Handfeeding chicks is rewarding, but it does involve commitment and training. It is recommended that the breeder only sell fully weaned babies or that the baby is down to one feeding a day, and even then, with many hands on lessons.The nursery can be set up in any temperature controlled room, separate from family activities that are free from cigarette smoke, cooking fumes, perfumes, hair sprays and other aerosols.
The nursery must be kept warm until the bird grows enough feathers to regulate its own body temperature. The temp for a newborn should be approximately 94 degrees and gradually decreasing to 72 degrees as full feathering occurs. Humidity should average in excess of 50%. If the chick is panting, decrease the temperature. The brooder should be set up several days in advance, to assure the proper temperature setting. It is advisable to check the temperature daily, by keeping a digital thermometer within the brooder.
When the chick is born, it is best housed in a dark, quiet environment. A small container with safe bedding material such as thick paper towels is preferred. (Home Depot & Costco sell a great absorbent blue shop paper towel.) Pine shavings is also a safe alternative. Find an incubator such as Joe Freed's Pediatric Nursery or Brinsea, with a removable door and separate drawer to add water, which is very convenient. A water soaked paper towel, in a cup, can also be used to add humidity. The Pediatric Nursery is made of molded plastic and cleans easily. The temperature is easily controlled. I find that when the chicks are small, it is easy to keep them in a small bowl, graduating to a dishpan that is easily removable and can be conveniently relocated to a counter or table when the birds are to be hand fed. Have two containers available, and as the babies are fed, you can transport them to the clean container. Housing clutchmates together encourages socialization. Placing a small, soft stuffed animal in the container acts as a comfortable surrogate mother. For those who don't have a precontrolled incubator, a fish tank with a heat source such as a light bulb or a heating pad, placed under the tank, lined with a towel can be used. It is important that these improvisational methods be surveyed so as not to overheat and burn the babies.
Chicks are uncoordinated and splay their legs when attempting to walk. Until they are weaned, they sit on their hocks instead of their feet. Nestlings have relatively little muscle mass and a large, protruberant abdomen. The muscle mass increases as the bird ages. Chicks have a flesh-pink colored skin, which should feel warm to the touch. Feathers first appear on the wings & head, then tail, followed by feather emergence on the rest of the body.
The crop is a sac-like enlargement of the esophagus that holds the food, after swallowing, before it moves down to the gastrointestinal tract. Hungry chicks display a feeding response consisting of rapid, thrusting head movements, bobbing up and down. Touching the side of the beak or stroking the jaw can start the bobbing.
I remove my chicks from the parents at 2-3 weeks, after they have been banded. I have a fear of the parents mutilating the babies as they might try to remove the bands. At this point, I feed the babies every 2-3 hours, around the clock. Each species, being a different size, will take in a different amount. A timneh at this age could take in 5-8 cc's at a time. A macaw could take 30cc's. A new batch of formula must be made up at each meal. Do not save formula. Bacteria could grow and cause harm to the baby. For newborns, I use bottled or sterile water in the formula. I use Zupreem Handfeeding formula. Pretty Bird also makes a nice mix. Zupreem was nice enough to donate several bags. (These formulas come in 5-pound bags and can be purchased at a reasonable cost from NEW YORK BIRD** SALES@NYBIRD.COM.
Pet stores sell the formula in smaller cans, but it can be expensive in smaller quantities. Do not add vitamins to the formula. The manufactures have perfected their formulas and this process should not be interfered with. The formula must also be of the right consistency. Not too thick or thin. Your bird will let you know what it likes. Once you start with one formula you should try to stick to it. Switching brands might interrupt the smooth feeding process if the baby doesn't like the taste of the new formula. I start by mixing such a small amount in a medicine cup, then graduating to a baby food jar, then small glass, as the babies grow. I feed with O-Ring syringes that can be obtained from Birds' Nest Specialties at Toymaker@BirdsNestOnline.Com. These syringes are reusable, very rarely stick, and seem to last forever. They are inexpensive selling from $.65 for a 5CC to $2.00 for a 60 CC syringe. The babies are to be fed from their left side, with your right hand, as you are facing the bird, directing the syringe, inside the cheek. Do not force. The baby will taste the food and start bobbing, taking the food down smoothly, (Hopefully.) When the chicks are about 5-6 weeks, I add in some strained sweet potatoes or peanut butter just for taste. Imagine if you ate french fries 24 hours a day. It might get boring. At approximately 7 weeks of age you can start letting them taste cheerios or a cut up grape. The baby won't know what to do with it, but he can play with the food and eventually start chewing.
