Celestial Parrotlets are fairly easy to breed, and their requirements are not particularly demanding. Similarly, Yellow-faced, Green-Rumped and Spectacled can be bred without too much difficulty -
other than the difficulty of locating a pair to begin with - but they are more sensitive to disturbance than their Celestial cousins. The remaining species are even more difficult to get settled in to breeding more,
which might account for their lack of abundance in aviculture.
The advice here is present with a bias towards the Celestial, however most of it is broadly applicable to all seven species.
Parrotlet Breeding Setting Up
A typical breeding cage should be of similar dimensions to those suggested in the care pages (24" long, 16" high, and 14"), although if breeding a larger species (Mexican for example) these dimensions should be increased. In fact, space permitting, an even larger breeding enclosure, such as single pair flights, might be preferable as a larger flight will allow a greater level of physical fitness in your birds, which in turn gets them in to better condition for breeding.
Each enclosure should have a suitable nesting box. Personally, I have had much success with a standard budgie nesting box 9" long, 6" deep and 6" high, although upright boxes of similar dimension seem to be popular too (6" wide x 6"-7" deep x 9"-10" high). A single entry hole of 1.5"-2" should be provided with a single short perch, ideally only large enough for one bird to occupy at a time. In a longitudinal box configuration (budgie-type box) the hole and perch should be on the far side of the long face of the box; in an upright it should be about three-quarters of the way up the front face.
Bedding and/or a concave should be provided, as this helps to prevent chicks experiencing developmental problems in their hips and legs. A smooth, flat surface, without any foot hold, can often lead to the legs splaying out to the sides. This can be awkward to treat, but is easy to prevent. If the breeding birds throw too much nesting material out of the box (which they often do), you may need to replace some. This is perfectly normal.
Nutritionally, it's more of the same. Breeding birds will want a greater supply of soft foods such as eggs food, soft fruits and vegetables and millet as these will be the foods that they feed to their young. Supplying these from the start will reassure the breeders that there is an ample food supply to sustain potential chicks, making it more likely that they will breed. High protein foods such as eggs, nuts and cooked legumes are also advisable at this time.
A calcium supplement is of vital importance at this time, as the hen will be depleting her calcium reserves in egg production. Calcium deficiency at this stage could easily lead to egg binding. Egg binding occurs when the hen's body has insufficient calcium to deposit on the surface of an egg. The resulting egg is soft, and so when she contracts her muscles to press the egg out, it merely deforms and remains lodged within her. If not treated quickly, this condition can easily be fatal - the hen can succumb to exhaustion, or the egg can burst inside her. Cuttlebone is the obvious solution to this problem, although you can also get commercial calcium supplements designed to be added to water. If you choose the latter, watch the birds carefully as some do not like the taste of the supplement and will not drink water containing it, leading to dehydration.
Time-scales for Breeding Parrotlets
Once a hen begins laying, she can be expected to lay one egg every two days, up to 4-6 eggs, although any amount up to about 10 is possible. If three days pass without laying, it is safe to assume the clutch is complete.
The eggs take 21 days to hatch (more like 24 in the larger species), although this can be increased for the first egg is the hen doesn't start brooding immediately and potentially decreased for later eggs in the clutch for the opposite reason.
Since the eggs are laid two days apart and a hen usually starts sitting tightly from the first or second egg, you can expect a wide spread in the ages of the chicks. This shouldn't be a problem except in the cases of particularly large clutches.
Closed ringing, for those not yet in-the-know, is when you put an identification ring on a bird that cannot be removed. these rings are useful to you as it allows identification of the bird at a later date, and to anyone buying the bird as it not only provides a means of ID, but also shows the year in which a chick was hatched. As closed rings cannot be put on later in a birds life, this is a useful from a security point of view.
If you plan on closed-ringing you chicks (recommended), you need to do this at 10 days old with a size M ring - any earlier and the ring is likely to come off, any later and it is unlikely that you will be able to get it on. To be on the safe side, check the chick every day after ringing it to ensure the band is still on; that way you can keep reapplying it until such a time as it stays.
Be wary if neither of the breeding birds are rung and you are planning on parent-rearing the chicks, as an unrung parent may reject a chick with a band around its leg, or accidentally injure the chick in an attempt to remove the foreign object.
In order to apply a closed ring, take the chick gently in one hand (probably left if you are right handed), with one leg protruding from between your index and middle fingers. Take the ring in your other hand and slip the bird's two front toes, and longer rear toe in to the top of the ring. Once you have done this, gently take hold of the toes in the hand that applied the ring and then move your middle and index finger up on your other hand so that they are now holding around the ring. Pull gently but firmly on the toes you are holding and the toes and ball of the foot should slip through. The ring should now be around the birds ankle, but the short rear toe will probably be captive inside it, so slide the ring up further, possibly even over the birds knee, until the toe is free. Make sure you then slide the ring back down - it should be between the knee and ankle with all the toes free. You may find some sort of lubricant is needed, especially if the chick has slipped it's ring and you are having to reapply it. I have never had this problem, but Matthew Vriends suggests a little saliva or petroleum jelly in his book "The Parrotlet Handbook". I am not sure that I recommend this, and if you do feel the need to go down this path, make sure to clean the chicks leg afterwards.
