Handraising Cockatiels


0 ne of my passions is the hand.raising of Cockatiel chicks. There is so much more to breeding, handfeeding, weaning and socializing than the daily feeding schedule. Cockatiel chicks need love, affection, and the complete attention of the surrogate parent.

Handfed Cockatiel chicks are some of the sweetest, most affectionate, birds that one can have the privilege of raising. There is nothing quite like a handfed Cockatiel chick imprinted on human beings and with no greater desire than to be part of their human flock. In an effort to explain what is needed to successfully raise cockatiel chicks I will try to cover some of the most important points.

An excellent diet is a requirement for successfully breeding cockatiels. Calcium is an important mineral that must be supplied in the diet for an egg laying hen. If the calcium level within the blood drops below normal while the egg is in the uterus (shell gland) the calcium that is needed is taken from the hen's bones. Inadequate calcium may lead to uterine inertia resulting in egg binding. All that is needed by the embryo must be supplied in the egg while it is being formed inside the hen. The embryo needs calcium for its metabolic functions within the egg. Calcium is also needed for muscle contractions. A deficiency in calcium may result in late hatch or death of the embryo.

The age of the parent birds is critical to successfully breeding cockatiels. Young birds have difficulty with reduced hatchability which is likely to be caused by the hen's immature reproductive tract. Inexperience and behavior problems may affect the breeding success of very young parents. The male should be at least one year old, but it is better if the bird is 15-18 months. An egg laying hen needs to be two years old. Before the age of two she needs her calcium reserves for the building of her own skeleton. With breeding, the calcium resources are drained because of the demands of shelling eggs.

The parents must receive an optimal 

diet in order to breed successfully. Diets that are inadequate in vitamins and minerals result in a hen that does not ovulate. The quality and quantity of food must support growth and maintain all the metabolic functions of the breeding birds. Once chicks hatch, the amount of food fed daily should be increased as the parents will need enough food for themselves and their chicks. Reproduction is a stressor which increases the need for nutrition.

Incubation and Nesting

Cockatiels are influenced by the photoperiod. The lengthening of daylight hours is a stimulus of gonadal growth in the male as well as a hormonal trigger for the hen which results in ovulation. Other breeding triggers are the presence of a nest box which will also stimulate a rise in the sex hormones of both birds. The quality and quantity of the food available is another stimulus. An increase in the number of showers the birds receive will help to trigger breeding activity in much the same way as spring rains do in the wild.

Normally a hen will lay a clutch of 4-6 eggs. She will incubate them for 18-21 days. During this time she normally does not lay more eggs. A hen may double dutch after her first set of chicks leave the nest. It is not recommended that a pair be allowed to produce more than two clutches in a breeding season. Many hens will replace eggs that are broken or removed from the nest box. During egg laying there is an enormous drain on her calcium reserves and she needs time to rest from breeding activities. During rest periods, the diet should be optimimal so that the hen will be in good breeding condition for the next season.

Cockatiel pairs share parental duties. The male sits on the eggs during the day, and the hen incubates the eggs at night. When the time approaches for the eggs to hatch the pair will divide the clutch and sit together. At this time you rarely see the parent birds except for short periods out of the nest to eat and take care of bod-

ily needs. The parent birds stay quite busy incubating their eggs. Inexperienced breeders are often alarmed when the parent birds bury an egg in the nesting substrate just before hatch. The parents are allowing the egg to cool down. This causes a gaseous exchange to take place within the egg. There is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the egg which triggers the hatching muscle of the embryo which results in the embryo pipping into the air cell. Once the chick internally pips the air cell, it breathes oxygen for the first time. At this time the breeder may hear the chick peeping inside the egg. The embryo has successfully made the transition to an oxygen breathing chick with all the dynamics of the avian respiratory system working correctly.

Humidity requirements are critical during the incubation process. A relative humidity of 50% usually results in a viable hatch. If the humidity level is too low, the embryo becomes dehydrated and is unable to hatch because of sticking to the membranes of the egg due to the lack of humidity. Equally as problematic is a humidity level that is too high which results in air cells that are too small. There is not enough oxygen available for the chick in an air cell that is too small which results in dead embryos in the latter stage of incubation.

There are many reasons that eggs fail to hatch in the process of incubation.

1.) Causes of embryonic death at 3-5 days of incubation are:

a.) Incorrect temperature-if the birds come off the eggs and allow them to cool down once the incubation has started, the embryo dies.

b.) Lethal genetic traits will cause embryonic death. This is due to inbreeding. Extensive inbreeding in the blood line often results in a higher frequency of genetic abnormalities. This causes the retention of undesirable characteristics. The recessive genes become more dominant when there is inbreeding.

c.) Improper handling of eggs, rough handling and excessive vibration will cause embryonic death. Changes in temperature as little as one degree higher or lower can stop the embryo from developing.