One of the main causes of chick mortality is poor hygiene on the part of the
breeder. Baby birds are born with virtually no working immune system so
they are more susceptible to getting bacterial or fungal infections from your
hands, ordinary household objects and an environment that has been contaminated
with disease causing organisms. Harmful bacteria
and mold can grow and thrive in a nestbox filled with droppings and food. The nestbox
should be cleaned each day after the
babies are born. A good time to do this is when both parents come out to eat. By sliding a piece of cardboard through the cage bars and blocking off the
entrance, parents can be prevented from re-entering the nestbox while you work. Put the babies in a
small bowl that has been
lined with white, unscented tissue paper or a clean, tightly woven cotton towel. Work quickly
so the babies do not get chilled. Scrape the sides of the nestbox, remove soiled nesting material,
replace with clean nesting material
then put the babies back inside. Remove the cardboard so the parents can
re-enter the nestbox. Always be careful not to startle or frighten
the parents. If they panic, they may trample on the babies and injure them.
How Parents Feed Chicks Parents will regurgitate the food that they eat to feed to their babies and both parents take turns feeding the
chicks. The parents need excellent nutrition and a constant supply of food
to feed chicks so chicks can grow strong and healthy. Parents will also be
extremely hungry when feeding babies. If you're not providing enough food for
them, they will frantically pace back and forth. Provide at least
2 food dishes filled with pellets and seeds at all times and serve a soft, fresh
food diet to parents throughout the day. Most breeding pairs are not finicky
about food and they will eagerly consume a soft food diet when one is offered. Fresh foods can be served in the
morning and evening but most conscientious breeders provide fresh foods throughout
the day and whenever they see the parents feeding babies.
Suggested Soft Foods: Moistened pellets, cooked oatmeal, cooked brown rice, cooked
pasta, baked mashed sweet potatoes, whole wheat
toast, fresh corn, peas, carrots, broccoli, dark green leafy
vegetables, apples, bananas, pears and well cooked, mashed hard boiled egg yolk can all be served to breeding parents. You can also offer parents mixed hand
feeding formula with their fresh foods as well. Fresh foods should be served in
very small pieces or they can be mashed or put them through a food processor or blender. You
can also lightly steam vegetables if your birds prefer them this way. Mashed and steamed vegetables
are sometimes more acceptable to a breeding pair reluctant to eat fresh foods. Take
food out after 1-2 hours depending on the indoor temperature.( Food spoils faster in hot weather).
Take out EGGS after 30 minutes. Eggs spoil much faster than other foods. Change your bird's drinking water a few times a
day so it is always fresh and clean. Wash food and water dishes in hot soapy
water after each feeding and disinfect them daily to prevent the growth of bacteria. Grapefruit
Seed Extract, name brand Citricidal by BioChem Research, is a professional strength, non-toxic and safe disinfectant to use on bird cages, food
and water dishes, brooders and feeding instruments.
Click Here to Order Citricidal. 1 ounce dropper bottles. If you are uncomfortable
about using an all natural disinfectant, ask your avian vet to recommend a
Quaternary Ammonium product.
Abandoned Chicks: Chicks can be active and wiggle away from their
parents but sometimes parents will reject a chick and push it to the side of the
nestbox. The parents may know that
the baby is too weak to survive. The last
chick to hatch will be smaller and weaker than the older ones. Larger and
stronger babies are noticed first because they are louder and actively begging for
food. A chick that is not
being fed is a weaker chick and weaker chicks are often rejected by parents.
Smaller chicks can also get
covered with nesting material and parents can not see them. In some
very sad cases, the
baby's jaw is literally locked shut so it can not beg for or accept food. This is caused by a condition called
Bordatella. If a baby has been abandoned, make a
brooder and hand feeding. After a few days of formula, the chick will
be stronger and you can try returning it to the nestbox. In
most cases the parents will resume feeding the baby once it's a little stronger. Cockatiels
breeding their first clutch may abandon the entire clutch. Abandoned babies
can be in a brooder and handfed or they can be placed with foster
parents, another pair of birds that have been successful
at breeding a clutch of chicks.
Feather Plucking Sometimes one or both parents will start pecking at
babies or plucking out their feathers. (The chick on the left has been severely
plucked by the father.) A very aggressive parent can injure, mutilate or kill a
chick by pecking or plucking. The male is usually the offending partner. Some speculate that the male
wants to mate with a non-cooperative partner. Male jealousy of the attention
that the female is giving to chicks has also been cited as a cause. If chicks are
pecked at or plucked, remove the offending parent to a
separate cage. You can
try giving the offending parent visitation rights when it's feeding time. It
he/she is still abusing the chicks, remove that parent permanently. Feather
plucking will not stop. It will only get worst and it could lead to chicks
imitating the behavior, plucking their siblings. A healthy, well nourished bird should be able
to feed and take care of an average size clutch, 2-6 eggs, alone. You
may have to give supplemental feedings if the clutch is large or if a single
parent starts too look exhausted. If both parents are
abusing chicks, chicks should be placed with foster parents or moved to a
brooder for hand feeding. Not all birds make good parents, just like not all humans are good parents.
