Friday, December 31, 2010

Bourkes Laying Too Many Eggs. Why and What to Do.

Someone searching the internet for "my Bourkes are laying too many eggs," reached my site. I haven't addressed this question before, so here goes...

More than one hen in this box.
First, are you sure you have a pair of Bourkes and not two hens? Bourke hens—especially sisters or mothers and daughters—will sometimes share a nestbox, hence many eggs although not all from the same bird. If you have multiple hens present, provide at least one nestbox per hen. Extra's are even better so that they won't argue over the same box.

Are they in an aviary setting with several birds and not everyone has a mate? A hen alone will often lay many eggs if she doesn't have a male with her. She can be so eager to raise babies that she just keeps laying. I've seen Normal Bourke hens (wild color) do this more often than Rosy Bourkes.

If you're certain you have a pair, one male and one female, they may not be compatible and haven't bred. If her first clutch wasn't fertile, she may lay more eggs in an effort to have fertile eggs. The later eggs just might be fertile, so don't remove any of them unless you know for sure when each was laid. This is often not an easy thing to determine as, unlike some other birds, Bourkes go right back to laying. If you're lucky, the hen's first infertile eggs will simply help keep later fertile eggs warm.

I had one Normal Bourke hen who sat on a dozen eggs and four hatched! Having too many didn't mean that the fertile ones were harmed because there were too many. She managed to cover all of them. The first ones she laid were not fertile, then she bred and added to her clutch. I could have candled the eggs and removed those that appeared to have no life, but decided not to bother her.

If your bird is fairly tame, you can pick up eggs and hold them over a flashlight, but wait to be sure you know they are several days old before doing that. After a few days red vessels begin to show in fertile eggs. Myself, I'd rather let the hens decide which eggs are good and which are not. I usually leave them alone until the hens give up on them.
Fluffed out as far as possible to cover all the eggs.
Broken shell indicates an egg has hatched!

Experienced hens can tell the difference between good or bad eggs. Infertile eggs help keep the others warm and should be left there. Even after babies hatch, any remaining eggs add warmth. Eventually, eggs dry out and become very light. At that time, hens usually discard them if you haven’t already. They will push aside eggs that are no good, maybe even toss them out of the nestbox onto the ground.

I usually don't remove extra eggs until all the babies leave the nest. Then the nestbox should be cleaned anyway before it is used again.

If you are unsure about an egg, perhaps you think it's old, but worry about tossing out a good egg; here's a test. Take a cup of warm water (not hot, not cold, but warm to your touch), and gently place the egg in it. Good eggs sink. Old eggs float. Floaters can be thrown away. Gently pat the good egg off and replace it. A little moisture won't hurt it. In fact, hens need a water source for bathing as they may need to take water in their feathers back to the nest to keep the eggs moist.

Be sure to have lots of calcium sources available for your birds. Each pair should have a cuddle bone, mineral block and it's wise to add oyster shell. Some birds will ignore the other two, but use the oyster shell. Fresh greens are excellent too. Our birds love kale. If you have only one bird, it is still wise to offer fresh greens, although more important for breeding birds. On an earlier post, I gave the calcium amounts in various fresh foods.

After a hen has raised two or three clutches, remove the nestbox and let her rest for the remainder of the year before returning it. Or, at the very least, leave a minimum of three or four months between her previous clutches before returning the nestbox. I prefer to limit my birds to three clutches a year as I don't want to over-tax them. Returning nestboxes stimulates them to breed, as does day length — either natural or artificial light for twelve or more hours per day. If you don't want to raise birds and they are still laying even without a nest box, add more hours of darkness. If necessary, cover the cage with a dark cloth for two or three hours a day. You can also remove whatever they are laying eggs in ... a feed cup, for instance.

I've talked mostly about hens, however, the males also work hard at raising the young. They feed the hen while she's on the nest and once the eggs hatch, their work steps up. They must feed her more often. Some males enter the box to help feed the young, but normally they wait until the babies are feathering before doing this. After the babies leave the nest, they still need to be fed and most males take this over almost exclusively. By now, most hens are thin and need to recover. Depending on how many youngsters he has to feed, he's kept very busy. Older males may suffer more than younger ones and should be watched closely.

One of my older pairs were on their third clutch last summer when I decided to pull their two-week old babies and hand feed them. Rhett, my first Bourke was looking slightly "natty" and mom was too thin. These are not young birds, but they still want to produce, so I've let them. Although I took their babies, they weren't upset. Perhaps because they felt they'd done enough, were tired and glad to be empty nesters for a while. Also, they could hear their young when I fed them. The babies were moved to a small cardboard box, and placed near a space heater. Now, I’ve become so attached to these tame sweethearts, that I probably will never sell them. That's a risk when you hand feed!

Have a SAFE and SANE New Year's Eve.
Remember, you don't need alcohol to have a good time.
God Bless and Protect you and yours through 2011!


Love4Feathers said...

When the female starts to lay her eggs, does she sit on them after the first egg is laid or does she wait until all the eggs are laid? Thanks, Sue

G. A. Lewis said...

Bourke hens don't have to brood their eggs immediately. Some begin staying with the eggs as soon as the first one is laid. However, most of my ladies begin staying with them after the 2nd or 3rd egg is laid. Fuchsia, who laid five eggs in her very first clutch, did begin sitting immediately. She hatched all five and all of them are now healthy young birds.

Experienced mothers are the most likely to put off brooding for a few days. Each hen has her own personality, so there is no hard and fast rule.