Skip to main content

Breeding Setbacks

Addled Eggs

An addled egg is one that was fertilised but has died sometime between day 5 and day 16. Day five because this is when you can see an egg is fertile and after day 16, they are considered to be dead in shell eggs. This is often caused by bacteria in the egg or the hen stopping sitting at some point in time.

Aggression To Young

When the chicks leave the nest box, the cock sometimes will see them as potential mates or territorial threats. Either way your chicks are in danger. To protect the chicks it is good practice to have a chick hide on the floor of the breeding cage.

Clear Eggs

Clear eggs are those that have not been fertilised due to incomplete mating taking place. This could be from failure to mate or either bird being infertile.

Dead In Shell

Dead in shell is when the young chick (embryo) dies from the 16th day onwards. This is caused by a failure to hatch for several possible reasons including dehydration, weakness and deformity.

Egg Binding

Egg binding is when the passing of the egg through the reproductive tract is delayed. It is a life-threatening condition and so it is important for egg-bound hens to receive prompt veterinary treatment.

The symptoms are:

  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Swelling
  • Constipation
  • Fluffed-up feathers
  • Straining
  • Sitting on the cage floor
  • Drooping of the wings
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite

Insufficient calcium can be one of the causes as well as a lack of maturity

Feather Dusters

Feather duster budgerigars sometimes called mops, are budgerigars that have a genetic condition characterised by overly long feathers that do not stop growing, giving the bird the appearance of a feather duster. This condition is sometimes known as chrysanthemum feathering. The feathers do not have the necessary barbs and barbules for the feather’s structure to interlock. The feather shaft is also curved, and so the feathers appear deformed and fluffed out. Individuals with this condition often appear less alert than nest mates.

They lack vigour, often cannot fly, and usually die within a year of hatching. There is no treatment.

Feather Plucking

Feather plucking is one of those frustrating problems that occur from time to time in the birdroom. There are several causes raging from an inherited behaviorism to boredom.

Most often it is the hen but can be the cock. If feather plucking occurs in a nest and it is the cock then remove him and leave the hen to do the work of bringing up the chicks.

However, prevention is better than cure and as feather plucking appears to be more prevalent in smaller clutches of chicks it is worthwhile transferring chicks from other nests, so that the small-numbered nests are brought up to four or five chicks per nest. Do this by removing one chick from, say, two or three larger nests. This method works because the hen is too busy feeding a full nest box to allow boredom to kick in.

Other methods of relieving boredom include leaving a radio on all day. Budgerigars definitely like the noise, as when it switches off at night all will go quiet, and the activity will diminish.

Another thing that can be done to help alleviate feather plucking is to put a piece of millet spray into the nest box; this will often distract the hen away from her chicks as a relief from boredom.

Feeding Problems

Sometimes the first chick may not have been fed, especially if the hen has not reared chicks before. If this should happen, try removing the chick and replace it with an older one. The extra insistence to be fed from the older chick will often stimulate the hen to feed.

Fertility / Infertility

Hen & Cock Infertility
By Dr Rob Marshall B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc. (Avian Health), Sydney

In many ways, the results of a breeding season will determine the overall enjoyment a fancier may get from this hobby. Fortunately, the culture of keeping exhibition budgerigars has promoted accurate breeding records containing information concerning the eggs and young. This data is of great value as it allows the fancier to improve breeding results by selecting fertile individuals for breeding. Eggs offer a wealth of information and enable the fancier to solve breeding problems and improve the overall health and breeding performance of the budgerigar stud.

The common egg problems to be discussed are failure to lay eggs (infertile hen) and clear eggs (infertile cock).

Background Information
The time frame in which breeding commences is critical to breeding success. Breeding problems, especially cock and hen infertility, should be expected when budgerigars commence breeding at a biologically inappropriate time of year. In the Northern Hemisphere, “pairing” during December (prior to the shortest day of the year) or in June (the month reserved for adult budgerigars’ principle moulting period) is more likely to result in breeding problems, irrespective of artificial internal lighting systems being used. Artificial lighting systems may give good breeding results for other species but are less effective for budgerigars who rely more on their unique “survival” breeding clock system and less upon the “spring” breeding clock of the ancient bird.

Budgerigars will naturally come into breeding condition and many breeding problems are solved by breeding at the right time of the year with budgerigars that are in “breeding condition”.

Hen Infertility (Failure to lay eggs)
A failure of the hen to lay eggs signals that she is infertile or “barren”. Hen infertility may be temporary and a failure to lay eggs should not immediately preclude her from future breeding. Exhibition hens follow the same breeding pattern as their wild sisters and need to reach, “breeding condition” before they are capable of laying eggs. The failure of the hen to come into this breeding condition is the most common cause of hen infertility in the first round of breeding.

To solve the cause of hen infertility the fancier should check when the hen was placed in the breeding cabinet. In most instances hen infertility results from an inappropriate starting time and the absence of a well-defined “breeding condition” in the hen.

