At what age is a pair of parrots ready to breed?
The onset of sexual maturity varies with species and also with the social upbringing of the bird, how it was reared and how it was paired.
Generally speaking, parrots that are reared with their own kind and are allowed to pair from a group mature much earlier than those that are forced paired or were former pets. Also, hand-reared, former pet macaws, conures and amazons are more likely to breed when paired than species that imprint easily on their human owners and cannot differentiate between their owner and a mate. With the latter I am particularly thinking of cockatoos, Eclectus Eclectus roratus and African Greys Psittacus erithacus. Many of the imprinted birds in these three groups seem to never develop a bond with their mate. In the case of male cockatoos, they often become even more vicious than their parent-reared counterparts as they enter sexual maturity, when they can attack their mates with deadly efficacy. Moreover, the vast majority of the highly imprinted African Greys and cockatoos rarely breed, or they may produce clutch after clutch of clear eggs; with Eclectus the hens simply lay infertile eggs continuously. This is why African Greys, Eclectus and cockatoos destined to become future breeders should not be imprinted if hand-reared and should be reared with their own kind from hatching. Parent-reared African Greys and cockatoos in my opinion make the best possible breeders.
When preparing pairs for breeding, I always recommend acquiring youngsters and rearing them as a group together. This allows the birds to develop flocking skills, establish a hierarchy and mature. A group is far more active than a single pair. The birds then develop strong musculature as they fly and interact. As the birds mature and pair off, they should be removed to their own aviary. These pairs almost always mature much faster than two birds placed together. As an example, we produced young this year from a pair of Blue-throated Macaws Ara glaucogularis that were 3 years old. Many believe this is the exception, but I disagree provided the birds are reared in a group, allowed to pair off and given a proper diet. In contrast to this early breeding, my records for forced-paired Blue-throats show that they mature at 5-7 years of age. We have similar results with Mexican Military Macaws Ara militaris mexicana, Blue and Gold Macaws Ara ararauna and more.
The onset of maturity is quickest in domesticated species, i.e. those species that have dozens of captive bred generations in their genes. As an example, the Green-cheeked Conure Pyrrhura molinae can start breeding as early as 7 months of age, though most do not breed until they are 12 months of age. I like to allow them to mature to about 18 months before letting them to breed. This assures me that the birds have developed sufficiently physically to breed. In contrast, many of the other Pyrrhura conures that cannot be regarded as “domesticated “ mature at 24 to 36 months.
Broadly speaking, the smaller the birds the earlier they mature. Cuban Amazons Amazona leucocephala can produce fertile eggs when two years of age when allowed to naturally pair. The larger Double Yellow-headed Amazons Amazona oratrix take 4-5 years of age when similarly allowed to nexus from a group.
Diet is also an influencing factor. The broader, more nutritious diet the quicker the birds will breed. We experimented some years ago with White-bellied Caiques Pionites leucogaster that we hand-reared, kept in a group and then allowed to pair off. As these pairs were formed, they were split into two groups. One group was fed only pellets. This diet is nutritious but mentally monotonous. The other group was fed pellets, seeds, vegetables, some fruit, pasta and much more. The latter pairs started producing fertile eggs at 33-37 months of age whereas the pairs fed only pellets did not lay their first egg until they were 43-48 months of age.
So the recommendation is the following when establishing pairs: Try to acquire youngsters that were either parent reared or hand-reared but allowed to socialize, permit them to mature together, allow them to bond naturally and then feed them a nutritious, balanced and varied diet. This will insure optimum results and the earliest breeding possible.