Any of us purchasing a bird want a companion
who can share and enrich our lives. We want a bird who is healthy,
trusting, sociable, fun and affectionate. A bird who will be a positive
addition to our family, bringing us joy and happiness and receiving the
same in return. Birds are very long lived and you can expect your new
companion to be with you for a very long time. So take the time to pick
the right bird and the right breeder.
A baby bird's experiences in
the first few months of its life affect it for the rest of its days.
Proper methods of handfeeding, weaning and socialization make the
difference between a healthy, trusting, well behaved companion bird and a
bird who is insecure, fearful, unsociable and a poor eater . Before you
purchase a bird, be sure to ask questions about how the bird was raised.
And unless you are experienced, NEVER, NEVER, buy an unweaned bird.
The importance of abundance weaning and socialization were discussed
in other articles This article concentrates on the reasons for handfeeding
and the dangers of purchasing an unweaned bird.
Many people have
been told that the bond between bird and owner will be deeper if the pet
owner handfeeds his bird. This is not true. A deeper bond may occur on the
part of the owner, but the disadvantages and the risks are too great. A
mature and educated buyer will have no problem bonding with a tame,
responsive, weaned baby bird. A baby bird can and will bond to a human he
can trust after the weaning period. Many birds have bonded with second and
Why Hand Feed A Bird
Handfeeding a baby bird
takes a great deal of time and effort. It is much easier to allow the
parent birds to feed the babies. In addition, parent-fed babies are bigger
and healthier than babies who are hand fed from day one. So why handfeed?
Handfeeding accustoms baby birds to human contact. The handfeeder
takes on the parents' role of feeding the baby. In this way, humans come
to be perceived as part of the flock and the baby becomes accustomed to
being touched and to the sound of the human voice. Adult birds, like
humans, are the product of their early socialization. A baby who learns to
trust humans in the early weeks and months of life will make an excellent
The handfeeding process begins at about three
weeks and continues until the baby is completely weaned. Many breeders
take the baby birds from the parents when the oldest is about three weeks
old. This enables the chicks to get the benefit of parental feeding when
they are smallest and most vulnerable. It also minimizes the risks of
handfeeding a very young, small bird. There is still sufficient time for
the baby to be well socialized and hand tamed.
The Dangers of
Buying an Unweaned bird
Many sellers convince novice buyers to take
an unweaned bird. Some even offer a discount. This is money you do NOT
want to save. If something goes wrong, will you know what to do? Some
sellers will help if the novice needs it, but some won't. Can you tell who
will and who won't when you leave with an unweaned bird?
The act of
handfeeding isn't too complex for an inexperienced person to learn. When
everything goes well and the inexperienced handfeeder does all he has been
told to do, handfeeding isn't such a big deal. The really big deal occurs
when things DON'T go well. A problem that is a red flag to the experienced
handfeeder may go unrecognized by the novice until it is too late.
Many baby birds do well in less than ideal circumstances. However, the
emotional and financial investment is so great that a buyer must ask
himself - is it worth taking the chance that everything will go well. A
whole host of problems await the novice handfeeder. Breeders/handfeeders
have gained experience in how to handle them and prevent sick, stunted,
injured or dead babies.
Signs of trouble:
Lack of feeding response, respiratory
sounds, slight aspiration, delayed crop emptying, restless or lethargic
babies, lack of weight gain are just a few symptoms of trouble. These
indicators require prompt action if the baby is to be saved. With babies
in trouble, the first system that shuts down is the digestive system. Very
close attention must be paid to the slightest clue that the digestive
system is not performing as it should be.
Lack of proper weight
gain is an important signal of trouble. An experienced person knows how
much weight gain to expect. If a baby is not gaining as he should, he may
need more frequent feedings or a different formula. Or this may be
indicative of another serious problem.
Crop burn - Improperly heated formula can
have hot spots. Babies will eat scalding hot formula which can burn away
the esophagus and/or the crop. If the burn is very serious, the baby will
die. Some burns can be treated by implanting a feeding tube in the crop,
but the esophagus must be intact for the bird to live after the tube is
Some crop burns will make a fistula to the outside of the
body. If the burned area is small, the baby often can be saved by cutting
away the dead crop area and stitching it together, leaving a smaller but
functional crop. This has to be watched very carefully by an avian vet as
the flesh often continues to die.
