Friday, May 28, 2010

Baby Birds with Problem Parents

Neversink7 asked, "...have you ever had problems with splendid or bourke parents pulling the feathers off of their babies?"  His Splendid parents are misbehaving and he wonders if a nutritional deficiency could be a possible culprit.

I don't think nutrition of any kind would cause this. There are plenty of feathers available that fall off the birds naturally and I often see my birds "playing" with fallen feathers, as well as routinely preening themselves. They can chew on all the feathers they want to, so why take them from their babies?

I've never had Bourkes pull feathers, except for the incident with one pair savaging a baby. With that pair, I always rescue and handfeed the young almost as soon as they hatch. I believe the male wants to breed again and dispatching the babies will allow that. I recently put the hen on "rest" and moved the male to another hen whose eggs have always been infertile. She's now on fertile eggs and I'm interested to see what happens. I may end up handfeeding her young too, if this male is actually the "bad" parent.

[UPDATE: After the cock was successful with another hen and a good dad, it turned out that the mother of the brood was to blame. Although she could hatch her eggs, she would not raise the babies and would begin savaging them as soon as all the eggs hatched. I still have two of her offspring (a brother and sister) that were hand fed and are wonderful parents with their mates. Both are very sweet natured. Their mother eventually developed an odd "droop" and died a few days later. I've wondered if she had a brain tumor that made her crazy or something. Also, she was sold and came back to me after her first clutch with a different mate also died. I don't know what her history was for the two years she was away from me.]
My experience with Splendids is different.  Many years ago I bought my 1st pair and the hen's back was bare. I was unfamiliar with Splendids, but didn't like the fact that the male pulled the feathers from her back. She was sweet and tame, but he was wild...drew blood the first time I caught him.

Their first brood died. They didn't seem to know to feed them. Their second clutch of three did fine and I still have a male from that clutch. He has NEVER pulled feathers from his mate(s) and neither has his son (the grandson of the 1st bird). None of my Splendids have ever pulled feathers from their young. I was happy to let that original bird go as a lone caged bird to someone else who enjoyed watching and listening to him.

To Neversink7:  How many clutches have your problem birds had? I'd limit them to two or three, with a few months in between. Maybe they're tired of feeding and caring for their young...? Sounds like you are doing the right thing by pulling and handfeeding them. 

Another thought ... if the young birds are fledged and able to eat on their own before the parents begin pulling the feathers, in the wild they would try to chase them off to live elsewhere. In a small cage or aviary, they can't leave. Is only one parent feeding and the other pulling feathers? That seems likely. I remove my own young birds as soon as the father begins to "chase" them from their perches. By then, they're eating okay and he wants them gone.

Past experience with Finches:  I once had a beautiful pair of Zebra finches. The hen was all white and the male was pied. They produced gorgeous babies with a "saddle" of color over the backs of white birds. Very pretty. However, about the 3rd year the male began to throw newly-hatched babies out of the nest. I'd put them back, and he'd throw them out again. He continuously did this and wouldn't raise them any longer. They'd produce another clutch and he'd do the same thing. My belief is that he felt he'd produced enough progeny and only wanted to continuously mate, not work to raise young. I gave him away to a bird store.

Past experience with button quail:  As a kid, I had a pair of cute button quail that hatched a large clutch. I
was shocked one day to go out to the aviary and find half the clutch bloodied and dead. Apparently, a male button quail will kill his sons after a certain age ... Sad. I don't know if every one of them does this, but enough do, that babies shouldn't be left with their dad for very long. Perhaps removing male button quail as soon as their eggs hatch is wise.

This sounds like it's the males of the species that savage their young. That might be typical, but I did have a female budgerigar parakeet who visited the nestboxes of other hens and killed their young. After she'd done this more than once, I finally caught her in a box that wasn't hers and realized who was doing it. She was "dispatched" and I never had another problem in that aviary.

There must be good birds and bad birds, just as there are good dogs and bad dogs, good people and bad people.


neversink7 said...

The reason I was wondering about nutrition was another person was wondering why her female zebra always plucked her mates' heads bare, and someone suggested possible mineral deficiency and advised supplying mineral salt. I didn't think this was the problems since I give them plenty of minerals and vitamins. While with one pair, the male plucks the female's back, in the other pair, the adults do not pluck each other. What's interesting is that it's the pair that do not pluck each other that has been the worst plucker of their youngest babies. This is their second clutches ever. Their first clutches were hatched around 11/09 and weaned in 2/10. The current clutches hatched early 4/10, so perhaps you are right that they are tired of feeding young, and didn't get enough time off between the clutches. I actually removed their nest boxes after the first clutches were weaned and only replaced them after they started mating again. Perhaps next time I will make them rest longer. I did indeed notice that the pair that were plucking the most were not as diligent about feeding their babies as the other pair - they only had 3 babies and the other pair raised 5, so not sure why they felt so strained. The babies JUST fledged and are not weaned yet, so I don't think that is the reason for plucking. The hen was plucking too. I agree with you that I think they just want to chase their youngest 2 babies off to avoid having to feed them. They weren't nearly as bad with the oldest baby that fledged first. Thanks for the info. I think I'm going to restrict them to rest for least 3-4 months before giving them nest boxes back.

neversink7 said...

Someone also suggested to me the cause of the plucking may be due to small cage size (mine are in fairly large flight cages, so less likely) and avoid feeding too much mealworms/protein as this may make the parents too hyper and too eager to breed again.

The Splendid Bourke Bird Blog said...

Interesting about the mealworms. None of my parakeets get live food (I don't keep finches who benefit from live food). They eat a lot of broccoli and kale. Gave them fresh shredded cabbage yesterday and they loved it. I also buy mixed frozen vegetables, but they eat the corn and leave the rest. So, I've been giving them peas or carrots separately and they will eat them. Corn is their favorite, but high in calories. Birds in cages tend to get overweight from lack of exercise, so fattening foods need to be controlled. Lost a Bourke at 3-years and an autopsy said she was overweight and it taxed her organs. So, I'm more careful now and feed lots of fresh vegies along with seed. Give less spray millet, for instance. Given to parents with babies learning to eat.

neversink7 said...

The keets just started loving the mealworms once they found them, so I let them have them since it did seem to make them happy to breed and feed babies. I think perhaps I've been overindulging them and will try to cut back the amount per day. I also give them sprouted seeds, but should provide enough protein and nutrients for the babies. Mine love veggies - since I have finches with them, I just make a bite size salad with whatever is available. The base always includes carrots, peas, and corn, and I try to add at least one type of dark green leafy vegetable like kale, turnip greens, collard greens, or mustard green, and try to include broccoli if I have it. If I happen to have cabbage or bok choy, I'll throw some in too. I really think sprouted (or chitted) seeds and the green salad has really made a difference to my birds this breeding season, for the keets but also to the finches - more babies and deep deep colors and tight tight feathers as they are coming out of their molt.

Thanks for all the info. You're always helpful :)

The Splendid Bourke Bird Blog said...

Thank you for your insights and comments! Always appreciated.