Breeding for the Future: Proper Pairing

Just what is breeding for the future? It is simply breeding for later as well as now. Most of the breeders who read my page are already doing this by trying to make sure their chicks get as good a start on life as possible and that they go to good homes. But this is not the only way we can help the future of birds.

Any breeder will tell you that one of the keys to success is proper pairing of birds. However, this goes above and beyond simple compatibility. Dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. Parrots have not. In fact, the only bird domesticated as well as these two species is the chicken. Only a few species of birds have been bred by man and manipulated to make them different from their wild counterparts.

Aviculture is a very new development. Like the medical field, it is only in the last 50 years that we have begun to make great leaps and bounds. More and more people are buying pet birds and lots of us are breeding to supply them as pets. Only a decade ago parrots were imported in mass to the United States where they could be snatched up at killer prices. This is no longer the case. Those importation doors have been sealed forever and the direction that aviculture will take is entirely up to us.

So how does proper pairing fit in to all of this? Genetics play a large role in how any living creature will turn out. You need only to look at your own family tree to discover this. As a kid I always wondered why my sisters and I all looked so different from each other and family members. Sometimes it takes a family reunion to start seeing the similarities. I look like my dad, who shares the same looks as his dad and brother, Kim looks like our grandma and two aunts, Kelly takes more after Momís side of the family. Health conditions are even easier to track. I have hypoglycemia, same as my mother. She and my cousin are lactose intolerant. The genes which control all our good and bad qualities play just as big a role with our birds.


Many of us, myself included, breed our birds for color. While many people are still struggling with the fact that humans come in all different shapes, colors and sizes, we bird breeders are doing our best to flood the market with new and exciting mutations. Budgies and canaries used to be the only species that came in different colors and types. Now just about every species has at least one or two mutations being developed. Cockatiels and Indian ringnecks are the winners of this category. What we need to keep in mind through all this color breeding is that other qualities are just as important, if not more so, than color alone. Health problems can plague birds that have been poorly inbred. Some inbreeding is necessary to establish mutations but we should all do our best to make sure bad traits donít get mixed in there too. Weíve all seen the bald spots on lutino tiels.


Health aside, the most important trait we need to keep track of is temperament. Okay, so if youíre breeding some species thatís extremely rare and just getting rarer donít worry about it. If youíre breeding for pets, however, or even for future stock a good temperament is very important. Rare colors may bring in good money but according to our survey the number one quality people look at when buying a bird is character. Think color made the number two slot? Wrong. The second thing most people look at when buying a bird is you, the breeder. Color and other physical attributes came in a weak third.

Of course, this survey was answered by bird people at a bird page. So what about the rest of the world? The general public doesnít know that much about birds. They donít know which colors are hot and which arenít. What they do know is that the bird that waltzes up and hops on their finger is probably going to be a better pet than the bird sitting in the corner or the one backing away.

What about bird breeders? We like mutations so much that it has to have some bearing on our decision. To a degree, yes. I breed for color and Iíve picked plain-colored birds over great mutations because of personality. I also hold back the friendliest for future breeding stock. It pays. That brings me to another point...

Holding Back Stock

Why let all the good ones get away? Every year you should pick a few of your best babies to hang onto. Birds die or need to be replaced. Why go to another source when you know the health and history of your own birds the best? After a while your breeding records should start to look like The Bible: Chipper begat Pepť, and Pepť begat Shasta, and Shasta begat... The line I just mentioned is one of my own. I first spied Chipper in a pet store and he was the only outgoing bird in the cage, he even chattered while inside a brown paper bag on the ride home! Pepť, a handfed, was so feisty that I hung onto him. Now Iím holding his daughter Shasta, a very friendly parent-raised who is even more comfortable with my hands than any of my handfed tiels. Sheíll even lie on her back!

You can also hold back chicks from pairs with a good track record. Sell all the babies from bad parents into the pet trade and hang onto a few from each of your good pairs. Also let your pairs get some practice once and a while- every year let them raise one chick all the way through to weaning. How would you feel if every time you started raising kids someone yanked them away from you and you had to start over? Give them a chance to feel like they've accomplished something. Uncontrolled yanking of eggs to increase production is what caused button quail to lose all parental instinct. If you've got one that incubates, let alone raises chicks, you've got a very rare bird. Letting your pairs raise their own babies for at least a few weeks instead of pulling the eggs not only gives the chicks a great start but it gives the parents good experience. Every breeder should want good parents who know what they're doing. Not only does this make for good stock but it can also help you out of a bind because now you'll have pairs that can foster chicks from bum parents.

Breeding for good qualities and hanging onto birds for future breeding are keys to making sure aviculture heads in a good direction. Who wants a world where our only bird choices are aggressive pairs with lousy parental skills and skittish handfeds?

Feisty Feathers
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