Chronic Egg Laying

Hypocalcemia explained

Chronic egg laying is a very common problem in cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgies; and is seen in other species of pet birds including macaws, cockatoos, amazons, and African greys. This problem can begin in your bird as early as nine months or as late as several years of age. The most common age range is from one to three years.

Process Of Producing And Laying An Egg

The process of producing and laying an egg is an incredible feat of nature. A bird utilizes various proteins and minerals to build a container that can sustain a life for several days and up to several weeks. Within this container all of the necessary functions of life are carried out - eating, drinking, sleeping, waste disposal, breathing, growth and development, and so on. This is amazing to say the least!

The process of producing and laying an egg is stimulated by many factors. Day length, food availability, mate behavior, rainfall, competition for nesting sites, and many other factors can stimulate hens to lay an egg. It is not necessary that an egg be fertilized before it can be lain. In fact, a mate does not even need to be present for a female to lay eggs.

Where does the calcium come from to make the egg?

The shell of an egg is made primarily of calcium. The calcium comes from calcium stores within the bird's body. The bones and muscles provide nearly all of the calcium required to shell an egg. The calcium that is lost in forming the shell needs to be replaced so the body can continue to function properly. Calcium is primarily needed for muscle contractions and building strong bones.

In the case of chronic egg laying, calcium stores are depleted and the body is unable to function properly. The condition is known as hypocalcemia. The most common problem in egg laying females associated with hypocalcemia is egg binding. With calcium at a low level the uterine muscles are unable to contract and push the egg out. Hypocalcemia can also cause seizure-like activity and brittle bones, which can be easily fractured.

Foul smelling droppings

During the laying cycle birds will begin holding their droppings for an extended period of time. This behavior is related to keeping the nest clean and free of poop. Often the bird will release large, loose, foul smelling, and discolored droppings. The odor is due to the presence of bacteria and yeast in the droppings.

How to prevent chronic egg laying

It is important to prevent excessive egg laying, since it can lead to many health problems. The most important factor in preventing health-related problems is nutrition. It is vital to be sure that your bird is on a complete and balanced diet. No diet is better or more complete than a formulated or pelleted diet (like Harrison's.)

Pellets offer all essential nutrients in the correct ratios. Seeds are very inadequate in preventing problems related to excessive egg laying. Seeds have no calcium, almost no phosphorous, no vitamin A, and no vitamin D; all of which are essential in calcium absorption and utilization. Seeds are also deficient in essential amino acids (protein) and are unable to replace the protein lost in forming the inside of the egg (the yolk, albumin, and fetal membranes).

The first step in treating chronic egg laying is to put your bird on a complete diet. A bird that is on an balanced diet is in little danger of the health problems associated with chronic egg laying.

The second step is to have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian for a complete work up, including exam, blood work, cultures, and all necessary treatments.

Your veterinarian will be looking for bacterial and yeast infections related to holding in the poops, signs of poor nutrition and stress, and clinical signs of calcium deficiency.

The third step is to decrease the amount of light your bird receives during the day. You want to provide them with a maximum of 10 hours of light per day. This will help prevent hormone release that leads to egg production.

Side note from Tracie: We also provide full spectrum lighting during the day because birds, and we humans also, need full spectrum lighting to help us absorb our calcium to keep our bones strong.

When will my bird lay the next egg?

Birds will lay one egg every other day with an average total number of up to 5 or 6 eggs. When your bird does lay an egg, you should leave it in the cage. If you remove it you will stimulate production of more eggs.

Side note from Tracie: When our conure layed eggs, she did not show an indication that she wanted to sit on them. She layed them from high in the cage and they dropped and broke at the bottom.

The first egg we glued back together and put in a bowl with some shredded paper to see if she would sit. When she ignored the bowl, and kept dropping the eggs to the bottom, we removed the bowl. Fortunately she quit laying eggs after the 5th egg. She layed her eggs every 3rd day.

Finally, to prevent chronic egg laying you should remove anything that may be stimulating breeding behavior. Dark, confining spaces such as shoeboxes, bags, cabinets and other places can serve as a nest. Disallow association with such places.

Don't stroke your bird on the back, especially during her breeding period. Leave the grates on the bottom of the cage to give an unsuitable place to lay and sit on eggs.

On rare occasions, females will chose a favorite toy or perch for masturbating. This item should be removed if your bird exhibits this behavior. Other changes may need to be made depending on your bird's environment and play habits.

Should I get my egg laying bird a mate?

A mate is not a solution for the chronic egg layer. Mates will only perpetuate the problem, not solve it. Your bird may become less concerned about you, bond to the other bird, want to reproduce, and you will lose the nice pet you have always had.

Conclusion

We, as responsible owners, should work to prevent excessive egg laying. Prevention can be accomplished by controlling these stimuli and providing balanced nutrition to our pet birds, which is critical in reducing the risk of secondary disease associated with chronic egg laying.

Final instructions for helping a bird laying eggs

In summary, improve the diet (good quality pellets should make up 80% of the diet), decrease the photo period (number hours of light), leave the eggs in the cage, remove any breeding stimulation that may be contributing to the problem, and see your avian veterinarian for a physical exam, diagnostics, and treatments.

We wish you success in preventing chronic egg laying in your companion parrot.

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