Breeding Softbills

Spurwing Plover Chick

Can’t Be Forced

Birds are not mammals, and no one can force a bird to breed… but birds can be enticed.  Several requirements must be met before your birds will become successful parents.  If these requirements are fulfilled, then any species of bird can be bred in captivity.

Two things stand in the aviculturist’s way.  First, understanding what these requirements are, and, second, figuring out how to fulfill them to the birds‘ satisfaction.  This will make the birds content, and only content birds breed!  It can be very frustrating, but despite the often hard work and time-consuming preparations, nothing makes an aviculturist happier than to see a pair of birds successfully raising chicks!

Violet Turacos
Violet Turacos

Male Or Female?

Consider the pair of birds you want to breed.  Are they really male and female?  That’s not as easy as it sounds as many birds are sexually monomorphic (males and females look alike).  Many species need to be sexed by DNA, bloodtesting, or surgery to be sure of the gender.

Are the birds healthy?  No infections or parasites.  Many birds, especially imports, can harbor minor bacterial or parasitical infections that do not make them clinically ill but hinder breeding.  Do the birds behave normally?  Are they mentally and physically content?  Only happy birds breed.

Yuhina with a Waxworm

Consider Diet

Birds in the wild do not feed on the same thing day in and day out.  Many birds require a certain change in diet to stimulate breeding and to raise chicks.  For instance, many softbills require large amounts of livefood to raise young.

African Black Crake on nest with Chick
African Black Crakes on nest with Chick

Consider Space & Privacy

Sometimes aviculturists try to get birds to breed in enclosures that are just too small or with little, or no, privacy.  Sometimes it works, but all birds need a certain amount of territory to feel secure enough in which to raise young.  Other cagemates can deter breeding.  Plants can be used and arranged to provide separate areas of territory.

aviary5 018
Red Crest/Pileated Finch Chicks in Nest

Consider The Nesting Sites & Materials Provided

Birds can be picky, but they know what they don’t want.  Some birds prefer open boxes, some baskets, and some platforms.  Some birds like to nest on the ground and some in the highest corners.  Rotate a wide variety of sites and materials until you know what they will use.  Change the form of presentation also, such as cut grass on the floor, and cut grass draped on branches.

Montane White Eyes bathing on wet leaves

Consider Environmental Elements

Breeding stimuli include photoperiods (length of daylight), water availability, ultraviolet light, and temperature changes.  Frequent misting or wetting leaves to stimulate rainfall and running water (like a fountain) in a flight is a requirement for some birds.

2003-09-23 20.25.07
Silver Beak Tanager on nest

Consider Stress

Most birds will not nest if there are too many human or other animal interferences.  Generally birds want lots of privacy to do what they need to do.  If other birds are in the same flight, be sure they are not distracting or harassing the pair that you want to breed.

Some bird owners tend to constantly check and bother the nest so they can know everything that is going on.  Too much of this can cause the birds to abandon the nest and eggs/chicks, toss out chicks, or eat them.  It is best to stay away.  Even though we would like to see every egg that is laid to hatch and every chick that is born to live, it just doesn’t happen like that, even in the wild.  Much instinct is involved, but parent birds must still be allowed to learn as they go, and some eggs and chicks will be lost to genetic and other natural problems.  If all breeding requirements are met and the parents are left alone, they will nest again.  The birds know what to do.

Communication Is The Avicultural Key

Breeding softbills is a challenge, and aviculture grows through communication.  Talk to others about their experiences and read as much as you can about birds in the wild, as well as in captivity.  Compare what you are providing to what the birds have available in the wild.  And communicate your successes and failures with other aviculturists so our knowledge about these wonderful creatures can be expanded to the point where all birds can be kept and bred in our care.

There is such a variety of softbills that most have not been regularly bred yet, but they need to be if we are to have them in aviculture in the years to come.  Importation restrictions have, and still are, making it difficult to introduce new genetic bloodlines to the USA so that each individual softbill is very important in the large scheme of things.  Each new birth is a triumph.

Although setting up breeding pairs in their own aviaries is ideal, luckily, many softbills breed quite well in mixed species aviaries.  Softbill keeping is by far not as popular as parrot keeping, so it can take a lot of detective work and luck to pair up unrelated individuals.  Communication between softbill fanciers is slowly improving as we build a web of contacts since finding other softbillers is not that easy either.  If you enjoy a challenge and a worthwhile cause, please try softbill breeding.

pics 025
Handraising a Red Vent Bulbul chick


Birds should be parentraising their own young, however there are times where artificially incubating and handraising may need to be done.  A handraised, imprinted bird does not necessarily mean that the bird is useless as a breeder.  Many types of softbills can be handraised and be put into successful breeding situations.  However if an aviculturist finds that they are only relying on handraising to produce chicks, they need to correct issues so the parents can complete the task.

P.S.:  “Bird Mills”

There is absolutely no such thing as a bird mill.  This is a term made up by the animal rights fanatics who would like to see no birds in captivity at all (and they certainly have never done any bird breeding themselves, otherwise they would know how hard it is!).  Even parakeets and zebra finches, which are typically called easy to breed, must have their specific care and breeding requirements met.  Stressed, unhealthy, and unhappy birds just plain won’t successfully breed, period.

This site presents material for your information, education, and entertainment.  All photographs were taken by the Davis Lunds.  All photos and text are property of the Davis Lunds. 

You may not copy, distribute, modify, reuse, or transmit any portions of this site for commercial or public use without written permission from the Davis Lunds. 

No text or photos can be copied for use in other websites, personal or commercial.

Copyright 07/09  Kateri Davis