I had a call on my answering machine when I got home today: “Hey, ummm, STANLEY just laid an egg. (laughter) One of us is really confused.” That really made me laugh. I clearly remember the day that my Henry laid a clutch of two. Sometimes this is how we find the true gender of our parrots. It’s that time of year. The bird talk boards have egg laying posts all over them. Someone I know just had to have what she called “the mother of all eggs” surgically removed from her cockatoo. It was HUGE!
The question that most commonly comes up is: how can a “single” parrot produce an egg? Egg production is not the consequence of mating. A female parrot will produce an egg because her body reacts to certain stimulus that tells her it is time to do so. In the wild, things like change of season, increased daylight hours and more availability to certain foods signal the breeding season.
In our homes, our parrots react to the same stimuli. The way that we physically handle them and even a bath (reminiscent of spring rainfall) can bring on the hormones which can result in egg laying. These eggs will not be viable, as there was no fertilization by a male, and will not produce babies.
So your parrot has laid an egg, now what do you do?
If yours is a single female parrot, and there is no chance that this is a viable egg, let her keep it (or them) for a few days. She may choose to incubate and turn it, like a doting mom, and might lose her interest after a while, and if she doesn’t, take it away from her in her absence. Removing the egg immediately will only serve to cause her to lay more to replace it instinctually, which can lead to health problems. Some choose to remove the eggs right away and replace them with similar sized pebbles or plastic eggs. Strangely, they often don’t seem to notice and continue to incubate them.
The shell of an egg is made primarily of calcium that comes directly from calcium stores in the female’s body. Their bones and muscles provide almost all of the calcium needed to produce the shell. Excessive or chronic egg laying can profoundly deplete the body’s calcium (hypocalcemia) causing improper body function. Hypocalcemia can lead to egg binding, where the uterine muscles do not expel the egg . It can also cause seizures and brittle, easily fractured bones.
Egg binding can be the result of a number of things including obesity, large or poorly formed eggs, bad diet, even bad genes, and it requires immediate vet attention. This is not uncommon with cockatiels, lovebirds and budgies. Signs of egg binding might be lethargy, sitting at the bottom of the cage, large or excessive droppings or none at all, straining, standing/perching with the legs further apart than is normal or a swollen vent area. Often the vet can “coax” the bird along with the aid of warmth, a lubricant, and the injection of fluids, calcium, antibiotic and steroids.
Sometimes the egg can be palpated out (only by your vet), being very careful not to break the shell. Sometimes, depending on the location of the egg, a needle is used to extract the contents of the egg, and the shell is crushed so it can be passed. If the egg breaks, or breaks down inside the abdomen, it can lead to a serious inflammation called egg yolk peritonitis, which is life threatening. These are all very good reasons NOT to let your parrot overproduce eggs.
If your parrot is laying eggs, excessively or otherwise, there are environmental changes you can make to deter her. Keep her away from dark enclosed areas that can be perceived as nesting spots. Limit her daylight hours to 8 – 10 per day. Avoid warm, mushy foods like mashes. Bathe her less frequently.
Be careful to touch her around the head and neck only, and if she has a favorite toy that she is behaving sexually with, remove it. Be mindful of her diet. If she is laying excessively, and until you get it under control, she needs nutrients to handle the task. An all seed diet will not provide her with the calcium she will be needing. If these methods don’t work your vet might choose to administer hormones.
A bird laying an egg is the most natural thing in the world, and as long as your bird is healthy, it isn’t a cause for concern. It’s just one more of the many incredible things they do.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.
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