An Experiment with Lighting

To breed successfully, budgerigars require housing that provides snug quarters away from draughts and protected from adverse weather conditions. However,there is another factor that needs careful thought when fanciers are erecting or modifying their birdrooms. I refer to the amount of lighting, both natural and artificial, that such an environment gives our birds.

With natural lighting, we should include enough windows so that the sun’s rays can reach most areas without being too strong. Birdrooms should provide good levels of light, but not take on the function of a greenhouse in which temperatures fluctuate in the extreme.

When it comes to artificial lighting, it is all too easy to install fluorescent tubes in a birdroom, add a time switch and think no more about it. Of course, if the end product enables you to record good breeding seasons, you can leave well alone. On the other hand, if breeding results are not all they should be, think again – as I have.

I remember reading an article in Cage Birds in the 1950s written by the late Cyril Rogers in which he explained how budgerigar fanciers should cut back on the length of time artificial lighting is used during the non-breeding season and gradually extend it to bring the birds into condition as pairing-up draws near. It was sound advice, which I am sure many readers followed. It was common sense. Don’t wild birds come into breeding condition each year when the days begin to get longer?

This advice was expanded upon during a visit to Dr Alf Robertson in Durban, who is probably the most successful South African budgerigar breeder of all time. His medical knowledge and the excellent way he put over the subject added another part of the jigsaw. He explained how light affects our birds’ glandular system.

He described how the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain, is affected by light and how this important part of the body provides our birds with the propensity to breed successfully.

Most bird breeders understand these facts. However, while many do change the length of time their lights are switched on according to the season, some people don’t bother. There are those who leave on their lights from early morning to late at night throughout the year and seem to do just as well, despite their unscientific approach.

However successful we are, most of us feel we should do better – in other words, breed more chicks, especially from the best pairs. This was the subject of discussion I had last year with Fred Eatwell and his son, Kevin, a vet in Swindon, Wiltshire. We went through the usual diversity of topics, such as health, hygiene, good nutrition and so on. However, one subject that came up kept me thinking long after Fred and Kevin had left for home – the intensity of light, not just the length of time artificial light is switched on each day. These fanciers attribute their success, at least in part, to the intensity of the artificial lighting they use in their breeding room.

They use all-wire cages, which are divided into groups with fluorescent tubes running vertically between blocks on the back wall of their breeding room. This means that all their pairs live in a much brighter environment than most. I have to admit that, until Kevin suggested increasing the amount of artificial lighting I use in my breeding room, the thought had not entered my head.

It was only when I came to experiment and added three additional tubes on the ceiling at the front of my birdroom, and then a further two at waist height for the benefit of my bottom row of cages, that the improvement in lighting became obvious.

Breeders have suggested in the past that pairs housed in cages with the minimum of light often do best. Whether or not this is true would be difficult to prove. What I am suggesting though, is that breeders whose results leave something to be desired could, and should, give serious thought to the amount of lighting in their breeding rooms.

I originally had three 5ft fluorescent tubes in mine, but now have eight. The place not only looks better, but the birds also seem more active as a result. Whether I breed more youngsters during the coming season remains to be seen. Hopefully, the experiment should be well worth the effort.

Original text Copyright 1999 Brian Byles

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