Hand Feeding Baby Birds- How, When and Where?
So here we are again, it’s baby bird season! Some people are delighted – and perhaps surprised – first-time parents. Others welcome the babies as the fruit of their effort.
There are certain principles of raising a baby bird that I want to go over. I am not only referring to parrot-type babies.
This is the time of year that native wild babies start falling out of trees, and my phone starts ringing. These are the basic principles. It is easier to prevent disease, malnutrition, and deformed limbs than to correct and cure them.
First and foremost:
Birds lack the set of digestive enzymes necessary to synthesize milk as food. They have no lactose.
Some human babies are born lactose-intolerant too. If one continues feeding a child normal milk, the results can be tragic.
The same applies to a bird. Milk usually doesn’t find its way into the world of a baby bird. It is a unique substance to mammals.
Because of this, bread and milk – a classic in people’s minds – should not ever be used to feed a baby bird.
The milk causes diarrhea, and even the carbohydrates present in the bread, hardly a food to grow on, can only partially absorb.
In almost all cases, commonly available commercial baby parrot formula is an effectively balanced diet for a young bird, fed warm from a syringe to keep track of quantity consumed, at a temperature between 100F – 105F.
The reason for this is that the temperature of the mother is about 106F – 108F. The food she regurgitates for her babies will not be too far off that temperature.
If it is, the babies may refuse to eat, or the chilling effect of the food will slow the activity of the stomach and intestines leading to impaction and soured food in the crop and stomach.
Allow it to “cook” briefly; otherwise, it will be gritty for the bird, and will quickly separate itself from the water.
Avoid saving cooked food from next feeding as within half an hour the bacterial and fungus grows even in the fridge.
At my clinic, we use disposable plastic “Dixie Cups” and a microwave. What is not used is thrown away with the cup.
A technical note:
microwave cooking “Fluffs” the formula a little more than stovetop cooking. Therefore the nutrient and calorie content in each milliliter is reduced.
It may be necessary to increase the volume fed by 10% to compensate if growth and body weight begin to slide. So how much does that translate into?
As aggravating or intimidating it may be here is a situation where one must learn to work with grams, milliliters, kilograms, not pounds ounces, and teaspoons.
Diversify your Investment on an electronic scale precise to 2 grams and a variable size of syringes.
Practice with these measurements until they begin to have meaning for you until you can relate 20 grams of body weight to an image of certain body size.
The loss of a few grams by a baby bird may not be visible to the naked eye, but it surely alarms, something terrible is happening within the body.
There should be a daily increase of 10 to 15% from the previous day’s body weight. No growth or weight loss is not good news.
Something is wrong.
Fine, But how much the bird should be eating in the first place?
There are detailed charts for species and age. The solid rule of thumb, however, is that you should feed 10% of the bird’s body weight 3 to 4 times daily. If the baby weighs 1½ ounces, how much do you feed?
It is not easy to calculate, as ounces since one ounce equals 30 ml., 1½ ounce equals 45 ml, and you should feed 4.5 ml of an applesauce thick formula if using a microwave and the food is “fluffy” that 10% increase only translates into a maximum of 10% of 4.5, which is 0.45 or about half a milliliter.
Not much really but it may be important.
Just quickly, I want to say that too much of a good thing can harm the baby. More is not better. If you force 50% more food into the baby, you can stretch the crop walls to accommodate it.
But along with the 50% increase in calories comes a 50% increase in protein, Vitamin D, calcium, etc, which may poison or damage the bird’s organ function.
The bedding material used under the birds is important. Never use cedar shavings of any sort – they are poisonous; pine shavings, corncob, or rolled oats can and will be swallowed. The easiest and cleanest method is to create flooring of 15 to 20 layers of paper towels.
As the bird makes a mess, that top layer can be lifted off and discarded. Paper towels also provide a sure footing for the baby, assuring that the legs will grow straight.
Baby birds need a source of warmth.
I recommend a heating pad. Do not, however, sit the birds on top of it. They will be cold anyway, while possibly still burning their bellies or feet. Roll the pad up, and cover it with a towel to keep it clean. Place it along one side of the box or aquarium.
This way a bird can regulate its own temperature, snuggling up to “mom” or moving away if warm enough.
To get a baby bird to wean (that is to start eating on its own) requires a plan. You have to provide gentle motivation, as well as attract good that is soft enough to be eaten with a still soft beak.
It has to be small enough pieces to swallow and digest, colorful enough to attract attention, and be proper food for the baby.
The babies have been raised on a balanced formula. The adult version of the formula is what is known as “pellets”. These come in many shapes, colors, and flavors (the smell does not matter to the bird).
They are all essentially the same. What does matter is that you teach good eating habits right away?
If you teach your baby bird to eat seeds, millets, peanuts, etc., you are ensuring yourself a lot of health problems later.
These are not natural foods. As with a child, the bird’s immune system can only be strong if there is a good level of nutrition. Bad habits are difficult, if not impossible to break later on.
Start the weaning process by eliminating the morning feeding, and placing small-sized assorted pellets, peas, corn, softened carrot, sweet potato, etc. in the cage. The baby will make a terrible mess at first but will be motivated by hunger to start to eat.
Of course, you can help this along by placing small pieces in their beaks. But it is a process to learn to chew and swallow. Be patient, eventually, the evening feeding can be reduced to the point where it is more ceremonial than nutritious.
Some birds are easy, essentially weaning themselves. But birds, particularly unhealthy ones will resist making that transition to self-sufficiency.
If it is just not happening for you, have your baby bird examined by an avian veterinarian.
If he is healthy but spoiled, it will be one less thing to worry about, especially after investing so much of yourself in its care.