Excessive Egg Laying

General Information
Excessive egg laying occurs when a female bird lays more than the normal number of eggs or, more commonly, lays repeated clutches (batches) of eggs, especially in the absence of a mate. The persistent laying of eggs may lead to depletion of calcium from the body for the production of the egg shells. In time, this excessive production may result in egg binding.

Are certain birds prone to becoming excessive layers?
Cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgerigars (budgies) are some of the most likely species to become excessive layers, but any species of bird can develop the problem. Hand-raised birds that use their owners as mate substitutes will develop the problem more frequently than wild caught birds.

What causes excessive egg laying?
In the wild, most birds only lay eggs when certain conditions are met, such as abundant nutrition, presence of a mate, presence of a nest, and favorable environmental conditions. Most of the time, these conditions are easily met or exceeded for pet birds. Hand-raised birds see humans as other birds and, so, when a pet bird matures, it may select its owner as a potential mate. Living can be “too good” and create favorable for breeding year-round and not just for a few months a year as would normally occur. The physiological changes that occur for breeding are very taxing on the body so being constantly stimulated to breed or lay eggs can cause severe health problems. Excessive egg-laying and egg-binding are among the more obvious ill effects. In some cases, cysts or tumors of the gonads (testes in males, ovary in females) may cause excessive egg laying.

Are there any health problems associated with excessive egg laying?
Egg laying will use up a great deal of stored calcium. This problem is compounded if the bird does not take in enough calcium in its diet (seed diets tend to be deficient in available calcium). This can cause egg binding, seizures, or death.

There are many types of complications that can occur including tears or ruptures of the oviduct, infection, cysts, egg-binding (egg stuck in the oviduct or cloaca), or cancer of the ovary or oviduct. A common scenario is that eggs may actually be deposited in the abdomen instead of completing their passage through the oviduct. This is called ectopic ovulation and can result in serious inflammation of the abdomen if it occurs frequently.

Birds are often less friendly when they are under the powerful influence of reproductive hormones, and may be aggressive and vocal as they protect their clutch. They may ‘display’ and become very territorial and more difficult to manage as pets.

What are the recommended treatments for excessive egg laying?
First, make sure your bird is eating a proper diet so she will not to become malnourished. A calcium supplement may be appropriate at these times.

Decrease the number of hours of daylight exposure, which may influence the stimulus to lay eggs.

Remove anything in the cage your bird is using as a nest.

Remove any bedding material your bird is shredding to line its nest, such as paper.

If your bird spends time outside of the cage, prevent it from cavity seeking- looking for a nest under tables, blankets, etc.

Have your bird sleep in a night cage. This is its bed, and only a smaller cage with a perch and a water cup is needed. When your bird is not in its usual cage all the time, it cannot care for its eggs and may stop laying.

If you have been removing eggs as they are laid, stop doing this as it may decrease the stimulus to complete the clutch by laying more eggs. Leaving the bird to sit on her eggs for the duration of a normal hatch (around 21-28 days) will allow her to become broody (do mother bird stuff), rest, and recuperate or catch up a little from the hard work and stresses of egg laying. At the end of this time period the eggs may be removed one every 1-2 days. However, some birds will start the process over again.

If these steps don’t work, are there any medical treatments?
Medical therapy may be needed in some cases. Hormone injections can help stop egg laying, but do not work without behavioral changes as well. Never give your bird progesterone injections, as this drug has too many very serious side effects. Lupron can be given and is very safe, although expensive. It is also possible to perform a hysterectomy in cases that can’t be controlled any other way. Both of these options should be discussed thoroughly with your veterinarian.