LUBARP: Reproductive Rates in Exhibition Budgerigars

The Liverpool University Budgerigar Ailment Research Project, sponsored by the Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales including the Isle of Man Budgerigar Society, was started in 1984 and ran for 8 years.

In 1987/88 attention was turned to reproduction and in particular why exhibition budgies had (and still have) such an abysmal breeding record when compared with almost all other breeds of cage birds and poultry. In the first case this involved collecting eggs which failed to hatch and again the fancy came up with very large numbers. Some days we were so awash with eggs that I had to call on my wife, Rosa, to help – I also suspect that I am the only person in the UK who knows what scrambled budgie eggs taste like!

But to turn to more serious matters it became obvious that what fanciers had suspected was true – most of the eggs were (clear). However others contained a developing chick but had been considered clear by the fancier and discarded too soon – not all budgies read the books and start incubating when they should. Many birds also laid eggs which were defective, in that the yolk and white were mixed together and such eggs will never hatch, even if fertile; the cause of this was not discovered.

As was expected there was also the dead-in-shell problem and after much investigation two main causes were found for this. Flu infection which was derived either from a dirty nest environment or from the fanciers’ hands as they handled and marked eggs; this can be reduced by paying strict attention to hygiene and if eggs must be handled forceps or disposable plastic gloves should be used. The second major cause of dead-in-shell is an abnormality of the shell itself; either the water, which the developing chick must lose through the shell, is retained in the egg and the chick, in effect, drowns in its own juice, or the shell is too porous and the chick becomes dehydrated. Again the cause of this awaits discovery.

Later in the same year we returned to the problem of the clear eggs and in particular the role of infertility in the adults. Quite a number of both cocks and hens were found to be genuinely infertile, although the latter rarely laid any, the causes of this infertility were many and varied and with few exceptions were untreatable. The fanciers’ habit of talking about how many chicks they produce without saying how many pairs they have and how many rounds they take makes it very difficult in many cases to get an accurate figure. What really amazed me was that some fanciers did not know how many pairs they put up – their records were appalling and some were forever swapping birds about. However, where the records were good or the fancier’s memory reliable, it soon became obvious that some fanciers were always successful in getting 8 or 9 chicks from 2 rounds while some thought that 1 or 2 chick per pair from 3 rounds was the norm. The most significant difference between these fanciers was that those who were successful in raising a lot of chicks were either those with the less buff birds or those who routinely trimmed the feathers from around the vent of both the cocks and the hens.

During these investigations many measurements were made of bird room and nest box temperature and humidity. The striking findings were how varied individual bird rooms were, with extreme variations in both factors from place to place, rendering the fancier’s single hydrometer and thermometer meaningless. However the environment in the nest was strictly controlled by the hen and the eggs and chicks; there is little the fancier can do to alter the nest environment.

Original text Copyright 1988, Dr John R Baker.

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