Feather Plucking

It is not unusual for a hen budgerigar to pluck the fluffy down from her chicks’ backs. Although the plucking does not often go further, it is necessary to be alert for those cases where the growing feathers are removed – feather plucking. I do not believe that feather plucking is hereditary. I have bred from the daughters of feather-plucking hens without the problem being repeated, although I have never checked more than the second generation, nor have I endeavoured to find out whether the vice was carried by the progeny of male youngsters. I have never found any home-made or proprietary application to deter the hen.

I firmly believe that a contributory factor is boredom. If you remove the cock from the cage of a plucking hen – she has to spend more time feeding the youngsters and has less time to indulge in her bad habits. My nestboxes have removable, solid tops, and substituting a piece of glass for these, encourages the hen to spend more time in the cage rather than the nest-box. This can help in cases of feather plucking.

If a suitable nest is available, the chicks can be fostered to another hen. If all else fails, place a small box with an open lid on the cage floor and place the chicks in this. You usually find the parents will continue to feed them, but will cease the plucking. Plucked heads generally recover showing no ill effect, but badly plucked wing butts never return to normal, and destroy any chance of exhibiting the youngster, regardless of how good they may be.

Even worse than feather plucking, are the rare occasions when parents attack their chicks. Plucking is almost invariably a hen’s vice, but attacks can come from either parent. A cock can be jealous of a chick that has just left the nestbox or even mistake it for a hen, make advances and attack the unfortunate youngster when it rebuffs his attentions. A hen can treat a chick that returns into the nest-box, as an intruder and once more an attack results.

I provide protection for threatened chicks by installing a small, three legged table; 15cm square and 10cm high, situated in a corner of the breeding cage. This allows the chicks shelter, and does not allow attack from the parents. To kill a chick the parent has to get on top of the youngster and attack the top of the head, so you can readily see that with the type of table recommended, that exercise is impossible. Of course, the larger the breeding cages the more chance a chick has of keeping out of it’s parents way

Balance the nest

We can help our breeding pairs by moving chicks around once they have their rings on. It’s a good idea to move the chicks from your best pairs that have done well for you, either to get them laying another clutch quickly, or to give them a rest and bring them back later on. I personally, like to see 4 chicks in the nest, I find if there are only one or two to a nest, you often get the hen sitting too tight, this in turn causes splayed legs. Another thing, I like to even up the ages, putting four of about the same age into each nest. It’s so easy for a tiny one to get squashed in a nest where some of the others are so much bigger, so I try to give the smaller ones a better chance, by moving the bigger ones into nests where they will be with similar sizes.

Don’t get the impression from this that I am constantly interfering with the nestboxes, I don’t believe in that. If everything is going well, I don’t look in the box every day – perhaps every second day. I think it’s better to leave the hen in peace.

Once the first round of chicks are out in the flight, (after about 21 days in a stock cage) I do very little with them except to give them seed, millet sprays and water. I never do any show training, never put them in a show cage, not until they come through the first moult. I like to see their potential before I start show training. I don’t want to waste my time training birds that are going to be no use to me in my show team.

The Big Clean Out

At the end of the breeding season, for me early June, I set about having a real clean-out. My cages are designed so as to remove the fronts from three cages as a unit. I remove the fronts, which are now made from fibre glass, so only require washing in warm water, (no more painting). The frames are in hardwood, so again just washing in warm water, rub down with wire wool, then a rub in teak oil. The actual cages are scraped and washed, and every second year they are repainted. Everything is put back together, all fresh and clean ready for the following years’ breeding and this years potential show team.

Original text: Copyright 1997 Jim Hutton

Back to Breeding Budgies

Leave a Comment