Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Leave the Egg Laying to Wild Birds


Pet Column for the week of May 5, 2003


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

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 trait.

"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 own body.

"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. Whittington.

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.