Pull for Hand Feeding & Brooders
The best time to start hand feeding chicks is when they are 14 days old.
Chicks at this age will have developed pinfeathers and their eyes will have just
opened (Cockatiel babies open their eyes between 7-10 days.) Older chicks are
more difficult to hand feed and they are less trusting of humans. Chicks can be removed from their parents and placed
inside of a pre-warmed brooder at night so they wake up with an empty crop. (A
brooder is a container with a heating unit for keeping chicks warm.) Maintaining an environment and brooder temperature of
80°-85°F for chicks with pin feathers, 75°-80°F for fully feathered chicks
and 68°-75°F for fully weaned chicks will enhance the growth and health of chicks.
(Source: Avian Medicine, Principles and Practices by Dr. Branson Ritchie, Dr.
Greg Harrison and Linda Harrison, 1997). Incorrect
brooder temperatures will result in slower growth, poor weight gains and slow
crop draining. A brooder
can be made by using a new, lightweight plastic animal habitat or by using a plastic,
Rubbermaid type storage box. Line the bottom of
the brooder with a thick layer of white paper towels, cotton cloth diapers or tightly woven cotton
dish towels to absorb moisture so the bottom will not be slippery. (Cotton
diapers can be purchased at Wal-Mart and Targets.). Change
the brooder lining after each feeding. (Unsuitable brooder substrates are listed
1.) The serious breeder may want to consider purchasing a
commercial brooder or a "brooder top" which is placed over a glass
aquarium. Both are superior for maintaining accurate heat and humidity levels.
Brooder Humidity, Heat & Light: By putting a small,
margarine tub filled with water, covered with a lid that has holes punched, on the bottom of the brooder sufficient humidity should be provided. Chicks
do well in an environment with a humidity level of 50-75%. For heat, place a heating pad set on low,
covered with a thick bath towel under HALF of the brooder. If chicks
become too warm they can move to the other side. Chicks that are too warm will
pant and breath heavily, hold wings away from the body, and be restless, moving around instead of sleeping.
Expended energy will reduce
potential weight gain and increase stress, slowing down crop motility. Chicks that
cold will shiver, huddle together and expend more of their energy to stay warm so digestion will be slower
and weight gain minimal. By keeping a thermometer inside of the brooder at the chick's
level, temperature can be monitored and adjusted if needed to maintain the recommended temperatures above. Avoid placing the brooder in an
overly bright environment so chicks can sleep. Cover the top of brooder with a
bath towel and leave one corner open for air ventilation. (In the wild, cockatiels
breed in hollow trees where it is dark) Young chicks should be sleeping most of
the day and chicks that sleep better will digest food and grow better. To avoid chilling babies, keep
the brooder away from drafts and keep bedding dry by changing after each
feeding. Chicks are very susceptible to bacterial infections so
brooders should be washed in hot soapy water and disinfected each day. Having 2
brooders makes life easier. Chicks can be transferred to a clean container while you
are disinfecting the other to use the next day.
and Consistency: A commercial, hand feeding formula, available at pet shops,
will meet all of the nutritional needs of growing chicks. Follow the
directions on the package for mixing very carefully because the consistency of
mixed formula varies from one brand to another. The consistency
of mixed formula will also be thickened as the chicks get
older, by reducing the amount of water when mixing. When
mixed exactly according to the directions on the package, chicks will receive
the correct ratio of solid formula and water. Formula expands when wet and
visually guessing at the correct consistency can be deceiving. Don't guess when
mixing formula. Formula that is too thick can dehydrate a baby and cause
the crop to either not drain at all or drain too slowly. Formula that is too
thin will cause stunted growth and malnourishment. Chicks receive their fluids from the water
in formula but water also dilutes the amount of solid food a chick is
consuming. Older chicks need more solid food than water for optimal growth and weight
gain. The consistency
of mixed formula for a 14 day old chick should be like watery pea soup or a thin gravy.
For older chicks, a thicker formula will resemble very soft pudding.
