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The Cockatiel Cabin's Handfeeding Procedures

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By Donna Mason
REVISED: 9-9-97

When you decide to handfeed baby birds, you are taking on a major responsibility. The lives of these little babies are dependent on your actions. The commitment involved is enormous and time consuming. However, it is also very rewarding to see these helpless little creatures become happy, healthy adults.

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TOPICS
  • SUPPLIES
  • POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
  • HANDFEEDING PROCEDURES
  • HANDFEEDING SCHEDULE
  • WEANING PROCESS

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SUPPLIES
There are basic supplies that are necessary inorder to successfully raise baby birds.
  • A good veternarian is very important. You may have to check around because not all vets will see birds. If there is an avian veternarian in the area, I suggest you talk with him first.
  • A brooder which you can control the temperature.
  • Handfeeding syringes of various sizes. 1cc - 60cc's depending on the type of birds you are raising.
  • Commercial formula for your particular type bird.We use Kaytee Exact Handfeeding Formula; however there are many other brands that work just as well. The decision on which to use is merely a person preference.
  • Thermometer to measure the heat of the formula.
  • Cotton swabs to clean out the beak after feeding.
  • Bedding. We use the "Baby Bedding" from Cage'n Bird (318) 394-6683. It keeps the babies clean, draws the moisture to the bottom of the brooder, and is safe. **I do not recommend ground corn cobs because they harbor germs that could be harmful to the baby birds. If they eat the corn cob, their crops could become impacted.
  • Disinfectant. We use Dentagene, Wavicide, and Vanodine to clean our bird room, untensils, and brooders.
  • Weight Scale. This is important in that it allows you to monitor and chart the growth of the chicks. You will immediately know if there has been weight loss.
  • Lots of paper towels.
  • Cage for weaning babies once they have taken flight and are out of the brooder. The perches must be low so they can learn to perch.
  • Heating pad to go underneath the cage. The baby birds may need the extra heat at night.
  • Cage cover.
  • Older bird. The babies will learn how to eat adult food from the older bird by mimicking the behavior.

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POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
  • If the formula is too hot or the heat is not evenly distributed, the crop can be severely burned.
  • If the formula is allowed to get into the lungs, the baby will aspirate. If a little bit of formula gets into the lungs, pneumonia will develop.
  • If you overfeed the baby bird, his crop will be distended. This can lead to the crop shutting down causing the baby bird to starve to death.
  • Diseases can be introduced by unclean utensils, brooder, or hands.
  • The crop can become impacted, if the formula is too thick or too cold, which leads to infections.
  • Slow crop from infections or improper techniques in handfeeding. (ie. formula too cold, brooder too cold)
  • Failure to thrive from improper feeding schedule or disease.


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HANDFEEDING PROCEDURES

Before you begin, make sure that all of the utensils are sterile. This includes the container holding the formula, measuring device, the syringe, the container holding the "float water", and the surface on which he will be fed. I use an insulated cup to hold the "float water" (115 degrees) in order to maintain the formula at the proper temperature.

When preparing the formula, it is important to test the temperature of the mixture. The temperature needs to be between 100 degrees and 105 degrees. If it is below 100 degrees, the baby bird will not be able to digest the food properly because his body temperature will be lowered also. Just as in the brooder, the bird should never become chilled. This could lead to a slowing or shuting down of his system or even worse, death. If the temperature of the formula is above 105 degrees, the crop may be burned. I do not like to use the microwave to heat the formula unless it is absolutely necessary, because of the potential uneven distribution of heat. If you do use the microwave, make sure you mix the formula very well to prevent hot and cold spots. I use a thermometer to test the "float water" and a different thermometer to test the formula. Check the temperature of the formula often.

The esophagus leading to the crop down which the food travels is located on the birds right side of the throat. Using the syringe to administer the food, place the syringe against the left side of his beak. If he doesn't readily start eating, gently tap the syringe on the beak; this should start the feeding response. If you do not see the throat moving in a swallowing motion, do not attempt to feed. He could very easily choke or inhale the formula. Once you see the feeding response, in a slow and steady manner, administer the forumula. After several seconds of feeding, remove the syringe from the beak to let the bird take a breath. Pay close attention to the amount of food being given. You do not want to over-fill the crop. The formula could go back up into the throat and into the lungs causing either serious illness, or sudden death.

After feeding the baby, I use a Q-Tip and warm water to clean out the inside of the mouth, outside of the beak, and the (pin) feathers around the beak. By removing the food immediately after feeding, the chances of a crop infection is reduced. If the food is allowed to remain in and around the beak, it will begin to break down allowing for bacterial and/or fungal infections. After the baby is fed, place him back in his warm brooder for a nice long nap.


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A feeding schedule should be set up and followed as closely as possible. This is especially important for very young chicks. Chicks who are 1-3 days old should be feed every 1 - 1 1/2 hours around the clock. They should be able to go from midnight to 6 a.m. starting with the 4th night. Since the formula is being mixed at a thicker consistency, the digestion takes a little longer and can sustain them through the 6 hour span. We continue to feed the babies on a 3 - 4 hour schedule during the day until around midnight. The morning feeding time varies due to the emptying rate of the crop. If a baby has not digested all of the formula from the night before, we will give him some warm pedyalite or lactated ringer solution to keep the food from becoming too dry and impacting the crop. Once all of the formula is gone from the crop, we feed the baby his breakfast and begin our schedule for the day. If the crop fails to empty, we then begin using the papaya mixture discussed on the Slow Crop Page.


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WEANING

Weaning can be a frustrating time for both the chick and the breeder. As the babies grow, they become more active and stubborn making them difficult to feed. We use monkey biscuits softened with water and formula mixture to begin the weaning process. We break off tiny pieces of the monkey biscuit and formula mush and hold it to the beak. At first we have to shove it into the beak, but they quickly catch on to the idea. Once they are use to the taste of the monkey biscuit, we add Kaytee Exact Rainbow to the mix, softening it water. Over the days that follow, we lower the position of our hand until the chicks have to bend over to feed.

Once this has been accomplished, we introduce several older birds to the babies at feeding and play time. As the chicks observe the older birds eating their pellets, or beans, they begin to mimick the behavior. As they pick at the dry Rainbow, they learn how to eat it. We continue to suppliment with the syringe until the baby birds are eating enough food from our hands and/or from the dish.

For some chicks, this weaning process last only a couple of days. For others, this could take more than a week. We have one bird we call Peter Pan because he just did not want to grow up. He was still demanding the syringe at 11 weeks old. Most of our babies are weaned by 8 weeks. Baby birds can not be forced to wean. They will starve to death even if there is an abundance food surrounding them because they do not know how to eat on their own. We have never tried to force wean any of our chicks, but it does not seem appropriate to even try.

For information on the brooder conditions, please see our HAND-REARING PAGE.

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RESOURSES
  • Wanda Barra, Cage'n Bird, St. Martinville, LA
  • A Guide to Cockatiels and Their Mutations.... By Peggy Cross and Diane Andersen.
  • You and Your Pet Bird by David Alderton
  • The New Cockatiel Handbook... By Matthew Vriends, PHD
  • Diseases of Cage & Aviary Birds By Walter J. Rosskopf (editor) and Richard W. Woerpel (editor)
  • Dr. Tom Tester, DMV, Hayden Lake, Id
  • Avitec Exotic Birds

Graphics by Bimsan
Graphics by Bimsan