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I find myself totally intrigued by the whole process of breeding, especially how these little bodies can produce something so complex that it has the potential to become another little bird. Although the process of the embryo in the egg is amazing, the work it takes to even become an egg is just as amazing.

The whole thing begins once a hen is stimulated to lay eggs. Even if there is no male present, or no successful mating occurred, a hen can still lay eggs. Of course, you'd need a fertile egg for it to become a chick so let's suppose you have a hen that has properly mated with her mate. That process is called copulation. A part of the male's sperm is then stored in a special compartment for up to 15 days. A female can also store several males' sperm during this time. This allows her to be able to lay a whole clutch off just one mating, although it may happen more often then just once.

Once ovulation (the process of her body making the egg) begins and the yolk her body has made then meets the sperm. Even if there is no sperm present, the yolk then travels down a long tube in her reproductive system where it is then covered with a membrane, fibers and then the albumin (egg white). During this time the egg continues to be rotated until it is covered with the final membrane that holds it all together.

Right before the egg is laid, the shell made of calcium carbonate in a crystallized form and deposited around the bare egg. This process from fertilization to the egg travelling down and being built happens in less then 48 hours in a normal case. With cockatiels, the egg is usually passed every 48-52 hours. The process then starts all over again within hours until the clutch is completed. :)

With everything, complications can occur in some cases although most can be avoided with proper care. With all of these conditions it's very important not to wait it out and just take her straight to an emergency vet. The longer the wait, the more damage can occur and death is very likely in most of these.

Egg binding: This condition occurs when the hen is basically unable to pass the egg within a reasonable amount of time, or at all. It puts pressure on blood vessels and nerves and the hen may be unable to even perch. It also prevents defecation/urination causing kidney failure. Also, excessive straining can cause the uterus to rupture causing mass internal bleeding, circulatory shock followed by death. It's very serious, not to mention painful so waiting is not an option. She must be kept warm and taken to an emergency avian vet or death is very likely to occur with a few hours. Some causes can be: muscle dysfunction (calcium metabolic disease, selenium and vitamin E deficiencies), malformed eggs, excessive egg production, previous oviduct damage or infection, nutritional insufficiencies, obesity, lack of exercise, heredity, old age, stress or sudden drastic temperature changes.

Prolapse: Prolapse of the oviduct (canal that passed the egg) can occur as a result of egg binding. Excessive contraction of the abdominal muscles, poor physical condition, and poor nutrition may cause these prolapses. Usually the uterus protrudes through the cloaca (vent). It is important to keep these tissues moist. A small amount of Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment can be placed on the protruding tissue and then you must proceed to the veterinarian. This problem will not resolve itself without medical help.

Infection: Salpingitis/Metritis These are basically internal infections that can be caused by any of the complications listed or simply poor hygienic on the caretaker’s part. Usually depression, weight loss, anorexia, and abdominal enlargement and discharge from the cloaca may occur.

Oviduct Impaction This is a condition in which soft-shelled eggs, malformed eggs, or fully formed eggs are stuck in the lower oviduct. It is usually a result of infection but can also result from egg binding. Usually the hen will stop egg production and slowly lose condition. There will be periods of alternating constipation and diarrhea. Periodic anorexia, reluctance to fly or walk, and abdominal enlargement (usually left side) are all signs.

Cloacal Problems This is basically what it reads: problems with the vent. Chronic inflammation caused by infection or prolapses will interfere with the process and it can usually be seen from the exterior.

Peritonitis This condition This frequently occurs in cockatiels and has two parts. It can either be septic or non-septic meaning it can either include bacteria or exclude it. This condition occurs when egg material is free floating in the abdomen. This usually occurs when the body does not have the yolk travel down to become an egg. Septic peritonitis will have more complications and the result is often death. Non-septic can be more treatable by removing the material but it's a long term process.

*With that said, you can see that the making of an egg is a lot more complicated then it looks. A good diet and proper care can eliminate most of these problems but most importantly loving your tiel enough to rush them to the vet if ever needed is the next best thing. They depend on you since they can't drive themselves there. :blush: Always monitor her behavior so you know what's normal and what's not, especially during egg laying. Be watchful of these signs:

Abdominal straining
Bobbing or wagging of the tail
Drooping of the wings
Wide stance (sitting with legs far apart)
Loss of appetite
Lameness or leg paralysis (the egg puts pressure on the nerves going to the legs)
Distended abdomen
Droppings stuck to the vent area (the bird cannot raise her tail when passing waste)
Fluffed feathers
Labored breathing (the retained egg puts pressure on the air sacs)
Sitting on the floor of the cage
Possible prolapse of part of the reproductive tract (the inner part of the reproductive tract is pushed out so that it is visible as a pink mass protruding from the cloacal opening)

I hope nobody ever has to go through any of the complications above and can simply enjoy the miracle of an egg and possible hatchlings but that's not always the case. Having a basic understanding of how things work and what can happen can save a life. After learning about this process I have to say I'm a lot more appreciative of what their body goes through for this little egg to come into the world.

Special thanks to Susan Horton, DVM and
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