Terry Tuxford – May 27, 2012
Have you noticed how the “wisdom” which permeates our hobby is passed down virtually unchallenged through the years? An idea proposed by expert “A” in his “How To Breed Budgerigars Book”, is later picked up and endorsed by expert “B”. Then, ten years later, expert “C” gives it the final stamp of approval with an introduction that begins; “Experienced breeders recommend….”
In this article I will be exploring these beliefs and exposing those that are little more than unsubstantiated opinion. Should any reader wish to contribute to these I eagerly await your input as we – “Bust the Budgerigar Myths.”
Myth 1: Egg, milk and milk powders are suitable bases for soft food.
Ask any laboratory worker and you will be told that one of the best mediums for culturing bacteria is milk. Remember too, that we are advised to ensure that the eggs are hard boiled. Well, my digestive system is reasonably robust, certainly more versatile than that of any Budgerigar but if you offered me the choice between a hard and a soft boiled egg, I know which one I would choose. We hard boil the eggs so that it crumbles and is easier for the birds to pick up, not because it is intrinsically better for them that way. Try lightly scrambling them next time you want to mix your soft food. You will find them easier to work with and the birds will enjoy them just as much.
Myth 2: Budgerigars are seed eaters, they consume very little else!
Not true I am afraid. Budgerigars are cannibals at times. A nesting hen will happily consume a small chick which dies in the nest and have you seen what the flock will do to the corpse of a bird which dies in the flight?
They always go for the head first – I wonder why?
Budgies Eating Mealworms!
They will also snap up any insect or spider which is foolhardy enough to come within reach, a habit which can result in the occasional puzzling intestinal upset as the insect’s defences take effect.
Myth 3: Strict breeding room, cage and nest hygiene are essential for the production of healthy chicks!
The consequence of this is that our birds have lost their natural resistance to disease and/or that the modern day infections and viruses are more virulent than those of yesterday. Both propositions have some validity and I am not going to argue that hygiene is not important but I do suspect that sometimes we get carried away and take our precautions to ridiculous extremes.
I have been in bird rooms where the cleaning programmes were so strict that I was tempted to look in the corner of the cages for the miniature bathroom facilities, where the air was pungent with the odour of disinfectants and extractor fans whipped into the great outdoors all feathers and dust particles which the ionisers did not bring tumbling to the floors. I cannot help wondering whether the hygiene routines in such establishments are planned for the benefit of the birds or to satisfy the fastidious tastes of the owners.
I fear that we may well be inadvertently suppressing our bird’s natural resistance to disease. There was a time when our breeding pairs raised large numbers of healthy chicks in cages, nest boxes and bird rooms designed and managed to provide the most natural surroundings. The disturbance associated with cleaning were kept to a minimum – usually a quiet daily once over, followed by a more thorough clean out at the end of each round, when the comfort of the birds was paramount.
We all know the discomfort we feel when a house proud host or hostess straightens and rearranges the cushions as soon as we rise from the chair. Are we sacrificing the comfort, the peace and quiet of our breeding birds, controlling their environment and perhaps stressing them needlessly, to satisfy our concern about diseases which may, or may not, affect their health or our own.
Myth 4: Do not disturb the eggs in the nest!
We are advised that the hen will position her eggs carefully with the oldest towards the outside and the most recently laid towards the centre. Now that is interesting. Clever little creatures are they not? Do we really believe that a hen who will sit for up to 26 days on a clutch of infertile eggs, who will defend these useless products against all perceived threats and who clearly does not know when she is wasting her time, is somehow smart enough to successfully identify each egg in the clutch and rotate it according to some predetermined pattern?
Those of us who number the eggs in sequence as they are laid, can tell you that this apparently logical theory is almost certainly a fiction.
I inspect the nest boxes twice a day and I can assure you that I have never seen an identifiable pattern in the way the eggs lie in the nest. Egg number one can be found this morning in the centre of the clutch with number two and five. This evening it may be towards the outer in company with numbers three and four. The egg laid today may be in the centre of the clutch, but it can equally be found at the very outer edges. I suspect that rather than following a well-planned rotation routine, the hen simply becomes uncomfortable, rises, shuffles and turns her clutch indiscriminately and then settles on them again. If we accept the alternative propositions that the shuffling is completely random, then the ultimate effect would be the same as if the hen had followed the suggested imprinted behaviour.
Myth 5: When fostering eggs or chicks, beware of possible rejection by the receiving hen!
Another over-stated danger. It has been my impression over many years of successfully transferring both eggs and chicks that budgie hens cannot count. It is clear that most budgies have very little idea of either quantity; the number of eggs in a nest, or capacity; the size and feeding demands of their clutches. Show an incubating hen an egg and she will sit on it. Put a hungry chick in the nest, assuming its age and size are similar to their own, the pair will feed it.
In the days when I took the experts’ advice and closely supervised all transfers, I experienced the occasional rejection. I suspect that I caused most of the trouble myself by disturbing the foster pairs. Now I leave them well alone and have few failures.
Budgie breeding, like all livestock hobbies, is meant to be enjoyed. Of course we should do everything in our power to ensure that our charges are well cared for, kept free of sickness and diseases and given the best possible housing. Let us not forget, however, that they are birds and not humans.