• Belmont Avenue Veterinary Hospital
  • 304 Belmont Avenue,
  • Kewdale ,
  • Western Australia,
  • 6104
  • Phone: +61892774966
  • Website: http://belmontavevet.com.au/

Hand-Feeding Baby Birds

hand-feeding a baby birdHand-rearing baby birds is often performed to produce a “cuddly tame” young bird. Unfortunately commonly used rearing techniques and the isolation experienced by single birds, may account for the many psychological problems that occur in these birds. Hand-rearing, therefore, should be taken on with care and with full regard to the young bird’s mental and social development. Hand-feeding is a huge responsibility and requires time, patience and a complete commitment. The little bird in your care is entirely reliant on you for everything. Hand-feeding is a job best left for the experienced bird breeder or aviculturist. You may wish to contact your local bird breeder or avian veterinarian for help. This handout is designed to provide some guidelines.

When do I start hand-feeding a baby bird?

A chick may be removed from the parents any time before weaning but many suggest leaving the babies with the parents for up to 3 weeks (this depends on species, but the best time is the stage where the baby is just about to start leaving the nest and exploring the local environment). Older birds may prove to be more challenging in their acceptance of hand-feeding.

optimal temperature for baby birdsWhere do I keep the baby bird?

Precise temperature and humidity is essential for optimal growth of newly hatched birds. Relative humidity greater than 50% is required initially. Hatchlings (no feathers), should be maintained at 35-36°C (95-97°F). As the chick gets older, it has a greater tolerance for temperature fluctuations. Generally, the temperature can be lowered one degree at a time every 2 - 3 days as the feathering progresses. Chicks with new feathers (pin feathers) should be fine at 24° - 30°C (75-85°F) depending on the development of the feathers. Fully feathered and weaned chicks can be maintained at room temperature. Always monitor your bird for signs of overheating or chilling. Wings extended or drooping and panting indicate overheating. Shivering and cuddling together indicate chilling. Poor growth or poor digestion (delayed crop emptying) can suggest poor health, dietary intolerance or improper temperature and humidity. Good quality special brooders are available to carefully regulate air circulation, temperature and humidity. Paper towel, hand towels or other soft, disposable products can line the bottom of the brooder and provide secure, clean, dry footing for the bird. This bottom liner must be changed constantly to keep the bird clean. Provision of space is not necessary- in the normal parrot nest (in tree trunks or burrows) space is a premium; too much room to move may predispose to splay leg and other bone rotations You must check that there is nothing for the bird to get its wings or legs stuck and which might cause injury or deformities.

What should I feed my bird?

There are numerous commercial hand-feeding diets available today. Choose one diet and use it until the baby is weaned. Changes in diet may be stressful on the baby’s digestion. Provision of probiotics may also be helpful. It is very important to discuss this with your veterinarian.

How do I feed my baby bird?

All food must be prepared fresh for every feeding. Food kept for the next feeding is an ideal place for harmful bacteria and yeast to grow. Any food prepared or heated in the microwave oven must be mixed thoroughly to blend hot and cold spots. Try to achieve food temperatures of 39-41°C (102-106°F). Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the food. Food that is too hot will cause severe burns to the crop. Food that is too cold will not be accepted or digested well.

In general, the younger the bird, the thinner the mixture should be. A more dilute mixture (90% water) is required by the day old chick as it is still utilising the yolk sac. Chicks older than one or 2 days should have food with 70 - 75% liquid. However, it is best to check the manufacturers’ guidelines especially as different species do require different regimes.

"Chicks older than one or 2 days should have food with 70 - 75% liquid."

Syringes or a spoon with the sides bent up and inward are the preferred tools Accurate feeding volumes can be recorded with the syringe. Using a chart to record body weight and daily feedings is important. The natural feeding response of a baby bird is to rapidly bob the head in an up and down motion. This action can be stimulated with gentle finger pressure at the corners of the mouth. During this head bobbing the trachea is closed and large amounts of food can be given relatively quickly. If the bird is not displaying strong feeding response then do not attempt to feed as there is an increased chance of aspiration of food into the trachea and lungs leading to death. The best time to feed is when the crop is empty. When full, the crop is the “sac” that hangs over the front of the chest at the base of the neck. 

How often and how much do I feed?

The amount and frequency of feeding depends on the age and growth rate of the bird, growth of the bird and the diet used as well as species of bird. The frequency of feeding for young birds is greater than that of older birds. With newly hatched chicks, the yolk sac is the source of nutrients for the first 24 hours and they do not require feeding in this period. Guidance should always be sought from an experienced aviculturist or avian veterinarian. Manufacturers’ guidelines are also useful. The crop should appear full when fed. Feeding between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. is not necessary. The best indication of a healthy, growing chick is a good, strong feeding response at every feeding, the crop empties between feedings and regular well-formed droppings (faeces) are noted. Monitoring and recording weight gain on a gram scale provides an accurate record of growth.

When do the birds wean?

When to wean is often a difficult decision for both the owner and the bird. As the bird gets older and develops a full complement of feathers, weaning should be encouraged. Some babies start weaning themselves by refusing feedings. The bird should be offered a variety of formulated foods including fruits and vegetables at this time to encourage exploration and experimentation. As this food introduction continues you can slowly start to withhold some of the feedings starting with the mid-day feeding. As time goes on, the morning feeding may be withheld, and lastly the evening feeding. Some birds learn quicker by watching other birds or older babies eat.

Disinfecting?

Baby animals have poorly developed immune systems and are more susceptible to infections. The brooder should be disinfected regularly. All feeding utensils must be cleaned and stored in a disinfecting solution between feedings. The disinfectant should be changed every day to avoid contamination. Thorough rinsing is required before the next feeding. Using separate feeders for every individual bird is recommended. Select the best disinfectant for your needs after a discussion with your veterinarian.

What if something is wrong?

If you suspect something is wrong then immediately contact your veterinarian. Signs to watch for are included in the following list:

  • chirping or crying all the time
  • fussing a lot and not sleeping
  • listless, droopy wings or head
  • not accepting food
  • poor or weak feeding response
  • a crop that is slow to empty or does not empty
  • poor weight gain or weight loss (apart from the first 24-48 hours)
  • abnormal growth
  • abnormal posturing or wing and leg positions
  • abnormal droppings
  • wet area  over the crop (may indicate a burn)
  • Bright red “crinkly” skin may indicate dehydration.

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