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 Why Colony Breed ?
 "Faux" Colony
 Parental Pedigree
Behavioral Observations 
 Separating Sexes


The pleasure of colony breeding is often forgotten today in the rush to have birds breed and produce 'pedigree" offspring for monetary return.  The loss of the aviary is compounded by  the marked human population shift from the rural or agrarian setting into the "urban jungle".  Birds are now kept singly or in pairs because people want a companion or pet, but the majority have neither the room nor the desire to accommodate numerous animals in their busy lives.  As we are all aware, bird song can interrupt or interfere with the ubiquitous, but comforting background "noise" of television and radio. The challenge with lovebirds, in particular, is their well known ability and joy in communicating with each other.  The raucous moments, 2 to 3 times through the daylight hours, can crescendo into a mind boggling "cacophony" when more than six birds are housed in a location (indoor or outdoor).  Fortunately, the individual who reads everything about lovebirds, before acquiring them, is often aware of the vocal abilities of these pint sized megaphones. When kept as singletons or as a lone pair, these birds do not "chatter" so vociferously that one need fear eviction from their apartment or basement suite, but exceed 3 or 4 pairs and the sound and "excitement" rises exponentially (as with most animals).

Cage breeding has a long tradition and history in the capture and domestication of birds, and in all practicality is the best way to house a pair or two in the home.  Great numbers of birds, as with the budgerigar, were kept primarily in outdoor aviaries in the '20s and '30s.  However, that tradition slowly shifted to one of intensive cage breeding.  This shift addressed the need for pedigree and genetic continuity in exhibition birds versus the "production volume" pet.  Owners and breeders of exhibition birds and those with the hidden desire to be owners and breeders of exhibition pets use the cage setting almost exclusively to:

With all of the proposed and some would say proven benefits to cage breeding, and only a few downsides in terms of increased work and less muscling and vigor in ones birds, interest in cages blossomed and has remained the "preferred" breeding mechanism

Colony or large aviary setting are most often used today for producing avian volume.  One might say quality as well, but this (like the exhibition bird) is a question of individual breeder preference, expectation and colony management.  A pet owner is often not interested in the detail of form and "perfection" as is the exhibition breeder.  The pet owner simply desires a pet for their little girl or boy.  If they are struck by the colors and size of the bird, they are not going to question the badly crossed wing tips, the hunched shoulders or the dropped (hinged) tail.  They buy!

Color mutants are perhaps the most frequently produced birds in various colony establishments.  Birds of a feather (color) are housed together in "colonies", with the certain knowledge that the majority of birds will produce offspring with the desired color.  The question of inbreeding is a limited one as many of the birds may have different backgrounds.  Bird volumes are usually high enough that random mating prevents excessive gene shrinkage or concentration, such that inbreeding deficits are rarely recognized (except where that is the goal of the colony breeder). Where improvement of base quality in birds is desired or practiced, better birds may be selected or introduced, annually, depending on the objective.  Mass selection of stock, at the end of each cycle may improve the quality of the stock dramatically or very little, depending on: the quality of the birds selected and  introduced; their promiscuity level; the number of cocks per pen (usually equivalent to females) and the cock and hen capacity for fertility.

Why Colony Breed

Given all of the examples above, it would appear that the health of the bird is optimized or at least is moving in that direction as a consequence of cage breeding.  However, lets look at this a little differently.  Peachface lovebirds are colonial nesters.  They can live in a variety of nest sites, including those of weavers.  As birds in colonies are prolific producers, the colony structure may be reliably identified as an indicator of their "naturally selected" social pattern, protection mechanism and perhaps mating "triggers".  These colony nesters have the inherent ability/ desire to co-exist in relatively close proximity without killing each other.

When we remove them from this environment and subject them to a caged environment, we are immediately imposing new selective pressure on these birds and are beginning to alter their response mechanisms.  We know this from the normal, natural inclinations and behaviors of caged wild animals to: a human presence, "intruders" in their "territory"; the loss of chicks when visited frequently by the well meaning attendant or breeder, and their attentiveness when drinking or selecting a roost.  These "behaviors" are most often represented as aggressive and undesirable, wild type responses that must be "altered" or eradicated in order to successfully reproduce a domesticated form of the species in question:  The young are well known to be more malleable to change and influence, than adults.

