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by Carol Heesen
As we move through the breeding season, there is increased
discussion of the problem of egg binding.
What is egg binding?
Egg binding is the inability of a hen to pass a developed or
partially developed egg. A partially developed egg can have
either a soft shell or no shell. Many cases of egg binding occur
when a hen is trying to pass what appears to be a "normal" egg.
The inability to pass the egg quickly results in the death of the
Causes of Egg Binding
There are a multitude of theories as to what causes egg binding.
Many consider cool temperatures to be the deciding factor. I find
this a very questionable theory. Birds in the wild often breed
early in the spring while temperatures are still very cool and
yet do not suffer from egg binding. I personally have Goulds
successfully breeding in my outdoor flights when temperatures are
down in the low to mid 40s. Despite raising hundreds of birds in
cool conditions, I have not had a hen experience egg binding.
Another common theory is that the hen is too young. In parrots
and budgies, where the bird continues to grow in size for 2 or
more years, this may often be the case. The poor hen has just not
grown sufficiently to allow the easy passage of the developed
egg. Finches and canaries, however, grow and mature very quickly.
Most have reached full adult size by the time they reach 4 months
of age. In the wild, Goulds have often been observed raising
chicks before they have even molted into their adult colors. I
have observed this same phenomenon in my own flights when I have
been a bit slow in separating my maturing juveniles.
Let me be quick to point out that I am not advocating breeding
very young birds. The offspring of early breeding are not of the
same quality as later breedings. It is best, I believe, to allow
our birds to become older before attempting breeding. My point is
only that early breeding does not, in my experience, result in
Another common theory is that egg binding is the result of lack
of calcium in the diet. Most of us offer a variety of calcium
sources to our birds (egg shell, cuttlebone, oyster shell) and
yet hens still die from egg binding.
I do believe nutrition is at the root of this problem. Most bird
breeders are careful to offer a variety of calcium sources.
Rather, I believe, the problem is the inability of the bird to
metabolize the calcium that is readily available in the diet. The
other major cause is poor condition of the mucus membranes in the
Let's look at each of these issues separately.
Calcium is used by the body to not only form the shell of the
developing egg and maintain strong bones, but is also crucial in
the proper functioning of the muscles. While it does take a large
amount of calcium to form an egg shell, the hen also needs
calcium for the muscle action needed to expel the egg.
Vitamin D3 is crucial in the absorption of calcium. Without it,
all that good calcium we offer our birds passes right through the
body without being absorbed. In outdoor flights, our birds are
able to produce D3 via a chemical reaction to sunlight. In indoor
flights, they are unable to do this. Sunlight through a window is
not sufficient. The ultraviolet light needed does not pass
through window glass. Full spectrum lights can help but some
studies have shown that the ultraviolet is only at sufficient
levels at less than one foot from the light source. For inside
birds, a D3 supplement is almost always helpful.
An excess of phosphorous, can also interfere with the absorption
of calcium. According to Robert Black, plant materials (like all
those wonderful seeds we feed our birds, contain an abundance of
phosphorous. Animal products like egg foods, insect foods and
mealworm, contain an abundance of calcium. By serving both plant
and animal products to our birds, we are able to keep the
calcium/phosphorous ratio in balance.
Some of those yummy greens we offer can also interfere with
calcium absorption. Oxalic acid found in spinach, beet greens,
chard and rhubarb reacts with the calcium so that it can not be
absorbed. While these greens are rich in a number of nutrients,
it is important to feed them in small amounts and provide extra
calcium when doing so.
In order to pass a developed egg, the mucus membranes around the
vent must be soft and flexible. It is the fat based vitamins that
are primarily responsible for this condition, most notably
linoleic acid (Vitamin F) and Vitamin A. Without these essential
nutrients, the oviduct becomes dry and hard. Most avian vitamins
do not include the fat based vitamins, so it is important to
supply a separate source for these vital nutrients. These
essential fatty vitamins can be found in many of the oily seeds
such as safflower seed, sunflower seed, and niger seed. I have
found niger seed the easiest for finches to accept.
What to do about Egg Binding
If you do have a finch suffering from egg binding there are some
things you can do.
First and foremost, a warm, quiet environment will allow the bird
to focus it's reserves on passing the egg rather than keeping
An immediate increase in calcium will do nothing to harden the
shell of an already formed egg but will do wonders in improving
the muscle action needed to expel the egg. Calcivet by Vetafarm,
provides not only the calcium, but also the D3 needed to absorb
the calcium. It can be served in the drinking water or sprouted
seed if the bird is still eating and drinking. If the bird has
stopped eating and drinking, it can be administered directly into
Massaging a small amount of vegetable oil around the vent will
help soften the mucus membranes around the vent and help the hen
pass the egg.
Once the egg has passed, the bird will appear to have made a
complete recovery. It is now time to assess the nutritional
problems that caused this problem in the first place. It is
dangerous to attempt to breed this hen again until the
nutritional deficiencies have been addressed.
Carol Heesen has been breeding birds for 7 years. She works
primarily with the Australian finches including the Peales Parrot
finch and the black rumped owl finch. she also runs an avian
supply business on the internet. You can view her site at
Copyright © 1999 Carol Heesen, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
US reseller of VETAFARM PRODUCTS, Breeder of Australian Finches,
Member NFSS and Finchsave
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