Hand-rearing a Baby Bird

Hand-rearing a baby bird can be quite difficult and requires feeding every few hours by an experienced foster mom. However, many bird owners prefer purchasing just-weaned or about-to-be-weaned birds. Hand-rearing a bird over six weeks of age who has no problems and eats readily can be a very rewarding experience.

How Much to Feed

A baby bird should be eating 10 percent of his body weight per feeding. A 500-gram bird would need 50 milliliters of formula per feeding. A baby this age should be fed approximately three times per day.

It's important not to feed your bird if he still has food in his crop, which is the enlarged portion of the esophagus at the base of the neck, from the previous meal. Food in the crop for more than three to four hours is a sign of crop stasis, or slowing down, and could be the beginning of a bacterial or fungal overgrowth in the crop that can make your baby bird ill. If you feed your bird too much at each meal, his crop can become overstretched and will lose its ability to move the food down through the digestive system.

You'll need to weigh your bird on a gram scale daily. This will help you determine how much to feed him and it will help you monitor whether he's gaining or losing weight, which can be a sign of your bird's overall health.

Most baby birds thrive quite well on a commercial hand-rearing formula made especially for your species of bird. These are complete diets and are convenient since they're easy to prepare. It's important to mix these preparations as directed and 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 (40.5 to 43.3 degrees Celsius). 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. It's best to 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 carefully because there can be very hot pockets of food within the mix. Take the temperature before and after stirring.

How to Feed

Your bird is used to being fed by his human foster mom at the pet store or the aviary. Ideally, you should receive instructions from this person and copy the technique as closely as possible.

Spoon-feeding is just as it sounds. Gently stretch your bird's neck straight up and support the head with one hand, with your thumb and forefinger placed gently at either side of the upper beak close to where it comes out of the skin. With the other hand, tilt the spoon of formula. Allow your bird to swallow and continue in this manner until he's received the appropriate 10 percent.

When syringe-feeding, support your baby bird's head in the same manner as when spoon-feeding and place the syringe in the side of his mouth, aiming towards the back of his throat. As he opens his throat, give him the formula. Practice with the syringe first because it's common for too much to squirt out suddenly.

Also remember that your bird has to breathe at some point, so if you're putting food in his mouth for more than a few seconds at a time, he may aspirate food into his lungs.

Be careful with babies that bob for their food vigorously. It's very easy to injure the back of the throat with the syringe tip when these little ones are aggressively bobbing for food.