Mixing Formula and Temperature:
Hand feeding formula
should always be mixed in a glass container because plastic containers can
become scratched, harboring bacteria. Use bottled water for mixing formula and avoid using tap
water or boil tap water for 10 minutes to destroy any harmful bacteria or
parasites that may be present. Make a fresh, new batch of formula
for each and every feeding of the day. Any unused, leftover formula should NOT
be stored in the refrigerator or saved for another feeding. Throw it out
because mixed formula quickly becomes contaminated with bacteria. Never heat formula
that has already been mixed with water.
To mix formula, heat
water FIRST in a pot on the stove, in a glass coffee maker, or for smaller batches, in a
measuring cup on a small hot plate or in a pot of boiling water. Pour the hot water into dry formula
and mix well so there are no lumps and so heat is evenly distributed. The
temperature for serving formula to baby cockatiels is 104-106°F. By the time
you have finished mixing hot water into the dry formula, formula should have
cooled down to 104-106°F. Feeding formula that is too hot causes Crop
burn, the scalding of a chick's crop and esophagus. Crop burn is 100% preventable. Severe burns can result from
one feeding at 115°F, or from
repeated exposure to food that is slightly hot, over 110°. Always check temperature with a
digital food or candy thermometer
after mixing and
again right before filling a syringe and
feeding. Don't test formula on your wrist.
Feeding chicks formula
that is lower than 100°F
will cause a chick to chill. Chilling slows down
the entire digestive system and food will travel
down the crop too slowly causing sour crop and
other digestive problems. Chicks will also reject formula that is too cold.
(Some breeders have reported slow crop in cockatiels fed formula at temperatures
under 104°F). NEVER heat water or formula in a microwave because it can
leave hot spots even after stirring that will cause crop burn. Crop
excruciatingly painful and it's a medical emergency. When
a baby's crop is scalded, the skin will turn red and if the burn is severe,
blisters that turn into scabs will form on the skin. The wound will then start oozing
liquid, forming a scab and when the scab falls off, there may be an actual hole exposing the crop.
Surgery is needed to close the hole. Commercial formulas also contain
live, beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus and similar organisms that aid in
digestion and inhibit the growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria. Excessive
heating of formula may destroy these additives as well.
Formula Additives: Many cockatiel breeders add a
few drops of apple cider vinegar
OR a few drops of papaya extract (available at health food stores) OR
a few drops of Citricidal
Click Here to Order, OR half baby food applesauce to half already mixed
formula to the morning feedings to promote crop draining. Phil Disney, the well known
Australian aviculturist and Curator of Rainbow Jungle, Australia's largest
parrot park and breeding center, states in his book, A Guide to Incubating &
Hand raising Parrots, "Apple sauce contains pectin which causes the muscle wall of the
crop to "pull in". This tends to force food down the digestive tract a
bit quicker. A faster
draining crop promotes better weight gain and health. " Dr. Margaret
a well known avian veterinarian who has bred many different species of birds herself states in her
article, Practical Avian Pediatrics, "Don’t add ingredients to the hand-feeding formula. The food manufacturers have done a tremendous amount of research to ensure that their formulas will be balanced and nutritious. When you add applesauce or baby food to the formula, you will change the protein to fat ratio, and that will change the
gastro-intestinal transit time of the bird. You should not be changing the hand-feeding formula recipe."
It is this author's opinion, at the time of writing this article, that Mr. Digney
and Dr. Wissman are both correct and that those who want to be responsible
breeders, should consult with their avian vets
before hand feeding cockatiels.
Crop Draining and Probiotics:
There really is no need for the cockatiel breeder to add
additional probiotics like Acidophillus Lactobacillus powder to a
commercial, manufactured formula if the formula already contains them, (Although many breeders
will add an additional pinch to a few feedings each week anyway).
Commercial hand feeding formulas that contain a variety of Probiotics,
precise amounts needed for growing chicks. Probiotics may enhance crop motility by promoting the growth of "friendly" bacteria that are
a normal part of the digestive system. They may also prevent harmful organisms from developing in the crop and digestive
tract until the chick develops a stronger immune system. To further promote digestion, chicks should never be fed when there is food in the crop. The crop should be allowed to empty completely once a day, between the midnight
and morning feedings. A healthy crop should empty in about 4 hours. If the crop is emptying very slowly, check the
brooder temperature which may be too low. Many breeders have had success
with giving chicks 100% baby food applesauce, warmed to
104-106° degrees F, at the next feeding and then gently massaging the
crop to break up food from the previous feeding. This may stimulate the crop to
drain. If the crop empties and the chick passes 1
dropping, give the chick half baby food applesauce and half formula for the next feeding.
