Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nest Boxes

Small parakeets like Bourkes and Splendids are resourceful. I had one hen lay an egg in a feedcup for lack of a nest box. If that happens, it's time to give her an appropriate place for her clutch.
Even an oatmeal carton, open at one end, and put on the bottom of a cage, has been used by Bourkes to raise healthy babies. However, there are better options. Thin wood, like plywood, makes a sturdy nest box. You want to hinge the top, or have a sliding door at one end, in order to check on your babies and later to clean out the box for re-use. I like to hang the boxes outside the cage, leaving the birds with as much flying area as possible. That means cutting wire holes in the cages, but they are meant to be breeding cages anyhow.

As an aside, if you are using a cage instead of an aviary for Bourkes, they need flying space. Tall cages are not the right kind. An oblong cage allows them to fly in circles and exercise - something they do quite well.

Normally a hen won't attempt to mate until she has a safe place to lay her eggs. Adding a nest box will encourage her to mate. When she's ready, she raises her tail and cheeps at her mate. He has probably been feeding her for days or weeks before. It's a way to prove he's capable of caring for her and her babies as he will feed her while she's on eggs. Later when the babies hatch, he feeds her and she feeds the young until they leave the nest. That way the "milk" that's regurgitated for the young has been processed twice before they get it.

Males Bourkes show off for hens by standing up straight and slightly puffing out their wings at the shoulder. This shoulder lifting is a way to determine sex in young Bourkes. They'll do it around any nearby hens. Since Rosy's are difficult to sex, I watch for this behavior. Normal Bourke males, when mature, have a tiny line of blue feathers above their nostrils that the hens don't have. Once you get to know your Bourkes, however, you'll recognize the differences in the behaviors of the two sexes.
Budgies only require an indentation in the bottom of their box to allow the eggs to gather together. An indentation for Bourkes and Splendids is a good idea, however, they may not use it. Therefore, I also put pine shavings (commercially called pine bedding for small pets) in my boxes. About one to two inches is adequate. Some of my hens dig down to the bare surface to lay their eggs, others simply press it down until it forms a bowl indentation.

Pine shavings help keep the nest cleaner after the babies hatch. It should be discarded after the young leave the nest. If you leave it there too long, the hen may go back to the nest to lay eggs again, and you don't want to disturb her, but you don't want your next clutch raised in a dirty nest either. I admit, however, that when hens have raised only one baby, I've allowed them to go back and raise two or three more young in rapid succession.

Most hens keep a very clean nest. It's when three or four babies begin to grow that the nest becomes soiled. I've been known to remove babies and replace their pine shavings with clean if it seems to need it. It never bothered them, or their parents, to do this. I wouldn't do it with newly hatched chicks though. I'd wait until they start to show some beginning feathers.

If you know anything about Australian birds, you know that they should be kept out of drafts. Mother birds keep their babies warm, but I still like to keep my bird rooms no cooler than 68 degrees. Usually, around 70-72 degrees Farenheit. They could probably withstand cooler temps., but they fare better if they don't get cold.

Most years I put up boxes in February and have babies by May. I let mated pairs have two clutches (sometimes three depending on how healthy & eager the hen appears) before removing the boxes. That's usually about August or September. More than two or three clutches a year will stress your birds. It's better to keep them healthy and producing year after year.

Next: Banding Babies


Dawn Larson said...

Very nice article. Thank you. I was wondering if I should use parakeet or cockatiel boxes. They are more the size of an english budgie so I was thinking cockatiel. Any suggestions?

G. A. Lewis said...

Hello Dawn,
Either size works. However, if your hen produces large clutches, then it's nice for her to have the extra space a cockatiel box will provide for the babies as they grow.