Young birds are much more demanding in terms of time and care than birds aged one year and older. They are particularly susceptible to multiple infections, as they haven’t yet developed a proper immune system. Since they are generally not fully feathered and are small in size, they are more vulnerable to the cold.
The young bird is unable to feed itself and will require your presence more often. It doesn't know how to fly and its biological parents aren’t there to show it how; thus, more stimulation is needed. As well, it’s not surrounded by 80 other parrots of the same species, as in the wild, to teach it how to interact with others (most parrots are gregarious). So you need to show it how to behave properly, to avoid pecking issues or incessant vocalizations in the future. Here is a brief overview of what you need to know to properly care for a young bird.
The weight of your bird is the best indicator of its health. It should be taken every morning before meals using a food scale, and should be recorded in a journal dedicated to your bird.
The decision to hand-feed your bird is not to be taken lightly. Each bird has its own needs and some will quickly accept feed, while others will ask to be hand-fed until a year old. Only the bird makes that decision – no one else. When it no longer wants to be hand-fed, it will refuse its serving, eat it less quickly, or spit it out.
Never force a bird to eat what you give it with a syringe or spoon, as this may cause aspiration pneumonia, which means your bird can get food into its lungs and develop life-threatening pneumonia. Indeed, there are SEVERAL RISKS associated with hand-feeding: these will be mentioned throughout this document. It is therefore important to make an informed decision about hand-feeding and to take full responsibility by being meticulous and consistent.
Different companies sell breeding mash. We recommend the brands Harisson, Roudyboush, Kaytee Exact Ara (for macaws) and Lafeber. Tropican mash is also acceptable. It is important to know that each species has different needs and that, in the wild, parents take care of fulfilling the needs of their young. We try to imitate them, but we are not as accurate; our efforts can be sufficient to ensure that fledglings receive the nutrients they need.
Feed quantity will vary according to the species. Cockatoos, African greys, caicos, eclectus and conures should receive 10% of their weight (kg) by volume (ml) at each meal. Hyacinth macaws and cocksfoot macaws should receive 12% of their weight at each meal, while cloropteran macaws should receive 11%. Too much feed at one time can cause your bird to break the crop or vomit/regurgitate.
Mash temperature is very important. It should be between 102º (38.9°C) and 106°F (41.1°C). If the mash is not hot enough, your bird won't accept it and digestion will be inadequate. If it is hot enough, you will notice that your bird will move its head back and forth, as if it wants to bump its beak on the syringe. This is completely normal for chicks feeding on their parents' beaks. If the food is too hot, you may burn your bird's crop (the pouch in which the food transits before it reaches the stomach).
Ideally, you should mix a few teaspoons of mash with boiled water that has been allowed to cool for a few minutes; otherwise the nutrients in the feed may be destroyed. The mixture should be yogurt-like in texture and there should be no lumps, otherwise there is a risk of crop swelling or complicating digestion. When the mash is well mixed, check its temperature with a thermometer (your wrist is unreliable!). If the mixture is not hot enough, add some mash and hot water rather than heating it in the microwave. This would change the mixture and the temperature will no longer be even (risk of burning). If the mixture is too hot, place the container in cold water, stirring for about a minute.
Use clean catheter tips syringes (soaked in boiling water) to feed your bird. Using a spoon is not recommended, as it is more often associated with risks of contamination and aspiration pneumonia, in addition to being messier. Move the tip of the syringe from the left side of the bird's beak towards the right side of the bird, to reduce the risk of false swallowing. Administer a small amount at a time to give the bird time to swallow. clean its beak and around it well after each meal to avoid skin irritation around the beak and to prevent bacterial growth in the mash residue on the bird's beak.
Meal frequency will differ according to the species and age of your bird. Here is an overview of approximate feeding frequencies. If you notice weight loss over time, immediately increase the number of meals per day.
