Basic Start To Breeding Cockatiels
The best way to start would be to eliminate all obstacles possible. Such as making sure you have a pair of cockatiels (male & female). Once establishing this the next thing is the cage. The standard breeding cage is 24" X 24" X 18" with the nest box either inserted with back access door to the front of cage, or attached to the outside of cage.
The nest box is important it can be various sizes, we use a nest that is about 8 wide x 10 deep x 12 high, and I have used smaller and larger. For very nervous pairs I use an angled very deep box and often paint the inside black or a dark color. This covers up the knots in the plywood and other imperfections in the wood that could be shadowy or look to the hen as though there were something else in her box besides herself, her mate, eggs, and or chicks. When I lived in Palm Beach, Florida I visited Loxahatchee where they were studying with painted or not painted nest boxes (inside) and it was observed time and again the birds with the painted inside boxes were much more relaxed, and produced better verses the ones that had unpainted plywood. Of course the paint must be safe, we have found and recommend, if on the can label it says safe for human baby furniture when dry it is safe.
Also keep in mind the placement of the entrance hole (about 3 to 4 inches across) to the nesting box should be high on the box. So not to allow eggs or babies to fall out. It is also best to have the inspection door to the back or side of the nesting box verses the top. Top doors cause the birds to get more nervous because they feel trapped and can not get out through the hole without you hovering over them, and this often causes them to bare down on the eggs and babies, or even thrashing around in the box because you have scared them unintentionally causing them to crack eggs and or harm to their own chicks. With a back or side inspection door they seem to get out through the hole much easier, calmer, and safer for all. Of course there are always exceptions, I have a few hens that won't budge for anything (very devoted) I actually have to reach in and lift them up to see their eggs and or chicks, then gently place them back down, and they act as if nothing has happened. * Please note not to try this first, and keep cards on your birds so that you will know your birds better, and even come to know which ones will do what consistently. Such as in the case of fostering eggs and or chicks some will only take chicks and or eggs if they are at the same stage and age of their own eggs and or chicks. Some pairs will not foster at all, these are the things you need to keep track of so when you might need to do this you will know which pair will foster and not have to leave it to chance.
I have one pair that are the exception to the rule, put a baby cockatiel or cockatoo in their nesting box and no matter what else they have going on chicks of their own or not, they will feed and care for it. I love that pair!
Another thing I always do so not to alarm my birds, is talk to them as I walk up, and I tap lightly on the box (I say the same thing everyday when inspecting, they know it's me, and know exactly what I am about to do). I try to inspect boxes at the same time when ever I am inspecting and not at random. I almost always feed at the same time everyday, some birds get fed two and three times a day if they are feeding chicks. This makes the meals they feed their chicks fresh. Just because they have food in the bowl at the time you check and they have chicks doesn't always mean that is what they will feed their chicks. Feed extra stuff, feed a variety, feed things they might not normally eat, often they will when having chicks eat things they usually don't at other times. If there is a certain seed or food they have completely eaten but not eaten the rest replace it anyway or you could loose chicks. Because to them they didn't feel it was adequate for there family to survive on. This is definitely not the time to force your pair to eat everything on there plate before you replace or add what they are looking for. In the wild often chicks are allowed to die because of a shortage of food, if the parents can see there is not enough food to successfully raise all four babies then they will only raise the strongest of the clutch. It seems cruel but this is natures way, and for the species it is better for one or two to survive than if the parents stretched the little food they could find, weakening all the chicks, that leads to all of there chicks not surviving.
I feel time is very important to them and feeding them at random is so unfair, (don't you want to know when you will be eating, and how about those that get forgotten until the next day)? If you want to breed successfully be constant and they will produce well. In the wild they go for years sometimes without breeding and producing, because due to a food shortage they know they can not successfully raise a family so they don't.
You should have a nice three inches or so of pine shavings in the bottom of the nest box. Don't use cedar chips or cedar shavings, because the oils of the cedar are naturally strong scented, and can burn tiny developing lungs. Stay away from shavings that came from a mill that may have lead paint chips, metal fragments from nicked nails, and even toxins from pressure treated wood mixed in with these wood shavings.
The placement of the perch is very important, first of all do not place the perch over the food or water bowls, for sanitary reasons. The perch must be secure, not loose, and wobbly. Because cockatiels breed by mounting you need to make sure there is sufficient room to do that. They don't necessarily always breed on the perch, but again if your pair chooses too they can. You wouldn't want a loose or unstable perch to be the cause of infertile eggs.
