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Feeding and Fertility in Hookbills

Article by WCA Rigaardt

The recent article on bird feeding was interesting yet again. From my experience with bird feeding I would like to share one breeding season story with you.

My initial hookbills were Lorikeets – a beginner’s choice based on bad advice, but I would only realize that later on. In order to give my birds the best food, I started to do some intensive research in overseas magazines and the internet and I even communicated with lorikeet experts. The advice, fortunately, was not so wide-spread and that made sense. The radicals, as you will always find, were there too, but fortunately in the minority. I could set up my own food formula from this information and my Lories flourished. In the same breath I need to say one never knows enough.

I expanded with Lovebirds. This was a total new kettle of fish and I took the research route again. Needless to say, this was an experience totally different to the one with the Lories. There were as many recipes as there were sources (magazines, books, the internet, the “boffins”, etc.) Seed, pellets, softfood, hard food, eggfood, vegetables and fruit (whole and grated) as well as mixtures hereof, concoctions as in the days of Babel. I tried them all, and more!

One thing most breeders of lovebirds agree about, particularly looking back on the post-breeding season, is the low percentage of conception. For example, five eggs per clutch where three were fertile and only two chicks eventually grow up. Then there is also the unfortunate situation with bad eggs, thin shells and chicks that don’t develop well during the growing process.

Even though I was the leader of the pack in this regard, my research continued. One day in October 2007 I borrowed a few back-dated issues of Avizandum. I came across an article by Mr David Dennison where he talks about a balanced softfood mixture. The real thing – mixed grains and legumes, not grated beetroot and carrots – and how that gets cooked and mixed with vitamin/mineral additives and sunflowers to make a balanced food mixture.


During my research on the internet and in magazines I came across various references about new developments in the Australian bird food industry. I also had contact with friends over there who confirmed what I had read. Our friends down under are very good bird breeders.

I changed to the referred softfood mixture with Ausie “input” and started feeding that to all my birds. There was almost no adaption period and the food was devoured eagerly every day.

Some of my older Lovebird pairs started making their nests as early as February 2008, while the others were clearly restless. My pair of yellow Fischers were the first to start breeding and once I was sure the female was actually sitting on her eggs, I went to inspect the nestbox. I still get nightmares just thinking about it. When I opened the nestbox I could not believe my eyes … ten eggs! I needed something stronger than sugar water for the shock. Five days later I “candled” the eggs and yet again I had to take something – nine eggs were fertilised!

Typical Lovebird nest box

Typical Lovebird nest box

To make a long story short, the results were repeated during the following weeks, for instance, the green Fischer pair had 8 eggs, with 7 fertilized; the green South Westerns pair had 8 eggs, all fertilized. The average percentage of conception of all 7 breeding pairs over the whole season was 90%. All the pairs bred more than once.

With the food Rigaardt was feeding he was getting up to 10 eggs with 9 being fertile!

With the food Rigaardt was feeding he was getting up to 10 eggs with 9 being fertile!

Needless to say, some emergency measures had to be arranged to see all these babies through and to make sure that they survive. I don’t let a chick die if I can help it, period. Lovebirds can, at the most, only “see through” about four babies successfully from about ten days of age – otherwise it just gets too much for them and the rest don’t make it. Many babies get squashed or trampled on amongst so many eggs that hatch on different days in the same nest.

I removed all the babies as they come out of the shells and only left the last three in each nest. The warming box was filled up quickly. Fortunately I could give some of the younger babies to foster parents who were only too happy to have something to feed. We worked around the clock to see all these babies through and gained a lot of experience with the raising of these little ones. We had to relieve one another in order to get in some sleep, otherwise we would have been permanent zombies. I eventually stopped counting how many babies came from which breeders.

A pair of Dark Green Opaline Rosy-face Lovebirds with four babies.

A pair of Dark Green Opaline Rosy-face Lovebirds with four babies.

It was a fantastic season. It could only have been the diet that made all the difference, since the other factors regarding my birds were standard and remained unchanged.

As conclusion: My Lovebirds have this food mixture as their main meal. At around 3 pm everyone gets a little bit of mixed seed. All the birds are very healthy and active and their feathers are in excellent condition. The babies in the nest are growing beautifully.

Typical soft food for small birds

Typical soft food for small birds

To end off: The purpose of a feeding program must be to ensure all the breeding birds produce the best eggs during the breeding season as is naturally possible and from which the maximum number of chicks can be raised successfully. If this goal is not achieved (other controllable reasons excluded) the quality of food they get fed is inferior.

My other hookbill species are also on this basic diet (with minor adjustments) and I can assure you I smile all the way. That is another story.

Cost? Six of one, half a dozen of the other – if you take into consideration less wastage of food, higher chick production and buying food in bulk, the same applies to when you give seed alone or pellets alone. With the prospect of Avi-plus products getting a bit cheaper, things can only get better. If I can’t take care of my animals in the best way that is morally expected of me, I suppose I have to look for another way of spending my time.

To read this article in Afrikaans CLICK HERE

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