An Unorthodox Method of Breeding

Right at the start, I would like to stress that I do not advise the following method of breeding exhibition budgerigars to the beginner. I believe all should serve an apprenticeship in birdroom control and breeding management, before embarking on any form of breeding plan to improve visual features. But then, that is only my opinion. However you must learn to recognize warning signs within your stud, that all is not well, as well as being able to overcome the problems that one can encounter, even during a good breeding season.

I first used this unorthodox method back in the late 1950s and it helped me to establish a useful exhibition stud, for a reasonable financial outlay, I also used it on my return to the fancy in 1968 and again in 1983. If you have unlimited cash resources, you will have no need to adopt this practice, as you will be able to purchase suitable breeding stock. For those with limited means, it is one way of trying to overcome the problem of building up a stock of useful birds; it does not guarantee success, nothing in live-stock breeding ever does, you still need that touch of luck.

First you need to obtain reasonable stock from successful local exhibitors for a modest outlay, breed with these birds and learn the finer points about the husbandry associated with breeding budgerigars. It is remarkable just how much there is to learn.

Good Stock Hens

From the young bred keep the best of the hens and disposed of the rest. Now you will have to purchase the cocks you need, they do not have to be show winners, but they must exhibit some good features. Each one, in general, excelling in a particular show feature and hopefully not lacking too much in other areas, the more good features you can get in one bird the better. Each of the cocks to be run with three hens each in the first round and if all goes well they could be paired to further hens once the first rounds are under way and cages are available.

Perching positions

About one month prior to pairing up, I like to spend as much time as possible studying the hens and decide which hens are to go with the individual cocks, I also look for signs of the hens coming into true breeding condition, other than the usual wood gnawing. I want a hen that is very alert and active all the time, especially those that are bickering over perching positions. I leave out any hens that have spasmodic periods of alertness. I have found that these types are usually unreliable. I also look over the cocks, but in general, if they are through the moult, they are usually ready to go to nest..


Nestboxes are up in position and half filled with sawdust, the birds have access right from the start. The cocks are put up with their first hen and I have found that if the birds are in breeding condition they will usually accept their mates, sometimes mating occurs right away, however seeing them mate is not essential, but I do like the cock to be active and forceful. As for the hens, I do not mind a bit of bickering and initial refusal, but I draw the line at the hen going in feet first. This usually indicates that she is not quite ready and I return her to the flight and try again later.

I pair up early in the day and leave the cocks with the first hen till the evening, when I then introduce them to hen number two. The following morning I put them with the third hen. The cock is then moved twice a day until the sixth egg, and then he is returned to the flight. The hens being left to rear on their own.

You must keep a strict record of the cock bird’s movement from one cage to another. If you do not keep good records you can find that you will easily become confused. You must also be able to devote quite a bit of time to the cock’s management, because if you rush, you will put him in the wrong cage and I speak from experience.

This means that you wind up with two nests of young that you cannot account for accurately when it comes to the pedigree. You will also have to watch the hens closely. If one does not sit, you will have to move the eggs. This year I had several hens that did not sit until four eggs were laid. In these cases I always substitute the eggs with marbles. I also do the same if eggs get scrambled and I have found that by using marbles, it is invariably the cock who does the damage.


All eggs are marked with a felt marker pen and I have not found any significant disadvantage with regard to hatchability. I do get addled eggs and dead-in-shell but no more than others who do not mark eggs. If chicks have to be moved before they are rung, I mark them on the side of each leg. I have found that the down on the legs retains the ink better than anywhere else on the body, although you will have to apply it morning and night to be on the safe side!

No matter how careful you are, you will still have problems. For example, I moved an egg to another nest. This egg was due to hatch two days after the last egg in the nest it was moved to. However both eggs hatched the same day and I wound up with two chicks which I cannot be sure of in regard to their exact pedigree. (Note: I know who the cock bird is, as I always move eggs, if possible, to another hen he has been paired with; it is the mother’s side that lets me down.) Of course if the two young turn out to be inferior specimens you have no problem, but as is usual in this hobby of ours, it is often the best birds that are involved in any mishap that occurs.

Demand on the hens

I always try and limited the number of young in the nest, when hens are rearing on their own, to three, but sometimes due to certain problems and also good results with regard to the number of chicks hatched, I have had to leave the hens raising four chicks each. I decided it would be safe to do this, as the hens did not have to forage for food and water, it was all provided within 12 inches of the nest box. I also felt the exercise would do them good. Those who saw the hens, after they had reared a nest of young, will agree that in general you could show the birds with regard to their presentation. Obviously it would not be good practice as you would be putting an added burden on them.

In general, I find that I have far less bother leaving the hens on their own, than I do, when cock and hen are left together. In most cases the hens sit tighter, as they are not pestered by the cocks. There are less broken eggs due to “scrambling” and as I said, using marbles, I have found it is generally the cock who plays football with the eggs. I also find that the hens normally keep the chicks very well fed, which is not always the case when the cocks are left with them. Once had a cock who denied the hen access to the nest box when the chicks were three weeks old, and I wound up removing him.

Second round using same hens

If you want to use some of the hens for a second round of chicks, or want to change the cock birds around, I found the following method worked in most cases. When the eldest chick was 28 days old, the desired cock bird was re-introduced into the breeding cage. Now I must stress once again that you must be able to spend a lot of time with your birds, as you will have to stay in close attendance. Initially the cock is left in for 15 minutes, during this time most hens bicker a little and fight off initial advances, but sometimes hens actually go over to the cocks and mating occurs. The following day I repeat the procedure but leave for 30 minutes. After this it is safe to leave the cock, moving him twice a day to the different hens The cocks are left with the hens to rear one round, so they keep the breeding instinct.

Points to note. In some cases I had to remove chicks whilst mating took place, as the presence of these put the cocks off. Watch carefully if the hen accepts the cock into the nest box straight away, as he might well attack the young. I only had one incident of this.

Syrup of Buckthorn

Prior to pairing up, I follow a procedure I learnt from Gurney Smith (Past President of L&SC BS), all birds are put on Syrup of Buckthorn for two weeks, at the rate of one teaspoon (5 ml.) to a pint of water. It acts as a mild purgative and it is very rewarding to see the birds droppings all turn a rich black and white. I find that using this, the birds become very active and alert.

Feeding is as follows: two-thirds canary to one-third mixed millets. To this I add cod-liver oil in the form of Vitapet at the rate of one teaspoon (5 ml.) to 3 lb. (1.4 kgs.) of seed and also add 1 dessertspoon of P.Y.M. (yeast) powder. EMP Egg Food is fed to all rearing hens and the chicks, once they are removed from the parents.

Time consuming

Grated carrot is made available once a week, along with lettuce leaves or broccoli, but no other green food is supplied. Grit pots in the young bird training cages are replenished every day, as I find they devour this. I also replenish the grit in the breeding cages and flights every week; the old grit is scattered on the flight floor.

This method of breeding is far too time consuming to repeat year after year, but it does let one get a footing in the Fancy for a modest outlay, providing one’s choice of initial stock is correct. As I said earlier, we all need that touch of luck to succeed on the show bench.

Original text Copyright 1983 Revised 1998, S B Richardson

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

marshall devonshire November 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm

were do i buy syrup of buckthorn in england uk


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