Closely examine the hen for:

  • A loss of breeding condition signalled by a pale blue cere.
  • Hens will fail to come into breeding condition if obese.
  • “Going light”. Irrespective of the cause of “going light”, the hen will lack the strength and vigour to lay eggs.
  • Physical problems such as “soft belly”, internal growths, hernias, uterus infections and rectal prolapses are also identifiable by a careful physical examination.
  • Check the quality of the food and presence of latent disease. There may be an underlying disease (Chlamydiosis, Streptococcal or E.coli infection) or food contamination (stop providing all soaked, sprouted and wet food) when a high percentage (higher than 10%) of hens fail to lay eggs.
  • Check the breeding records for genetic weaknesses or evidence of inbreeding.

Cock infertility (clear eggs)
Eggs that fail to hatch are not always infertile and should be carefully examined to determine whether they are “clear”, “addled” or “dead-in-shell”. Many budgerigar fanciers use a candling torch to determine the fertility of eggs. Candling is the act of shining a light (usually an optic fibre torch) through an egg to observe whether it is clear (infertile), or fertile. It is also used to identify eggshell abnormalities and dead-in-shell problems. Clear eggs indicate infertile eggs and therefore a breeding problem. This is often, but not always, associated with an infertile cock.

In order to solve a clear egg problem, the breeder must differentiate the infertile egg from an egg in which the germ or embryo has died.

Clear (infertile) eggs are as fresh and as clear at the end of incubation as on the day of laying. They carry no odour at any stage when broken open and show no blood vessel activity when candled.

Eggs in which the embryo has died are usually darker in colour with dark streaking present. Will emit a foul odour when opened and reveal blood rings and other signs of a dead embryo.

Physically examine the cock bird for signs of failed breeding conditions such as obesity, weight loss or illness. These symptoms could be the cause of clear eggs.

The testicle enlarges ten-fold as the wild cock budgerigar is stimulated into breeding condition by the onset of suitable climatic conditions. The wild budgerigar has evolved over three million years to breed on the run, and in doing so, has survived the harsh conditions of arid inland Australia. In the wild, breeding activity may terminate (the testicle decreases in size to a minute inactive organ) in a matter of a few days when conditions become unsuitable. This phenomenon may occur with the captive budgerigar. Cock birds may suddenly “fall out” of breeding condition when the environment becomes unfavourable for breeding. When breeding, the cock budgerigar needs three times more energy during the pairing process and up to ten times more energy when feeding young. In the breeding cabinet the budgerigar requires even more energy to feed its young. When a depletion of energy occurs, the cock bird will quickly lose breeding condition and also the ability to fertilise eggs.

Processes that inhibit the cock to access and utilise this energy, such as obesity, disease and poor nutrition, will result in clear eggs. Cocks who are obese become infertile and do not come into breeding condition. Those carrying disease will be more at risk to lose this breeding condition during an energy drain and any subsequent stress of pairing. Male fertility in the budgerigar stud can often be improved by the addition of quality protein, vitamins and energy feed supplements.

Other causes of clear eggs
Inbreeding is also a common cause of infertility in cock birds. Male fertility is more hereditary than female fertility and sterility is passed down in the genes from father to son. An unrelated and proven fertile cock should be introduced when a high level of cock related infertility is experienced in an inbred line of birds. There is also a very close relationship between sterility and nutrition. Excessively long or thick feathers around the vent (buff feathered vents) are a common cause of male infertility, as they prevent the passage of sperm into the cloaca of the hen. These feathers should be clipped short with a sharp pair of scissors prior to pairing.

Solutions for individual breeding cages with infertility
The high incidence of sterile cocks and infertile hens in the very best quality show birds is often genetically linked. Purchase the lesser quality but more vital brother or sister of a lifeless champion because they will be of the same gene pool. It would be advisable to breed from these lesser birds because they will inevitably breed more offspring and the progeny will in turn be more fertile.

Trim excessive feathers around the vent.

Use nutritional and health supplements to bring the cocks and hens into peak breeding condition.

Solutions for a high incidence of infertility
Adjust the time breeding commences. Start breeding after the shortest day of the year or at the beginning of autumn. Do not breed when it is very cold or hot.

  • Identify health problems and “cleanse” the stud with a pre-breeding health programme. When a widespread infertility problem occurs, seek veterinary help to identify and eliminate diseases such as French Moult, Megabacteria, Chlamydiosis, E.coli and Strep. infections.
  • Fortify the diet to lift the overall nutritional status of the flock.
  • Change the breeding strategy. “Outcross” when weak lines and inbreeding result in cock or hen infertility.

In the wild, budgerigars live in flocks of hundreds or even thousands of birds. Birds within the flock will fight to establish the social hierarchy (pecking order). This same instinct appears when too many birds are kept together. Hens are usually more territorial than cocks.

The preferred perching for budgerigars will be that which is higher up – challenges to sit up high can cause fights. However, budgerigars are rarely aggressive by nature and outbursts will end quickly.


Too low or too high humidity is not usually an issue in the UK. In the birdroom to increase humidity you can mop the floor with water.