We cage birds and pair them, making it quite clear that we determine the matings and that the responsibility of the bird is to be more accepting of any mate that we choose to introduce.  In a sense we are selecting hens and cocks for promiscuity versus the monogamous parrot relationships that one so often reads about.  Currently, the most common practice for pairing peachface lovebirds, requires that the cock be prepared for the hen.  The hen is the dominant bird and is introduced into the cock's cage (territory) to mitigate the loss of a cock.  This process is reversed in the budgerigar fancy, where the cock is introduced into a hen's cage (territory).  As an aside this is quite interesting as the hen is the dominant sex in the budgerigar, has been known to be quite as violent as the peachface hen (the peachface hen is more aggressive because of the size of her beak), but seems to be very accepting of any cock bird when in season (1 cock: 6 hens). Those hens that do not do the bidding of the breeder and resolutely defy to mate with a breeder selected cock or, worse, kill the cock (s), are usually disposed of.

In some species hens can be, and are, artificially inseminated (A.I.).  Thus the hen's natural gene bank is considered more important to breeders than her "unwillingness" to mate.  Artificial insemination is not an unusual or questionable procedure in livestock.  In fact it is well known and accepted, where people have benefited from this form of artificial breeding in domesticated animals for a very long time.  Artificial insemination is an interesting topic, but not one for this page.  It is undoubtedly a beneficial tool, when all else fails and specific crosses are both desirable and beneficial.  Suffice to say that it is done for some caged avian species, and that the question here is whether it is practiced by anyone in the lovebird breeding world (peachface or other lovebirds)

Wire Cages ("Faux' Colony)

A wire cage system enables minimal interaction between neighboring birds.  Where there is interaction, it is confined to visuals and vocals. Vocal sparring and bickering is worst during the breeding season, depending on the lovebird species, and can delay the hen going to nest or result in negative consequences for the brood.  In severe cases, birds may need to be further compartmentalized / isolated or visually separated from each other.  Fighting or bickering is usually limited to hens.  In one sense this type of behavior during the breeding season (depending on the length of sustained aggression) typifies a species that is not a highly social or colony species. Unlike the peachface.

The practice of "faux" colony breeding ( numerous wire cages in a localized area) is beneficial for transmitting sound, revealing displays, and stimulating other colony breeders.  The peachface is a gregarious colony species, and as such "vocalizations" are obviously very important in dictating their behavior, as are clear visual displays and warnings.  However, in a faux colony there is no physical contact between breeding pairs at any time.  The birds are caged year round.  Hens and sometimes cocks, may remain "box bound" before, during and after the breeding season, being seen only infrequently by even the most observant breeder or attendant (except when checking eggs/chicks).  No sexual activity is seen, but eggs are laid and are fertile.  The nest box is is an important factor in a lovebird's seeming well-being.  I personally do not know what they would do if they were not constantly chewing nesting material, boxes and toys.

As identified previously, the cage system is set up for the breeder's ease.  However, if one has ever had the dubious honor of watching a hen exit her nest during the incubation period and whir her wings in exercise, it is simply amazing to watch the dust, feathers and seed husks that her powerful wing beats can stir up and spread over the floor.  Deep plastic cage bases are nice, but they tend to collect droppings and waste material and provide a potential haven for fungus/bacteria.  The sides seem to be the one piece of the cage that still eludes the grasp of the designer.  Four to six inch sheeted sides (plastic) or cage skirts can sometimes funnel the wind generated by wing bursts, in a smaller cage, with the result of seed husks and feathers being lifted up and over the skirts.  In other words, the management of cages can be quite a chore and fairly messy.

Chicks are often separated from their parents at a very early age and put in with stock of similar age.  Consequently, some birds have minimal learned behavior to utilize when dealing with colony and individual interaction, "etiquette" and response.  This loss of socialization is most evident among hand-fed animals, which sometimes have difficulty associating with their own kind.  To some this is not an issue as the animal is being hand raised to act as a companion, rather than as breeding stock.

For the breeder, the difficult decisions arise in selecting future breeding stock from known and proven pairs.  Even with cages, space quickly becomes the limiting factor with 2 nests per pair per annum.  The breeder needs to decide whether to buy new cages and retain stock or get rid of potentially good stock.  One of the challenges is that some birds that might be discards at 6 months may turn into very good birds by 2 years.  The eye of the exhibition breeder may be sharp, but it is extremely difficult to judge a young bird's potential without knowing at least some of its background and parentage, and even then breeders have made errors that come back to haunt them.