Some breeders add papaya extract
to the formula for a slow draining crop, instead of baby food applesauce. Either one can help a sluggish
crop. If these home remedies fail to work OR if the crop is not draining at all,
please take your baby to an avian vet before sour crop or slow gut sets in. The
crop may need to be flushed and emptied manually.
Feeding Instruments & Amounts to Feed: Cockatiel
can be fed with an eyedropper, a pipette, a 10cc syringe or disposable plastic spoons that have
into boiling water so the tips can be bent, making a little V shaped funnel for easier feedings.
Click Here "A separate syringe
(or other feeding instrument) should be used for each chick and syringes should
not be filled in advance. Under no
circumstance should a syringe used to feed a bird be dipped back into the
container of formula for a refill. This will introduce bacteria into the
nursery." (Source of Hatching Information: Avian Medicine, Principles and Practices by Dr.
Branson Ritchie, Dr. Greg Harrison and Linda Harrison, 1997)
For cockatiel chicks, the volume of formula fed at each feeding should be
approximately 10% of the chick's body weight.(1ml of mixed formula weighs 1
determine serving size, chicks should be weighed on a digital gram scale each
morning before the first feeding when the crop is empty. One ml of mixed formula
weighs about 1 gram. For each gram of a chick's body weight,
feed that chick 1 cc of formula. To calculate the amount of formula, multiply
the chick's body weight by 10%. For a chick that
weighs 40 grams in the AM, you would multiply 40 grams times 10% or 40 x.01=4ccs of formula per feeding.
An overstretched crop, from feeding too much formula, will not drain properly and
the chick will need to wear "a crop bra" for support. The maximum capacity
of a cockatiel chick's crop is 10-15ccs. Standard feeding
charts citing the amounts to feed at a given age or weight are only meant to be guides because each baby is an individual. (Weight
Gain Chart, Click Here.)
Hand Feeding: Always wash your hands
with an anti-bacterial soap and hot water and use a hand sanitizer before
mixing formula, feeding or handling chicks because chicks are very
susceptible to bacterial infections. The chick should be placed on a tightly
woven towel, on a firm surface, away from the edge of a
table or counter so it does not slip or fall onto the floor. Your hand
should be around the chick's body and head, supporting the neck. Chicks should only be fed when
in a feeding mode and the neck is pumping up and down. When in a feeding mode,
the glottis, which is located at the back of the chick's tongue, is closed. The glottis is the opening to the windpipe (trachea)
and the windpipe takes air into the lungs. When the glottis is closed, food can not go down
into the windpipe causing the chick to choke
to death or aspirate, (breathing in formula to the lungs). Never aim the
syringe towards the back of a chick's throat & windpipe.
Food travels down to the crop through the
chick's esophagus (food pipe) which is located on the right side of the baby's neck.
When the chick is facing you as in this picture, the right and left sides will
look reversed. Keeping this in mind, the syringe should be directed towards the
right side of a chicks mouth (will look like the left side when facing chick) and over
the tongue, pointing towards the chick's right side of the mouth. If the chick is not giving you a feeding response,
gently touch the side of the beak with the syringe. Give the chick a tiny taste of formula in the mouth. The chick
will usually start bobbing his/her head rapidly up and down for you.
Dispense formula without over-filling the mouth and allow the chick time to
swallow before feeding more formula. Only dispense formula into the chick's
mouth when the neck is actively pumping (bobbing) up and down.
Personal Note: Unless you have been taught how to hand feed by your avian
vet or another breeder, or you have experience in hand feeding baby birds, you
should not hand feed. Allow the parents to feed chicks and you and your family
can socialize them as will be described below. To see Kaytee's Hand Feeding
Cleaning After Feeding: Chicks can become very messy after eating and they need to be cleaned so formula
does become caked on to feathers when it dries. Wipe excess formula off of beaks,
skin and feathers
with a clean, sterile gauze pad that is wet with warm water containing a few
drops of Citricidal (GSE). Citricidal has anti-bacterial properties. Dry, caked on formula can be removed
by working the GSE water in with fingertips. Also take a Q-Tip with water and
wipe out the inside of each baby's mouths or give the babies a few drops of warm water
inside of their beaks to clean out excess formula and to help prevent
bacteria from forming. Hand feeding syringes and other feeding equipment will
need to be washed in hot soapy
water and disinfected after each feeding. Disinfect all syringes, spoons and formula dishes after
each feeding then rinse extremely well. There are a few options
for disinfecting: dipping washed utensils into a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of
water then rinsing well, soaking in Citricidal, (GSE) a non-toxic, all natural
product, or using a quaternary ammonium product. (ask your avian vet to
recommend one) Dr. Margaret
Wissman and aviculturist Harold Vorn,founder of the Voren Research Institute for
Psittacultural Science both suggest using a, baby bottle
Here Feeding instruments can be sterilized with steam instead of
Babies: Babies should be handled daily and
by several people so they can adapt to new people and new situations.
