The hen lays four to eight eggs, with one every two days, and each one needs incubating for 18 days (occasionally a little longer), after which they hatch. Sometimes she will only settle in for full-time incubating when the second egg has been laid. Any egg unhatched after 23 days is not going to produce a chick. An emerging chick can take several hours to break free of his shell, and this is perfectly natural, so don’t be tempted to intervene.
Any egg laid after the sixth one is in danger of having its chick trampled by older, larger siblings, which could damage the younger one’s fragile body or, at the very least, prevent it from receiving food. In these circumstances you should give the younger birds to a foster mother, if possible, or hand-feed them (see Feeding baby Budgies, below).
Note: a single hen will occasionally lay an infertile egg. This is a sign that her hormones have gone through the mating season motions in the absence of a male, and is nothing to worry about. The hen will not fret or attempt to incubate the egg. Simply remove it, and that’s that.
Budgie Eggs Not Hatching
There are a few reasons why budgie eggs may not hatch.
Females sometimes lay eggs when there are no males to fertilise them
A young pair of budgies may be unsuccessful in their mating attempts, but the female may still lay her (unfertilised) eggs
Single eggs may fail to hatch, due to a chick failing to develop properly inside, or because the egg itself somehow managed to avoid being fertilised
The hen may neglect her eggs and fail to bring them to full term – this is quite common if the budgie is a young bird
The egg may have fallen straight to the floor – either from a perch, or over the side of a cramped nesting box – in which case it will be semi-scrambled
The male bird could be infertile
If there are lots of budgies in the cage, overcrowding may be the issue – a hen may be too stressed to sit on her eggs, or other females may muscle in and either interrupt the incubation or damage the eggs
Nutrition is important – if eggs fail to hatch due to soft shells, it’s a sign that the hen didn’t get enough calcium (from cuttlefish bone or a mineral block, for example) when she was producing the eggs
Candling Budgerigar Eggs
At first glance, candling looks like a typing error for ‘handling’. It is, however, a useful method for finding out if a budgie egg is viable. It should only be carried out if you have young birds, or if the egg has been pushed out of the nest by the hen. In any other circumstance it counts as unnecessary interference.
To candle an egg, you need to shine a small bright torch on it (less liable to burn your fingers than an actual candle). You can perform this investigation without moving the eggs from the egg box (when the hen is absent), as long as you are able to get a good look at the egg as you do so. Failing that, hold it between your finger and thumb, wearing gloves. The room will need to be dark for successful candling.
The torchlight will expose the interior of the egg. If there are red veins showing through, that’s a sign of a healthy egg. If it’s well developed, you’ll be able to see the outline of the bird inside. If all you can see is a shape without any red lines, the egg is a dead one.
Budgie Eggs Thrown Out of Nest
If a hen ejects an egg from the nest, it’s unlikely to be accidental. Eggs are discarded in this way if she sees them as unwanted intruders in the nest. This is sometimes down to her instinct for things not being right, in the case of an infertile or damaged egg. It may be that the egg has been handled by the budgie’s owner, and no longer smells like her own. Always wearing clean gloves when you handle the eggs will help. Better still, don’t handle the eggs at all.
A stressful cage may also provoke the hen to this drastic action. It’s her way of abandoning ship.
Sometimes another hen will turf out the eggs. There’s no malice involved – she just wants the nesting site for herself, either to lay her own eggs in or simply to snuggle down somewhere warm on a cold night.
Budgerigar Eggs Care
Budgies are usually very good parents, and you will not need to intervene to help them rear their young. Hens will happily incubate another bird’s eggs, if such a thing proves necessary. She has a strong sense of territory in her nest box, but is unable to count her eggs or recognise individual ones. A loss or a gain will pass her by, and she will simply carry on brooding until the clutch has hatched.
There is no need to mark or number the eggs (common budgie keeper quirks in days gone by). At best you’ll gain nothing that a few notes or a simple spreadsheet can’t address, and at worst you’ll inspire the hen to eject the eggs from the nest.
Incubating Budgerigar Eggs
If you find yourself in the position of having eggs that need incubating, but no female present or willing to do the job, you can try hatching them yourself. This is actually the relatively easy part – keeping the newborn chick alive is where the really tricky stuff starts.
Buying an incubator is the only viable option, unless you can somehow maintain a temperature of 36.8 C and a 65% humidity around the eggs. A decent incubator with temperature settings and a self-turning system does for egg-hatching what a breadmaker does for flour and water.