Bird Magazine, Bird Books, Bird Accessories, Bird DVDs

Practical Tips for Hand-rearing

Beginners normally ask for a list of exact temperatures, humidity settings and amounts of food that are required how many times a day by newly hatched baby birds. There are over 300 types of hookbills and therefore the best advice one can give a beginner is to follow basic guidelines, to observe your baby birds very closely and to adapt the basic rules to every baby bird’s specific needs. If anyone does not have the basic rules, we are happy to give them out or else they are available in all good books about hand-rearing.

Hand-rearing does not have to be difficult if you take healthy baby birds out of the nest, feed them a good diet and keep them in a warm, secure place. And yet things do not always go so well. What then could be the problem?


There are 3 basic reasons why problems with hand-rearing occur:

Physical disability
The baby bird is simply weak. What does that mean? It has a physical disability and you see him slowly weaken until he dies. No matter what you do and what medication you give him, nothing helps because he was born with this disability. Have the breeding pair examined because thy might be carrying a disease or they might be eating an imbalanced diet.

The surrounding
There always are fungi, bacteria or viruses on the surfaces or in the atmosphere. Even if you take all the necessary precautions these can enter your nursery. This does not mean that your nursery has to be completely sterile, because your baby bird should get used to the normal bacteria in their atmosphere and become immune to them. No single bacterium or fungus may kill your baby birds; but too many of them or strange onesthat you enter your nursery with birds from another breeder and which your babies are not used to, can be highly dangerous.

The very first sigh is normally loss of weight and crop stasis. And now there is no time to lose. In the case of fungi, germs and bacteria you can give medication, but if it is a virus that has attacked your birds, there is no medication.

You have done something wrong. The younger the baby bird, the greater the possibility that you can be the cause of the bird’s illness or death. The mistakes some people make normally occur with hygiene, humidity, lack of knowledge and experience and over feeding.

Disinfect all equipment and the whole baby room from floor to ceiling, make sure the bird is warm enough, not too warm and not too cold, and make sure the humidity is right. Never mix the food with boiling water because that would kill al the vitamins.

So many experienced bird farmers know all of the above and yet they are not strict when it comes to hygiene. When something goes wrong, they look for someone or something else to blame.


Where does this enemy hide?
On your cloth – hygienic does not mean “wiped clean with a cloth” because there can be thousands of germs on the cloth that you use to wipe surfaces clean. Disinfect all surfaces daily as well as your cloth. Simply use a Jik solution – Jik is a good, inexpensive disinfectant that works very well at killing many germs and bacteria.

On dust particles
Dusting involves chasing all the dust particles up and into the air – dust particles carry germs and bacteria and viruses which can be breathed in. Clean with a wet cloth which is disinfected regularly. Wash curtains and blinds as well.

On yourself
On your hands, your hair, your clothes, the soles of y our shoes. You can be the carrier of diseases that enter your baby bird room. Remember the invisible enemy. Get rid of him so that your baby birds will remain healthy.

Feeding of baby birds
Adult birds have the opportunity to choose what they want to eat and what their bodies require. Baby birds do not have that choice. They are totally dependent on you and how warm you make their environment, how moist and how dry it is and what food they get, how often per day and per night.

The crop
An adult female has a fairly large crop which can hold coarse food particles. The crop can stretch and it has a muscle that allows food in and out.

The crop is a temporary place of storage for food. Some birds have to fly far to the place where they feed and often while they are feeding, they are exposed to animals that prey on them. They must therefore swallow their food quickly, store it in their crop and fly away to a safe place where the food can be absorbed and digested. This large crop also enables them to fill up before sundown and the food is slowly digested during the night. Adult birds therefore do not need to eat during the night.

The food in the crop with its warm, moist atmosphere is brought up for the babies to eat. The crop is a moist area where the food begins to soften so that it is more digestible. No enzymes are excreted in the crop so the only digestion that takes place there, occurs as a result of enzymes that are present in the blood itself.

What my be in the crop, are beneficial bacteria and these are the bacteria that the mother bird could be passing on to her chicks when she feeds them food from her crop. These beneficial bacteria are the start of an immune system in the digestive tract.

What do we mean by immunity?
This is a living being’s weapon against bacteria that enter his/her body.

What happens when baby birds are not fed by their own parents?
If baby birds are hatched in incubation or hatchers, we have to see to it that their immune system receives support because a newly hatched baby bird has a sterile mouth, crop and digestive system. His whole digestive system is underdeveloped and, unlike pheasants, poultry, quails and ducks, it takes a few weeks (in the case of finches) to a number of months (in the case of the large parrots) before they are no longer dependent on their parents for food.

The food that we give must therefore not contain any pathogenic bacteria, it should contain beneficial bacteria. These are like guards with weapons that prevent pathogenic bacteria from taking over. They are know as probiotics.

