A newly hatched parrot is entirely dependant on external sources for food, warmth and shelter. It also has little immune system, and is therefore very susceptible to infections of all kinds. Hand rearing a parrot is a very time consuming job, not to be undertaken lightly. However the reward of seeing the bird develop with good care and attention is hard to beat.
Several points are of critical importance to success
- Cleanliness: normal bacteria from our hands and mouths may cause fatal infections in newly hatched birds. The person caring for the baby bird should have absolutely no contact with other birds. If this is unavaoidable, then, after showering, hands should be washed and disinfected, and clean overalls worn, before handling the baby bird. Virkon and F10 are good effective disinfectants to use. All feeding utensils should be scrubbed in detergent, disinfected, and then rinsed in clean water, before and after use. Each chick should have its own feeding utensils (if more than one chick is being raised). Only enough food for one feeding should be prepared; it should never be stored between feeds. Do not put feeding utensils in your mouth, and wash and disinfect hands before feeding the chick. Unopened feed can be stored in a cool dry rodent free place. Opened feed packets should be stored in the freezer, sealed over in plastic bags. Clean the chick with lukewarm boiled water after each feed, and remove any droppings.
- Weight: chicks should gain weight daily. Weigh the chick on scales accurate to 1gram, at the same time each day, ideally in the morning before the first feed. Failure to gain weight is a sure sign that something is amiss, and veterinary help should be sought at once. Charts are available for various breeds of parrot for expected weight gain, and these can be a helpful guide.
- Temperature and humidity: newly hatched chicks do best in a brooder, where temperature and humidity can be accurately controlled. Failing this, a box with high sides and a 40W bulb suspended over it, may suffice. The chick should be able to move away from the light if too hot. Chicks from hatch to development of pin feathers should be kept at 33C, and from pin feathers to fully feathered 31C, decreasing to 20C at weaning. The relative humidity should be 50-70% (less for cockatoos and more for macaws). Judge the correct temperature by the chick’s reactions: too hot will lead to panting with wings held out, too cold will lead to a hunched, shivering, slow to react chick.
- Flooring: for newly hatched chicks a small plastic container lined with paper towels is good. As the chick grows a larger plastic container eg ice cream container can be used with paper towel lining. Do not use wood shavings or frayed cloth or towels, as the threads may tangle in toes or be eaten.
- Food: use a prepared parrot rearing food of a reputable brand eg Vetafarm, Harrison’s. Do not add extras to the prepared food, it is balanced as it is. Newly hatched chicks will need feeding 2-3 hourly, or even more often for small species. By weaning time only 2-3 feeds daily are required. Disinfect and rinse all food preparation utensils and surfaces.
- Mixing food: newly hatched chicks require more watery food than older chicks. Measure the food as solids percentage by weight, eg 10gms food in 100mls (boiled) water is 10% solids. Gradually increase the solids percent of the feeds from 5-10% at hatching to 25-30% at day 7 and onwards. A well hydrated chick will appear yellowish-pink with a supple, warm feel. Dehydrated chicks will have dry, reddened skin that feels sticky. These chicks need more water in the food, and/or veterinary attention.
- Feeding the food: feeding can be done with a crop needle, a teaspoon or a catheter tipped syringe. The syringe is preferable. Mix the appropriate amount of water with food, and warm to 38.5-40C. Mix very well to avoid any hot spots in the food, and sit in a warm water bath during feeding to keep warm. Remember to keep everything very clean during feeding. Touch the feeding utensil to the chick’s lower beak. This should stimulate it to “beg” and pump its head up and down. While doing this the airway is closed, making it less likely that you will get food down the wrong way. Gently steady the head, and place the syringe tip in the beak, slowly delivering food. Feed approximately 10% of the chick’s weight, per feed, or until the crop is two-thirds full. Do not feed again until the crop is almost empty of the last feed. Except for very small or weak chicks, feeding can stop between 12.00pm and 6.00am, to allow the crop to empty fully at least once daily.
- Danger signs: seek veterinary advice if you notice any of these things with your chick: The crop does not empty fully in 3-4 hours, or the chick refuses 2 feeds in a row
- Chick vomits or regurgitates feeds
- Pale, cool skin and sluggish chick
- Chick does not gain weight
- Crooked legs, beak or toes
- Weaning: once the chick is fully feathered and adult weight, it is ready for weaning. It is important that the chick grows well, to reach weaning weight at the right age. Otherwise weaning may not occur correctly. If you weigh the chick daily you will have early warning of any problems with weight gain. Offer a wide range of foods suitable for the adult bird of the chick species. Be sure to include pelleted foods so that the chick can be fed a balanced diet later in life. The chick is likely to sample most things offered at this age, whereas once weaned it may refuse to try new foods. If the chick is slow to try solid foods, let it watch an older bird eating (contact with older birds is less dangerous now the immune system has developed). Leave out the midday hand feed first. Continue the evening feed until the chick’s weight is stable and it is eating adult food well. A 10-15% weight loss is normal during the weaning process, but weight loss greater than this is abnormal and veterinary advice is needed.
Good luck and enjoy rearing your parrot!
Dawn Mills BVSc, MACVSc
New Plymouth Districts Veterinary Group,