Problems during breeding

Even the experienced hobbyists may face problems when breeding their cockatiels. You can’t predict everything but being aware of the possible issues you may encounter you can prevent most of them.

Feather picking

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This baby has been plucked from the neck. The level of feather picking isn’t dangerous and there isn’t yet any reason to pull this baby for handfeeding. Feathers will grow back.

It is a relatively ordinary problem to have the parents picking the feathers of the chicks, and may be caused by several matters. Occasionally it is merely tough rearing which happens when one or both of the parents preen the chicks too hard. The cock might also try to encourage the chicks to leave the nest too violently. Nevertheless, there seems to be a connection to the amount of disturbance the birds suffer during the time they are hatching. If the nest box is cleaned carelessly or the parents are disturbed while they are hatching or nursing the chicks, feather picking will happen more commonly. The habit is learned from the parents and a bird whose feathers were picked while still, a chick would probably do this to chicks of its own.

An assumed reason for this is also the lack of iodine. If you have parents that pick the feathers of their chicks, I warmly suggest that you give them an iodine block.

Sometimes feather picking might get bad enough for the chick to be dripping blood. If only one of the parents picks the growing feathers, it should be isolated from the rest of the family. The remaining parent should be quite capable of taking care of the chicks if there are not too many of them. One option is also to handfeed the chicks, but this should be considered with utmost care. If the parents have not damaged the feather follicle, the feathers should grow back in time.

You can recognize a plucked baby from the tiny red blood spots and bald areas. From this picture, you can also see that there aren’t as many feathers growing at the head area.

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Damaging the eggs or chicks

Especially males may sometimes break the eggs and eat their interiors or kill the chicks to eat them. In this case, the food of the birds lacks in quality or quantity. You can prevent this behavior by offering the birds a wide assortment of foods before the breeding. There are also breeders who have a habit of placing a cuttlebone straight into the nest box.

Under or over nourishment

Sometimes the parents do not feed the chicks enough. This is typical for too young parents that have other things in their mind than to look after their chicks. If there are too many chicks, the parents may not have enough time to both feed them all and take care of their nourishment. A few chicks may be given to another couple if they do not have that many of their own at the same time. Using a foster parent might be the easiest way to prevent chicks from dying of malnourishment. An alternative option is to handfeed them.

The parents may also be overly eager and feed the chicks too much. This tends to happen, especially if there are not that many chicks. Overfeeding may lead to the crop not functioning correctly. If the amount of offered food decreases, the parents may lose their motivation for breeding. Therefore, in this case, the chicks should be either handfed or given to foster parents. Despite being ten days old, the chick in this picture is extremely underdeveloped, and the skin has begun to redden and dry because of dehydration. In this case, the chick should be helped by at least giving it additional nourishment.

Below there’s a picture chart of an undernourished baby, Fide, found at the age of 10 days from the nestbox severely dehydrated. Fide was taken from the nest to be handfed. For comparison, next to Fide’s pictures there’s his younger brother Azrael, having normal development. Check out also the more detailed illustration of the cockatiel chick’s development.

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Fide 10 days – Azrael 10 days

Fide is taken from the nest because it hasn’t gone better. You can see a clear difference between the brothers. Fide’s body is emaciated and ramp, it lacks healthy muscle growth, and there aren’t much feather pis. Azrael is sleeping in the picture, but in reality, it has already opened its eyes – whereas Fide’s eyelids haven’t even developed yet so that they could open. Azrael also has a beginning of crest, Fide doesn’t have even a slightest sign. You can see the dehydration from the skin that’s appearing very dark and dry.

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Fide 14 pv – Azrael 13 pv

Fide has revived due to nutritional assistance. He has opened his eyes. The skin has reached a lighter shade and also the crest appears as a small papule. However, it is indeed a lot behind his brother. The difference in size is high even though the picture of Azrael was taken in one day younger age. Azrael’s feather pins have grown, and there are new feather pins on his cheeks.

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Fide – Azrael

Fide is trying to keep up with the growth pace. You can recognize that he underdevelopment because even though some parts of the body have grown, the actual body is still lacking size. For example, Fide has tremendously large nostrils and eyes, yet his body is so small that he can lay on my hand. Azrael has exceeded the dinosaur phase and begins to opening the pin feathers, ready to come on out of the nest.

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Fide 28 days – Azrael 27 days

At this phase, you can say that we are on the safe side and it’s sure that the baby will make it. Fide has grown the feather pins, increased his size and also become much more well-proportioned. Some of the feathers have started to erupt from the pins. Azrael has just left the nest – a bit early though – and mostly is just snoozing on the ground. But he still is starting to look like a bird.

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Fide and Azrael at the age of 2 months

The difference isn’t significant anymore. You can see that Fide has a bit more messy plumage due to assistance feeding and it still is a bit more slender than his brother. But in general, he has been growing well. After all this, Fide survived and has been spending many great years with his owner and cockatiel pal. He stayed a bit smaller than average but has otherwise been very healthy.



Even though it’s rare, the parents may occasionally simply reject one of the chicks and stop giving it any attention at all. Usually in this case the chick is defective, weak or ill. Saving the chick might be very difficult, because abandonment usually happens while the bird is still very young and it would be extremely risky for it to be handfed at that age. Sometimes feeding may turn out to be futile and the bird dies at a young age nevertheless. However, successful feeding may save the chick’s life.