This is what a good hand rearing diet must provide:
You must be able to feed it from day one.
It must be highly digestible and contain enough good protein (20%) for a fast growing bird.
It must contain natural enzymes – that is why the food becomes runny when it stands for a while.
It must contain probiotics so that the sterile digestive tract has little space for the pathogenic bacteria.
The protein : energy ratio in a starter hand rearing food such as Avi-Plus Premium Hand rearing is the same as in Hand rearing Parrot and the ingredients are of the same highest quality. It contains a minimum of bacteria because the ingredients are prepared with great care to ensure maximum safety and digestibility. If you use a food such as this one, you will see that the cop empties at a steady pace and that you will be feeding every two hours or so, which is normal at the beginning.

When the baby bird is ten days old, his digestive tract is normally so well developed that it can digest a diet that is designed for older birds. The bird uses its own enzymes for digestion, which is a more natural process but which takes a bit longer. The food takes a bit longer to digest, but the bird is satisfied longer, does not need to be fed so ofthen and can go all night without being fed. The digestion allows the bird to use its own muscles much more and prepares him for the time when he will eat much more hard and rough food. The older he gets the more solid food can be eaten, so that his system gets used to it. At this stage it is seldom necessary to give extra probiotics.

Why are there two hand rearing diets – one for parakeets and one for parrots?
If your baby birds are constantly hungry, chirp a lot and sleep very little it is probably because the protein : energy ratio in the diet is not right for them.

A larger bird has a smaller surface area in relation to his mass/volume, whereas a smaller bird has a larger surface area in relation to his mass/volume.

If the metabolic rate is measured in relation to its body mass, one can see that the bigger the bird the less energy is required.

A bird of 100g needs 100 % energy
A bird of 200g needs 166 % energy (not 200 %)

The Avi-Plus hand rearing feed for parakeets contains more energy to protein because the birds need more energy for their metabolism. A parakeet eats more and uses up more energy as a result of its faster metabolism.

Protein is important for birds because it has the building blocks for building cells. However, not just any protein is suitable – the better the quality the more it becomes available to the bird. For example a diet with 20 % low quality protein is no better than a diet with 16 % good quality protein. Furthermore, the amino acids have to be in the correct proportions in the diet. The protein is important so that the amino acids can be utilized without undue stress. If the bird experiences too much stress, he will become thin.

We generally find that birds that are fed a good quality diet are a little on the thin side. They do however have a strong, well developed bone structure. As soon as they are given the opportunity to exercise and fly, their muscles develop quickly.

Different species, different food
Every species should really have a hand rearing diet that is specifically designed for them. At present we can buy imported food that is specially designed for Macaws for example. Most hand rearing diets are aimed to suit the average parrot’s needs and so they are used quite effectively for most parrots.

Most of us however, do not specialize in one type of bird and so it suits us to have a hand rearing diet that can be used for the greater majority or our birds.

If, however, you are hand raising grass parakeets and you find they are thin and never sleep peacefully and never seem satisfied, you have to accept that the food may not be right for them. If you feed them Avi-Plus Hand rearing Parakeet, you will immediately see an improvement; the birds will be more peaceful, will sleep better and grow steadily. If you have problems with other species that a simple change of diet does not solve, contact the food manufacturer to ask for a solution. It could be a simple change of diet or a small adaptation such as a few drops of sunflower seed oil added to each feed that is all that is required.

When birds’ feathers have grown out, they flap their wings and start trying to climb out of their boxes, it is a sign that they are ready to become independent. At this stage they will probably eat less from the spoon even though they have not learnt to eat like big birds yet. The sooner you can expose them to adult bird food, the better. The more they can see other older birds eat, the sooner they will copy them and do the same. Do not continue hand feeding too long as the soft porridge does not give the gizzard muscles the opportunity to work. It is good for gizzard muscles to have to work at grinding down rough food like grated apple and carrot and crushed shelled sunflower seed. These weaning foods can also be added to the hand rearing porridge.

Our duty
We who are involved in this business need to learn how to raise strong, healthy birds for the pet market. It is, however, important to sell tame hand raised birds only once they have been weaned.

We also need to teach owners of pet stores and the general public that the best pet birds are those that are emotionally stable, physically strong and healthy. Refuse to sell a baby bird before it is ready. Take orders from shops and exporters at the beginning of the season, raise only as many birds as you can sell, and keep the birds until they are ready for transport and new owners. Tame baby birds must be something special; they must not be a cheap and common commodity and they must not be sold to just anybody.

We must set the tone – we who love birds want them to live long, healthy and happy lives and provide their new owners with as much pleasure as they give us. We can ensure that the bird market will provide us and our birds with a long and happy existence.

For more great articles and up-to-date information on the keeping and breeding of pet and aviary birds see the links below:

To subscribe to the Avizandum magazine CLICK HERE

For digital copies and free app downloads of the Avizandum magazine CLICK HERE

Like Avizandum on Facebook and keep up to date with the latest information on the keeping and breeding of pet and aviary birds! CLIKE HERE TO LIKE US

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: