Hatching Success

By providing invaluable support to breeders, knowledgeable retailers can secure a supply of local birds and grow their customer base.




It is always fantastic when customers decide that they would like to breed birds. If the store sells these pets, the new breeder can provide a great, local supply of birds. Even a products-only store can benefit by selling the breeder the supplies necessary to be successful. Retailers may even want to offer these customers a special “breeder’s discount,” as they can be good, constant customers and recommend the store to anyone that buys their birds. 

To help current and prospective breeders in their endeavor, it is well worth it for a pet store’s staff to understand some breeding basics—especially for parakeets and cockatiels—starting with how to choose the right birds to breed together.

First of all, the customer needs to be sure they have a male and a female, as sometimes two birds of the same sex will act like a pair. Most parrot species are not sexually dimorphic, so males and females look exactly alike and DNA testing is the only way to be sure of the sex. However, parakeets and cockatiels can usually be sexed fairly easily once mature at about eight months to a year old. 

With parakeets, the cere (the skin around the nostrils at the top of the upper bill) starts out pink to purple when the bird is young. It will turn blue if it is male and white to tan or brown if female. Sometimes the cere’s color can also provide a clue when the birds are younger. If it looks more purplish, it may mean it is male, while a light pink cere in a young bird most likely indicates it is female.

Cockatiels can be harder to sex, especially if they are one of the color mutations—like pied, lutino or albino—instead of the normal gray coloring. Basically, all young cockatiels have barring under their tails that is obvious when it is a light color against a darker color, but lutino birds are all yellow, so the barring can be very difficult to see. However, if looked at closely, especially with a light shone through the tail feathers, barring can usually be seen. Once the bird goes through its first molt, the bars will still be there if the bird is a female, while the tail on males will become a solid color.

For gray or lightly pied birds, the bird’s face and sides of the head around the orange spot become solid yellow for males after the first molt. Females’ faces stay gray. The pearl or pearly mutation in cockatiels is the only one where the coloring is linked to the bird’s sex. Although they look the same when young—with yellow or white speckling all over the body— males lose the speckled look and their feathers become a solid color after their first molt.

Stance and vocalizations can also be used to tell male cockatiels and parakeets apart from females, even while young. Males stand up taller and straighter on a perch, while females keep their body a bit lower and tilt slightly forward. This can be subtle, but if there is a group of birds together, the ones standing straighter and more upright are most likely males, especially if they’re also more vocal.

Male parrots are often better talkers than females, and the males are usually much more vocal than the females when young. With a group of immature parakeets, the birds that are chattering away and bobbing their heads like mad at other birds while babbling are almost always males. With young cockatiels, females will give out a one-note call once in a while, but males will often have a bit of a “song” with a number of notes put together and repeated.

Birds should not be bred until they are fully mature. Parakeets need to be at least a year old, while it’s better to wait until cockatiels are at least a year and a half old. It’s also best to let these birds pick out their own mates when possible. Both of these species can be kept in large flocks, making this much easier to accomplish. In fact, parakeets will rarely breed unless more than one pair is kept in the same room or aviary, so aspiring breeders need to keep a group of them to be successful. Once the birds have paired off, they can be put in their own cage and set up for breeding.

If keeping birds in a group to allow them to choose their mate is impossible, then customers should put the two birds they wish to breed in cages next to each other and let them see one another for a week or two. If they act like they want to be together by spending time as close as they can get to each other in the separate cages, chances are they’ll make a good pair. Note that the breeding cage should be large enough that the birds can comfortably flap their wings. It is even better if there is space for them to fly from perch to perch. The birds need to be strong and healthy to breed successfully.

Hand-fed baby birds make wonderful pets but are generally not good for breeding. They may refuse to feed their young, not care for the babies properly or have other behavioral issues that make them unsuccessful as breeders. Parent-raised parrots are much better at breeding. Most parakeets offered are not hand-fed, but it may be harder to find suitable cockatiels for breeding, as they are usually hand-raised. 

Other aspects to consider when choosing birds to pair up include not using any birds that are related, as that may lead to health issues with the babies. Additionally, some color mutations in cockatiels should not be bred together, such as two strongly pied birds, as their eggs may not hatch or the babies may be weak and unwell. 

Breeding small parrots like parakeets and cockatiels is not difficult, and often the hardest part is finding the right ones to breed together. Once the birds have picked their mates and the pairs have been set up properly, the owner is well on their way to being a successful breeder.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.


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