Chronical egg laying

Sometimes the female may just continue laying eggs chronically. This takes a great physical toll on the bird, because the amount of calcium in its body will drop greatly. The eggs should not be removed at once, because the bird might lay new eggs to replace them immediately. If the hen does not become bored of the eggs in a couple of months, the best solution may be to let it nest. Occasionally chronic egg laying may not be the result of extreme eagerness to nest. In this case, the bird should be offered enough distractions and activities to take its mind off of laying eggs.

Egg binding

Especially in young females and first time egg layers the egg can sometimes get stuck because of the unused body. Sometimes this can happen, however, in experienced cockatiel hens. It is suggested that his happens due the lack of calcium, lack of humidity, or too cold temperature. Nutrition is propably the root problem when it comes to hens of good breeding age. If the hen can’t pass the egg, the she will often come out of the nest box and sits on the bottom of the cage feathers ruffled, clearly suffering. The hen may also limp. First aid emergency is to direct the warm giving lamp to the cage so that the temperature will rise to about 33 degrees in Celcius. In this temperature, convulsions should be triggered. Massaging some vegetable oil around the vent may also help the cockatiel hen to relax the muscles. If the egg does not come out, the hen dies. After the egg is passed, the hen recovers very quickly – but you should not breed her before the nutrition is balanced.

Humidity seems to facilitate the presence of females carrying the eggs. So keep the concern that the room air does not get too dry when the hen is laying eggs. It is a good idea to also offer a tub in which the female may take a bath when she wants and wet her stomach feathers.

However, if the egg gets broken inside the hen, the situation is very severe and can be lethal. If you have a doubt that the egg has broken inside your cockatiel hen, contact an avian vet immediately!

When a cockatiel baby dies

Now and then one of the chicks may die, usually the youngest one, and this may be because of several reasons. If the chick is ill, it may not have enough strength to raise its head to ask for food, resulting in the parents not feeding it. The parents may also become too tired to feed every chick if there are too many of them, and they may become too exhausted to feed them at all. Possible reasons for the death are also overfeeding and choking. This is typical of too young or first time breeders. In the cruelest case, considering the human way of thinking, the parents may have let the other chicks eat the weak one, or eaten it themselves. Nevertheless, the parents will not usually kill a chick if they are not disturbed too much and if they are not insane. If their food is inadequate, they may kill a chick precisely for nourishment.

If a chick is visibly dying, you should isolate it from the others. It may feel safer near a living being; hence you can hold it in your arms. Especially handfed chicks may experience even a slight feeling of security if they are allowed to be with their “parent.” If the condition is not noticed, the dead chick may suddenly be found amongst the others. The dead chick must be removed without hesitation, because it may spread diseases, and sometimes other chicks might even try to eat it. If the corpse has become contaminated, the consequences might be severe.

Nevertheless, a fit and a little older chick should not just die suddenly. If this does happen, the chick should be sent for an autopsy to determine for example if the other chicks are in danger.

Cockatiel homosexuality

Like many other animals, also cockatiels show signs of casual homosexuality, though this seems to be more common among males. The homosexuality is okay unless you want to let your birds breed later.

There are two kinds of homosexuality in cockatiels. The rare ones are those that are just attracted by their own gender. More common are those that have not been offered the opposite sex and they just take what they can in lack of choices. Cockatiels of the same gender can form a harmonious pair, and they sometimes seem to accept specific gender roles. For example, in a relationship of two cocks, the other one would be alway at the position of hen, when mating. This behavior is typical and is nothing to be afraid. These pairs of the same gender do bonding as well as regular pairs, scratch each other’s necks, etc.

The relationship between two hens seems to be rarer. But there are still several cases in which the owner thought that he has opposite sexes even though he just had a pair formed by two hens These cases most often are revealed when a nest box is offered to the hens. The hens will lay their eggs in the nest, and as there are two hens, the number of the eggs will be unusually big. Often the hens are also fighting about the brooding turns. And, of course, the eggs never hatch.

If you want to breed your birds in the future, it’s better to offer them the opposite sex to let them learn the social skills needed for the opposite sex. If the cockatiels of same-sex spend years and years together, it just might be that they are no longer as smooth charmers when facing birds that would need to be charmed.

Cockatiel mating with objects

Sometimes the owner finds the cockatiel whipping its tail against an object, for example, a seed cup, perch or a toy. The cockatiel looks very focused and keeps a light squeaking voice. The cockatiel is mating with the object. This behavior occurs particularly in the case of the lonely cockatiel cocks. Cockatiels are very sexual parrots, and especially as the nesting season is on the door, the hormones may inspire that kind of tinkering, if there isn’t a real partner available to satisfy the social needs of the cockatiel. Usually, such behavior episodes are reversible, and there’s nothing offensive or abnormal there. For the cockatiel, it is not any salacious measure. The cockatiel is not ashamed and neither should the owner be. This just tells that the cockatiel is virile and only needs to satisfy the biological instincts and urges.

So if your cockatiel masturbates, just ignore it. Any procedures should not be made lightly because this is usually not a health problem and causes no damage for the cockatiel – human feelings of shame should not lead to any medical treatments unless the bird’s health is at risk. Inherently solution would be to allow a species cockatiel companion to accompany. If, however, it appears that the cockatiel shows other symptoms that could indicate any hormonal problems, you may ask your veterinarian for hormonal treatment. For example, overgrown beak added to continuous, compulsive masturbation may refer to the fact that the cockatiel has some hormonal disorder.