Breeding Cockatiels Part 2
By Eleanor McCaffrey Copyright© Notice: No portion of this text or photos
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Dirty Nestboxes: 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 fresh 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. 

 When to 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 in Breeding 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. Click Here

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 are too 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. 

Formula 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  glass 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 burn is 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 Wissman, 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, provide  the 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.

Hand Feeding Instruments & Amounts to Feed: Cockatiel chicks can be fed with an eyedropper, a pipette, a 10cc syringe or disposable plastic spoons that have been  dipped  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 gram). To 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 video Click Here

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 sterilizer. Click Here  Feeding instruments can be sterilized  with steam instead of using chemicals.

Socializing 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. 

Weaning & 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, steamed mixed 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 week. 

Weaning: 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. Click Here  

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 by hand.

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.

Click Here for Breeding 3- Photos 1-26 days old.
Click Here For Breeding Part 1
Click Here to See Hand feeding Video

Find an Avian Veterinarian Here

Breeding 1 Breeding 2 See Me Grow! Hand Feeding Video
Formula Recipe How To Hand Feed Feeding Schedule Weight Gain Chart
Feeding Problems Crop Remedies How to Make Brooder Lockjaw Bordatella
Egg Binding Candled Eggs Incubation Process Eggs Not Hatching
Babies-Diseases Avian Pediatrics Splayed Legs Fixing Splayed Legs
Fixing Splayed Legs 2 Lori's Babies NaDeana's Babies Gretchen's Babies
Home Georgia's Babies Cheryl's Babies Baby Precious

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Page Contents, Layout and Design Copyright© Eleanor McCaffrey, Cockatiel Cottage, All Graphics & Photos Copyrighted by Credited Artists and Bird Owners are Not Public Domain

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