With a yawn Joe Bird Owner gets out of bed and
stops at his birdcage to wish his feathered friend
good morning. A surprise greets him: his bird has
proudly produced an egg! Many of the species of
birds kept as pets will lay eggs, an undesirable
"If hens are comfortable in their environment, they
will typically lay eggs at maturity. However,
chronic laying can threaten the health of the bird,"
says Dr. Julia Whittington, an exotic animal
veterinarian at the University of Illinois
Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
Several things stimulate a bird to become
reproductively active. Day length and attachment
formation are two big factors. Birds can bond to
humans or other birds, male or female. Bonding to
owners is quite common.
Budgies and cockatiels are popular birds in the pet
industry. These birds are bred often and, as a
result, can have altered egg-laying cycles, which
can lead to reproductive tract problems. If you own
a chronic layer, spaying (surgically removing the
reproductive tract of) the bird is strongly
recommended. Loss of nutrients can lead to other
health problems for your bird.
Although spaying birds is not an easy, risk-free
surgery, it is worse to allow the bird to continue
laying eggs. Egg laying depletes energy stores,
often taking vitamins and minerals from the bird's
"Another problem is dystocia, also called egg
binding. This is an emergency situation where the
egg is stuck. The egg begins to compress other
internal organs and can lead to death," warns Dr.
Bird owners can try several approaches to correct
chronic laying before surgery becomes necessary.
Elimination of the stimulus is the best solution,
but figuring out what is stimulating your bird is a
challenge. You can try moving the bird's cage within
the room or to another room. Altering the amount of
sunlight the bird sees is another option. Allowing
the cage to be uncovered for only 8 hours a day
mimics autumn and may break the egg-laying cycle.
Eggs stink if allowed to sit in the cage. Most
owners remove them, only to find that a new egg
appears rapidly. "One trick is to switch the eggs
your bird laid with wooden eggs. This will induce
her not to lay any more eggs temporarily. After the
normal incubation period passes, her hormone levels
will drop. She will see these eggs as a failed
clutch, ignore them, and start the process all over
again," advises Dr. Whittington.
Signs that your bird may be nesting are increased
vocalization and behavior changes. Some birds become
more aggressive, some will perform a "dance," and
some will guard the bottom of their cage or nest.
"I've had several owners come in because George is
acting strange and then three days later he lays an
egg! They are quite surprised that he is really a
girl," says Dr. Whittington.
In some species of birds, males and females look
different; females are usually larger. In other
species there is no way externally to determine a
bird's sex with complete certainty. Surgical sexing
is a quick procedure that requires general
anesthesia. It enables a veterinarian not only to
tell the sex but also to determine the health status
of the reproductive tract by viewing the organs
directly. Sending a blood sample to have DNA testing
done is another option.
Many people are unaware that egg laying can hurt a
healthy bird. If you're concerned that your bird may
be a chronic egg layer, consult your veterinarian
for further advice and information.