When feeding your pair it is important to remember if you want them to be successful at raising a family you must provide, (not what's adequate) an abundance of food. In the wild cockatiels go for long periods of time not raising young. Due to insufficient food, drout, or bad weather conditions, I can not stress this enough.
Many books recommend hard boiled eggs chopped finely and offered to the birds, the problem with that is it can become rancid and reach toxic levels in a very short time. We suggest making a corn bread with extra eggs, and if it's in hot weather substitute the milk for orange juice, which will be much less likely to spoil. Some birds like just plain bread, just remember to remove and discard soft foods even if all is not eaten, and provide fresh. Fresh water daily is very important, and if you use water bottles change them daily as well. Would you want to drink water left sitting out since yesterday, just because it looks clean? Those of us that took chemistry and or dabbled with the microscopes can tell you that even clear looking water, that has been sitting warming especially on a summer day, is not what it seems. Put under a scope and all those little friendly critters in that water (that weren't there several hours ago) will be waving back at you, any body thirsty? So change that water!
Cockatiels are grain eaters, but I have found I can sneak things they won't eat normally into the corn bread, after blending it in the blender. A good seed diet, spray millet, even things like wheat checks, rice checks, puffed wheat, etc., are all relished by cockatiels. And I have never met a cockatiel that didn't love popcorn.
Some people like to recycle food, we do not do this. To start with, it's not sanitary if you have more than one pair, your spreading germs. And if you have one bird that gets ill rest assured it will spread to many of your birds on that recycled food.
As the pair of Cockatiels start to show interest in the nest it is usually the male that enters the nest first. He will inspect it and move the wood chips around to his liking, in hopes that it will be an appealing place to his mate as well. When he feels he has achieved this he will begin to court the hen he will sing to her and as the hens often seem to ignore her suitor, he will of course try harder. He'll sing in her face, he will bill beat his beak to make a knocking sound inside and out of the nest. When she does show interest (it doesn't always happen right away) and they mate it will take two or more weeks to lay an egg, provided everything is to their liking. Keep in mind they can only work with what we have provided them as there comforts of home, and some times they don't breed because they feel something vital is missing.
I always love hearing things like: There a proven pair and I'm not getting any eggs or babies. That's when I usually notice something like lack of a good diet, no extras to stimulate them into thinking they have enough food to raise a family or the nest box is in a bad placement or worse on the floor. What gives, the birds can't get out and get these things right themselves, you must provide a proper situation for them. I would rather do more for a pair then needed, then too possibly leave something out that could prevent them from raising.
Once the hen starts to lay she will brood in the box in advance of laying her first egg, and once she does lay it will be every other day until she has completed her clutch (a group of eggs, that will basically be her litter). The average clutch is about 4 to 8 eggs, but we have had many a hen far pass that, and I don't mean double clutching (starting a second clutch of eggs on top of the first, or right after the first) some hens are just extraordinary.
Depending on whether the pair starts incubating with the first egg or wait for the second to start brooding, and some even wait until they have laid the whole clutch. So you can see where incubation time can vary drastically, from 18 days if they start with the first egg to 24 days or more. Or even if the pair gets off the nest more often then most this will and can lengthen the incubation time. So don't just up and throw those eggs out, at least candle them first. One lady called me recently for advise, she had her first pair of Cockatiels lay eggs and was told they would not be good so through them out. I was horrified, I'll admit often they aren't, but what if this time there are good at least wait and find out. Incidentally the eggs the lady had were good and even hatched and the inexperienced pair raised quite a nice family! Sometimes you can expect the unexpected, other times it is a waiting game, things can just plain take time.
As the pair incubate there eggs, you will most likely if all is going well see the hen sitting the eggs after she has laid her clutch at night, where as the male will sit during the day. Sometimes they will both be in there brooding the eggs and keeping each other company. Each pair is individual and can vary on how they do things, but they all follow the same procedure some what. In other words we humans generally carry our children 9 months, and most often have them in a hospital, and that is all considered normal. Use that as a guide reality check, cause we whom have not experience having babies in a cab, on the freeway, or on the way to the hospital, at least have a general idea that this could happen. As is the case with some birds, expect the unexpected, and be prepared for everything as best you can.