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Non-Breeding Aviary
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Maintaining a Non-Breeding Aviary

There is a lot of discussion on a lot of sites and in many books about how to pair birds who will successfully mate, lay eggs, incubate, and raise healthy chicks. Many people go to great lengths to try to ensure success, occasionally including a (frequently unsuccessful) attempt at handfeeding.

So if it is so difficult to raise healthy chicks, it should be a breeze to maintain a non-breeding aviary, right? Ha!

First of all, for many birds, breeding is not the difficult experience you read about. Although individual birds are different, some species seem to be born natural parents, whereas other species have to work at it.

For those species that are deemed "difficult to breed" - do not assume this means you can keep a true pair and they will not likely mate, lay, or incubate. They may in fact do all of these things, only to hatch chicks that they do not feed or care for. No one wants to keep their populations in control at the expense of little chicks who starve to death.

So how do you do it? I know of three different methods, none of which are perfect. You have to choose the one that best meets your needs.

Keep Birds of the Same Sex
As long as you can accurately sex the birds, this is the most fool-proof method of ensuring no babies will be born into your aviary. I would recommend keeping males. Males of many species are the ones who sing. Also, in sexually dimorphic species, the male is frequently more brightly colored. Since males do not lay eggs, they are not susceptible to some of the health problems (such as egg-binding) that females are prone to. (Remember, female birds can and frequently will lay eggs even without the presence of a male.)

Birds of the same sex will usually bond just as easily as a true pair (as long as there are no available members of the opposite sex). Remember that many types of finches are capable of hybridizing with each other. This means that if you acquire two males of species A and two females of species B, it may happen that the natural instincts to breed may cause a male of species A to mate with a female of species B. Therefore, you should probably make sure all of your birds are of the same sex, not just birds of the same species.

One problem that may arise in an all-male aviary is an increased level of aggression. However, I believe aggression is more of a problem when birds are breeding (or when they are overcrowded), so by removing the possibility of breeding, you are actually reducing the overall level of aggression. There are, however, a few species for which it is not advised to house two males together, so again, be sure to do your research.

Although this method seems fairly straightforward, it is a little more complicated than it appears. The major problem lies with species that are not sexually dimorphic. It can be very difficult to sex these species. One has to rely on behavior or very minute details that are never tell-tale signs of gender. Even the best breeders can make mistakes. This happened to me with my societies. They were supposed to be the same sex, but then one day I had a nest filled with beautiful little hatchlings. Surprise!

Remove Nestboxes
Removing the nestboxes is another popular alternative. Although many types of finches like to sleep in a nestbox, it is not necessary, and over time they will become used to sleeping on a perch. Gouldians almost always sleep on a perch unless breeding, by the way, so if you have or want Gouldians, they will not miss the nestboxes at all. In the wild, the birds only nest when raising a clutch, so depriving them of a nestbox is a natural approach.

Some birds will continue to lay eggs in odd places, such as on the floor or in the seed dish, but chances are they will not lay as frequently and they probably will not incubate these eggs unless they find a good nest substitute. If they do try to incubate the eggs, you will have to remove the eggs. I have found that placing seed dishes down low or on the floor will prevent the birds from nesting in them. On rare occasion, an egg shows up in the seed dish, but the parent bird never tries to sit on it or nest there.

I have chosen this method of birth control. I already have birds of different sexes, and I have found it is easier to acquire birds in male-female pairs. I was afraid they would really miss their nestboxes, but they really did adapt quite well to going without. In addition, I believe the aviary is a much cleaner and more sanitary place without the nestboxes and nesting material. I have not had a contagious illness spread through my aviary since removing them. While I know the attachment that finch keepers have to the nestbox, if you really don't want to breed, I highly recommend this method of birth control.

Remove Eggs
This is probably the least appealing choice, but sometimes there is no better alternative. You have to be very careful when you remove eggs. First of all, some hens are egg-laying machines. If you remove each new egg as it is laid, she will continue to lay more and more eggs. This takes a great toll on her health.

To prevent her from laying endlessly, you should replace her eggs with fake eggs. Fake eggs can be purchased from craft stores (supposedly Walmart's craft department sells fake nests with eggs the approximate size of finch eggs). I bought some fake eggs from a breeder who got them at a bird show. I have also heard of people using appropriately shaped pieces of pea gravel as fake eggs.

Sometimes the bird is not fooled by plastic eggs. In these cases, someone once recommended hard-boiling infertile finch eggs and using those as dummy eggs. (Be sure to mark the hard-boiled eggs with a felt-tip pen so you can tell which are fresh and which are not). If you do this, I request that you candle the egg and make sure nothing has started to develop inside the egg first. The Finch Niche's breeding page provides information on candling eggs.

Finally, make sure to remove the eggs as soon after they are laid as possible, before the embryo has started to form. The embryo will not start to develop until the mom has been incubating for a few days.

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