It is usually quite a surprise to parrot owners when your bird lays an egg, especially if they thought it was a male, or if it lives without a mate. Just like with production chickens laying eggs for consumption, any single bird will become reproductively active and can lay an unfertilized egg during its life in captivity. This article will focus on some key points to help explain the answers to the most frequently asked questions our clients have regarding this behavior.
Why did my bird lay an egg when there is no mate present?
Egg-laying can start whenever the species becomes sexually mature and can continue throughout the bird’s lifetime. Some birds will lay only once or twice in their lives, others will lay several times a year depending on the home environment and stimuli. In the wild many natural factors influence egg-laying and female parrots will generally not lay eggs unless they have a mate, a suitable nesting site, and the right environmental conditions and food availability.
Their reproductive behaviors are often guided by food abundance and seasonal changes such as daylight hours. In captivity, however, this behavior is often stimulated by other factors we may not even be aware we are providing. Some companion birds are more prolific and much more likely to lay eggs than other species based on genetic predisposition, such as budgies/parakeets, cockatiels, and Aratinga conures. Others can randomly lay due to the stimulants we provide in captivity. Some of these stimulants include:
• Increased daylight hours:
When birds think it is springtime, they are more likely to reproduce. When we wake them up early and keep them up with us at night, they don’t understand that our artificial light is not the sun and they can become reproductively active.
• Constant sources of rich foods:
When birds have ample foods high in fat and protein, their bodies become prepared to reproduce. In the wild, they reproduce when these kinds of natural resources are available based on the season. In captivity, when they are given these rich foods every day, their bodies are constantly ready and amped up for reproduction!
• Inappropriate pair bonding with humans or inanimate objects:
When birds perceive that there is a mate present, their bodies will think it’s time to make babies. An inappropriate mate is most often a chosen person in the home- often someone who allows the bird to physically be with them more than others allows regurgitation behaviors, and is very affectionate. Occasionally this perceived mate could also be a mirror, a stuffed animal, or a favorite toy that the bird cuddles with, regurgitates on, or spends many hours a day with.
• Excessive allopreening:
It is very rewarding to have a bird that enjoys being scratched, rubbed, and will reciprocate by straightening our hair or giving sweet nibbles. However, this behavior directly mimics what parrots and their mates do in the wild. Scratching under the wings, over the back, under the chin, and around the face/beak are all behaviors of bonded pairs of parrots in the wild. Doing this can encourage reproductive behavior such as egg-laying.
• Having access to a nesting site:
Of course, purchasing a nest for a bird is an obvious nesting site, but often people don’t realize that allowing a bird to forage/play in a cardboard box, offering the fuzzy tents sold in pet stores, allowing them to explore the kitchen cabinets, or burrowing in our clothes/bed linens are all nesting sites as well! In the wild, birds seek out small, dark spaces to make a nest such as a tree hollow or rock crevice. There are many of these “sites” in our homes and allowing birds to find them can induce them to lay eggs sometimes in these sites.
What do I do now that my bird laid an egg?
A few species of parrots are sexually dimorphic (you can tell the gender based on the physical appearance) and others are not, so many owners don’t know if they have a male or a female. If you have a male and female or are not sure, it is possible that the egg could be fertile, so as soon as you see an egg, you should remove it and replace it with a fake egg. Alternatively, you could boil or freeze the egg, but then return it to the nest. It is important to return some sort of egg to the nest because some birds will continue to lay eggs, trying to replace the lost ones.
Once the eggs of a clutch are all laid and exchanged for fake or sterilized eggs, leave them with the birds, regardless of whether they are nesting them or not, for approximately 3 weeks. Then, remove them one at a time every other day until they are gone. This will hopefully give the female the time she needs to understand that those eggs are not viable and will not hatch. In most cases, the birds will abandon the eggs after a period of time.
While she is laying/nesting on the eggs, be sure to communicate with your avian veterinarian regarding diet and possible nutritional supplementations. Each situation may be different based on history, species, diet, and other variables. Your pet’s doctor may recommend extra calcium, full-spectrum light, protein, or other supplements during this time.
Tips to prevent pet parrots from laying eggs
- Move the bird’s cage to a different area of your home.
Sometimes making birds feel a little uncomfortable will make their bodies recognize that it is not an ideal time to lay eggs.
- Rearrange any perches, bowls, and toys in the cage.
Again, making them feel just a bit like things are different or strange, less comfortable, they may not be as likely to lay eggs.
- Remove any objects that your bird associates with “nesting”.
These are usually cardboard boxes or fabric toys that your bird can “hide” in. Food bowls are also often used as make-shift nests and changing sizes and location may limit this behavior.
- Remove any objects that your bird considers a “mate” such as mirrors, stuffed toys, special favorite perches, or even other birds.
Sometimes birds may need a time-out from a mate or a perceived mate in order to prevent chronic egg laying.
- Limit time with the bird’s human “mate”.
Avoid bonding behaviors like grooming, kissing, and sharing food.
- If your bird spends a lot of time out of its cage, discourage all nesting behavior.
You may need to keep the bird caged for a while to prevent them from laying eggs in closets, behind/under furniture, or in cabinets.
- Alter your bird’s light/dark schedule by covering the cage for at least 12 hours a night.
Keeping them quiet and dark during these hours will create a sense that it is not springtime and not the time for making babies.
- Keep your bird away from direct, bright sunlight during the day.
It also may help to keep them away from windows and in a normally lit room.
If you are concerned that your bird may be having difficulty laying eggs, make an appointment with your avian vet right away.