The first question you need to ask when you’re considering breeding lovebirds is what you will do with the chicks. Pairing up your birds without any idea of who will take the babies off you can end badly, so all captive breeding should be carefully and consciously planned well in advance.
Once you’re confident that you will be able to find loving homes for your baby birds, the next consideration is whether your birds are in breeding condition…
The Happy Couple
While some highly-experienced experts claim to be able to tell male lovebirds from females, for all intents and purposes they look identical. In other words, there is no visual way to ascertain whether your two birds are a pair or not. Oddly, lovebirds even form same-sex pairs, so just because your two birds seem to be constantly whispering sweet nothings to one another there is still no guarantee that you have both a male and a female.
There are several ways to sex lovebirds, but all will require specialist assistance. Possibly the easiest way to sex lovebirds is to gather blood samples or DNA (such as from shed feathers). These can then be analysed by a laboratory to be certain of their sex. An alternative method is to ask your vet to surgically sex your birds, where he or she will inspect the bird’s cloaca to ascertain their sex.
Assuming you’ve confirmed that your two birds are indeed a breeding pair, the next consideration should be for their health and age. It is best not to breed very young birds; most breeders recommend only pairing birds when they reach 10 months of age or greater.
The process of producing and incubating eggs, not to mention rearing the young, is an energy-intensive process. It is important, as a result, that your birds are in the very best of health. If not, you risk weakening your lovebirds, which can lead to problems with breeding.
Like most cage birds, lovebirds appreciate a nesting box in which to lay their eggs. Opinions vary as to the best type of nest box to use. While some breeders use budgie boxes, most experts prefer to use cockatiel next boxes which offer considerably more space for the female to move around.
The base of the nest box should be lined with wood flakes or sawdust to provide a soft base onto which the female can lay her eggs. Furthermore, additional nest-building materials can be provided, such as grass or even palm fronds, which the birds will use to further line the nest box.
Egg laying normally commences soon after mating has been observed, with the first egg often produced just 3 or 4 days later. Once egg laying has begun it is normal for one egg to be laid every other day until the clutch is complete. A typical lovebird clutch is between four and six eggs.
Once the clutch is complete the female will slink off to the nest box where she will spend almost all her time until hatching occurs. It is normal the female to remain hidden for hours at a time, only appearing to eat or drink, before rapidly returning to the box.
It is best to leave the lovebirds to their own devices at this time, or the nest may be abandoned or eggs damaged in the scrabble to escape your gaze.
Lovebird eggs normally incubate for a period of around 22-25 days, though there is a large degree of flexibility in this. In other words, don’t assume that eggs won’t hatch just because the time overruns; keep the faith and you’re likely to be rewarded a short time later.
Normally you’ll know hatching has occurred as you can hear the chicks audibly chirping from inside the box.
Rearing the Young Lovebirds
Lovebirds grow up quickly when they’re properly cared for. They’re normally fully weaned by just 8 weeks old; your mission is to give the parents all the help and support that they need.
While the youngsters are being reared you should aim to provide additional food to keep them well-fed. Commercial eggfood can be provided, or alternatively you may offer finely-chopped hard-boiled egg which your birds will relish. This calcium-rich food can also be an excellent tonic for nesting females who may otherwise suffer from low calcium levels after egg-laying.
If you are hoping for silly-tame baby birds many experts recommend gently removing the babies each day for a short period starting from when they are a week old. Just a few minutes per day is necessary to get them used to being around people. With time and patience you will find such socialized birds much more pleasant to own than those that have been left without human interaction for the first few months of their life.
If all goes according to plan, roughly two months after hatching you should find yourself with a clutch of healthy, confiding baby lovebirds, all feeding themselves on seed, and you can begin to distribute them safely to other keepers. Remember that lovebirds are a sociable species, so ideally offer lovebirds in pairs, especially if you have successfully sexed them beforehand. In such a way same-sex pairs can live out happy lives together with no concerns over unplanned egg laying taking place.