Weigh your baby daily, at the same time each day, with the crop empty. When the babies are small, use a bowl, lined with a paper towel. Place the empty bowl on the gram scale. Reset or tare to zero. Then place the baby in the bowl and weigh. This will record the proper weight, which should increase daily by 5-10 grams. Babies grow rapidly and should reach their peak at about 8 weeks. Chicks should be fed about 10% of their weight daily and gain about 15% of their body weight daily. When it is time to be weaned, the baby will actually drop weight. This is normal, but keep a close eye on the baby to make sure too much weight is not lost. Also use a chart, recording the amount of each feeding. By keeping track of the weights this will ensure that the baby is growing at a proper rate. (Kaytee provides an informative feeding chart. Copies available upon request.)
As I feed, I keep checking the temp. If it cools down to under a 100 degrees, the babies most likely will reject the feeding and it needs to be heated up again. Placing the feeding container in a bowl of hot water can raise the temperature. Do not use the microwave since this could cause 'hot' spots, which could severely damage a newborn's crop. Crop burn is very hard to repair. The tissue gets eroded and the food leaks through the crop as the bird is fed. It is hard to suture and the baby can die a slow, painful death. The normal feeding response closes off the trachea and prevents aspiration of the formula into the lungs.
There are other ways to feed, such a gavage feeding, which many breeders use when they have a lot of babies, which involves inserting a feeding tube into the crop and injecting the food. An amateur should definitely not try this method, since the wrong movement of the tube could seriously injure the baby. Babies can also be fed by molding a spoon and pouring the formula gently down their throats. This method could be very sloppy and time consuming.
You can tell when it's feeding time by observing the crop. When it's flat, then it's time to feed. Or when you hear the babies crying, it's a sign that they want to be fed. You want to make sure that they are not overfed. As you feed, you will notice the crop growing. Most likely, a baby will start to drool when it has had enough. Do not force feed. If I'm handfeeding 3 babies, and I know that a baby should be taking 35 cc's at a time, but isn't, I'll take a break in between and feed the others, then come back to baby # 1. Use a separate syringe for each baby. I rinse the syringe in a separate glass of hot water when I refill with formula. I actually prefer the feel of a 10 cc to a 20 or 30 cc syringe and would rather refill 4 times. Of course for a macaw, it is quickly graduated to a 60 cc syringe. When the syringe is filled, hold it upside down and push the air out. This ensures that the baby gets only food, not air. Inject the formula towards the back of the throat, with a slow steady pressure. If the syringe hesitates, remove from the mouth and remove the clot by ejecting back into the cup. Sometimes, if the formula is mixed with cool water, the formula gets too thick and blocks the tip of the syringe. If you try to clear the syringe, while it is in the baby's mouth, you could drown the baby with the force of the clot. You can observe the crop, noticing when it gets full. Do not over feed. Each baby's metabolism could be different. While one baby's crop could remain full for 4 hours, another crop could be empty after 2 hours. When feeding babies, you must have plenty of time and be observant. By letting a feeding go too long, a baby may become insecure. It is not fair to feed at 8-hour intervals, when you know a baby needs feedings every 3-4 hours. Wipe the beaks off with a damp paper towel, and swab out the beak with a q-tip. Any extra food caught in any crevices might grow bacteria.
PLEASE DO NOT PURCHASE AN UNWEANED BABY BECAUSE OF THE DAMAGE THAT MIGHT OCCUR. THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN TO HELP THOSE WHO FIND THEMSELVES IN A SITUATION WHERE THEY ARE FORCED TO HANDFEED. PLEASE CONTACT ME AT PARROTADOPTIONS@AOL.COM FOR FURTHER HELP.