Monday, 11 August 2014

Nest Boxes for Parrots - Essential for breeding

Rainbow Lorikeet Hollow Jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Rainbow Lorikeet at its hollow nest

Parrots & Cockatoos are for the most part birds that nest in hollows within trees, cliffs or termite mounds with the exception of a few. So for breeding most require a receptacle that allows them to do what is natural and that is nest in a receptacle that imitates what they would find in the wild. Visit a number of parrot breeders and you might just observe that each breeder uses a diverse range of nestboxes. But WHY?

Nestboxes vary in size for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons for this is to suit the size of the bird whilst another is to replicate what has worked well for others in the past. Breeders like to get the best out of their birds, so make changes till they feel they have gotten it right. Often as a result we inherit the designs we use from fellow breeders who we know and respect.

lineolated parrot nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch
Double chambered box designed for Lineolated Parrots
When things don’t go to plan e.g birds don’t breed and the breeder is sure everything else is right then it can be heartbreaking and seem easier to give up then persevere. It is best not only to consult fellow breeders and to read the various literature but also to observe the birds nesting in the wild where possible. Many of the old breeders who designed the boxes we use today did so after observing the birds in the wild. 
It can be quite a shock to see that we have given them this flash looking nestbox and yet they are nesting in this tiny hollow in the wild. Take for instance some Australian Parrots like the Bluebonnet Parrot that has been found nesting in a hollow that is so small that the mother could hardly fit once her young hatched. This by the way is not a one off observation either and extends to many other species.
nest box grand father clock box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Grandfather Clock Style box ideal for Australian King Parrots
Take a look at the Australian King Parrot that likes to nest in a deep hollow and as you will note many use a tall grandfather clock style box to replicate what it is that they use in the wild. King Parrots not being the easiest birds to breed it is of course important to do what you can to influence breeding. Observations of many wild Black Cockatoos show they like hollows that are exposed to the elements and hence breeders supply open top nest boxes/logs. This is an example of breeders watching and learning. If observing the birds nesting in the wild is not possible there is much literature available that can be read in libraries, online etc.

macaw nest box grand father clock box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Box used for Macaws - note reinforced entry
So what should a nestbox be made from? The materials vary considerably and for species that are not heavy chewers ply works fine. For species where heavy chewing takes place e.g Cockatoos and Macaws it makes sense to use hardwoods to build the box and to reinforce the nestbox entrance with steel or something similar. A removal base is ideal and allows for easy cleaning and replacement if needed at the end of the breeding season.

An inspection door fitted to the box is a must as it allows for easy observations and prevents the need for the box to be removed each time chicks/eggs require checking. For most species the preference is to have the inside of box as dark as possible. This mimics many of the parrot nests in the wild and prevents chick moving around too soon whilst their bones are forming.  

It is important to remember that like humans, who like to get the house ready before the baby comes home; birds like to get the nest right. This includes chewing the sides of the box and a sitting hen will do this. As a result it is good practice to put in soft woods that the hen can chew. Hardwood cleats can be used as a ladder so the hen does not chew it to a point where the young cannot get out.
golden shouldered parrot jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Golden-shouldered Parrots may require a heated nestbox
A heated insulated box may be required for birds such as the Hooded, Golden-shouldered Parrot & Northern Rosellas. These are birds that come from warm climates where the hen often leaves the nest for extended periods of time. As such if kept in a cool climate the young may freeze without heat or insulation whilst the hen is out of the nest. A heated box may also be required for pairs of birds who get off of their young at an early age or are finicky and leave the nest at the slightest disturbance.

For species where mates can become aggressive such as some cockatoos and amazon parrots a second exit may be required. Though bear in mind that having the exit and entrance holes too close is a disaster waiting to happen. Where a new pair of birds is added it may be wise to offer a range of nestboxes and allow them to pick the one that is right for them. Remember though that if you purchased the pair from a breeder then try your best to replicate what they have had success with.

The position of the box is something that requires consideration. For ease of inspection many place the box in the walkway. The added bonus to placing the box in the walkway is that you do not have to enter the aviary and cause a disturbance during breeding or face a pair protecting their territory such as is the case with Amazon Parrots etc. In the case of black cockatoos many prefer the box/log closer to elements. Boxes can be placed on angles or designed to help prevent birds from rushing in and crushing the eggs/chicks.
Z style nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Z Box often used to prevent egg breaking from birds rushing into the nest
Overall the nest box is an incredibly important item. They come in many shapes and sizes and by all means are open to improvements and change. Where things don’t work it is up to us the aviculturalist to do the research and work out what is best for our birds. Where they do work change is best forgotten however we should never be afraid to think outside the square.

Accompanying this blog post are a few of the more commonly used and not so commonly used designs. They may vary considerably in size depending on the species they are used for.
A frame nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
'A' Frame
Boot style nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Boot Box

cube nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Standard Cube Box

parrot open top cockatoo nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Open Top Box

african grey nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Box used by one successful African Grey Breeder

eclectus parrot nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
A box suitable for Eclectus etc

macaw parrot nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Long Rectangle Box for Macaws etc

parrot nest box jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Box suitable for Princess Parrots etc

Many thanks to Mark Caudwell & Gordon Dosser who shared ideas and thoughts after reading previous drafts.

Happy Birdkeeping,

Copyright © Jade Welch - All Rights Reserved. All photographs and text are protected
by copyright and may not be reproduced by any method without written permission from Mr Jade Welch.


  1. Superb write up my friend....just loved it. Great contribution from Gordon and Mark as usual :)