By 5-6 weeks, the young should start to try solid foods, and by 5-6 they should be almost fully weaned and feeding themselves. By this stage, it is likely that you will have to move them in to their own cage, as the parents may start to become aggressive towards the young in a natural behaviour that has developed to force the babies to leave the nest and spread out on their own. Care is definitely required here, as the aggression is usually triggered when the oldest chick is getting to this point in development, but can be directed at all of the clutch. If some of the younger chicks are not yet at this stage, it may be possible to leave them in the nest, but remove their older siblings. Pay close attention to the parents, and do not leave a youngster in danger - if the aggression continues you will need to move the younger siblings as well (we are probably talking about 4.5-5 week old youngsters with 5-6 week old siblings). I have had this happen, but once in the weaning cage, I found that the oldest and strongest sibling in the clutch took the youngest under it's wing (excuse the sickening pun) and fed it for a week in a similar manner to the parents.
By 7-8 weeks, the weanlings should be fully independent juveniles.
Good record keeping is important when breeding birds. At the very least, you should keep a record of hatch date (and perhaps even lay date), ring number, gender, colour and parentage of each chick. This way, if you or anyone buying one of your birds needs information about the birds lineage, there is a paper trail to follow that should hopefully provide the information required. You may also want to keep a record of where the babies go after after they are fully fledged.
If you are hand-rearing, there is even more information that you should definately track, such as the weight of each chick before the first feed of the day. It is important to make sure that the babies are growing at the appropriate rate, so that you can identify any problems before they become a problem.
Check out our Resources for some record forms.
Some thoughts on hand-rearing by wingsofamum:
There is a lot of work involved and a lot of knowledge required before you even start. This fact sheet is just to give you an idea of what is involved and should not be used as instructions on how to hand rear parrots.
You will need a brooder that can be easily adjusted as temperature needs to be very accurate indeed, we use a tlc4. To start with the chicks need to be at 36.5C after hatching and then after a few days the temperature is slowly lowered. You will need somewhere to hand rear that can be kept very clean as young chicks are very prone to bacterial infections and you will also need a pair of scales to keep an eye on the weight the chick is putting on . As well as this you will need to spoon feed or syringe feed the chick - I recommend spoon feeding as the chicks end up tamer this way. Brooders and scales do not come cheap so be prepared to spend some money on equipment as it only takes one mistake to kill a young chick,and also a good digital thermometer to check temp of the food as too hot will cause crop b urn and too cold will cause sour crop so it's always best to go for quality equipment. we find useful for parrotlett chicks a plastic baby wipe tub with top opening to hold the chicks in while feeding them as once they find their legs they tend to roam the work top. We use different sized tubs for holding the chicks and kitchen roll as it is easy to replace when they need changing , also keep on hand a warm bowl of water and a clean wash cloth for face wiping as they can get messy and its easier to remove while wet then to let harden.
You should be prepared for this to take over all your free time. To give you an idea of the time required lets look at what time it takes to hand rear an African Grey Parrot. To start with you will be feeding the baby chick every 2 hours from 5am to 11pm if you want the chick to do well and have a good weight gain each day. Only after 2 weeks do the feed times drop to 2 ½ hours between feeds. It takes 12 weeks before the chick can be weaned from the hand rearing formula and during that time the feeds drop until you are only feeding once a day during the weaning stage and this can be a very difficult time as sometime they do not want to eat on their own.
Hand Rearing Food:
This is one area where life has been made much easier nowadays as you no longer have to mix your own diets to feed to the growing chicks. We have always used kaytee hand rearing food I have used this from budgies - african greys with great success.
This is your main problem as you have a steep learning curve if you want to hand rear parrots successfully. I recommend a video so you can see exactly how to feed the chick as just one mistake when feeding can drown the chick. The Hand Rearing Video with Rosemary Low, who is one of the worlds leading experts we recommend as it shows you everything from the first feed to weaning. One of the best ways to learn is to find someone who is already rearing baby parrots and try and visit them to see how they do it. Be warned, it seems very easy when you see an experienced hand rearer at work but there are so many things that can go wrong and with these very small chicks, you do not normally get a second chance - one mistake and they are dead.Parrotletts start to wean around 5 weeks of age and great patience is needed at this time, at this time food should be offered on a flat low dish on the cage floor and lots of variety.
It may seem that I am trying to put you off hand rearing, but too many people just jump into this head first and learn by a lot of mistakes which means a lot chicks are lost to start with. Hand rearing parrots can be and is very rewarding indeed but also extremely tiring and needs a lot of time and dedication. I have come across many people who hand rear but only a few who I would describe as experts at hand rearing. Please contact us if you would like some more advice.
My last words of advice on this matter is if in doubt, don't!
The "p" in parrotlet is for patience and a little goes a long way,
More on hand-rearing and record-keeping to come, Iain.
Page created 6 April 2008
Last modified: 26 October, 2015
Iain D. Kendall