Dr. Ian Malcolm: If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.
Henry Wu: You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will… breed?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.
Jurasic Park the first movie
Most birds need nests or nest boxes or a hollow tree in order to lay eggs. Not zebra finches. In fact, maybe not most finches. Rumor has it that the early imported birds were stuffed into crates, a few hunderd at a time. No nests were available, but the zeebs mated and laid eggs and hatched out babies by the time the crate arrived at its destination.
Someone my husband worked with had an outside aviary for Lady Gouldian finches. He put up hanging plants, and the Goulds went right to work. Goulds have a reputation in avian circles as being among the most difficult birds to breed. They require special nest boxes, and toss their chicks so foster parents are brought in. These finches hadn’t read that information. This man left a pair of shoes in the aviary, and when he went to get them, a family was already on the way.
Quail drop eggs wherever they happen to be at the time. I can just picture the hen waddling along, when a look of confusion comes over her. A push and a squat, and out pops an egg. She looks at it, wonders what it is, and walks off. But a week or so later, she realized what all these ovoids are, and starts rolling them together into a safe corner. When the pile is big enough, she starts to incubate. Luckily the eggs are in suspended animation for a few days until the heat is applied. Some of the eggs have probably gone a bit past the best by date, and often don’t hatch, but the greater portion of them are fertile and gathered within the right time frame.
Cockatiels also drop eggs when no nest is available, but not in a way that insures the viability of the egg. We pick themup off the ground and usually they have been cracked in the 4 feet from perch to floor of the aviary. I think it’s that sudden stop at the bottom that does it.
But not always. The doves lay eggs year round, and no matter how often we pull the eggs, they try, try again. Food dishes are a favorite nesting site for them. Once they chose a hanging basket that had a few holes in the bottom. The eggs fell out when the hen tried to turn them over. I put a solid bottom in , and picked up the undamaged eggs. Doves usually lay 2 eggs, and the chicks are usually one male and one female. But I found 3 eggs and just stuffed them all in under the hen.
A few weeks later, we found a dead cockatiel chick, only a day old, on the ground. The odd egg I put in the dove nest had been a cockatiel egg. The hen incubated and turned the egg perfectly, but the chick was too odd for her to know what to do next. So she tossed it. To us it’s a sad situation, but really, it’s just how this egg thing works. The right-looking offspring has to come out to be nurtured.
A friend had an elderly female canary who got the urge to lay eggs and sit on them. She used the seed cup in her cage, so my friend put a nest in and moved the eggs. The hen should have abandoned the eggs after the time when they would have hatched, had they been fertile. But maybe due to her age, or being very comfy in the nest, she sat and sat.
Some love birds get overly eager to double clutch, and start to build another next on top of the nearly fledged chicks. Usually removing the box does cure this, but I had one hen who would lay eggs on the bottom of the cage, on the wires. She sat there trying to keep the eggs warm, but without a solid layer under the egg, this never worked.
Hens often die very young when they are allowed to breed indiscriminately. If you breed birds, you know you have to provide calcium and good nutrition plus have room for exercise to keep a hen healthy. Most breeders who are concerned for the health of their birds limit them to two clutches per year, with rest until the next breeding season. I think of it like Sara Conner in the second Terminator movie, exercising in the facility where she was being held.
Getting back to zebra finches, I gave up on breeding them due to the amount of space needed. Because group breeding is difficult, and pairs like to invade the nests of other pairs to take over and toss the eggs and chicks, it’s much better to have one pair per cage. With the thought of concentrating on my violet love birds instead, I put all the zeebs into a large cage with one society finch, one female green singing finch, and a rosy Bourke parakeet.
Let me digress for a minute, in case you have never heard of rosy Bourkes. These are sweet, gentle birds from Australia that are very laid back. They have a soft trill that you only hear at daybreak and sunset. We had Ethel, our rosy, out in the aviary with the doves and the cockatiels and the quail. Turns out, when we put up the nest boxes, Ethel wanted to breed too. Rosy hens have to be in a dark box or tree for a few days before they will start laying eggs. She went into all the nest boxes, chased out the tiels, destroyed eggs, and didn’t feed the hatchlings. I could not figure out what was going on, until she was observed in the act. Mike would do nest checks, and when he saw Ethel in a box, he chased her out. She went right back in, chasing any birds unwise enough to try to reclaim their nest. So we moved her inside.
About this same time, something was happening to the quail nests and eggs. I separated the quail adults, leaving only mom and dad in the aviary, but still lost a clutch. Then Mike saw the doves attacking the quails and the eggs. Sheesh. Symbols of peace, my foot! The doves were moved to a separate cage, too.
Oh, yeah, zebra finches. No nests in the cage they are in, no boxes, not even the ones we make ourselves out of take-out containers from Smart and Final and throw away when done. Plus the presence of an egg-breaking, chick-killing parakeet. And piles of eggs end up at the bottom of the cage every week. I’m tempted to give them canary nests and see what happens.