The cage system is uniformly perceived as the optimum environment for developing a pedigreed line.  Unfortunately, this only makes sense in an exhibition style environment, when the breeder is inbreeding.  Both colony breeding and cage breeding are a virtual lottery unless rigorous effort is applied to the selection and improvement of ones birds.  You may obtain a winner in a cage, but there is no certainty that brothers and sisters or relations of that bird will ever win anything, or express the same characteristics of the nick bird. In this case the management practice employed must focus on slow, but steady improvement through inbreeding and the occasional good fortune from hatching and identifying a prepotent individual,


There is little doubt, at least from what I have seen, that it is less costly and time consuming to maintain a pen or colony of birds than individual birds.  The return may or may not be present, depending on your goals, and there is greater potential for infection and disease spread in a colony situation.  This does not mean that it cannot or will not spread as rapidly in a cage system.  The impact of a disease or infection depends if it something like worms, which are relatively easy to control in a cage bird system.  or if it is polyoma, coccidiosis  or something else that is highly contagious.  If highly contagious, there is a strong likelihood of it being rapidly transmitted by hands, feet or something else from one cage to another, quarantined or otherwise.  Lovebirds can spray their vegetables on walls and other items and when bathing, can spread water droplets quite a distance.  If the water is infected or has contagious fecal elements in it, the disease may be spread rapidly among other caged birds, if in close proximity to one another.

Some people like to keep their cages so clean that you can eat off them.  I suppose everyone has a different concept of cleanliness.  If we look at the peachface and its natural environment, I am not overly concerned about having everything absolutely clean.  The parents and offspring roost in the nest every evening.  Nestling waste is merged into the nest construction and I would expect creates a rather humid environment within the nest box... much like the wild.  This is not a big issues for me, as chicks have lived in this environment for as long as there have been nesters.  This does not mean that I don't clean boxes out after the second round, only that I try not to interfere with the birds more than I have to.

Personally, I do not ascribe to changing nest box litter or material (caveat: this depends on the nesting material and the potential for degradation, and fungal and bacterial growth) until two nests are taken, at which time boxes are usually removed and disinfected and a wooden flat is placed over the entrance to prevent re-entry.  I do not believe that waste material, which seems to be the basis for most people's objection to "dirt", is not harmful to the birds per se. I think it becomes harmful when allowed to build up over a significant period of time and the food that is being eaten has the potential to produce bacteria that are uncommon to the gut or the bird in general. The potential for disaster, as far as I am concerned, is greater outdoors, where the mercurial climate and spores or waste from other plants or animals contaminate water or seed material in the pen or colony cage.

Deep litter, and occasional cleaning of the base or ground is often called for, whether turning soil, replacing soil, disinfecting ground and walls or replacing other ground cover materials on a regular basis.  In terms of foot infections for birds on "dirty perches", I do not disagree with the necessity to keep perches clean, but I would point out that birds are forever cleaning their feet and preening themselves and we do not see them becoming ill as a consequence.  As well, in the self-plucker, we do not necessarily see infection on plucked area arising from a "psychological" problem (no skin mite, bacteria, or other irritant).  These open areas are an ideal place for fecal material to be transferred from the feet to the tongue and thence from the beak to the lacerated skin associated with feather plucking  Has anyone [breeders, veterinarians, aviculturalists] experienced infection of plucked birds,  due to infection from abdominal fauna).

Water does need to be changed on a regular basis and should never be allowed to putrefy, fill or develop algae or develop a scum.  These opportunities abound in the breeding season with winds blowing rubbish into aviaries and around houses, dipping of soft food or pellets in the water to generate a murky, smelly and vile soup based mix for the offspring, egg remains and remains of vegetables and fruit.  I set my water system above the feeding trays, as the trays are placed about one foot off the ground to encourage birds to fly down to their meal and then up again to perches, increasing exercise and muscling.  The heavier, or longer the food, the greater the likelihood that they will not carry it to the water and dip it.  My perches are well away from the water to ensure that droppings, in the water, are also minimized.  By moving the perches, birds fly from the food near the ground to the perches to eat, thus limiting waste in the watering system.   The watering system and food trays are cleaned and disinfected regularly.


