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The Fancy of Bird Breeding

Bird breeding is a fantastic hobby which attracts a strong following. Throughout the world from the backwaters of the river Amazon to the fashionable apartments of New York and suburban gardens all over Europe, millions of people derive immense pleasure from keeping and breeding birds.

However, before one becomes interested in bird breeding, should first sit down and consider very carefully the question of accommodation, for unless this problem has been thought out with great care the fancier will probably experience disappointment quite early in his chosen hobby. Many who have made a start in bird breeding have given up the hobby in despair merely because they failed to think about the most important things first of all.

Again, if you are a beginner go for a few pairs that are easy to keep and breed. It is most important with all livestock hobbies that they should be a pleasure and never allowed to become a burden, for if that happens, you soon grow tired and give up what might have provided you with countless hours of pleasure for many years ahead.

In order to decide which type of bird you want to breed, examine the very rich assortment of birds that are being bred successfully by fanciers. Visit bird exhibitions and discuss with breeders there. Look to see what appeals to you, song, colour, body type or a combination of these factors.

To obtain best results buy wisely from a reputable dealer, or better still from a breeder. Buy only birds that are close-rung (handed) as this can assure you that the bird was bred locally and in the current year.

Breeding birds, of course, should be totally healthy or else you will get young 1 that will please nobody. Totally healthy young can be produced only by healthy parents. Remember, for good fertility feed and house your birds well. As long as you observe the basic rules, with most species. breeding isn't that difficult.

Breeding

Although nowadays well over 200 species are being successfully bred in captivity, the four most commonly bred by Maltese fanciers are canaries, budgerigars, lovebirds and European finches together with their mutations, hybrids and mules. Irrespective of their breed, all birds should be encouraged to breed when conditions are favourable. This will be influenced by climatic factors and hours of daylight.

Breeding in Cages

Breeding in cages ensures that a chosen pairing has the maximum chance of producing youngsters of a particular type or colour for exhibition purposes. Suitable breeding cages can be purchased ready made. However, most fanciers prefer to construct their own according to their requirements, especially where available space is limited.

The Canary

Canaries are not difficult to maintain. They can be kept quite safely in a mixed aviary with other smaller finches. Although relatively hardy, yet they need adequate protection during cold weather.

Breeding

The breeding season of canaries is more closely defined than in the case of many other seedeaters. Most of them will be ready to nest in February in our climatic conditions. Although canaries can be bred successfully in aviaries, yet as we said earlier, cage breeding is more common, and prevents the likelihood of cocks fighting each other, but most important, it is imperative for selective breeding.

Before placing the hens in their breeding quarters, their claws should be checked, to ensure these are not overgrown. Otherwise, they could puncture eggs or drag chicks out of the nest. Sexing canaries at this time of the year is not difficult since the cocks sing repeatedly to attract mates. Also, on close examination, their vents are enlarged in size.

Various systems of management are used for breeding canaries, and a cock can be used with two or more hens if required. The hens are caged individually, with the cock bird near at hand. Once a hen is ready to mate, she will start cheeping loudly to attract the cock, and solicits feeding by bending forward on the perch, fluttering her wings. the birds should then be put together for about a week, after which the. cock is removed, leaving the hen to complete the nest and start laying her eggs. The potter nest pan lined with felt is the most commonly used although nowadays plastic nest pans lined with felt are also being used.

Sterilized nesting material can be bought very cheap from most pet outlets and should be supplied to the birds during the period in which the hen is building the nest.

A hen may not sit tightly when the first egg is laid. This behaviour is quite normal and fertile eggs will remain viable for several days after being laid. In fact, this characteristic is utilized by established canary breeders. They remove the eggs for storage until the clutch is complete then they are replaced in the nest. This ensures that the chicks will be of a more equal size when they hatch. The chicks should start to hatch after about 14 days later. A suitable rearing food must be offered (there are a large number of brands available which all serve their purpose) into special feeders which are being produced to facilitate the provision of this item. After a few (lay,, they will begin to grow so the food consumption of their parents will have to be increase(] and a higher level of' protein is necessary.

A closed aluminium band, in accordance with the standard inside diameter of its particular breed, guarantees a birds' age and origin. Closed rings are compulsory to exhibit canaries in shows organised by the Bird Breeders' Association of Malta.

Ringing is normally carried out when the youngsters are six to seven days old. Definitely before their feet become too large for the circular hand to be passed over. First pass the ring over the three front toes and slide it backwards., This will trap the hind toe, which is then freed by very careful As .1 result the ring should slide freely up and down the leg, between the foot and knee joints.