Socialization with other chicks and adult cockatiels is also important as well.
Chicks that are not handled with revert back to being wild. If you do not plan on
handfeeding, you can still socialize
the babies by gently handling them at least 4 days a week, 15 minutes per
session, starting at the age of 12 days old. According to research by the
University of California, babies handled like this will be just as tame and sociable
as handfed babies. Wash
and warm your hands in hot soapy water then use a hand sanitizer so you do not spread bacteria to the babies.
Handle babies will full crops very carefully to prevent regurgitation and
aspiration (breathing formula into lungs). Cuddle the baby under you chin and close
to you your neck for warmth. Cradle him in
the palm of your hand, gently stroking the head and wings while talking softly. Don't keep the babies out too long or they will get cold and over tired.
& Fledging: At 4 weeks of age, babies
that are being handfed will start foraging on the floor of the
brooder. You can begin introducing them to moistened millet seeds and thawed,
vegetables, corn peas and carrots at this age. They will most likely play with the food at this
age, but that's normal. Babies
fledge, ( are ready to take their first flight) at 4-5 weeks of age.
Parent fed babies will come out of the nest box at this age as well. Babies
that are 4-5 weeks old and parent fed are still
dependant on their parents for food. They stay with the parents until the
parents teach them how to eat weaning foods and they discontinue feeding the
babies. Handfed babies can be taken out of the brooder and put in a small cage
during the day, at 6-7 weeks of age. The cage should not have a floor grate and
the bottom should be covered with white paper towels. Perches should be placed
close to floor. Food and water dishes should also be put near the cage floor.
Chicks can be put back into the brooder at night for sleeping for a few more
weeks. Hand feeding
should continue according to the schedule below. Additional weaning foods can be introduced to both parent fed and handfed babies at 5
The babies in this photo are 4- 5 weeks of age. At this age they are fully
feathered with short tail feathers. You can start providing the babies with moistened
weaning pellets and a variety of other foods at this age. Weaning pellets are made just for
chick. Other foods to offer include cooked brown rice and pasta, fresh, whole wheat toast,
cooked oatmeal, bird bread, well cooked scrambled eggs, cooked sweet
potatoes and cooked beans, dark green,
leafy vegetables: kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, parsley, freshly grown sprouts,
corn, peas, carrots, broccoli, green or red peppers, fresh fruits such as
apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and cantaloupe, a small amount of
moistened seeds in food dishes on the floor as well as other foods listed on
this page Click Here. If your babies are reluctant to eat
fresh vegetables, try serving them lightly steamed so they are a little softer.
Fruits and vegetables contain a high volume of water, 80-90%. They should be
served sparingly with baby birds so chicks do not fill up on low calorie foods
when they need more concentrated foods . Other healthy foods for weaning can be found on this page.
Offer weaning foods to both handfed and parent fed
babies. Soak all fresh produce in a bowl of
water that contains some apple cider vinegar, (2 tablespoons for a soup bowl
full of water) for a few minutes or several drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract
in the water instead, (Citricidal, following directions on package).
Either product will wash off any traces of pesticides. Then rinse the
veggies and fruit with clean, cold water. Cut or shred pieces of fresh foods tiny so the babies don't choke
or cut into large pieces so babies can nibble little pieces off by themselves.
Do not leave fresh food inside of the cage for more than an hour.
If babies are reluctant to eat the weaning foods, you can add a small amount of
warm, hand feeding formula on top of them and try feeding them moistened pellets
Weigh the babies daily to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and are not losing weight.
Chicks that are in the weaning process still need supplemental hand feedings or parent feedings. If a baby is crying and begging for
food, hand feed it. A crying baby is a hungry baby. Babies will start rejecting
the formula on their own when they are almost weaned. This is called abundance weaning.
Cockatiels that are allowed to wean at their own pace are usually fully weaned by 10 weeks of age. Some babies can take up to 12
weeks. To be fully weaned, a baby must be eating entirely on its own for 2 weeks.
Avoid forced weaning by depriving the chicks of food. Chicks that are forced to
wean by 7-8 weeks of age will regress and revert back to begging for food,
neck pumping while making a static sound. New bird owners will not recognize
this a a sign of hunger and a need for food. When your chick starts to reject
formula from hand feedings, you will know that the weaning process is almost
over. It's normal for chicks that are almost weaned to regurgitate a small
amount of food after being hand feed. This means that the crop is shrinking,
which is also normal.