This is undeniably one of the biggest issues for those raising birds in cages, and is subsequently referenced by almost everyone as the primary reason to breed in cages.  I don't know about others, but there are some interesting ways of dealing with this and I will put a few out for discussion purposes and comment:

Behavioral Observations in a Peachface Colony

The following are presented in point form so as to enable quick additions, subtractions or up-dates as necessary.  Hopefully it will shed some light on artificial colony structure and socialization in peachface lovebirds, for those who have never considered it:

Related birds (a family) tend to exhibit less violence towards each other than those that are unrelated 
(sometimes attributed to in-breeding, but more likely a response to a well established hierarchy)
Dominant cocks occur in colonies (the rule versus the exception).
An dominant adult cock may be replaced by a juvenile cock within the same year
Whatever it is that determines the dominance of a particular cock, it is clear that the hens respond to "it"
Dominance in juveniles appears to be worked out through rigorous pushing and butting on perches or boxes.  Height and wing flapping also seem to be involved when juveniles go chest to chest on their toes
Charging at a rival, an opponent or a smaller animal is carried our almost ritualistically, with beak open, head low and head and shoulder feathers raised (no blood)
Some beak sparring occurs, but not anywhere near as much as one usually sees between pairs in a cage setting.
The head and beak appear to be used together to push and knock relatives / fledglings off perches or away from where they should be.
Adults appear rather patient when fledglings are present and I have not seen any significant injuries arising from apparent squabbles. A bloody toe, here and there, because of an overly amorous youngster and a mature hen, but no loss of claws 
Hens acting like a true pair and then both taking up with mates (cocks) when they were introduced
Two hens cohabiting, laying eggs together, failing to hatch anything, then inviting different cocks to tread them. Egg laid.  All eggs hatching and one hen feeding the other.  No cocks were in the vicinity of the nest box during the entire rotation and were rudely chased off by the dominant hen if they happened to be seeking post treading activity. 

The hens lived in the same box, came from different families and got along fabulously.  Excellent fosters

