Male birds can lay eggs

Laying distress in birds causes and treatment
by Mag. Claudia and Dr. Manfred Hochleithner

Egg fever is a dreaded disease of various ornamental birds kept in captivity. Both parrots and finches are affected by this, with budgies, cockatiels, canaries and gray parrots topping the statistics among our patients.

If it was previously assumed that an egg that was too large was responsible for the laying problem, today we know that in most cases (> 90%) a calcium deficiency leads to a disruption in the egg transport in the laying gut (in birds it is usually not differentiated between fallopian tubes and uterus, but both referred to collectively as oviduct), which leads to the egg becoming stuck and the symptoms of laying distress.

Egg of a African gray parrot. Although the egg looks very large, it corresponds to the normal size of African gray parrots. After two calcium injections, the egg was laid unaided.

For a better understanding, let's briefly examine the normal laying process: some time before the female bird lays the first egg, calcium is stored in the bones controlled by hormones, which can then be available during egg formation and transport. This process can also be determined by means of an X-ray examination. Depending on the species, 3-5 eggs are usually laid in a very short period of time. Studies in chickens have shown that the shortest time it takes for an egg from detachment of the yolk ball to laying is 24.5 hours. This also results in the shortest possible time for the completion of the clutch. When you consider the amount of calcium that is contained in each eggshell, it is easy to imagine the amount of calcium that must be stored before eggs are laid to ensure smooth laying.
If you look at the "usual" diet of our ornamental birds and their calcium content, a problem becomes obvious: the main diet of almost all parrots and finches that we keep consists of mixtures of grains. It has long been known that grains contain around 20 vital components in too small quantities, which leads to a deficiency disease over a longer period of time. With regard to calcium, it is not just a "too little" of calcium that is responsible for the problem, but there is also an "too much" of phosphorus in the diet. These two elements should be present in the diet in a ratio of 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus in order to be optimally used by the body. With sunflower seeds, for example, this ratio is 1 to 7.
In addition, fat binds calcium available in the diet and, furthermore, sufficient vitamin D must be present in order to make the calcium in the diet available to the bird at all. It can therefore be assumed that the majority of housebirds have a calcium deficiency and that there is an increased risk of egg failure.
Many bird owners believe that female birds kept individually do not lay eggs. Apart from the cruel aspect of keeping parrots individually, this fact does not apply. Female birds do not need the stimulus or fertilization of a male bird to lay their eggs (see intensive animal husbandry for the production of chicken eggs) and therefore there is always - even after years of complete sexual isolation and inactivity - the risk of egg failure.

With optimal housing and feeding conditions, the occurrence of egg fever is really limited to the rare cases of eggs that are too large or misshapen.

feeding: The feed must definitely contain sufficient calcium and vitamin D. Scattering calcium powder over the grain mixes is insufficient as the birds do not eat the grain hulls and thus the applied calcium. Supplementary feed, which is rich in calcium, is a good option if the bird eats it. Dairy products (cheese, curd cheese, yoghurt) and long-boiled eggshells should be emphasized. High-quality pelleted ready-to-eat feed, as is also available in stores today, is also sufficiently enriched with calcium and vitamin D.

Attitude: The most important housing factor to prevent laying trouble is lighting that ultraviolet Contains light. Sunlight that comes through normal window panes no longer contains them. UV radiation is responsible for the formation of the active form of vitamin D in the skin, which, even with sufficient calcium, cannot be absorbed from the intestine without it.

If you as the owner do not know what gender your bird is, you cannot of course react properly to the symptoms of laying deficiency (sitting fluffed on the floor, very large, soft masses of excrement, pressing sometimes with a slight protrusion of the cloaca). In addition to endoscopy, it is now possible to have sex determined using blood or a feather test.

The worst thing is to try to push the egg out by applying pressure to the abdomen. This very easily leads to injuries to the ovaries and, unfortunately, to the death of the bird. Warmth, a calm environment and supply of calcium are sufficient in many cases. The smaller the bird, the less time there is before irreversible damage occurs. Therefore, if you suspect, you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.
The majority of birds can be cured with injections of calcium. If this does not succeed, hormones are injected. If this does not result in the egg being laid, the egg must be surgically developed. Depending on the condition of the bird, castration can be carried out at the same time. Before starting treatment, an X-ray must be taken. In addition to the egg (size, shape), the structure of the bones is also assessed.

In rare cases another egg is produced in spite of an egg problem - in such a case a surgical procedure is usually necessary. In the picture below you can see a clearly developed egg and behind it an egg with an almost indistinguishable eggshell.

Very large egg, also African gray parrot, but the position of the egg does not correspond. On closer inspection, a second, poorly calcified egg is visible in front of it.

We hope we have been able to give you a brief overview of the problem of laying distress. With good feeding and husbandry, it should no longer be a problem in bird keeping these days. Unfortunately, a large part of the housebirds still suffer from insufficient feed and poor husbandry.

Mag. Claudia and Dr. Manfred Hochleithner (Strebersdorf Veterinary Clinic)