Handfeeding, socialization and weaning are
the three most significant issues in raising a baby bird. They are so
intertwined, that it is almost impossible to separate the three. How a
baby bird is handled at this time in his life will leave a mark on him
forever and affect him the rest of his life. It will make the difference
between a healthy, trusting, well behaved companion bird and a bird who is
insecure, fearful, unsociable and a poor eater .
articles I have discussed the importance of the proper methods of weaning
and socialization and have explained the dangers of buying an unweaned
bird. This article addresses the various techniques of handfeeding.
Handfeeding is one of the ways that a bird becomes socialized and
develops trust in human beings. But this will only occur if the proper
handfeeding methods are used. Good handfeeding methods build upon the
natural feeding instincts of the babies, creating comfortable, warm and
confident feelings in them and building their trust in humans. Good
handfeeding methods also require time and care from the handfeeder.
There are other methods, often used by those who are mainly interested
in making a profit, which are very detrimental to a baby bird. These
methods bypass the birds' natural feeding instincts in the interest of
saving time. As a result, birds don't learn the taste of food or how to
eat and are not properly socialized. They may be sold as "handfed" birds,
but they will not be the wonderful companion birds that their pet owners
expect. They may in fact be more insecure and poorer eaters than if they
had been raised by their parents.
Quality breeders and pet stores
will use natural handfeeding and abundance weaning methods. Those
interested only in making a profit will use techniques which require less
of their time. Many will force wean a baby in order to sell it earlier.
The problems that the bird and future pet owner will have are of no
concern to them.
When buying a bird, it is not enough to ask if a
bird is handfed. Ask also what handfeeding methods were used. If you buy a
bird which has been improperly handfed, socialized and weaned, be prepared
to spend the time and effort it will take to overcome the problems which
the people responsible for him in his early life have created.
Spoon feeding is the time tested way to feed. It uses
the baby's natural feeding response, teaches the bird how to eat and
introduces it to the taste of food.
I buy ice teaspoons (with the
long handles) and bend the sides up to form a trough. I find that I can
control the flow of the formula quite easily. I can watch the baby closely
and know when the mouth is full and when the baby needs to draw a breath.
I feed with the spoon in almost a horizontal position.
It is very
dangerous to put food into the mouth of a baby who has no feeding
response. During a feeding response or pumping, the opening to the trachea
is closed and it is safe to feed so long as the baby is swallowing. With
some species, like the cockatoos, pressure against the inside tip of the
upper beak will elicit a feeding response. With some other species, like
the Grey, very gently pushing the spoon in the mouth so that the formula
is delivered at the back of the mouth will elicit a feeding response.
Some breeders use a Dixie cup with one edge pinched to a point. I've
never used this method but it certainly sounds easy and no bowls to wash
up after feeding.
The syringe is a widely
used handfeeding technique. This method also uses the natural feeding
response and teaches the baby how to eat. The handfeeder elicits the
feeding response. The syringe is then inserted into the beak and pressure
on the syringe is used to release the formula. The flow of the formula can
be controlled, but it is more difficult to know when the mouth is full
with this method. A major concern with the use of syringes is the problem
of safely disinfecting them.
bypasses the birds natural feeding response. It involves inserting a
feeding needle, or a syringe with soft vein tubing threaded onto the end,
directly into the crop. The metal feeding needle can cause bruising unless
used with extreme care. The soft vein tubing has a smooth round closed end
with openings for the formula to empty into the crop. The vein tubing is
less traumatic to the esophagus but must still be inserted very
It is difficult but possible for the tube or the needle
to be inserted into the trachea. The bird will die from the formula going
into the lungs. This is called aspirating.
Gavage feeding is
typically used by handfeeders with too many babies to feed. Birds fed in
this manner never learn to eat and can be very difficult to wean. Some
merciful gavage handfeeders will give the last little bit of formula into
the mouth so that the babies will know what food in the mouth feels like.
Gavage feeding has its place in the treatment of birds who are too ill
to feed themselves or with sick babies who have lost the feeding response.
These are the only circumstances in which it should be used. It is
important to ask the handfeeder before buying a baby bird if the babies
are routinely gavage fed.
There is a
technique called power feeding which employs a syringe and which is a very
quick way to feed. After a feeding response is elicited, the syringe is
quickly emptied into the bird's esophagus. The force of the formula being
ejected from the syringe keeps the esophagus open and the trachea closed
and the whole contents of the syringe can be delivered in seconds. It is
similar to gavage feeding, in that the food bypasses the mouth. The baby
does not learn the taste of food or how to eat.
Power feeding is a
method employed by handfeeders who have many babies to feed. Avoid
purchasing a bird who has been fed in this manner unless you can determine
that this method is used only so that the handfeeder will have adequate
time to socialize many babies. Abundance Weaning is critical to the baby's
development if power feeding is employed.
Power and gavage feeding
are one of the triple threats to the production of a calm, tame, trusting
companion bird - inadequate socialization and forced weaning are the other
Buy a weaned and screened baby bird who was handfed properly,
weaned abundantly and intensively socialized. If the seller won't do these
things, find one who will. Buy your baby bird from a quality breeder or
pet store. Don't accept less - you and your baby bird deserve the best.
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