Discouraging Finches from Breeding & Laying EggsFor those finches which attempt to have more than 2-3 clutches in a given year, steps must be taken to discourage their breeding, as egg laying (and chick rearing) are very taxing on the parents' resources, and can especially lead to health problems for the hen. The most significant problem associated with chronic egg laying for the hen is the potential of malnutrition as her body stores become depleted of calcium and other nutrients.2
When dealing with hens which chronically lay eggs, it may be best to leave the eggs (or replace them with dummies of the same size and color--found at craft stores and some pet stores) until she finishes her clutch and begins incubation. Some species of the larger parrots will lay eggs until the incubation patch on the hen's chest "assesses" that the correct number of eggs for that species has been laid and the clutch is complete.2 Only then will the hen cease reproductive activity and begin brooding as her body hormones change.2 Therefore taking the eggs away as they are laid may prolong the process of laying. This may also apply to finches, so:
- The first step in discouraging finches from laying eggs, if the hen is currently beginning a new clutch, is to let her lay the eggs and finish the clutch. The eggs should be replaced with dummies,13 and the hen should be allowed to brood them for 1-2 weeks.
While the hen is brooding, other steps can be taken to reduce her urge to breed again in the future. One of these steps includes lowering the caloric intake of the diet. Research done with cockatiels shows that reducing the plane of nutrition may control chronic egg laying to some degree.2 Applying this reasoning to finches makes perfect sense because one of the biggest breeding stimuli for most finches is the "flush" diet. Therefore:
- Slowly lower the plane of nutrition of the diet back to its "austere" state (see Austerity Diet in the Diet & Nutrition section). Do this by reducing the frequency and amount of egg mix which is fed to the birds beyond the base diet of seed and/or pellets. Continue to provide vegetable matter and make sure a cuttle bone or another source of calcium remains available to the birds at all times.
In order to discourage breeding, one must do the opposite of stimulating the behavior. This goal may be achieved simply by removing or reducing the stimuli to breed. In addition to a rich diet, other strong stimuli which must be removed in order to discourage breeding include: presence of a nesting receptacle and/or nesting material, presence of a mate, and prolonged or shortened daylight hours, depending on the species. Once the hen has begun brooding and you are ready to remove the clutch from her, the next step is to:
- Remove the nest and all nesting material from the enclosure. Sometimes hens will attempt to nest in their seed dish when a suitable nest box or basket is unavailable; switching from seed cups to tube feeders will eliminate this nesting opportunity. Nests are not necessary for finches, even the ones which prefer to roost in them at night! Your birds will do just fine without a nest to sleep in.
Here, a pair of zebra
finches sleeps happily
in some silk vines, no
The next steps which can be taken depend on how your birds are set up and how feasible it would be for you to do the following. Other things you can try, if possible for your birds, are:
- If you cage breed your birds, house them in spacious enclosures when they are not breeding, so that they can develop muscle tone (again, make sure that the enclosure does not have any nesting opportunities available in it).
- If appropriate for the species which you are keeping, consider separating males from females into same-sex flights so that one enclosure is an "all male" flight, and the other is an "all female" flight. The influence of a male may be a strong stimulus for a hen to breed, although it is not necessary to have a male present for a hen to lay eggs. Hence, removing the male may help to remove the stimulus to breed, but may not solve the problem in and of itself. If your "pair" is a bonded female-female pair, separating them from each other and pairing them with different companions may help to break their egg-laying cycle.
- Depending on which species you are trying to discourage, reducing or lengthening daylight hours artificially may help to reduce the stimulus to breed. Refer to the Species section to find out if your birds breed during longer daylight hours (in which case, day length should be reduced to discourage breeding), or if the opposite is the case.
Of all of these potential steps to take to discourage your birds from breeding and laying eggs, the single most important step is to remove any nests (or nesting opportunities) and nesting material from the enclosure. Often this step alone is sufficient to cause the birds to cease breeding activity. The diet should be reduced gradually as well at this time, and birds which are bred in small cages really should be given a larger flight to live in during the non-breeding season. However, separating bonded pairs from each other may only be necessary as a last resort, unless your breeding program already makes use of same sex flights during the non-breeding season.