A bird laying an egg is the most natural thing in the world. Still, we humans always seem so surprised when it happens.
Egg production is not the result of mating, as many astonished single bird owners have discovered. It is the breeding stimuli in the environment that causes a hen to generate an egg. If you have only one bird, or are certain that your male and female are nothing more than good friends, the egg will be unviable. Without fertilization, an egg will not produce a chick. Now that we’ve concluded the birds and bees portion of this post we can move on to what to do if your bird does lay an egg:
1. Don’t mess with mama!
So you wake up one morning to find your bird sitting in a corner of her cage. You realize that something isn’t right, and you reach in to retrieve her. She charges forward, her wings out to the sides, straight towards your hand (which you have hopefully withdrawn in time). Behind her is a little white egg. She returns to her corner and re-positions the egg under her warm body. She will stop at nothing to protect her little treasure. If you’re smart, you will let her be for a few days.
2. Don’t remove the egg too soon
If you were to immediately remove the egg, while your bird is still in parenting mode, it will only cause her to lay another to replace the one she lost. This can bring about some serious health concerns, including egg binding, common in cockatiels.
It doesn’t take mom long to realize that the egg is a dud. Often,she will abandon the after a few days or start spending longer periods of time away from it. When away from the immediate nest site, you will find her less defensive with you. This is the time to remove the egg.
Some people will then replace the stolen egg with a similar sized stone or plastic egg to minimize the need for the hen to lay again. It has been explained to me that this kicks the breeding urge down a notch, surely she understands that this is not a real egg, and quells the urge to produce more. I have never used this technique, but many have successfully.
3. Keep her from over producing eggs
Since it is the breeding stimuli in the environment that encourages her egg production, you need to take a good look around and eliminate those things which might be causing her to lay. Cover the area of her cage where she tends to lay with a large toy or object that she cannot use as a nest or nest behind. Keep her from any dark, private areas, such as under or behind the couch, cabinets or corners. Remove anything that can be used as a nesting material, like shredders, cloth or wood chips. Avoid warm, mash-like food and limit bathing for the time being. These are breeding stimulators. Make sure she gets at least 10 -12 hours of darkness a day. If you don’t cover your bird’s cage at night, you might want to do this during the spring. Extended daylight hours signify breeding season.
4. Keep her healthy while she is laying
The egg shell is made up mostly of calcium, which comes directly from the calcium stores in your female’s body. This means she is surrendering her own personal supply for egg production. Every time she lays an egg, she will be somewhat depleted. In a chronically laying hen, the depletion is serious and her own health is at risk.
You will want to serve her a calcium rich diet at this time. Feed her lots of legumes (especially navy beans), broccoli and papaya. Give her scramble eggs, with the shell crushed in to it, a couple of times a week. Avoid the leafy greens, like kale, spinach and mustard and collard greens. These are normally great foods for your bird, but they contain oxalic acids which inhibit the absorption of calcium, which she desperately need at this time.
Some fun egg facts:
- Did you know that the egg is a miracle of engineering? It’s dome-like shape distributes pressure evenly, which allows mom to walk all over the eggs, but have you ever noticed that the ends are differently shaped with one end being broader than the other? If you were to interlock your fingers and apply pressure to the egg lengthwise, you would be very surprised how difficult it is to break. (Wear gloves if you try this, egg shell shards are sharp!)
- Did you know that, while in the shell, a bird develops an egg tooth? This is a hard, pointed ridge that grows on top of the beak that is used to pip his way out of the shell when the time comes. It falls off shortly after hatching.
- Did you know that the egg comes with its own supply of food? The contents of the egg changes as the bird develops, and it contains a constant supply of nutrients.
- Did you know that the mother bird turns her eggs frequently to keep the chick from getting stuck? A baby bird can adhere to the inside of the shell causing developmental problems and death. The turning also serves to keep the egg warm from all sides.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.