Disturbance to the nest should be kept to a minimum. Breeders of nondomesticated species are loathe to ring their chicks in the nest, for the fear of causing the adults to desert, or manipulate their offsprings in attempting to remove the shiny ring from their legs. As a precaution against this, rub damp peat over the ring to discolour it a little.

Resuscitating Chicks

Chicks are sometimes found on the floor of the cage or aviary, having been thrown out or dragged out of the nest. There is always a chance that they may not be dead, even if they appear lifeless. Hold them in cupped hands for a minute or two to see if they will show signs or reviving. If this is the case, keep the young bird warmed in your hands for several minutes more, then replace it carefully back in the nest. The parents should return and feed it.

As the young birds gain their feathers. the adults will spend less time with them during the day. The young canaries will have left the nest by the time they are three weeks old, and weaning can then begin in earnest.

After fledging remove the young chicks as soon as they are seen to be eating independently as the adults may attack them. particularly if they are going to nest again. Some breeders prefer to leave the youngsters with their parents for a longer period, however, maintaining that there is no set back to growth, as may occur if they are weaned at an early age. To some extent, this will be influenced by the rearing system employed, and is easier if the cock bird remains with the hen throughout the whole breeding cycle. He will then take over the task of feeding the fledglings while the hen will invariably prepare a second nest.

All cages should include soft perches, to minimize the risk of a slipped claw. Normally three toes of each foot are directed forward over the perch, with one behind. But, in cases of a slipped claw, the hind one is deviated forward. This means that the bird cannot perch properly, being unable to grip with the affected toe. If this problem does arise, it may be possible to correct it by using adhesive tape to hold the toe back in a vertical position, parallel with the leg' for about a fortnight. When released, the toe should assume its normal position. If not, try binding it up again for another fortnight.

Budgerigars

The budgerigar is a native of Australia, and the first living example of these parakeets were seen in Europe during 1840. It is said that the famous ornithologist, John Gould, passed a pair to his brother-in-law, Charles Coxen. They soon nested and the popularity of the budgerigar began to spread throughout Europe..

Breeding

Budgerigars can be sexed in a unique way, the cere above the peak acting as the distinguishing feature. In mature cock birds, this is blue, with the exception of lutinos, albinos and recessive pied whose ceres are purplish in colour. Hen birds invariably have brown ceres, which are paler when they are not in breeding condition. Young hens also have paler, flatter ceres than cock birds when they fledge, but it is not always straightforward to sex budgerigars just after they have left the nest.

Exhibition budgerigars are usually bred in cages. but it is quite feasible to breed these parakeets in a group, provided the nestboxes are all positioned at the same height.

The hen is responsible for incubating the eggs which are white. They will hatch after 18 days. The average clutch is about four eggs but can exceed eight on occasions. The young birds will be independent by about five weeks of age, when they should be removed so that they will not soil or damage the second round of eggs. It is advisable to restrict the hens to only two rounds. Do this by removing the nest box. Budgerigars are normally not permitted to breed until they are a year old, but they will be mature before this time.

Lovebirds

Lovebirds have become one of the most popular group of small psittacines, and the free- breeding habits of some species have given rise to numerous mutations over the past decade. Nine species are recognised, but the Swinden's blackcollared lovebird has still not been seen alive outside Africa.

Breeding

Sexing is straightforward in three species, yet these have proved the most difficult to establish, compared with the peach-faced and the members of the so-called white eye-ring group, where the visual sexual difference exist. Careful observation may be of value however, since hens in breeding condition will often flare their tails close to a nestbox.

The nest varies in size, depending upon the species. At one extreme Abyssinians simple prepare a small pad, often using feathers from their own breast, whereas the masked lovebird and related species construct a bulky, domed structure within the nestbox., which can make inspection difficult. The number of eggs laid normally varies between three and eight, four being the average. Hens sit alone for 23 days before the eggs hatch, although cocks may roost alongside their mates for periods each day. A large number of colours of the peach-faced are now being bred, and many are freely available.

Conclusion

There is always an element of luck in having a successful breeding season whatever the species concerned. In spite of the most meticulous preparations, unexpected difficulties may arise. Nevertheless. careful preparation will minimise the risk of poor breeding results.

At the outset, it is important that both the cock and the hen are fit and ready to breed. For example introducing a newly acquired hen to an established cock is almost certainly counting disaster. She will be in no condition to breed and yet will be chased relentlessly by her intended mate.

Once a pair have gone to nest, disturbance should be kept to a minimum throughout the incubation and rearing periods. Some individuals will tolerate interference more than others, but there is always the risk that the adults will abandon their nest.


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