Q & A: “How many clutches should a pair be allowed to produce per year?”

October 25th, 2016 | by Tony Silva
Q & A: “How many clutches should a pair be allowed to produce per year?”
Tony Silva NEWS
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Parrots can be divided into categories depending on a number of characteristics. There are bonded and non-bonded species, species that undergo physical changes during breeding and those that display no visible morphological changes when nesting, and species that are strictly seasonal nesters and those that nest throughout the year. Captivity can play a role in the frequency of nesting, with species that have been bred multiple generations losing their seasonality and nesting almost continuously.

Let me dissect the subject of nesting frequency.

Most of the parrots nest in late winter and spring. This is due to increasing photoperiod and warming weather; the long winter will have passed and this along with a cline in the thermometer and daylight hours will have a stimulating effect, the birds visiting the nesting box, calling loudly, displaying, courtship feeding and mating. The species that are seasonal nesters include most of the Australian parrots, Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus and some other (but not all) Australian cockatoos, most conures (Psittacara, all but one Pyrrhura, Cyanoliseus, etc), Pionus parrots, Amazons and Asiatic parakeets, amongst others. The species that are continuous nesters tend to take a break during the coldest and hottest months. These species include Hawk-headed Parrots Deroptyus accipitrinus, Golden Conures Guaruba guarouba and most of the macaws.

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A few species will nest throughout the year, irrespective of conditions. These include Eclectus Parrots Eclectus roratus, some cockatoos (namely the Umbrella Cacatua alba and Triton Cockatoos Cacatua galerita triton) and Sun Conures Aratinga solstitialis. The same continuous nesting habit can be seen in three fully domesticated groups—lovebirds, Cockatiels Nymphicus hollandicus and Budgerigars Melopsittacus undulatus. The Green-cheeked Conure Pyrrhura molinae is starting to display continuous breeding. When I bred this species years ago, they nested from late winter to spring and early summer. They stopped when the weather was very hot or cool. I kept them outdoors in south Florida. Today I have neighbors that have pairs housed in the same condition and four or five generations from my original stock. The Green-cheeks breed for them from late winter and into spring and throughout the summer, occasionally leading up to early winter. In other words they nest about 9-10 months out of the year compared to the previous generations that proved more seasonal and bred roughly 6 months out of the year.

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How often should a pair of continuous nesters be allowed to breed in a year is an important question. When fed a nutritious, balanced diet, with sufficient calcium, vitamins and minerals, a hen can lay almost continuously. This constant laying barely saps her system (except briefly when calcium is taken from the blood, for example, to form the eggshell) when compared to the stamina drain that occurs when rearing young, which demand large amounts of food that the hen must first process (shell, chew, crush and ingest, then regurgitate). The male must also work assiduously to feed the hen and later also the chicks. Letting a pair nest continuously will thus be clearly detrimental. This will be evident in the pair´s bedraggled condition, in the smaller and smaller clutches with fewer hatches and in their slacking duties as parents. The chicks will become progressively smaller. This is why some breeders of Cockatiels that allow their pairs to nest continuously have chicks that progressively become smaller. I have seen Cockatiels in Asia that were no larger than a large Budgerigar and Budgerigars that were not much larger than a canary. They came from facilities that allowed them to nest non-stop.

Species that are seasonal nesters like Amazons, Asiatic parakeets, most Australian parrots and a large array of other species will rear one clutch per year. Only chicks are removed when very young will they produce a subsequent clutch. If the eggs are removed as they are laid, then two and occasionally three clutches will be produced. With these birds one does not need to worry about over breeding, as they have an internal control mechanism that makes them stop after a certain time.

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Pair of the Golden-shouldered Parrot. In captivity, outside of Australia this species keep its natural biorhythm and therefore in Europe it starts nesting in winter (c) PsePhotus. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Cockatiels, lovebirds, Budgerigars, Eclectus Parrots and Sun Conures, to mention the most common continuous nesters, should be allowed to rear two clutches per year, three in the case of Budgerigars. If the chicks of Cockatiels, Eclectus, lovebirds and Sun Conures are taken for hand-rearing once they are a few weeks old, then the pair can be allowed to produce at most three clutches per year. The birds should then be stopped from breeding. This can be achieved in lovebirds and Sun Conures by removing the nest, in Budgerigars and Cockatiels by separating the sexes and flocking them in same gender groups and in Eclectus Parrots by allowing the hen to incubate fake eggs; glass or plastic eggs work best, as they will not break as they become stale under the hen. We commonly control nesting in Eclectus Parrots with this strategy, as incubation does not pose the same demand on the hen as does chick rearing. I never remove the nest in Eclectus Parrots because the life biology of the female evolves around the nesting cavity.

Whenever I am asked about how many clutches a pair should be allowed to rear per year, I retort with another query: Would you like your pair to produce during 3-5 years or for much of their natural, long reproductive life, which is 15-35 years? The answer is always the latter, so control breeding and feeding the pairs the best diet possible should be the dogma of the breeder.

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author: Tony Silva

Title photo: (c) Thomas Schoch. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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