Plum Heads That Won’t Lay

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Q: Four years ago, we purchased a pair of juvenile plum-headed parakeets. It’s obvious that they are a true pair by the coloration differences between the male and female. Unfortunately, we have yet to see our first egg. They both recently underwent an extensive vet check and were declared “fit as a fiddle.” They are the only birds we own, and we have spared no expense to try to make them happy. They have their own room, and our vet says that their diet is complete. Do you have any ideas why they won’t start laying?

A: There are several possible answers to your birds’ problem. Most avian species require some type of courtship behavior on the part of the male for the female to ovulate. Some species require more, others less. The parakeets from the Australasian range are more dependent on proper courtship behavior prior to laying. The fact that they are also the groups of psittacines that have the most obvious sexual dimorphism is no coincidence. If there is a compatibility problem between the pair, you might never see eggs.

Another strong possibility is that the female is laying eggs, but one or both of the birds are destroying them. Some pairs that break their eggs are not content until they have pulverized the shell to the point that you find no broken shell in the box upon gross examination. Many times, finite inspection of the nesting material will reveal the pulverized shells.

The last major possibility is that there is something physically wrong with either the male or the female. Whenever there is a long-term problem with a pair of birds and their lack of production, they should be examined internally by an avian vet who is experienced in endoscopic examination of sex organs (surgical sexing). Some males never mature sexually, even though they develop mature plumage. Sometimes, males will develop hormonal problems that will actually cause their gonads to shrink down to a size and shape that is considered “immature.” Many males in this condition will never commence courtship behavior. Those that do will not have their females laying fertile eggs.

The female, as well, might be the problem. Quite a few things can go wrong with all the female “plumbing” that can keep an egg from being laid. If these problems are at the end of the process, they can result in egg-binding and associated problems. If the problems are at the beginning, then you might never know that anything was wrong. One such problem pair when examined closely by a leading avian vet revealed that the cause was a restriction of the female’s oviduct. The vet admitted that he never would have seen it had he not specifically asked to look for a problem that might keep the hen from laying.