Tony Silva: Parrot Hand-feeding. PART II

April 27th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva: Parrot Hand-feeding. PART II
Tony Silva NEWS

Read also the first part of this article:

Tony Silva NEWS: Parrot Hand-feeding. PART I


4)Comfort is in numbers. With very few exceptions, most parrots lay more than one egg; some produce very large clutches. Evolution has created a certain comfort in a group. We always keep more than one chick together—from birth to weaning. They will display a greater level of comfort and better weight gains than if singly kept. I do this even with species that produce a single egg clutch. The end result is a much happier young.

My goal is always to keep the same species together, but if this is not possible grouping of different genera is not a problem.

5)Nesting substrate. Except for the few species that nest in cliff faces, where sand is the most common substrate, parrots have evolved to use a wooden substrate on which to lay and rear their young. They produce this covering by chewing the slivers from the inside of the nesting cavity, or they can be seen carrying material to the nest. In the wild Galahs will add eucalyptus leaves to the nest, or in captivity pieces of willow, bamboo or palm fronts to produce a distinctive passerine-like nest. Other cockatoos will carry anything found within their enclosure into the nest. The Quaker Parakeet will carry more comfortable material into their twig nests on which they can lay and rear their young. All of this suggests that the young should be kept on an absorbent, comfortable substrate. We use a soft pine but other breeders utilize cellulose, dried crushed corn cob, tissue or towels. I prefer the pine because it is highly absorbent and keeps the young parrots, which are fed a constant dose of liquid formula and defecate continuously, dry and clean. We change the substrate multiple times daily. Irrespective of the substrate used, the key is that the young never be allowed to sit on a wet, soiled substrate.



the author


Over the years I have seen breeders that keep their chicks on wire mesh. The argument is often that the chicks would eat the substrate. I find this practice unnatural and prefer a softer lining. But if the young are to be kept on mesh, then it should be a soft, plastic coated mesh—never wire, which can cause bruising of the soft tissue.

As to the argument that chicks will eat any soft substrate on which they are kept and this is why the mesh needs to be employed, I must point out that in virtually every case where I have ingestion of the substrate it is a result of the chicks being hungry. Young whose appetite has been satiated will sleep long period of time; they will not be biting at each other trying to extract food from one another, or calling frantically trying to get your attention, or eating the substrate to satiate their hunger.

6)Water quality. Nestling parrots have an underdeveloped immune system. Water with a high level of pathogens will make them sick. Use bottled water or boil the water and store it in a refrigerator if your water is suspect. Wash all utensils with the same boiled or bottled water, or your efforts will be undermined.

Allow me to explain why I always stress good water quality. Earlier this year I visited a breeder that was doing everything right—except that the instruments used for feeding the young and the formula preparation bowls were being washed with tap water. The accoutrements were apparently allowed to air dry and this was believed to have a sterilizing effect. But it was not; had the utensils been exposed to the sun, perhaps then the pathogens would have died. When I recommended that the instruments be cultured, the breeder was hesitant, but at my insistence swabs were taken from inside the syringes used for feeding the young. The culture plates showed a heavy growth of coliform bacteria within the day. It was this bacteria that was the direct cause of the morbidity in the collection.



Three day old Golden Conure. This is the same chick in the photo that shows it feathered out. The closed ear opening and bulbous pads along the rear cutting edge of the mandibles are discernible.


7)Formula. With the ready availability of commercial formula preparations that only require the addition of water, I can never understand why some breeders still conjure up their own versions, which often display an improper vitamin, mineral and calcium ratio. The commercial formulations are balanced and have been empirically tested. For the vast majority of species reared in aviculture, they only require the addition of water.

For newly hatched young we employ a more liquid formulation, but as the young age the consistency thickens. We try to make the formula the consistency of porridge once the chicks are a few weeks old. We do augment the diet with peanut butter for macaws and Golden Conures, two species that feed their young on relatively fatty diets in the wild, but apart from water this is the only addition to the commercial preparations.

The formula brand you select should be readily available. It is not good to switch from brand to brand because the one you chose is irregularly available. Select one brand, test it and if it does not produce the desired results after the young are weaned, switch to another. Ask fellow breeders in your country about their experience with a specific brand.

The formula should be kept in a sealed container preferably in a cool, dry place. Once mixed, the excess should be discarded. It should not be reheated. If you can, do not return the feeding instrument repeatedly to the receptacle containing formula in order to continue feeding other young. Ideally you should insert the feeding instrument only once into the formula to prevent cross contamination. This can be achieved by using multiple syringes for feeding the young: fill them all at once and do not refill them before they have been thoroughly washed and disinfected.



8)Formula temperature. We try to feed the formula at 40 deg C. At this temperature chicks readily accept the formula. Cool food will be rejected; the young will barely swallow the formulation, except when they are gavage fed, when they have little control of their intake. If it the formula is too hot, the chick´s mouth and crop will be burned. When heated in a microwave understand that hot spots will be created and that the formula temperature will continue to increase after removal from the microwave. Boiling water using a conventional pot or even the microwave, mixing the heated water with the formula and then stirring the preparation until the desired temperature and consistency has been attained is the ideal preparation mode. Also, buy a good calibrated thermometer—do not rely on you finger, palm or the back of the hand. Visit any professional cook and you will see how tolerant they can be of heat and you will understand that the finger, palm or hand are not an accurate gauge!

9)Feeding tools. Plastic pipettes and droppers with the tip cut at an angle, stainless gavage needles attached to a syringe, syringes of various types with or without a piece of catheter tube, a spoon with the sides bent upwards to form a funnel and even a ketchup bottle with a piece of catheter attached to the tip can all be used for rearing young. After having tried every imaginable tool (including a meat baster, straw and crimped can), I have settled on two: a small demitasse spoon with the sides bent upwards for newly hatched chicks, as this is natural and encourages feeding; as the sides of the spoon comes in contact with the commissures of the mouth, the chick will begin to pump. After about a week we employ a stainless steel catheter attached to a syringe. We have different gavage needles and utilize the one most suitable for the particular young.




Title photo: Blue-naped Parrot (also known as the Blue-crowned Green Parrot, Luzon Parrot, and the Philippine Green Parrot). Photograph of three chick. (c) TJ Lin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


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