- 20-30 days: 3 meals per day
- 30-40 days: 2 meals per day
- 40 days to X: 1 meal per day
African Grey, Eclectus, Conure, Caicos, Amazon:
- 25-40 days: 3 meals per day
- 40-50 days: 2 meals per day
- 50 days to X: 1 meal per day
Cockatoos and Macaws:
- 30-45 days: 3 meals per day
- 45-65 days: 2 meals per day
- 65-90 days: 1 meal per day
X: the time at which bird mash will be refused!
Do not prepare the mash mixture in advance for the whole day. Even if you keep it in the refrigerator, bacterial growth is present and so is the risk of infection!
Your bird's crop should always be empty in the morning. If it is not, watch your bird's droppings. If they are less frequent, consult a veterinarian. Your bird's digestive system may be functioning at a slower rate (disease).
As soon as your bird receives two meals per day, you can start transitioning by offering it feed all day long in a dish in its cage, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables placed at different spots in the cage. The more varied a bird's diet at a young age, the less fussy it will be and the better balanced its diet will be! The purpose of placing food at different spots in the cage is to introduce your bird to foraging and thus enrich its environment (see New bird document). Seeds should not be offered as they are rich in fat. Your bird may then develop an aversion to feed and significant nutritional deficiencies. Seeds should be occasional rewards introduced later in your bird's life.
The water dish may be provided as soon as your bird eats two meals per day. Make sure to change the water at least once per day.
When your bird decides that it no longer wants the feed (on day X), you can start weaning. It is important to proceed gradually and especially to monitor your bird's weight, as you will probably not be around all day to monitor its food intake. It is acceptable for your bird to lose up to 15% maximum of its current weight during the weaning period. If the loss exceeds 15%, or even before if you notice your bird is more boisterous, screeching or biting than usual, increase the amount of feed per meal. Ideally, start by reducing the amount of mash per meal and, when your bird is firmly refusing any bite of mash, give it some mash every other day. This is a significant moment in a parrot's life, so it is important to pay close attention to its behaviour.
Young birds are more sensitive to the cold than adults, since they are smaller and have fewer feathers. Their room's ambient temperature should be around 24° C. You can also add a heat lamp (as for reptiles) above the cage, making sure that the bird cannot reach the lamp or wire, even when it is taken out from the top of the cage! The heat lamp can be turned on for two hours in the afternoon (birds often nap in the afternoon and their body temperature drops) or when their feathers are ruffled (a sign that they are cold, unless they are playing).
Just like babies, young birds need a maximum of sleep to promote adequate growth and good health. They require 12 to 14 hours of sleep per night, without noise (television) nor light (opaque cover on the cage). In addition, one should never disturb a bird napping (an afternoon classic!)
Unfortunately, most birds sold today have their wing feathers already clipped. It is not recommended to clip your bird's feathers, even as adults; this is even more important for young birds, as they have not yet learned to fly. They may not have the reflex to flap their wings and may not develop their muscles properly. So, the day they are free and more confident (or if a cat tries to catch them), they may attempt to fly away, fall and seriously injure themselves. To prevent this, you can place the bird on your index finger, hold a leg with your thumb and make gentle up and down movements with your hand, to encourage it to flap its wings. This movement will work the bird's flight muscles and give it a vague idea of how to fly. It will then have a better chance of escaping the cat's teeth!
Parrots are mostly gregarious, i.e., they live in groups. From a young age, the bird is involved in group activities and learns to "live in society". Breeding in captivity is therefore contradictory to the very nature of the parrot. This is why it is imperative that you involve it as much as possible in your life and the lives of others! Every member of your family should handle it, and you should introduce it to visitors and friends. The more contact it has with different people, the more it will learn to be open to strangers and the less it will be afraid of them. In addition, repeated contact with humans will allow the bird to socialize with its group similarly to its natural environment. They will also teach it how to behave; it's not acceptable to talk to someone who is already talking on the phone, to shout at someone who is right beside you to communicate, and so on. Remember that by purchasing a parrot, you have committed yourself to bringing it as much as it will bring you!
If you have any other questions or concerns about your bird, feel free to contact us!