Crop stasis - The temperature of the brooder
and the formula are very important. Low temperatures can cause the crop to
shut down. Unfeathered babies cannot regulate their body temperatures and
don't have the reserves to heat cool or cold formula up to digestion
temperature. When this happens the crop doesn't empty. Formula that sits
in the warm environment of the crop can sour or become contaminated from
the small number of impurities in the handfeeding formula. The formula
powder is not sterile. Often the body will draw on the fluid in the
formula to hydrate the body and the food can get compacted in the crop.
Delayed emptying of the crop is very serious and needs immediate
Bacterial, fungal and yeast infections can also cause a
crop to stop emptying. Everything that touches or is in contact with a
baby must be clean. Babies pick up gram positive bacteria from the
environment - the handfeeder's responsibility is to make sure they don't
pick up gram negative bacteria, yeast or fungal spores. Babies don't have
the reserves, or a fully competent immune system, to be able to ward off
Aspiration - This occurs when large or small
amounts of formula enter the baby's lungs. When the babies aren't given
time to swallow or the mouth is flooded, aspiration is a real possibility.
Care must be taken with the very liquid formula/water mixtures required by
neonates. If a small amount of formula is aspirated, the body may be able
to encapsulate it and wall it off from the rest of the body. If the amount
of formula aspirated is large, the baby will die immediately - there is no
Beak Deformities - It is possible to cause a
deviation unless careful attention is paid to avoid pressure of the
feeding implement against the chick's beak. By far the more usual cause of
lateral deviation or compression deformities occurs from faulty
Too much pressure in wiping the beak can cause it to
deviate from true. Often one can see the indentations or compression
deformities when a thumb and forefinger are used to clean the bottom
Poor socialization - The experienced
handfeeder knows how important very early socialization is and will take
care that the babies are kept warm, safe, secure. A novice might think
that because the babies are very young or blind, they aren't aware of the
handling they receive. But they are - and at a younger age than one would
ever think. Blind babies especially need a reassuring touch. They frighten
easily. A gentle touch is required for all babies, but the very young are
quite responsive to a soft voice and a tender hand.
When and How to Wean - The experienced
handfeeder watches very carefully for the first sign that the baby will
respond to the weaning foods and is ready to begin the long process of
weaning. Weaning is a process, not an event. There is a window of
opportunity and age, around 6 weeks for the larger birds, when the baby
will explore low heavy bowls of brightly colored or interesting foods. If
the baby is accustomed to seeing food from a very early age, he will be
drawn to the weaning foods naturally, without stress or fear. Early
Unforced Weaning is the proper way to wean a bird. It relies on the
natural instincts of the bird, promotes trust and security and prevents
food related behavioral problems such as chronic begging, picky eating,
whining, restlessness and insecurity. A properly weaned bird is calm,
trusting, a good eater, and self confident. He understands and responds
appropriately to humans and to his environment.
The beginning of
the weaning period varies widely among species. As a general rule, the
smaller the species, the sooner they wean. All babies are individuals and
wean slightly differently from each other, even from their clutchmates. If
these differences aren't accommodated, the chick's behavior and demeanor
can be adversely affected. His suitability as a companion bird can be
impaired by forcing him to wean before he is emotionally ready.
this window is missed, the bird's attitude toward food, his emotional
development and his natural progression to food-independence will be
retarded. Dr. Branson Ritchie, well known avian vet states that, "Early
unforced weaning is a sign of a physically and emotionally healthy bird".
Health Guarantee - The health of an unweaned
bird can't be guaranteed. Most sellers of unweaned birds will give the
buyer a short time to have the bird vet checked. But, some of the tests
are meaningless when done on a baby still handfeeding. Test values for
babies are significantly different than for adults - this makes the use of
an avian vet even more important.
The PBFD screen can protect the
buyer from an emotional and financial disaster.
socialization and weaning leave a mark on a bird forever. They affect him
the rest of his life. It is almost impossible to separate the three.
Buy a weaned, screened baby bird who was weaned abundantly and
intensively socialized. If the seller won't do these things, find one who
will. Buy your baby bird from a quality breeder or pet store. Don't accept
less - you and your baby bird deserve the best.
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