We started our breeding program in the winter of 2021. I spent a lot of time researching and reading before I put our first pair together, because I wanted to do it right. But little did I know, you can never really be prepared in advance and it’s one of those things were most of the learning comes from actually doing.
Our first pairing was in September of 2021 with a cinnamon male and a cinnamon pearl female. We purchased them as a proven breeding pair, as we thought well, we don’t know exactly what we are doing but at least the birds do!
The pair laid 4 eggs, all of them fertile. I checked them every few days, enjoying seeing their little movements inside the eggs. You can see their little hearts beating within about 5 days of incubation, it’s incredible! Checking the eggs didn’t bother the pair, they would step out when I opened the box and come right back after I closed the lid. We’ve never had another pair quite so accommodating and we don’t check eggs near as often, but it worked out wonderfully that first time.
I counted down the days for the chicks to start hatching. We saw it can take typically between 18-21 days. We’ve since learned 21 days is pretty average for the first egg to hatch, with the others coming closer to that 18 days as they hear the other babies peeping and being fed and so it inspires them to hatch also. You don’t want to be the last arrival, lest you might end up with less food and getting pushed around by your older siblings!
But back to our first clutch. Day 21 arrived, but no babies and no signs of hatching. It’s hard to see movement when candling once they are closer to hatching since they fill up most of the egg, but you can often see the poke marks of where the baby is breaking through on the outside of the egg, and you can especially hear the baby inside of the egg. It will both peep and make tapping noises as it’s breaking the egg with its sharp egg tooth on the tip of it’s beak.
Several days passed the 21 day mark with no babies, and I began to notice several of the eggs were becoming discolored. Slightly gray. When I held an egg up to the light, it was not the dark reddish color inside but instead an almost grayish brown. When I asked the breeder their opinion who sold me the birds, they said the babies had likely died. They also asked about my humidity levels in the area the birds were in, and that is what prompted me to research more. I had overlooked something critical, especially in the winter time. Higher humidity is crucial to hatching eggs. We have since learned that a minimum humidity level is around 50%. This is simple to provide by putting a humidifier in your bird hatching area. We keep ours right by the nest box from the time eggs are laid until the babies fledge, and then we keep out humidity levels around 30% the rest of the time for all of our birds. If you run air conditioning or heat in your breeding area or breed during dryer seasons, you will need to add humidity. And not just for hatching eggs but for overall health of your flock. Dry nares can lead to red, swollen nares which leads to nasal discharge and sneezing, which can lead to infections and respiratory issues.
With three of the four eggs clearly deceased, we immediately added a humidifier to the room and pumped it full blast! The last and final egg reached 21 days and I was thrilled when I checked and could clearly see it was in the hatching process! Shortly after checking, the baby hatched and we had our first official baby cockatiel. At this point, we left the parents alone to do their job. I would only peek in the box when both parents were out, but I otherwise left them be. Babies grow so rapidly during the first few weeks of life, and it’s amazing to see them almost double in size daily especially over the first few days.
We made another mistake during this first clutch, and that was moving the parents and the nest box to another room when the baby was about two weeks old. The parents deserted the baby, and we had to hand feed. Which is a whole other experience that I will document in the future. But this is another thing to keep in mind, do not move the nest box. We’ve also learned not to move much at all outside of the cage, so don’t move furniture around and don’t move anything inside the cage either. Birds have to feel safe and secure while nesting and they are best left alone with little interaction until the babies fledge.
We named this baby Montana and she was cinnamon pearl. We successfully hand raised her and she weaned around 9 weeks old. We decided it was best to sell her to a pet home since she was not of exhibition bloodlines and we wanted to get in the habit of only keeping back birds that would further our program.
So to recap, some critical lessons we learned from our first pairing was :
Humidity is required.
Don’t move the nest box.
Ensure the lineage of your pair before you breed them (and also compatibility of mutations).
I will continue to shares our triumphs and heartaches in future posts, in an attempt to help other newer breeders overcome or prevent some of the issues we had during our first year of breeding.
Enjoy some pictures of Montana during her growth!