See Fertility / Infertility

Night Fright

Night fright occurs after our birds have roosted for the night and something causes them to panic. Causes can be car head lights, cats, rodents. If this is likely in your location a low wattage night light is recommended.

Splayed Legs

Splayed Legs
By Dr Hamish Baron Bvsc (Hons) FANZCVS (Avian Medicine and Surgery)

There are two types of splayed legs in budgerigars, the first is a congenital form (acquired before birth) where the chick hatches with mal-positioned legs, having been sitting in the egg in the wrong position. These chicks are unlikely to improve without immediate intervention, and even then, their prognosis is poor. The second type of splayed legs is an acquired form – this is the one that we can prevent (and treat) through better husbandry and management.

Acquired splayed legs are the result of several factors, but the end product is a chick whose legs sit in an abnormal position, either splayed out both sides like an airplane’s wings or both splayed to the same side, so one leg tucks under the baby’s body. Both forms of splayed legs run the risk of further complications – the longer the baby’s legs are splayed, the higher the possibility that the baby will develop hip luxation. Hip luxation is where the head of the femur pops out of the pelvic socket and the result is a bird whose legs will never be normal. Therefore, it is critical to correct these babies as early as possible.

The Causes

So, what causes splayed legs? As I said, it is often something that we are doing wrong. The most common cause is an incorrect diet that does not meet the metabolic requirements of the parents and, therefore, the babies. Most often it is attributed to a low calcium level in the diet, but it can also be related to protein levels and any other mineral required for correct bone formation. It is for this reason that feeding a complete diet long before the breeding season starts is so important. It is not suitable to start supplementing calcium and soft foods when we pair the birds up, or when the chicks hatch – the fact of the matter is, the nutrition that the hens are able to put into the yolk comes from the diet we feed long before they lay their eggs. Having yolks full of nutrients and energy is going to help with hatchability, as well as having healthy chicks in the nest box.

Hens that sit too tightly early on is something that we can address easily by either placing a block of wood at the edge of our concave or by placing a 20mm marble in the nest which does not allow the chicks to be squashed. Leaving un-hatched eggs in the nest allows newly hatched babies to have something to lean on and will also keep the hen from sitting too tightly. These do, however, end up getting very dirty and should be removed once the chicks are about 10 days old.

Lastly, the easiest way to avoid producing chicks with splayed legs is to have the correct substrate in our nest boxes. Every week I deal with breeders who got tired of refilling the nest with substrate after the hen had cleaned the box out – this is no excuse. Raising chicks on a wooden nest box floor is asking for trouble. Having done all the hard work to pair birds and to have had the eggs hatch, there is no excuse for not having substrate in the nest box. Most hens will forget about cleaning out the substrate once she has laid her first egg. We use pine wood shavings; I know of others who use coconut husks and peat. It is a matter of finding the substrate that works for you and providing it for the chicks to have something to grip on when they are moving around the nest.

Early Detection

If a chick of yours does develop splayed legs, if it is detected early enough it is easy to fix by placing a splint on their legs. There are various methods you can use but the most common is to use soft foam. I like the soft foam method but do find that sometimes the holes become too tight for the growing chick’s legs. An alternative to this is a pipe cleaner or wool tied between the chick’s legs.

Many breeders utilise their society rings and put a ring on either leg, this allows the legs to be tied together using a pipe cleaner, wool or string without risking making the loops too tight – it is a good idea if you have spare rings!

To repair splayed legs, it is best if the chick is on its back and there are two people as it makes it easier to bind the legs together.

Firstly, wrap the pipe cleaner around one leg just above the ankle and twist the pipe cleaner to make a loop around the ankle, not too tight but not loose enough for the chick to slip its foot out. Then put the legs together to just less than the normal standing position and wrap the pipe cleaner around the other leg making another loop around the ankle, making sure to cut off any excess pipe cleaner.

The splint will need to be left on for anything from a few days or up to three weeks depending on severity and the age of the chick. Remove the splint every few days to see if the chick can walk. If it is ok then leave the splint off and keep an eye on the chick’s progress, but if the legs are still splayed then replace the splint.

If splayed legs are not treated early enough then the chick will remain abnormal for the rest of its life. As the chick grows older and develops, its bones calcify, meaning that the bones will have hardened and are no longer soft and pliable and therefore cannot be corrected, so any correction must be done before the chick is two weeks old. Longer, and the treatment is much more complicated and the outcomes less favorable. Although chicks survive and do learn to adapt (with our help) with one splayed leg, having two splayed legs is difficult as it will never perch normally and end up placing a lot of pressure on its internal organs causing pressure sores and illness.

In summary, a great diet, good planning and an attentive breeder means that we can work to make splayed legs a thing of the past – it is a condition which we have the ability as breeders to manage out of our studs and I implore you to take up the challenge next season to try and produce round after round of healthy chicks by providing your adult birds all they need during the off season to produce great youngsters for you during the breeding season.

Limited time sign up offer!

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop