Friday, May 31, 2013

2013 Bird Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Aggressive Baby Bourke in Nest

Hi Gail, I have one baby bourke's that is a little over two weeks old (only one egg hatched from six)! The parents are doing a good job feeding him. The past few days my husband and I have been patting him and picking him up so that he can be used to our hands and also when I clean the nest box. But just yesterday he began to lunge and bite at our hand. Do you know why he is doing this? Did we do something wrong by picking him up out of the nest? Thank you!

Hi Melissa,

He does this because he's afraid. His instinct is to attack something he feels threatened by.

 I've found that Bourkes are more aggressive in the nest than budgies. If you have Exact and want to take him out to hand feed, it's probably not too late. Once he depends on you for food, he will begin to trust you.

However, if you leave him for his parents to feed and continue to handle and talk sweetly to him, perhaps over time he will quit being afraid. But, there are no guarantees. It depends on his personality and how often you handle him, etc. There are lots of factors involved.

I'm not surprised if he hisses and tries to lunge at you. It’s a baby Bourke’s normal reaction to fear while in the nest box. Look at it from his perception. He's snuggled down feeling comfortable and safe and something really huge suddenly lets in lots of bright light and then reaches for him. Whoa...what the heck? I was safe and happy, now what?

I have one male Bourke who was hand tamed (not hand fed), but his hen was hand fed and she helped convince him I'm not a threat. He will get on my finger when I want to put him back in his cage, but he doesn't fly to my shoulder like the hand fed birds will.

Good luck with him. Being a lone nestling is going to make him more easily frightened too. There's safety in numbers. Smile.

By the way, I usually only clean the nest boxes between clutches. It's not necessary to do it more often than that--especially with only one baby. The only time I've ever cleaned a nest box while it still held babies was on a hot summer day when a box with five older babies began to emit an odor. If it's not hot, and the birds are few, the pine shavings usually absorb and control odor. Disturbing a mother can be risky to her offspring if she's not tame.
QUESTION: Time of Year to Breed Bourkes

I recently purchased some pairs of rosie bourkes. I have normals, rosies, pinks, rubinos, and lutinos. I am wanting to know what and when their breeding seasons are. I also raise English budgerigars and I usually breed them starting in November through May or June depending on the weather … Thanks in advance.

Hello Doug,

 You haven't said where you are. In Australia I've read that wild Bourkes begin breeding in November. In the wild nearly all birds begin their breeding activity in the spring, during warmer weather, and carry into summer. Depending whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere, which month they begin is going to be different.

In the USA, many are raised indoors. Like all birds, their breeding is triggered by length of daylight. We can moderate this by using artificial light ... whether on purpose or by accident.

Bourkes indoors, where artificial lighting may stay on until late, can be encouraged to want to breed at any time during the year. If they are in an outside aviary, the day length will trigger their instinct to breed during longer or warmer days.

In my case, my birds start wanting to breed in February. That's also when the trees flower on the South Coast of Oregon. Inland the season is later, but the coast has an early spring. I have given them boxes in February in the past, but I've decided it's best for me to wait as late as possible...usually late March. However, if they start mating, I go ahead and put up nest boxes. After two or three clutches the nest boxes come back down. Nest boxes also stimulate breeding.

I have a lot of information on this blog about breeding and what has worked best for me. In the far right column is a "Label List." Click on "breeding" and it will bring up 52 earlier posts on breeding birds.  Scroll through them and read whatever sounds applicable to you.

QUESTION: How Long Do Bourkes Live?

Thank you for your website. There was very little available information about Bourke's when I got mine nearly 10 years ago. Could you tell me what you find is an average lifespan for a Bourke's? Thanks.

Hello Ann,

I know a breeder with Bourkes that are over 14 years old. He retired them several years ago and doesn't raise Bourkes any longer. He lets them enjoy an outdoor aviary.

I have a pair that are over ten years old and are still raising young. Both have beaks that over grow and need to be trimmed periodically even though they have cuttlebone, mineral block and oyster shell. They're my oldest pair. I've not had to trim the beaks of any of the others. Just that pair, and the male more often than the female.

A book, "Bourke Parakeets" by Doreen Haggard, was published in the UK in 1997. She says this: "The lifespan of a Bourke's parakeet is 8-12 years, though some have been recorded as living for longer."

My husband found this book for me many years ago on It was mailed to us from the UK. I've seen a few others occasionally on the internet, if you're interested. There are a few things the author and I don't agree on, but for the most part it is informative and she makes some worthwhile observations.

QUESTION: A Bourke Male With Two Hens
Well, it has been a while since I have sent any news. I have 1 Bourke male and 2 Bourke females... This is my first season with them and I am pleased to tell you that the male is "man enough" to handle BOTH females!

I had placed 2 parakeet nest boxes on the cage and they both set out in each nest only to decide to use only 1 nest between the two! They hatched baby after baby from under each hen but only 1 chick was fed for a day or so while the rest died fast after hatching.

I came to the realization that I was the problem...really dumb new Bourke breeder...I was checking the box often and even though they were comfortable with each other they apparently did not like me peeking.

I replaced the 2 parakeet nest boxes with 1 cockatiel nest box. (thinking maybe they were just too crowded in the 1 smaller box.) This time I had better success. Two chicks being fed and healthy between the 2 moms. GREAT! Male is caring for both females in the box and out...but I can only assume I AGAIN looked too many times... and both hens left the box for 2 days and nights. Both chicks were fat and healthy but the nights were cold and the youngest did not make it. One died a fat healthy chick that got cold. MY FAULT!

I ended up with 1 nice male fledging the nest and now both hens are laying another clutch.

How many eggs in nest now you say? Heck if I know! I learned that even though this male breeds and cares for 2 hens, these hens set and feed chicks together with no problem, that it is I who is the problem with this wonderful trio and have pledged to keep the nest box shut and not to peek for a while. Then it will only be a one time peek to check the process they are making. How many eggs...any chicks..etc. I will leave them alone until something fledges to see what they have.

I was excited to read about the [Normal] pair you have that produced 2 rosies out of 4 chicks! Congrats!

HOPEFULLY I may someday get the same? Or should I purchase 1 rosie to breed with the normal?
One thing I know...I will not be so nosy again and will instead wait and see what they have at fledging. Have a wonderful blessed day.

Hello Mary,

It's wonderful that your male is so attentive. I've read that when Bourkes were still rare that they did put one male with two hens. But I've never tried it.
If your male is a Rosy and your hens are Normals then you can expect Normal males and Rosy hens. If you told me their colors, I don't remember. Color is sex-linked in Bourkes. With my Normal pair that threw two rosies and two normals, the rosies were hens and the normals were males. That was because my normal father was out of a Rosy dad and normal mother. He was split to Rosy.

It's sad that your babies didn't all survive. My birds are indoors, so cold nights never go lower than 68 and usually closer to 70...still a baby with no feathers needs its mother for warmth even in warmer temps.

Typically, I can look into any hen's box and she won't get off her eggs or babies. Even the hens that weren't tame would stay put. Maybe that’s because they lived in the house with us and were so used to our coming and going, unlike with an outdoor aviary situation.
Since they won’t get off their eggs, I have to check when they leave the box to defecate. You have to be quick because they go right back. That's easier to do when they're in the house and you can see them most of the time. With two hens in the same box, they probably don't leave at the same time.

I had two hens share a box once, but I didn't have a male with them so their eggs weren't fertile. I think they were sisters, which might have encouraged their companionship. They were some I purchased, I didn't raise them.

The hens I have now are hand fed and tame. If they come out of their separate cages at the same time, they bicker at each other...especially during breeding season. The males do the same with each other. They're all protective of their cages and their "space."

Fuchsia has three babies that are out of the nestbox, but not yet weaned. The male has taken over and she went back into the box and started laying a second clutch. The box needed cleaning, so I removed her three eggs and emptied out all the pine shavings and replaced them. She was slow to go back inside, so I wonder if I should have left well enough alone. Only time will tell. I noticed when I picked up the eggs that I could feel one of them "pecking" against the shell already. Amazing. She usually lays five eggs, so will probably lay two more. At least the box is clean and sweet smelling again.

Since they are in the house, I like to clean the boxes between clutches. However, I noticed she had turned the shavings over and done a fair job of making it nice herself. But, there was stuck food on the sides that had started to mold, so it is better to clean it out. Hopefully, the eggs didn't get cold. I cleaned very fast and they were warm when they went back, but her hesitation to return is bothersome. Being tame I expected her to recognize the cleaning routine from previous years and go right back. If all the eggs don't hatch, that will tell me I did the wrong thing. It's been okay in the past, but usually I was able to clean sooner...she was in a hurry to lay this year. ;-)

May all your babies survive this next time.


QUESTION: What Could Cause ‘Dead in Shell?’

I have a pair of rosey bourkes that recently mated. The female sat on the eggs and protected them. After about three weeks, the eggs did not hatch and the female left the nest. I checked the nest this morning and there were five eggs. Three of the eggs did not develop. However, two of the eggs had fully formed chicks that did not hatch. One of the eggs showed signs of a crack all around the top which indicated the chick was in the process of hatching.

I really do not understand why the chicks died. There are two other pairs of bourkes in the aviary and I did not see any signs of them going into the nest box and causing any issues. Have you had this experience? One person told me it might be due to the lack of humidity causing the shells to be too hard.  The aviary is outside and I do not think this is the problem. Another person told me the hen might have been spooked off the nest in the middle of the night and the eggs got too cold. It would be nice to know what happened and try to prevent it from occurring again. Thank you.

Hi Vin,

Either of those scenarios is possible. Is this the hen's first clutch? Did you have a cold snap one night? Also, if she was only on them three weeks, I'd have left them longer. Even if an egg was laid 21 days before, it might not start to develop until a few days later if the weather is cold, or if the hen doesn't sit on her eggs right away. They won't usually abandon the eggs until much, much later than they were supposed to hatch.

It's always heartbreaking when eggs don't hatch, but it's happened to all of us. This year my oldest hen laid four eggs and hatched all four. The first two had red eyes, but both the day after it hatched and the other a week later. She managed to raise the other two with dark eyes.

 There are so many possibilities. I had one pair that always laid fertile eggs and carried them to term, but they never hatched. I even took some of their eggs and incubated them, but had the same experience. They grew to full term, but didn't hatch. So, it wasn't the hen's fault. There was something wrong ... possibly with the combination between the two (a genetic defect, perhaps? They weren't related to each other). Or, were the eggshells too hard? Too much calcium, if that’s even possible? I'll never know. They were treated just like all the other birds that were successful.

I ended up putting them with new partners to hope for the best. Don't know how that will turn out.

Better luck next time. Bourkes typically go right back to have another clutch. Make sure you have plenty of fresh water available that she can bathe in. If needed they carry moisture into the nest on their feathers.

QUESTION: Taming an Adult Bourke and How They Bathe

Hi! I just purchased a beautiful  more coral colored than pink) rosey bourke and would like to know if u can please tell me how to get a close bond with him and how to bathe him. Any insight would be wonderful. I need all the help I can get. What should I be doing with him to make him want to be with me and trust me?
Hello Kathy,

How tame he will be probably depends on his history and how old he is. Young birds tame down fairly easily. All will eventually be less afraid, but maybe not finger tame.

They bathe themselves. A shallow bowl of water, or a water cup and they'll splash water on themselves. Warm weather encourages bathing. Give them fresh cold water ... they don't like it warm or even at room temperature. I keep a water cup (or two) in my cage all the time and change them at least once a day if not more often when it's hot. I also have a water bottle hanging outside the cage with the tip inside. That way, if they splash most of the water out of the cup(s) they always have water available to drink from the bottle hanging on the side of the cage.

Make sure there's no perch over the water supply to keep the water from getting droppings in it. However, that can still happen, so I also clean my cups daily, or give them a new, clean cup and set the one from the day before aside to wash.

