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Breeding Galahs

By Muffy's Mum

 Last year l achieved my greatest ambition, to breed Galahs.  That may not so wonderful, until you stop to think that nearly every Galah in captivity in Australia is a family pet in a small cage.  Nearly all of them were born wild, and taken from the nest as babies, or trapped in nets.  Just because they are so common in the wild, aviarists tend to ignore these beautiful and intelligent birds.  Galahs are rarely bred in captivity here, so I would like to share what was for me a very exciting experience.

I kept Galahs for several years, and had even had eggs in 1980, but the birds had been scared off the nest by car thieves.  So, last year with a new high fence and padlocks everywhere, and lots of advice from friends, we carefully prepared the logs.  These were about 1.2 m long, and about 35 cm in diameter.  Both ends were sealed off and a hole about 10 cm in diameter made near the top.  A mixture of peat moss, saw dust and sandy soil was put in to a depth of about 30 cm from the base, then the logs were hung in the shelter of the aviary at an angle of about 45.  Enough room was left at the top for us to inspect the logs when necessary.

At the time, we had two pairs of Galahs in the aviary, and three logs, so that they had a choice of nesting sites.  My breeding pair have chosen the same log each year.  When they are ready to lay, the other pair were separated from them because the nesting birds tend to give others in the aviary a hard time.  Of course, it is easy to tell if you have a pair, because in adult birds the cock's iris is dark brown, and the hen's iris is red or pink, and they indulge in mutual preening.

In July, the cock was often seen displaying on the log they had chosen.  He would raise his crest, spread his wings, and screech loudly!  They were seen mating several times a day, and during her pregnancy the hen looked scruffy and climbed everywhere instead of flying.  Galahs are the only Australian cockatoos to line their nest with fresh gum leaves, so they were given plenty of gum boughs.  Galahs also chew off all the bark for quite a distance from the entrance hole but nobody quite knows why.  The cock did most of the nest preparation, and was seen biting off sprigs of gum leaves and taking them into the log.  Silver beet was also used, and several gum nuts were placed in the nest with which to surround the eggs during incubation.  Both birds spent a lot of time in the log, preparing the nest.

During August, the hen started to lay but became egg-bound with the second egg.  However, we brought her inside and kept her warm and she passed the egg during the night, and she was returned to the aviary the next day.  In mid-September, three white eggs were laid, and incubation started after the second of the eggs was laid, the hen sitting at night and both birds taking turns during the day.  The incubation period was thirty long days and during this time both birds were rarely seen together.  The cock was more aggressive than usual, especially when I approached the nest.

At last, in mid-October, we heard the unmistakable sound of a baby Galah being fed and jumped for joy!  The three chicks were hatched at two-day intervals, and were soon clearly heard crying and being fed.  At birth, they were 5 cm long, bright pink with no down, and grew 2 cm's in the first week.  As the chicks grew, the parents spent less time in the log during the day, but the hen still sat at night until they were fully feathered, while the cock sat on the log, guarding his little family.

At two weeks of age, the chicks started to show pin feathers, then their eyes opened, and by four weeks of age they looked like prickly little Galahs!  At five weeks of age, they were two-thirds grown, and when I peeped into the log, the three little birds would raise their crests and "Huff" at me!  Then the babies started to climb up to the entrance hole and peep out, and we spent many happy hours watching them.  At six weeks of age, the babies liked to sit at the entrance hole with their heads and shoulders out.  They were seen preening themselves and were heard to practice flapping their wings in the log.

Most Galahs are very wary of trying new foods, so I feed mine this diet all year round, just increasing the quantities when they have young ones to feed.  Each day they have seed mixture, almonds and peanuts in the shell, boiled maize, apple, silver beet, sweet corn, and occasionally a cabbage leaf, carrot, peas in pods, or a sunflower head.  Of course, cuttlefish is always available to them.  Their favourite food was seeding grasses, so they were given a big bunch of these twice a day.

At six weeks and four days of age, the first little Galah left the nest, very early in the morning.  He was very unsure of his feet and wings, but his two very proud and protective parents took good care of him.  The other two left the nest at two-day intervals, and their parents were kept busy feeding and teaching them all to climb and to fly.  A few days after leaving the nest, the youngest one developed problems with his feet, probably the result of some deficiency, and although I even took him to work with me and fed him every three hours, he died in my lap that night.  But the other two babies were doing well, and were soon no longer babies but just smaller, paler editions of their parents.

By nine weeks of age, the young ones were eating a few seeds but were still being partly fed by their parents.  They were even learning to squawk with husky little voices.  By twelve weeks of age, the young ones were almost completely independent, but the hen, who was a motherly soul, still liked to fuss over them.

The two young Galahs are now a year old, and very loved family pets, while their parents are busy again with their three young ones, hatched mid-September this year.  It has been even more exciting this year for me, because as the result of a car accident I have spent a lot of time at home, and I have been able to watch it all more closely and add to last year's notes and photos.  My other pair of Galahs also went to nest this year, and laid two eggs, but being only young and this their first attempt at breeding, they didn't sit on the eggs enough to hatch them.

So if any of you would like to try to breed Galahs too, I hope my notes may be of help, and even though you will not make much money out of it, you will get a big thrill out of doing something that so few aviarists attempt, so I wish you the very best of luck!

Reprinted from the November 1982 edition of Bird Keeping in Australia, the official publication of The Avicultural Society of South Australia Inc.