For the accidental breeder or the person who got suckered in to doing the breeder’s job for them.
This is intended to be an emergency guide. It is not comprehensive! If you plan on handfeeding routinely you need to get a copy of Parrots: Hand Feeding & Nursery Management by Howard Voren and Rick Jordan. In Australia they prefer Incubation & Handraising Parrots by Phil Digney.
What does your baby look like?
- Down feathers (fluffy feathers, but no proper feathers)
- Mostly feathered
Feather development varies from species to species. Some, like Indian ringnecks, move from naked alien babies to pinfeathers with no real down stage. LOOK at your baby and see what level it is at. #1-3 NEED SUPPLEMENTAL HEAT.
Temperature for baby
- Naked- 93-97.5°F. Exact temperature depends on the age and size of the chick.
- Down- 85°F
- Pinfeathers- 78-82°F
- Feathered- Room temperature, so long as it’s not too chilly
You MUST have a way to accurately measure temperature! Make sure your thermometer (or the probe reading the temperature) is placed in the same location as the chicks, otherwise your reading will be off.
WATCH your baby
- Shivering = too cold
- Panting = too hot
- Adjust accordingly!
How to Keep Baby Warm
Ideally you would have a proper brooder like this:
You can also make low budget versions with fish tanks/critter keepers and a heating pad or lamp:
Here are some links on how to make a brooder:
- handfeeding formula
- syringe or spoon with sides bent up
- kleenex or other item for wiping off baby
How to Feed
- Heat water separately.
- Add hot water to formula until desired consistency is achieved.
- Very young chicks take thinner formula
- Consistency should be similar to applesauce- thick, but drips easily from spoon
- Stir well to eliminate lumps and hot spots
- CHECK TEMPERATURE with a candy thermometer or digital kind.
- The safe window is 100-110°F. Any hotter and the crop will be burned, which can lead to death. Any cooler and the chick will refuse the formula. Ideally you want to be around 106°F.
- Do NOT heat formula in the microwave. This causes hot spots.
- Add hot water to formula, check temp, add cool water if necessary, or wait until formula cools. It may take some trial and error until you get the hang of it.
- Hold the chick steady.
- If using a syringe, aim it from the bird’s left to the bird’s right. The esophagus is on the right. If you shoot toward the left you may unintentionally aspirate the bird. Aim toward the right.
- Chicks, especially older chicks, may pump vigorously and make a huge mess.
- Do not overfeed. Doing so can stretch out the crop, preventing it from emptying properly. Crop should be a nice bulge but not sag.
- Chicks may cry for a brief period after feeding, as it can take time to register that they are full. Crying all day is a sign that something is wrong.
The table below is not mine, and it is made with cockatiels in mind. Larger species will eat more and develop at a different rate. Adjust accordingly!
I personally listen to the chicks. If they’re crying a lot and the crop is empty then they need to be fed. If they’re refusing food (and it’s at the right temperature) it may be time to bump back the feeding time. Listen to your chicks!
Please visit my YouTube channel for videos on brooding and handfeeding, or watch the playlist below:
Fledging & Weaning
Once the chick is fully feathered it begins the fledging and weaning process. Chicks may start to refuse feeds and drop a bit of weight prior to fledging. This is normal, as slimmer birds have an easier time flying. At this point you can move them to a cage and start offering foods. I begin with soft, warm foods or things that are easy to manipulate. You want to offer a large variety of foods and textures- vegetables, pellets, and seed. Initially food will get picked at and stepped on but eventually the chicks will learn to eat it.
It is important that all birds learn to fly properly. If you plan to clip your bird’s wings, give it time to learn to fly well before clipping. It should be able to take off, land, and fly with purpose and accuracy. Once it can do this for some time you can clip.
© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.