Is parrot hand-rearing natural or does it produce a generation of parrots incapable of themselves rearing young?

March 31st, 2016 | by Tony Silva
Is parrot hand-rearing natural or does it produce a generation of parrots incapable of themselves rearing young?
Tony Silva NEWS

Hand-rearing is a relatively new tool in aviculture. If we accept aviculture as having centuries of evolution—the Roman´s kept parrots and there in evidence from the American Southwest that macaws were being bred in captivity long before the arrival of Europeans in the New World—then the art of hand-rearing is still in its infancy, having been refined by Ralph Small, Ferne Hubbel, Ken Wyatt and some others in California during the 1950s and 1960s; the USA has always been the leader when it comes to hand-rearing. Commercial hand-rearing formulas did not become available until the 1980s. The first brand was difficult to prepare and tended to lump. It produced such poor results that most breeders rejected it over a formula of water and primate chows. Today many excellent formulas are available. They produce healthy young comparable in every way to those reared by their parents in captivity or the wild.



Hand-rearing is not a natural event. The eggs are taken for artificial incubation or the chicks are taken from their parents and reared by hand. The reasons for this are many. Some breeders working with a rare mutation or species want to increase their numbers as quickly as possible. By removing the eggs or tiny young from the parents, they can generally induce the pair to lay a replacement clutch. Hand-rearing can also be used to save chicks that would otherwise be doomed. An example of this is when an inexperienced hen buries the young, or broods them without feeding them, or kills then in order to clutch again. Males can also slaughter their young in order to start the courting and mating process all over. In yet other cases, the parents will feed only the first hatched, pushing the second chick aside to perish.  These incidences of infanticide have all been recorded in the wild and are not an artifact of captivity as some would suggest.

READ  Tony Silva NEWS: Questions and answers. "If I rear a Sun Conure and a Green-cheeked Conure together, can I produce Sun-cheek Conures?"

Hand-rearing can produce results comparable to those of young that were parent-reared. Key to rearing future breeders is to rear them in a group and in an environment in which they understand that they are birds. Attempts at humanizing them should be avoided at all cost. Future pets should likewise first be kept in a flock. The intention is to allow the birds to develop flight skills, interaction, flocking and other natural behaviors with others of its kind or other birds. During this critical phase enrichment and toys should be introduced. The objective must be that the bird understands that it is a bird—not a human with feathers. It is the latter birds that become maladapted as breeders and problematic pets.



Vinaceous Amazons together with Golden conures (c) Tony Silva


When properly habituated, the hand-reared bird will have no problem in reproducing and if deemed necessary in rearing their young. In my collection I have multiple generations of Amazons, Macaws, Conures and African Greys Psittacus erithacus that were hand-reared. From the beginning I insured that they were birds; I did not want them to regard themselves as an attachment of myself, where they would scream on first sight me. They breed and have reared their own young. In Costa Rica, Christ Castles has released hand-reared Scarlet Macaws Ara macao for release into the wild. Their rate of survival has been found to be comparable to parent-reared young in the wild.

So the answer is that if you take the necessary steps during rearing—avoid contact with the chicks, except for feeding and cleaning, rear the young in groups, wean them as part of a flock and provide the necessary enrichment for the birds to forage, interact and play as a group much like they would in the wild—you will produce birds comparable to those engendered by their parents.

READ  Q & A: "What's the difference in diet for Amazons, Macaws and Conures?"


author: Tony Silva

Title photo: (c) Tony Silva



  1. Well the best guarantee that these “necessary steps” are taken is to not hand-rear young parrots but allow them to be part of the parrot family.

    What you describe here is that under special circumstances the problems with hand-rearing are limited. Forgetting that many hand-reared bird did not have these privileges and develop a myriad of behavioral problems as a result.

    Several states and countries now have laws against hand-rearing as a taming tool and rightly so.

    I doubt if you are really an aviculturist if you hand-rear. It’s a method that camouflages the many problems parrots face in captivity. If can’t have your birds develop their full natural behaviour and have them raise their own then you are a failure at aviculture in my book.

    The problems in nesting behaviors you describe are sometimes natural (but also mostly induced by captive husbandry) and parrots seem to need a few practice runs for them to become great parents. It therefor pays to have parrot make their mistakes and develop there skills instead of intervening. Even if that means loosing some chicks.

    • Tony Silva says:

      Roelant thank you for your comment. If we are honest we will accept the fact that nothing about keeping parrots In captivity is natural. In the wild they feed on hundreds of different foods, can select mates from a large group, and interact with other birds and the environment continuously, as well as with other flock members. Many species move great distances from roosting to feeding grounds on a daily basis. The captive diet of all parrots never even remotely resembles that of wild parrots. In fact most of the nutritional information used in developing parrot diets is extrapolated from poultry. Hand rearing is thus not the only strange artifact of captivity. Reintroduction work on hand reared Scarlet Macaws and many other species shows that hand-reared birds can adapt readily and reproduce in the wild. They only require training– but this same training is also needed for parent reared birds being reintroduced. I am aware of the claims used to ban hand rearing in the Netherlands and it was flawed and slanted. Hand reared individuals can become excellent breeders and pets. They do not differ much from parent reared individuals if they are adequately socialized. When you examine data of pets that were hand reared and offered an enriched youth you will see that they have no more anomalies than parent reared individuals that were tamed to become pets. Indeed blood cortisol levels show that a tame bird suffers less stress when made into a pet than a parent reared individual, which can display great fright when tamed. All that I ask is that you have an open mind and accept the fact that there is more than one avenue to avicultu re. I respect your position and ask the same of you. A different viewpoint does not make you a good or bad aviculturist. That black and white reasoning has no place in a hobby that is rapidly evolving and very dynamic.

    • Jonny Alves says:

      For me, aviculturist is a person that expend is time observing is birds, trying to understanding the birds, and trying to give them what they need to feell happy. I ask, Mr Roelant Jonker you do that? For me, you are a scientist, that produce conclusions observing experimentals with closed conditions, and you forget that if something changes, the results changes. Another problem that i assist, is only a few persons like Tony Silva share is knowledge to the others, and are honest to say that when he learns something, the conclusions is that have to study more, and have more things to learn about the birds. Many times the persons forget that the birds are also humans beings. This problem also happens with other animals, because the persons didn´t learn that they have also intelengence, and not are like a rock.

  2. greekparrot says:

    The most crazy thing in the world is that : the hand rearing is bad and unnatural but the dog and cat sterilization is good and normal .and I have this question if parrot hand rearing for better socialized with human is bad because the parrot can not breed and cannot produce other parrot because the parrot believe that is human not parrot .ok the parrot can not successful product other parrot .what is the deference from dog and cat sterilized ?if the hand feeding must stop then the sterilization must stop too .answer please ( not you Tony I believe you are right )sorry for bad English (if I write something grammar wrong please correction it .thanks

  3. Delsie Sanders says:

    I have a solitary hand-reared female African Grey who is 23 years old and who is totally bonded to my hand; the hand that reared her…so much so that she becomes broody and re-gurgitates her food just at the sight of my hands near her cage
    Surely it is necessary to wear a glove resembling the species when hand-rearing, to prevent this from happening! I was never advised to do so, but fortunately I have never attempted to breed her otherwise possibly she would reject the male simply because he does not look right!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Parrot News Blog | Parrots Daily News