Pair preening that one sees so often in cages, almost disappears in the colony situation, with hens concentrating on shredding nesting material and brooding, while the males flit around, apparently trying to service any hens willing to have them
I haven't had any dominant cocks intervene or break up copulating pairs, but I have had them exclusively breeding 2 or 3 hens, each of which already had a mate. Interestingly, they refused their mates advances and would encourage the dominant cock to tread them, while the mate stood next to them and watched, occasionally scratching his head and making the rapid clicking sound associated with pre-treading activities
Some hens select one cock and one cock only to copulate with during a season.  Another may have 3 or 4 servicing her over a period of weeks leading up to laying. This continues through laying
Hens have eaten chicks, eggs, and dead in shell chicks and egg.  Sometimes a dead chick can be found buried under the nest bedding and when eggs fail to hatch, they too can be spread to the "four corners" of the box and partially hidden by bedding material
Clear or infertile eggs can be common or uncommon, depending where you are in developing a strain and the selection process.  Over the years chicks have died as a few cells, at ~15 days and just after hatching.  Recently I noticed one that had a miniature crop that when filled looked like it contained nothing.  I moved it to one of my best fosters and found it up on a shelf (within the box) and away from the nest and other nestlings the following day (not because it was a foster... something else transpired).  It had obviously been picked up and moved.  It didn't survive.
Most of us read about chicks being chased viciously from the nest as the next round of eggs are laid or hatching.  I have observed an adult male returning to his original "home" nest box every night (one of those occasionally servicing one of the two hens in the same box).  In that nest box are three fledglings nearing molt and three chicks 2 to 3 weeks old.  Including the original hen and cock, that means 9 birds and four generations within the box.  The adult male gives way to the young male, and the hen encourages the young cock to enter to. Both the adult cock and hen have tried, half-heartedly, to stop the juveniles returning at night, but they continue to enter... no viciousness, just mock lunges with beak wide open.  Youngsters jump up at the initial lunge from the perch, and then fly back until they can run into the box
At times the eldest cocks will return to the family nest and sit like a sentinel on the doweling.  Hens seem more inclined to find their own quarters as quickly as possible, while cocks don't appear overly interested in leaving before or after the parents try to chase them away.  The lone cock on the doweling will meet in mid-air collisions with his siblings, fall to the ground and take up his post again.  Size is certainly an intimidating factor in this type of activity
Bachelors seem to "hang" together at roosting time (and always in the same place), while young hens stay in their home box
Hens who entered the colony situation with cocks that had produced several nests with them,  flirted and encouraged strange cocks to tread them in the flight: this sometimes included their own offspring.  The hens remained in their original box, and with their original partners, but they never allowed them treading opportunities after entering the flight.  Mated cocks who were denied treading rights by their mate, still helped to raise the various clutches of young, despite the fact that they were not theirs.  I have not observed a cock, refused by his mate, attempt to tread any other hen... even if that cock was a dominant cock at one point. Some cocks treated like this begin to pluck their shoulders: there are no mites, infection, allergens(?) or dry skin (is it psychological? Comments)
Some peachface hens, very rarely carry straw or paper into their nests with their beak.  These birds have not come from my premises.  They may have been raised in a mixed flock or viewed / learned the behavior when placed close to a cage of another lovebird species, when still juvenile.  No idea why this happens.  Thought it might be hybrid background, but no evidence of that has come forth in offspring 
 I have read that lovebirds rarely stretch both wings up over their backs at the same time.  This is typical versus atypical behavior  in the colony situation with both adults and youngsters.  I rarely if ever saw double wing stretching in caged birds
 One pair of juvenile birds that I acquired refused to stand on one leg when resting, always balancing on two.  They would not tuck their head back between their shoulders when sleeping either. They were often ruffled and I was always of the impression that they were unwell, but could find no cause for it and heat made little difference.  Upon introduction to colony environment, it was a matter of weeks before these birds were resting on a single leg and the head was securely tucked in the back during rest periods.  The birds retain their distinctive fluffiness, except when startled: feathers are fine, not coarse as one might expect. 
 Mating within family units certainly occurs, and is probably more common in the wild than we realize.  This is a concern when the mating is among randomized family members, but appears to have few detrimental impacts when allowed under controlled conditions and where the mating might be highly desirable from a trait inheritance, prepotency testing and progeny / backcross perspective 
 I have heard of aberrant, color mutation chicks being thrown out of the nest by the hen, but have not had any opportunity to see this... fortunately or unfortunately. 
 Birds that do not fly off the floor are known to be attacked by the flock and killed.  This occurs infrequently these days with young being withdrawn from the box before they leap out on their own, and without the knowledge of the breeder.  I recently had a young bird jump out of the nest, much earlier than it was expected.  It must have hidden on the floor.  When I found it, it was semi-paralytic, moving around a little, but indifferent to its surrounding.  It was separated from the flock.  there was a small amount of blood on the back of the neck and some feathers askew.  I assumed i had caught it early enough.  An hour later it was dead.  Looking over the bird, I could see no injury but that of the spot of blood on the neck.  I moved the feathers and a large lump was evident.  the blood had dried, but their had been massive internal bleeding at the botom of the skull at the back of the neck.  There was no damage to the skull, only the blood supply to the head.  Obviously the skin had been broken, but not significantly.  The inernal damage had not been able to bleed out.
Further to the two hens in the same box:  the females have gone through several males in the colony, opening their wings to a variety of males, related and unrelated, young and old.  The hens continue to go through their own ritual treading, with the dominant hen treading the submissive one.  Each hen has her own particular cock that services her, despite the apparent proclivity.
This behavior is interesting, as it could explain why inbreeding or close familial relations in the wild still result in successful nests.  Given what has been observed in the colony situation, it would seem that numerous males could tread any female in season, and that specific pairing would not preclude proclivity.  This would ensure that infertile eggs would occur infrequently in a colony situation (multiple males during the hens season: some evidence to support that only one sexual act is required to fertilize a number of eggs), but enhanced or separated out in a domesticated situation where birds were caged as pairs
Hens with specific mates continue to ignore those mates as sexual partners, while continuing to seek other male attention.  the pairs remain together and the cock feeds the hen and young.  However, the cock birds, following the hen's sexual interest, if not mate interest, in other males of the same species, begin to pluck their feathers: behind the neck, shoulders and under the wing, or under the tail feathers: underparts picked clean.
Separating the Sexes

I do not do this, as hens can be very aggressive and bonding between them is not unheard of, as in budgerigars.  i am concerned that deaths may be more more likely than not, when birds kept apart, having no familial ties or contacts, are suddenly thrust together in a flight with birds of the same sex.  As with anything a pecking order must be established and consequently hens can and do kill each other for hierarchical reasons (apparently).  Males tend to be more docile, but there are without any question, males that are dominant and they too must work out a pecking order, although deaths in these instances are uncommon as far as I know.  The males tend to:

So is separation feasible... potentially, if attempted outside the breeding season (remember that peachface indoors can go all year round depending on your lighting, feeding and temperature regime. This is not recommended!) but perhaps not without loss:
  Sex separation is obviously not a bloodless proposition, as birds may be fairly unfamiliar with each other, depending on the scope of ones activities, and will need to establish some order within the new "hen flock".  However, lovebirds are communal / colony birds and so, eventually a decidedly tense peace may rein, with aggression rising in concert with the approach of the breeding season or due to proximity to male quarters and more hormonally "interested" or "driven" hens.

There are many interesting questions that surround lovebird colony breeding that I have never seen asked or answered before, such as:

What are your thoughts