Written by Donna Mason
Raising baby birds is a time consuming task but well worth the effort. There some basic steps that one can take to make the process easier. The major areas to consider are cleanliness, the brooder temperature, the handrearing food, feeding schedule, and weaning.
As my grandmother use to say, "Cleanliness is next to Godlines"......and so it goes with raising baby birds. There are bacteria, viruses, and fungi everywhere and we can not eliminate them from our environment - no matter how hard we try. They may be transported by air, shoes, clothing, hands, droppings, etc. The most anyone can do is use a safe disinfectant in their aviary frequently to keep the germs under control. We use several kinds, such as Wavicide, Vanodine, and dentagene. We have found these to work very well for us.
As I stated in the Handfeeding section, the brooder, feeding utensils, feeding station, etc, must be kept as clean and germ free as possible to prevent the spread of diseases. The same goes for the cages and nestboxes. If you are able to leave the babies with the parents for 2-3 weeks, the nestbox will need to be cleaned out frequently. What I mean by this is that the fecal matter must be removed and fresh bedding put down. I am not talking about sterilizing the nestbox. I have found that the less you are poking around in the nestbox the better, but the removal and replacement of the bedding can be done quickly. We try to change the bedding when the parents are out of the nestbox. From our experience, this seems to be the least stressful for them. There is no need to force them out. The main reason for this is to keep the chicks from injesting the dirty material which could make them ill.
The temperature and humidity of the brooder is very important. The younger the chick, the warmer the brooder needs to be. The brooder Al made for us has a thermostat which allows us to see the temperature and the humidity level. Al also installed a small fan on the outside of the brooder lid in case something goes wrong and the brooder gets too hot. If the temperature goes above 98 degrees, the fan automatically comes on, drawing the hot air out. We place our baby chicks in containers , separating each clutch, and then place the containers in the brooder. (At least one of the containers will have a thermometer included. This is in addition to the thermostat in the brooder.) The containers we have found to work well are the cat litter boxes with a domed lid. With the vent placement and the fan placement, the chicks never feel a draft. This is very important because chicks can not take a drastic and sudden change in the environment.
Here are the temperatures I was advised to use when we got into breeding cockatiels:
|1 - 7 days old || 95 - 98 degrees|
|8 - 14 days old || 90 degrees|
|15 - 21 days old || 80 - 85 degrees|
When you decrease the temperature, make sure it is done very slowly, ie., over a 36-48 hour span. It is important to keep an eye on the chicks in order to study their behavior. If they begin to pant, they are too hot. Being too hot can lead very quickly to dehydration. Since the digestion will be effected by the excessive heat, the consistency of the droppings will change, becoming drier than normal. If you notice them shivering, they are too cool or cold. Here again, the digestion of the food will be hampered. Just as it is important to maintain the warmth of the formula at feeding time to prevent the crop stasis, it is also important to keep the chicks at the optimal temperature for their digestion and over all health. Happy little chicks will nap a good bit of the time between feedings, snuggling up to each other for comfort. Older chicks who are pinning (pin feathers developing) do not require as high of a brooder temperature as the tiny, bare, chicks.
The older chicks tend to explore their environment and sleep a little less, although they still need many naps. The choice of bedding material is important. We use the "Baby Bedding" from Cage'N Bird (see handfeeding page ). The bedding is made from different types of paper products, which draws the moisture away from the chicks and down to the bottom of the brooder container, keeping the chicks clean. The baby bedding is non-toxic and will not hurt the babies if they eat some of it. We do not recommend the use of ground corn cobs. They harbor disease causing fungi, bacteria, etc. Aspergillosis has been associated with corn cob bedding.
Once the chicks have feathered and are no longerin need of a lot of extra heat , we remove them and the container from the brooder. At night they are provided heat from a heating pad covered with a towel and turned on low which is placed underneath 1/2 of the container. The reason for putting the heat source under 1/2 is so that if the chicks get too warm, they can move to a cooler spot. Depending on the number of feathered clutches we have at one time, for extra warmth in other containers, we may also use the "Baby Cuddler" - you guessed it - from Cage'N Bird. Avitech also carries relatively inexpensive brooders and bird products.
Since the chicks are feathered and about to fly (around 3 wks old) we leave the cover off of the container during the day. This allows the more adventurous ones to peer out the front and adjust to the new surroundings. They will climb up and perch on the edge of the container. As they become more comfortable with this, they will begin to practice their flying by flapping their wings. Eventually (approximately 24-26 days old) one brave soul will venture forth on his maiden flight. After the initial fright is over, the baby will fly again. This leads to the other less adventurous ones to try. After 4 or 5 flights, we, unfortunately, have to clip their wings. Once more than one bird in the clutch has flown and gotten proficient, we move them to the baby cage. We try to move more than one so they will have each other for comfort and security. If the clutch consists of only 3 babies, we wait until they all are ready for the transition. When there is only one baby in the clutch, we introduce the other baby birds slowly, letting them play together on the floor several times throughout the day for several days before we move them all together. The move can be very tramatic on the single babies.
* * I suppose I should state here that Cage'N Bird is not affiliated with The Cockatiel Cabin in any way. That is, with the exception of us being one of their customers and purchasing a lot of items from them. They have great products that have worked very well for us.
All rights reserved. If you would like to use this information, please give the proper credit.
- 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)
- Avitec Exotic Birds
- Wanda Barra, Cage'n Bird, St. Martinville, LA
- Many wonderful fellow breeders.
Graphics by Bimsan