Nursery Care & Handfeeding
When it comes to handfeeding baby birds there are several things that need to be done before you even start. First get all materials together that you will need so that when those precious little things are ready, you will be too.
You will need syringes, a heating pad, clean towels, an aquarium (I use the 10 gallon size) and bedding for the bottom of the aquarium. I use rolled barley for bedding for two reasons. First, if the baby birds chew on it, it won't harm them. Second, it works well and is inexpensive.
You will also need to get a screen top (my husband makes tops for me out of aviary wire) to hold up the towels and also to keep any other curious birds out of the aquarium. I get my aquariums from one of our local shops that specializes in wet pets and I get the ones that leak for $5. The pet shop can no longer use them for fish and it makes no difference to us if they leak since we aren't using them to hold water.
You will need at least 2-3 syringes in different sizes. It is best to use either syringes that are all one piece or that have locking tips. This prevents any accidental loss of tips inside a bird's crop.
Once you have your materials ready, you can begin the feedings. When I first pull the babies from their nest (I prefer to wait until they are at least 2-3 weeks old), I put them right into the aquarium with the heating pad set to medium. If the babies are younger than 2-3 weeks, then I will put them into a small basket lined with paper towels and set the basket inside the aquarium. This way they can cuddle together and keep each other warmer.
Although there are several good brands of handfeeding formula on the market, I prefer to use Kaytee Exact. I have found that Kaytee blends well and doesn't have a bad odor. Formula should be mixed with hot water and should have the consistancy simialr to that of instant pudding or pea soup. Be careful not to make it too watery as it can cause diarrhea and don't make it too thick as it can stay in the crop and harden or cause choking.
ALWAYS check to make sure the formula is not too hot! I use the back of my wrist to test, much like the way we would do for our own children. If you ever scald a baby bird there is very little, if anything, that can be done. Therefore, never be in such a hurry that you don't have the time to check the formula.
I leave the babies in the aquarium until they are about 4 weeks of age. Then I put them in a cage during the day for exercise and play, and back into the aquarium at night. I do this for about 4-5 days. Then I have a wonderful flight area built from my den where the babies can go during the day. There are feeders and fresh water made available to the birds so that everyone can start learning to eat on their own. I always check to make sure that water containers are not so deep that if a baby gets into one it cannot get out.
This is where the birds get their chance to learn how to fly. Once I see that they are beginning to take flight, I will do a gradual wing clipping starting with just 2 feathers. As they adjust, I will clip a few more until the babies can just glide to the ground rather than being able to free fly. The reason I do this is so they have a chance to strengthen chest and wing muscles and master flight. If they are not given this opportunity prior to clipping flight feathers, they never learn how to fly and land properly due to lack of practice and strength. This can unfortunately lead to broken blood feathers, tail bone injuries, and insecurity. Everyone goes back into their cages at night.
When the time comes, I do not force the babies to wean. I have had some that were totally weaned at 6 weeks and some that I have had to feed for 4-5 months. Each bird is different and the larger the bird the longer it takes to wean. Once I observe that they no longer want the syringe and are eating on their own, I know they are weaned and ready for sale. Just a side note: I have an African Grey who is 11 months old and when I am feeding some of my babies, sometimes she will still want to get down and eat out of the bowl!
If you find that an occasion arises where you have to feed day one babies (newborns), it is a little more difficult but can be done. The first day I use the infant supplement Pedialite for the first 24 hours. This must be given every 2 hours, just a drop or two at a time. Then you can mix formula (but it should be VERY thin, mostly water) and feed for 2-5 days. Gradually increase the formula. Remember that it must be thin enough for them to digest and not choke.
I have found that to help prevent sour crop, I will add a little yogurt to the formula for babies are at least 2 weeks old (about 1 teaspoon just once a week). If you notice that your babies' crops are not empting as well as they should you can add strained baby peas, spinach or green beans to the formula. This will help promote digestion.
I think that just about covers everything. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me at Bigmamabch@aol.com. Have fun!