The Importance of Breeding Birds

In the past five years, I have visited stores across the country from New England to Illinois, from Florida to Colorado. They all have the same problem—there are not enough young cockatiels available for retailers to sell. Along with parakeets, cockatiels are the most popular pet bird in the U.S., so this is a huge problem that seems to stem from a few issues.


First, bird breeders are retiring, and no one is replacing them. Their birds are getting too old to breed and the breeders are not bringing in younger birds because they want to cut down on their flock size. Both of these issues create a situation where supply cannot keep up with demand, causing wholesale and retail prices to double in most areas. Some stores are rarely able to find cockatiels—and many not at all—when it used to be easy to find them.


So, what can a store do to get cockatiels or other popular bird species on a regular basis? After all, you can’t sell what you don’t have. For some, reaching out to local aviculture clubs and avian veterinarians may help stores get in touch with breeders. Stores may also find it beneficial to encourage customers to breed cockatiels and other species with incentives. These could range from buying all the young birds they can produce, to giving them adult birds that have been given to the store because the owners couldn’t care for the bird anymore. The store can also give a generous discount on cages, nesting boxes and breeding supplies, as well as food, cage paper and litter that will be needed constantly by the breeders. Some stores will even give the supplies for free in exchange for a lower price on the young birds. Whatever encourages customers to breed the birds should be offered.


Pet stores need to always stock items that a breeder will need, including nest baskets or boxes that are the right size and configuration. These will need to be changed out after the pair has raised a few clutches in the nest, especially if it is made of wood or other porous material. Most of the nest boxes for parrot species, like cockatiels, are made of wood. Many birds, such as finches, like to have a nesting material that they put into the nest themselves, and this is available from manufacturers. Cockatiels and most parrot species like to have wood shavings in their box, such as pine or aspen. Sometimes the pair may remove some, or most, of the shavings before they lay eggs in the box, which can encourage them to breed.


It is important that the birds are on a diet that will cover not only their normal everyday needs, but also the extra nutrients they need for breeding. Some companies make supplements for this purpose. Owners need be sure they are feeding a good diet with a lot of variety that may include specific pellets for the main diet that are usually species specific and include vitamins and minerals in them. But these pellets must make up at least 60 percent of the food the pair are eating to get enough of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed. Pellets should never make up 100 percent of the diet, so extra foods like fresh greens, vegetables, grains, and a little bit of fruit and seeds can make up about 15 to 30 percent of most cage birds’ diet. Cooked eggs are often offered to birds before and during breeding, as they are a great source of nutrients needed during this time. Of course, this all depends on the species of bird and anyone that wants to breed birds should be informed on what diet will be best.


Since all birds lay eggs, the female needs to be offered extra minerals, especially calcium, before and during egg laying or complications can occur to a point where the female can die. For smaller parrot species, like cockatiels, cuttlebones can, and should, be offered all the time and during the breeding season. Be sure they always have plenty of calcium available. There are other supplements for breeding birds, like powders that can be put on the food for the particular bird species being bred. It is important, however, that birds do not get too many vitamins as they can become sick just as they can if they get too little. Again, it all depends on the species and what the bird is eating regularly, so both the store and breeder should do research before breeding takes place. Stores should always stock the supplements needed to keep the breeding birds healthy.


Many standard cages can be used for breeding as long as they are large enough for the pair of birds being bred. Some cages are made particularly for breeding and come with a side door where a nest box can be hung on the outside, which is best with cockatiels and other birds so the box doesn’t take up interior space, the eggs and babies can be checked regularly to be sure all is going well, and the box can be kept clean.


Most nest boxes for cockatiels have side doors, or a roof that opens up, for owners to do the checks. Of course, an incubator can be used for eggs, and special boxes to keep the babies warm can be sold or created so the birds can be hand fed from day one if wanted. However, it’s usually best to let the pair incubate the eggs and care for the young until they are at least two weeks old before hand feeding them, since the babies will usually be healthier and easier to hand raise after this time.


Some stores will take the babies and hand feed them in the store, while others will wait until the birds are fledged and feeding on their own— usually around eight weeks for cockatiels—before bringing them in. Hand-fed babies make better, more tame pets than those birds that are parent raised, but the parent-raised birds often make better parents themselves. In a pet store, it is much easier to sell a hand-raised bird and in some species, like cockatiels, it is almost always the case that they have been raised by people. With larger parrots it’s basically unheard of for a bird to be parent reared.


There are a number of hand-raising formulas available that can be sold, as well as syringes, feeding tubes and more, made specifically for baby parrots in a variety of sizes. Most of these formulas come in powder form and are mixed with water, then heated to a certain temperature, before being fed to the bird. If someone has never hand raised baby birds before, they need to be trained by someone who knows how, especially if using a feeding tube. There are a number of videos on the internet that can help.


The best way to be sure that a store has plenty of cute cockatiels and other caged bird species available for sale, is to talk with other stores, avian veterinarians, local bird clubs and wholesalers to get the birds they need. When all else fails, try to encourage customers that love birds, and possibly would be interested in breeding, by offering incentives. Stores can even put up a sign letting cutomers know they are looking for breeders and what will be offered. A great bird customer can be a huge asset for a pet store needing young birds to sell if given the right options and opportunity. PB


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