Something more than luck is at work. Even when a chosen pair breeds top quality youngsters, it often also produces brothers and sisters which are not so visually appealing. You can produce a number of birds from the same nest, and between them they can display a full range of feather quality, from fine feather through the range to buff. The middle of the range has the type suitable for exhibition purposes. The extreme end of the range was the buff, which it is hardly possible to show. The other end was the very fine-feathered bird, again, unsuitable for showing.

The buff bird is the ideal bird to retain for stock purposes, invariably this bird does breed well, giving quality as well as quantity.

It is important to differentiate between show birds and stock birds. Most of the former are well-balanced and, in my view, are not quite ugly enough to be classed as stock birds. A good stock budgerigar has a surplus of some feature, such as height above the perch, browiness, and thick neck with deep mask. Sometimes, countering the excess of a desirable feature, there is a fault such as a bad wing carriage, so giving the impression of ugliness.

Nature has the habit of drawing back from the excess, and the outstanding features of any budgerigar tend to be diluted in its progeny. Even two well-balanced birds usually produce chicks of a lesser quality, when paired together. Loss of size is the problem most often encountered in the young of such matings

Spreading desirable qualities through the stud dilutes them, therefore, we must find a way of increasing a desirable feature if we intend to solve the problem of breeding consistently, top quality youngsters. However, you will find Nature is not so obliging. When selecting breeding pairs today, we have to take into account a factor which has become very prevalent in the last 15 years – flecking. The subject of flecking on the show bench has been well-documented, but that does not mean we should ignore it in the breeding room. Unless intelligence is brought to bear on the use of flecked budgerigars in the breeding programme, we could lose the beautiful clean caps that the best exhibition birds possess, In my opinion, there is a link between flecking and quality which is much stronger in hens than in cocks. Hens with grizzled caps, are often far in advance of their clean counterparts as far as strength in the neck is concerned. This is far less true of cocks. Grizzled males are not often far ahead of clean ones in quality. For this reason I almost always limit the flecked budgerigars in my breeding team to hens. At least this limits the flecking to one side of the pairing only.

Even this is not a complete safeguard as some budgerigars can carry the fault of flecking in hidden form. I bought a clean-headed cock as an outcross, and in spite of the clarity of his capping, felt that he had come from a flecked family. He was paired to a hen from a clean-line family. Despite that, every chick was badly flecked. The outcross and all the chicks were disposed off.

A fleck-headed budgerigar of quality can bring benefits to even the most superior stud. However, flecked individuals of average quality, have no place in any stud at all. Some fanciers buy in the belief that quality is always allied with the fault. They firmly believe that their stud will be improved. In most cases there will be an improvement in the spot size, however, the problems they will introduce could well break the fanciers heart. At one time, it was enough to breed a budgerigar of quality. Today ,it must also have clean cap. In my experience, a flecked-headed hen will produce clean headed cocks, which is turn, breed dirty-headed daughters. I agree that the spread of melanin onto the heads of budgerigars has increased due to the fact that judges are placing them in first place, rather than disqualifying them.

When selecting pairings, my considerations are influenced 70% by visual qualities, the other 30% is made up of what I know about the birds concerned. Obviously, when an outcross is brought in, more account must be taken of visual properties, as less will be known of its pedigree than that of a home bred bird. There are some breeders who hesitate to introduce an outcross into their studs at the highest level. They prefer to pair it to a lesser bird of their own, in order to lessen the risk of bringing in a fault. This is not my way. If a budgerigar of quality is worth obtaining, then it is worth the best suitable partner you can find.

Whatever philosophy is employed when choosing pairings, if chicks are to be produced there is a time when you need to get down to basics. I only use 14 breeding cages and every one is fully prepared, even the nest-box is fitted ready to introduce the pairs. Food and water is allocated, so as not to disturb the pair for at least a couple of days after they are introduced. The cocks in my breeding team have been selected as a matter of course, in the months prior to getting ready for pairing. Cocks are selected on feather quality, as well as width of head and depth of mask. Spot size is not so important as long as spots are in the pedigree. Hen require width of head and broad shoulders. Depth of mask is not so important as long as it has a good width. I can’t stand hens with narrow masks. I like hens with medium feathering and plenty of back skull.

Underdown is just as important as the feather above it. Fanciers who concentrate on only the feathering of their budgerigars finish up with long-faced, narrow birds. Some pairs select themselves and you get a feeling that a pair is just right. I remember such a pair I had a few years ago. In three rounds they produced five in the first round, six in the second and finished with another six. The third round was fostered and of the seventeen chicks there were seven cocks which were either Best in Show, or Best Breeder in Show and five hens which took either Best Breeder or Best Opposite Sex.

When the cocks are selected, then the hens are looked at, with a view to match with the various cocks, ensuring in the process that the same fault does not appear in both cock and hen. Once the pairings are agreed, then they can be put into breeding cages, providing they are both in tip-top breeding condition. Sometimes, a pair may have to be changed. On occasions pairs are just not compatible, and in no way will they accept each other. When that occurs, you have to act. It is very rare that the best cock is paired to your best hen. Often, you find they are to similar in appearance, both having the same fault, however minor it may be.

When pairs either fail to breed or produce a nest of clear eggs, invariably, it is the fault of the cock. He is either, not in proper breeding condition, or, there is something missing in his make-up which persuades the hen to breed. Now, I am never too quick to blame the hen as a failure. I would rather introduce a new cook bird. Introducing a new partner calls for vigilance in case there is violence. This is even more important when one of the partners has already reared a nest of chicks. In my experience, it is better to leave either the cock or the hen in the breeding cage for a couple of days on their own, before introducing the new partner.

Many of the problems we experience in the course of a breeding season are man made. We have not selected the proper mates in the first instance, and go completely against nature. This is at the heart of livestock breeding, and so the difficulties have to be accepted and attempts made to overcome them.

Letting budgerigars choose their own mates is sometimes offered as the solution to poor breeding performances. In my opinion this reduces budgerigar breeding to a lottery, and you already know the odds of winning the lottery. It is one solution I would not be prepared to accept

Original text: Copyright 1997 Jim Hutton

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