Is it OK to breed lovebirds indoors? Yes, says experienced lovebird fancier Pauline James, but you need to follow strict rules on the birds’ housing, diet and exercise
FOR some people who want to breed lovebirds, but have a small garden or no outside space, need to house them indoors. This is fine, but there are three main problems to address: a lack of exercise, very low humidity levels, and no natural sunshine.
Depleted fitness levels
Lovebirds should never be kept or bred in a budgie-sized cage – they are active and energetic birds, and must have room to fly. A wooden double-sized breeder cage 90cm (3ft) long is more suitable. Perches should be spread out and positioned fairly high, so that the birds have to exert a lot of energy flying steeply from the floor up to a perch, and to encourage them to fly the length of the box.
A nest-box should be placed on the outside of a cage, so that it does not take up precious space inside. After no more than two clutches, successful or not, remove the nest-box and give the birds a rest.
But being restricted in a cage still means that indoor lovebirds can’t achieve the same levels of fitness as birds in an outside flight. So an even better idea is to house them in an indoor aviary, where they can fly with ease.
If that is not possible, I suggest that when they are not breeding, they have free-flying time out of their cage. Do ensure conditions are safe, though, and that windows and doors are closed before you let them out.
Poor exercise and diet that lacks fresh fruits and vegetables can adversely affect fertility, and it must be said that infertile or dead-in-shell eggs are much more frequent indoors.
Low humidity levels
Lovebirds bred indoors, like those kept outside, should only be offered a nest-box during the warmer months, when the windows can be opened, offering them fresh air and natural humidity levels. Although birds kept inside are not battling the cold in winter, the air is generally much drier then because of central heating. This makes it extremely hard for birds trying to hatch eggs. In these conditions, the contents of the eggs dry out too quickly and the embryos are lost.
A humidifier set near to the cage or indoor aviary is useful all the year round to deposit moisture back into the air, and help alleviate hatching problems. A decent level of humidity is also needed to keep the birds’ plumage in good order and stop it becoming brittle and losing condition. Birds should always be situated away from a radiator or heat source, and well away from an open fire – a smoky atmosphere can be bad for their health, or even kill them.
There is a fine line between failure and success in the development and hatching of an egg. Outside, a hen is more easily able to cope naturally with these problems. If a nest needs a slightly higher level of humidity, a hen will know. She will compensate by dampening her abdomen feathers in her drinking or bathing water, and carry it back into the nest.
Extra-dry conditions, like those indoors, make it much more difficult for the hen to adjust accurately, and even if she did achieve the right balance, the eggs would not survive all the extra water needed.
Bring them sunshine
Lovebirds kept indoors – breeding hens in particular – can suffer from a lack of vitamin D and calcium. The main problem is their lack of direct contact with the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which naturally assists the production of vitamin D.
This process is essential to enable calcium to be efficiently absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, which then transports this vital mineral to the bones, beak, claws and oviduct. Without vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed, but birds kept indoors can excrete as much as 90 per cent of their calcium intake if they lack vitamin D. This becomes all too evident when they try to breed.
When a hen is laying eggs, her body will draw on her calcium reserves to produce viable eggshells. If she is severely deficient in this mineral, her whole skeletal structure can suffer, when calcium is drawn out of the bones to satisfy her egg-production needs. Ninety-nine per cent of a bird’s calcium is found in its bones, beak, claws and oviduct – the other 1 per cent remains in the blood.
This tiny percentage is essential for the proper functioning of the nerves and muscles, particularly in the heart and oviduct. The spasmodic contractions of the egg-tract muscles in the oviduct are vital to enable the hen to expel her eggs. This carefully defined balance between the calcium in the bones and in the blood is controlled solely by vitamin D. A malfunctioning oviduct and soft-shelled eggs can combine to trigger the potentially fatal condition of egg-binding, where an egg becomes wedged in the egg-tract.
You can solve calcium deficiency by offering an avian UV light, feeding eggfood, mixing a few drops of cod-liver oil into the seed twice a week, and providing a good-quality liquid calcium and vitamin D supplement all through the year. Vitamin E in the form of wheat-germ oil is also thought to help in the successful hatching of eggs. In the weeks prior to breeding, eggfood and vitamin D-rich supplements can be increased to help top up the hen’s calcium reserves further so that she produces good-quality eggshells.
And don’t keep cod-liver or wheat-germ oils in the fridge, because cold temperatures will serve to destroy the active vitamin. Do carefully observe the “use by” dates, too.
Trust Your Hen
Many beginners to the hobby have made the mistake of spraying eggs with water, to counteract the problem of dry air. However, the amount of moisture applied is best left to the judgement of the hen. Human intervention almost always leads to the developing embryos drowning. The shell needs to breathe, allowing moisture from inside the egg to be naturally released through the surface of the shell as the embryo develops. If the eggs are too wet or the humidity level is too high, this evaporation process will not be able to take place.
Pauline James has been writing for Cage & Aviary Birds since 1994.