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From Nest Box To Show Cage

Alf Ormerod

By Alf Ormerod

When I was asked to write this article I was also given the title but I feel that some of the main points could be missed if I started off by the youngsters leaving the nest box, so I go briefly back one step, the reason being that no one wishing to breed exhibition Alsations would mate the best Alsation to the best Great Dane.

Pairings, must be compatible to give us the right material to put in the show cage, and no amount of preparation and attention will make a pet budgie into an Open Show Winner.

By this I don’t mean you have to buy outstanding show specimens, as even this would not guarantee success, as like doesn’t always produce like and many of the best birds are not produced from top exhibition birds from parents with pedigrees. In all livestock it is pedigree that counts, correctly harnessed so that each parent brings out the hidden best of it’s partner.

To the Beginners and Novices I would say buy your birds from a fancier who does well in the Breeder Classes and if possible, buy matched pairs as recommended by the breeder as he will show you his records and pedigrees if you ask him to explain why he has selected these birds in a pair.

Now to the nest box, hoping the eggs are fertile and hatch out correctly, and I am certain this is where we start to train our youngsters to the task before them. Just as a baby, after a few days begins to know it’s mother and have confidence in her touch and handling, so do our young budgies, and once they have confidence in human beings, the training is more or less complete.

Youngsters in Nestbox

Check nestboxes at least once each day.. and handle the chicks so they lose any fear of humans.

Handle them regularly, at least once a day, checking that their beaks and feet are clean so that they don’t leave the box with faulty beaks or deformed feet and be ruined for show, and you will find that young birds that have been handles often in the nest-box (and the parents don’t object to this as it has been bred into them) leave the box full of confidence in human beings and are soon on the perches instead of hiding in the corners in a heap.

Of course good feeding is essential during these early days as with humans, and these first six weeks can make all the difference to a bird’s size and health in later life. Many water additives are now on the market to supply all the vitamin needs for bone and growth, but I have always found that what is good for babies is good for budgies, such as Rose Hip Syrup, ABDEC, Paladac etc., plus cuttle fish bone, old mortar, good Grit etc, to provide calcium.

Ormerod Birdroom

Alf's birdroom in Preston. Breeding and stock cages along one wall and indoor flights on the other side. Birds in the indoor flights had access to outdoor flights.

Having left the nest box, don’t be in too big a hurry to remove the youngsters from their parents and make sure you have seen them dehusking seed before doing so, as moving them too early can cause big set-backs, if not losses.

Some people move their young straight to the flights. I am against this as one doesn’t expect a baby to run before it can walk. I put the youngsters in a stock cage. Ours are ten feet long with a show cage fitted at the end. This gives them ample space to exercise their wings and they go in and out of the show cage at will, and this is the only training our birds get, as here again I believe that steadiness and showmanship is bred into them plus the handling whilst in the boxes.

Another reason for putting them in the stock cages is that you can observe them better as the first week or two with the change from being fed by their parents to feeding themselves can cause upset tummies and enteritis. If this occurs and the affected one is not too bad, I put all that cage on an antibiotic, but if it is very sick and all fluffed up, take out that bird and put it is a small cage (we use an old show cage for this purpose) and keep the bird warm with infra-red heat or other method, and apply medicine to the drinking water not only to that bird but to all the others in the stock cage it came out of. The one I fend best for this is Suspension Chloromycetin Palmitate, made by Parke-Davis and obtainable through a vet or druggist. (This is given to babies). Put ten drops in a normal size clip-on drinking fountain and shake well to mix. Use for three days, then replace with a fresh supply for a further three days, and this should clear the trouble.

We put the youngsters into the large open flight at 10 to 12 weeks old, preferably with a few older birds that have been pensioned off or not used for breeding. These will show them the way around to feed pots etc and the way in and out of sleeping quarters.

I prefer earth floors in the flights. This is forked over each year so that is doesn’t become sour, and a portion has grass turf on it. These are renewed every Spring. Birds get a lot from the soil such as minerals, grubs etc, and the grass is also beneficial to them.

Make a habit of checking your birds in the flight every day, as when so many are flying together a sick bird, and it is always the best, can be overlooked until it is too late to save it.

I don’t use colored rings for parent identity purposes, but any young birds that stand out from the rest in nest feather are rung with a colored ring before being put in the flights and then at about 4 ½ months old the most promising are caught up for the early shows and it is generally those that have been rung.

Alf Ormerod, sharing ideas with Eric Peake

Alf Ormerod, sharing ideas with Eric Peake, during our visit to Preston in June 1984.

They are put in long stock cages again with show cages on the end and left for two or three days to settle down. Then they are put in show cages to be sorted out, but of course from experience one can tell in the stock cages whether they have made the grade or not; but the show cage is the final test. I only leave them in the show cage for a short time at first, then increase the time for those selected for the show team. But as I said before, showmanship is bred into a bird, but no bird is ever left in a show cage at home for longer than two hours. If we have a good specimen that does not appear too happy in a show cage I put an old stager in with it for a number of times, and this generally does the trick.


A youngster that shows promise in the nestbox will often develop into your best youngster later on.

Having selected the young birds that will be the basis of our early shows I check their wings for any broken flight feathers, as this can make all the difference between 1st and 2nd, and these are firmly pulled out in a straight line that will regrow in approximately six weeks; and the tail feathers, the two long ones are also removed in the same way as young birds have a nasty habit of dropping all the tail feathers just as the shows get underway.

Spraying now begins, and this steadies a bird down more than anything else. For this purpose I prefer a show cage as I never handle a bird being prepared for a show more than is needed as this takes away the bloom from the feathers, more so during the Summer weather when our hands are moist and clammy. They are run from the end of the stock cage into the spray show cage, and they soon get used to this with a show cage always being in position.

The first spray is always a light one as they have been accustomed to being rained on in the open flights and they enjoy it. Each time the amount is increased so that they get to a stage where after spraying they look half drowned, but the feathers have now got used to the spraying so that the birds are really dry by roosting time.

Spraying The Birds

Gradually increase the water sprayed each time until they get to a stage where they look half drowned.

I prefer to spray in the morning and used to do this before going to work, many a time in half light or darkness during the Winter months, and the lights were then left on for them until daylight. At the start they are sprayed two or three times a week, then this is reduced to one heavy spray per week and a lighter spray the day before the show.

Unwanted spots are removed about five days before the show, and I talke these out with tweezers, doing this in the cool of the morning or evening, again because in your hands the birds are cooler and they get a spray after this has been done, either the same day or the next day.

If you have a bird with pin feathers in the head gently stroke them in the direction as they grow with a silk handkerchief or nylon – this helps to remove the wax casing; or you can use a soft toothbrush dipped in warm water, especially if there are any bloody quills.

If you have any blood marks on the head or body from fighting or burst blood quills, put a teaspoon of Stergene in a teacup of warm water and wipe the affected parts over with the solution with a piece of cotton wool.

Do this a few times then put the bird back in the cage to dry. I have often done this at the last minute before boxing the birds and put the bird straight into the show cage, as it dries before judging time.

If you have a bird with a cracked flight or tail feather dip this into boiling water. Use a beaker deep enough for the length of the tail feather. Fill the beaker with boiling water, then holding the bird with your finger and thumb at the top of the tail to protect the private parts, immerse the feathers and you will see the cracked one go straight again. That happens as you soften the wax in the feather and it heals the crack. Wipe off surplus water with a handkerchief or soft cloth and the bird will do the rest.

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