Calcium Demands for Egg Laying Birds


ometime soon, just when you least expect it, you might find an egg on the bottom of your

bird's cage. Believe it or not, this is quite common in pet birds, especially those that were handfed as babies. Hens will often lay eggs without having a male bird present. Their hormone levels can be affected by their human or by a toy or stuffed animal in their cage, triggering an egg laying cycle. Chronic egg laying is most frequently seen in smaller pet birds, especially Cockatiels, lovebirds, and Budgies. Egg laying, whether chronic or occasional, can really take a heavy toll on the health of your bird.

The process of egg production itself can be life threatening, even deadly, to your bird. The reason for this is the high incidence of calcium depletion. Calcium, which comprises nearly half the content of the egg shell, is extracted directly from the food in the hen's intestinal tract or from her bones. If the hen's diet does not contain sufficient calcium, the only alternative the bird's body has is to drain the calcium from her bones to produce the egg shell.

Close observation for changes in the hen are of utmost importance, and these changes can he very subtle. A change in appearance or behavior is a sign that something is going on. Remember to keep in mind that birds are masters at hiding their symptoms until they are at the point of being nearly impossible to treat effectively.

Symptoms of calcium depletion may include, hut are not limited to, the following:

• You may notice a change in

the hen's feathers. Dullness or lack of sheen, breaking easily, or irregular patterns in new feathers may indicate a problem.

• She may suddenly start to

drop feathers spontaneously or may start plucking.

• The hen may become thin

and weak, even though she appears to be eating voraciously. This can be brought on by the hen regurgitating to feed the human, toy, or other object of her affection.

• The hen may have a change

in gait, she may drag one foot or the other, may be unsteady on her feet, or may stand on both feet all the time instead of tucking one foot up to sleep.

• She may exhibit drooping of

one wing. Bones are brittle and will break easily. Since the calcium is drawn from the large bones, wing and leg fractures are common. This can be due to trauma, or it can be spontaneous in cases of severe calcium depletion.

• She may fall off her perch, or

may not be able to perch at all. Seizures and death may follow.

• In breeder situations, babies

may be found "broken" in the nest. Crooked backs, and crooked or broken legs are common. Also, babies that are extremely restless or agitated often are exhibiting the first signs of inadequate calcium.

Egg binding is an immediately lifethreatening problem that is associated with calcium depletion and inadequate nutrients. Usually seen in hens laying an egg for the first time and in chronic egg layers, egg binding is reported to be most common in finches, Budgies, and Cockatiels. In some cases, the egg shell is not hardened and cannot be passed. In other cases, the muscles of the lower reproductive tract are not strong enough to pass the egg. Either way, the situation is critical and requires immediate treatment.

One of the first signs of egg binding is the bird sitting on the bottom of the cage, often in the corner. She may be panting, with both eyes closed, standing on both feet with legs farther apart than normal. She may be bobbing her tail up and down in the same rhythm as her panting. She may occasionally strain, as if trying to pass a large stool, then returning to her original stance. She will most likely not eat or drink because she is in a major labor situation. The bird will become exhausted, and will weaken and die if not treated.

It is always best to have immediate care by an avian veterinarian, but emergencies do happen. Egg binding is definitely an emergency, and the following procedure is often successful in saving the life of the hen:

• Get the bird WARM warmth