• Weaning Baby Birds


 
  • In my never-ending quest to think up something to put in the newsletter (all four weeks of it!), it occurred to me that we often see articles on hand-feeding, show conditioning and genetics, but I don’t think I’ve seen an article on weaning hand-fed baby birds. How do you do it? What’s the best way to do it? Well, here’s the first of what I hope will be a series of articles on weaning. Since I’m the one scrambling for info to put in the newsletter, I’ll be the first subject in the series. Lucky you.
  • Just as we all hand-feed a little differently, we all have different methods we use to wean our babies. Weaning is kind of straight-forward: sooner or later, the babies pick at their bedding, try a little millet, seed and veggies and wham! They’re weaned. But as I began to raise more clutches of babies and sell more pets, I wondered how I could use the weaning process to help my babies grow into more confident, more beautiful, more perfect show-quality birds and pets.
  • I found several articles in Sally Blanchard’s Pet Bird Report written by Phoebe Greene Linden, read them, and changed my entire philosophy about weaning. So, some of our own weaning methods I adapted from Phoebe’s information; some we figured on our own. At any rate, here’s how Bob and I do it:
  • I use Scenic hand-feeding formula, and Scenic hand weaning pellets for all my baby birds, and I add nothing to it. When my babies are somewhere in the 3-4-5 week range, I switch from the liquid formula to the hand-weaning pellets. I love these pellets; they are very easy to feed, are fed from the fingers so do not require a syringe, and are fun to feed. Feeding hand-weaning pellets from the fingers also establishes the basis for teaching the babies to eat other foods later.
  • When my babies are old enough to safely remove their heat source, I put bowls of thawed, frozen mixed vegetables in their brooder every day. As a rule I prefer fresh foods over frozen, but the bits of frozen mixed veggies are the perfect size for baby cockatiels to pick up and play with; and I want them to play with their food. Eating can come later. The vegetables’ bright colors stimulate the babies to look, investigate, pick up and carry around pieces of the food. This also lays the groundwork for playing with colorful, bright things, and helps the babies learn to play with toys later.
  • Feeding Scenic hand-weaning pellets, allows me to start slipping pieces of warmed, thawed frozen vegetables, cooked carrot, baked sweet potato, baked banana, etc. To the babies in between pellets. My babies have never refused a single bit of food fed to them in this manner, at that age. As a result, they seem to start picking at and eating their vegetables more quickly and easily for me.
  • As the babies learn to actually eat their food, I add Scenic Hot ‘n Healthy pellets for cockatiels to the veggies, and I keep fresh bowls of this mixture in front of them all day. I use millet as sparingly as possible; my babies tend to become “millet junkies” easily. I use no other seed. I do feed seed to all my other cockatiels, but I use it more as a treat; making sure that most of their diet is composed of Scenic ‘n Healthy, frozen, thawed veggies or fresh ones, a little fruit, sprouted-grain breads and fresh turnip greens. It is easy to convert a cockatiel to pellet to seed; as you know, it isn’t quite as easy the other way round!
  • While I am monitoring my babies’ physical development, I am also paying close attention to their mental and emotional development as well. Fortunately, Bob and I raise only 1 or 2 clutches at a time, so we are able to give each baby lots of attention. We often take all the babies out, put them on the den floor and lie down to play with them. I use brightly colored plastic balls with holes, and bells inside, to teach the babies to play. I roll a ball near the birds, and one baby will always go for it. When they have mastered balls, we move on to leather strips, sisal rope pieces, and small rawhide pieces. We also teach each and every baby bird we raise the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ commands; and I teach each pet bird buyer how to use these commands to maintain a well-trained pet.
  • Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of flights for my birds, so many of my birds are going to have to live with clipped wings. But I want each baby to learn to fly, so we ‘teach’ them to fly, and have periods of ‘supervised flight’ in the house. I believe it is important that every bird have the opportunity to fly - for them, flight is not a luxury, it is programmed into every fiber of their being. Gone are the days when I clipped wings before my babies even took their first flight. Now we clip wings in stages, a little at a time, until the babies’ wings are fully clipped. As we clip another quarter inch of flight feathers, the baby has to work just a teensy bit harder to fly, and I like the way their chests and shoulders develop from this exercise.
  • As the babies eat more and more food on their own, we feed fewer hand-weaning pellets, although we carefully cut the number of feedings. I have no problem with eight - or ten-week-old babies still taking hand-weaning pellets. At eight or ten weeks, my babies may still be taking weaning pellets twice a day. I think this helps to alleviate any anxieties the babies have over being hungry. Once in a while we have one or two that regress for a day or so and want to be fed and cuddles like a ‘baby’ baby chick. When this happens, we lavish cuddling and attention on the baby until he is assured that he is safe and has no reason to worry about where his next meal or his love is coming from. At these times, the baby seems to want the one-on-one attention more than the food, anyway, so we certainly accommodate him. Who can resist any baby’s need for close, loving contact?
  • The young cockatiels usually wean completely between eight and twelve weeks. We do not force the babies to wean; nor do we force them to continue hand-feeding. By letting each baby cockatiel make its own decision to accept or reject hand-feeding foods, the bird makes the switch from ‘baby’ to ‘teenager’ on its own; when it no longer feels it has to be constantly reassured that its basic needs will be met. This is an exciting time! The young cockatiels become interested in more than just their immediate world - they begin investigating their surrounds with confidence gained from careful handling and upbringing. Prospective pet buyers quickly become enchanted as the birds climb over them; exploring, testing, looking with bright, curious, friendly eyes and eventually claiming a human as “the one”.
  • Next time, it’s your turn! I’ll be calling one of you to find out how you wean, so be thinking about it and get ready. We’ll talk birds for a while and have a good time, and you’ll share some of your ideas on how we can all raise better birds.