Are You My Mother? How to Care for a Baby Bird

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Caring for a baby bird can be rewarding. But taking on an infant is a situation full of challenges, and opinions differ over the best way to bring up a baby.

Some people believe that hand-raising a baby bird is the best way to obtain a loyal pet, but evidence suggests that there are great risks in store for inexperienced people who try to do it. Before reviewing the responsibilities associated with raising baby birds, the justification for hand-rearing should be debated.

Hand-raised baby birds do make great pets — usually for someone else. The reason becomes evident when the question is asked: “How many children want to spend their entire lives with their parents?” Young birds, like young people, reach an age of independence when they challenge authority. A bird that remains with the person who raised him may become defiant, but the owner of a bird raised by someone else becomes more of a friend than a parent to the animal, and the relationship can remain amicable for an indefinite period of time.

While hand-rearing a baby bird can be quite difficult and requires feeding every few hours by an experienced foster mom, purchasingjust-weaned or about-to-be-weaned birds who have no problems and eat readily can be a much easier experience.

Here’s what you need to know about raising and caring for baby birds.

How Much to Feed

The maximum amount of formula that should be fed to any baby prior to weaning should be approximately 10 percent of his body weight. The length of time between feedings should be determined by the amount of time it takes his crop to empty. (The crop is sufficiently emptied when you can feel little or no food remaining in the gullet, although it may remain slightly pendulous.) For most baby birds, it takes between four and six hours for the crop to empty.

Once every 24 hours, preferably at night, take a break from feedings. For example, if your bird’s crop empties every four hours, you should be feeding him every four to five hours between 6 a.m. and midnight. Starting at midnight, though, leave at least a six-hour period of time for extended crop emptying, which will allow residual food (and its increased numbers of bacteria) to be eliminated. Not coincidentally, taking a break also allows you to get some sleep.

As the baby grows, plan on fewer feedings, using slightly more formula. While there is a theory that some species do better with frequent small feedings, the problem with this approach is that few people – breeders or owners – can maintain a high-frequency feeding schedule.

The most important thing, though, is to control the amount of food offered at each feeding: Never allow the amount of formula to exceed 10 percent of the baby’s weight.

As the baby matures, he will begin to resist feeding. At that point, either reduce the number of formula feedings or eliminate them entirely. When feedings have reached only two or three a day, start your bird on solid food in the form of softened pellets or table food. If only two feedings remain and the bird resists food at night, eliminate the next morning’s feeding. Over the next two or three weeks, the bird should get used to eating solid food, and you can cut out evening feedings altogether.

What to Feed

Most baby birds thrive quite well on a commercial hand-rearing formula made especially for your species of bird. These complete diets are convenient since they’re easy to prepare. It’s important to mix these preparations as directed; do not add ingredients unless directed by your veterinarian. Formula that’s too thin won’t have the appropriate nutrients, and formula that’s too thick can become a hard ball in the crop and won’t be digested appropriately.

Formula Temperature

Formula should be fed at a temperature between 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Baby birds won’t eat food that’s too cold. Conversely, many babies have died from novice bird owners feeding formula that is too hot, which causes a severe burn to the crop. As a precaution, use hot tap water and keep a cooking thermometer in the food formula at all times. If you choose to warm the formula with a microwave, remember to stir it very carefully because there can be hot pockets of food within the mix. Take the temperature before and after stirring.

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