When you are properly prepared, the breeding season is the best time of the year. Breeding seasons vary depending upon the types of birds you keep. Budgerigars are bred from December onwards, to coincide with the BS ring supply date, whilst canaries breed from March to July. British finches are usually slightly behind the canaries, and foreign seedeaters, parakeets etc can breed all year round, when the conditions are right, which is of course the key to success.
Conditioning breeding birds is an ongoing process. On leaving the nest, the life cycle of our birds follows a regular pattern regardless of the variety of birds kept. First the moult, followed by a rest period during which time we exhibit our stock at shows, then a lead-up period when we concentrate more on exercise, health and fitness, before pairing for breeding. The most common mistake is concentrating solely on the lead-up period, as preparation for breeding. Far better results will be gained by realising that breeding preparation is an all year round task.
Consider, a bird that has raised several nests of young before moulting, then competed at shows throughout the country each weekend, travelling in and out of cars, then being faced every week by a multitude of unfamiliar faces, in show halls of varying light and temperature, before being thrown into a flight cage to exercise, having to compete for food against other stronger, younger and fitter birds, is not particularly well prepared to go through the rigours of breeding for a second year, without making at least some mistakes along the way. And whose fault is that?
Preparation begins with the moult, which should be completed as quickly as possible. Birds need protein from which they build new feather growth, so ensure you provide a suitably rich protein diet throughout the moult. Aviary birds often seem to moult quicker than individually caged birds, so use this if the species is naturally gregarious. Birds pre-selected for exhibition will probably be moulted singly dependant upon the variety kept, but the fancier should consider the effect that an over active show season may have on individual specimens. Preparing two or three separate exhibition teams will mean that each individual bird is less stressed than if it were exhibited each week, and this will pay dividends when breeding time comes around. If you have any doubts about fitness, keep those individuals causing you concern at home rather than exhibiting them, and consider using one of the various products to reduce stress before and after taking your birds to shows.
Fanciers breeding birds out of season, such as Budgerigars, need to provide artificial conditions to stimulate their birds into breeding activity. Daylight is the major factor - remembering that young birds need to go through the entire night on the crop food provided by their parents. A good rule is to allow 14 hours of daylight each day; by the time your earliest chicks hatch. This may mean installing additional lighting, and using a dimmer and time switch. I favour increasing lighting in the early hours of the morning, allowing birds to roost naturally as dusk descends, but I know several fanciers who successfully use light in the evenings - a regular routine is all that is required, introduced gradually to enable the birds to become accustomed to your chosen methods. Whilst you are installing lighting, provision of a low wattage night light should also be considered, allowing birds that leave their nest boxes to find their way back, without having to wait until morning light.