The best way to tame him is to talk to him many times daily in a "sweet" voice ... sort of like you'd talk to a newborn baby. Then, you can offer him treats ... spray millet, fresh Kale or broccoli. The website will tell you what things my Bourkes prefer. If he's young, you can try slowly raising your finger up under his breast so he will step up on your finger. But, if he goes crazy, back off until he's calm. Try again the next day. Keep talking softly and sweetly to him. They sense our frustration, impatience or none of that.  Best of luck.

QUESTION: Is Air in the Crop Dangerous For Hand Fed Babies?

I pulled two of my young baby Bourkes on Tuesday this week to start hand feeding. Within a day they quickly adjusted to the new way of feeding and beg and guzzle their food quickly.  I've been feeding them 4 times a day and do so until it looks like their crops will burst. I've read through your posts on hand feeding and see that their crop can come over their shoulders when well fed. I've seen this too, so I'm guessing they are getting enough. My question is that there seems to be a little air in the top of the crop each time after feeding. Is this normal? If not, what might we be doing wrong and how can we correct it. By the time their next feeding comes the air seems to be gone. Thanks again for the help and congratulation on the new little addition to your family. [our puppy].


Hi Scott,

We try to avoid getting air in the crop. I've read sites that say it's deadly, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s difficult to totally avoid. Even parents sometimes get air in their offspring's crops.

When you feed make sure all the air in the eyedropper (if that's what you're using) is out of it. It means expressing some of the food until it's all at the tip. Also, I make more food then I'll use so that I can put the tip of the eyedropper down into the food and not pull any air into it. I refill before all the food is out of the eyedropper.

Avoid getting air in the tube and avoid feeding them with any air. A little air isn't deadly, but not desirable either. The less air they get in their crops the better.

Keep them warm. You'll also want to use warm water to clean off any excess food around their mouths. Be careful not to cover the openings in their cere (nostrils). The formula I use gets very hard when dry and then is very hard to remove. It’s best to get it off while it's still soft. It tends to hide under the feathers on their cheeks, so I always check there. Mine always get used to being “cleaned up” with warm water and don’t struggle or complain. I use a soft washrag. Don’t hold their face under running water.

Good luck. You'll have some very sweet birds!


QUESTION: When, or if, to Clean Nest Boxes in Use

I have a quick question for you regarding my four hatchlings. Their nest box is really dirty, is that normal or should I clean it and put fresh shavings in it for them?

Hello Laura,

It the mother bird doing her business outside the box, so it's only baby droppings? I hope so. Most hens are clean that way, but once in a while one might not be. It's usually because she isn't healthy and it's more work to leave the box.

It won't hurt the babies if you leave the box alone and don't clean it. That's nature for them. However, I have cleaned boxes before the babies fledged. If the weather is warm and the box begins to smell, then I clean it. Not so much for the young as for us... Although they probably prefer a clean box. If the weather is cold then the droppings help keep them warm (and there is less odor).

If the babies are still in the nest, I don't remove a box to clean it. I do remove the babies to a safe, dry place...into another box deep enough that they can't escape. If they're feathered, put the box inside a cage or close the box's top because they can fly away.

Scoop out all that you can, or want to, and replace the pine shavings with fresh ones. Don't wash the box and get it damp. Just scoop away what you can. Scrape the sides if you want to, but do all of this quickly. Much of it may only be the food the mother has regurgitated that has attached itself to walls, etc. Return the babies as soon as possible. If you have a tame pair, this project is easier.

After the babies have fledged, any regurgitated food in the box can mold in warm weather. So,it's a good idea to clean the box thoroughly after the babies leave, and before the hen returns for another clutch. Unlike other birds, most Bourkes go right back for a second and third clutch with very little time in between. They can typically handle two clutches a year with no effort. While young and healthy a third clutch is okay too. A fourth is a stretch, so I'd remove the nest boxes after the second or third clutch and wait eight or nine months before putting them back up.



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