Feeding Hatchlings By Hand


Growing Your Babies: Tips for Hand-Feeding Cage Birds

Caring For Cage Birds From The Start Of Life Can Be Complicated, But Also Rewarding

Well-intentioned owners can successfully hand-feed cage birds despite the many risks involved. As babies, domesticated birds begin in heated aquariums until they are older and ready for cages. Some owners choose to hand-feed in order to bond with their newborn birds in the early hatchling/nestling/fledgling stages. While hand-feeding does allow those (that will eventually become) cage birds to become accustomed to human touch and interaction, it doesn't deepen the bonding experience between bird and owner. Hand-feeding poses many potential health risks for new birds, but owners can research proper techniques and proceed with caution if they are passionate about this endeavor.

Why Hand-Feed Cage Birds?

Hand-feeding helps birds become accustomed to human presence and interaction. When owners take over the parental role of feeding, cage birds begin to recognize them as part of their flocks, and the newborns begin to grow comfortable and even secure with regular human contact. Hand-feeding techniques can also be useful for owners if their cage birds become seriously ill and cannot feed themselves. Breeders can even benefit from studying hand-feeding recommendations as they oversee the bird-rearing process and in case they have to step in to care for a newborn that is abandoned by a parent. Some common supplies that caregivers of new hatchlings will need include:

  • Syringes
  • Pipettes or eye droppers
  • Towel
  • Heating pad
  • Aquarium
  • Bedding for aquarium
  • Hand-feeding formula

How to Hand-Feed Cage Birds

While it is entirely possible for a novice bird owner to hand-feed, it is recommended that he or she receive hands-on training before attempting this task. Hand-feeding can begin as early as two weeks of age. Below are several tips for the successful hand-feeding of cage birds.
1)Wash hands thoroughly before handling baby birds or formula.
2)Follow the package directions for preparing any commercial hand-feeding formulas. Consistency is based on the bird's age.
3)Always prepare formula fresh. Because bacteria can quickly spread, refrain from saving and reusing leftover formula.
4)Avoid using the microwave to heat formula since it can create uneven temperatures with dangerous hot spots. Instead, heat the formula by placing it in a bowl of hot water.
5)Always test the temperature of the bird's formula before feeding it to the bird.
6)Fill the eye dropper, pipette, or syringe with formula.
7)Place the bird on a towel or dishcloth.
8)Gently grip the bird's head from behind and angle the syringe toward the right side of the bird's throat. The bird's esophagus is located on its right side, and its windpipe lines the center of the neck. Understanding this anatomy is important when hand-feeding cage birds in order to prevent aspiration.
9)Feeding quantities and frequencies will vary according to age. Younger birds will often need more frequent feedings to fuel them through periods of rapid growth. All feedings should be administered slowly and additional feedings should be withheld until the bird's crop is fully emptied (usually within a three or four-hour period).
10)Record all feeding times and amounts and monitor the bird's weight to gauge progress

Potential Dangers Involved in Hand-Feeding Cage Birds

There are many potential risks to hand-feeding cage birds. Warning signs of these health dangers include:

  • Lack of a feeding response
  • Mild aspiration
  • Regular, delayed crop emptying
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy

The digestive system is the first system to shut down when baby birds face serious health problems; therefore, owners must be vigilant for warning signs like those listed above. Potential health concerns that accompany hand-feeding include:

Crop Burn

If formula is heated improperly, hot spots can scald the bird's crop or burn away the esophagus. If the burn is severe, the bird may die.

Crop Stasis

Delayed crop emptying is a serious condition. Sometimes crops shut down if the temperature of the formula is too cold. Baby birds that haven't feathered out yet don't have the reserves to maintain their body temperatures and heat food in their mouths. Formula that remains in the crop can then become contaminated with bacteria that can cause illness. Additionally, some bacterial infections will cause crops to shut down. Sometimes owners can massage the crop to promote its emptying, but it is important for them to be watchful of potential reasons for this problem.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration occurs when formula enters a bird's lungs. This can happen if formula is fed too quickly or in too large of quantities. Birds can usually recover from aspiration episodes of very small amounts of fluid; however, in cases where large amounts of formula are aspirated, they can die immediately.

Beak Deformities

Deformities may occur from pressure applied against the beak with the feeding tool. Compression deformities can also appear when an owner cleans the bottom beak with a thumb and forefinger.


All feeding schedules should be overseen by a veterinarian and carefully recorded for review. Underfeeding or incorrect formula usage can lead to improper weight gain or illness.

Although caring for cage birds from the start of life can be complicated, many owners enjoy the parenting role and control they have over early socialization.  Successful hand-feeding is possible with diligent and concerned owners who can recognize signs of trouble and seek help when necessary.

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hand feeding of new cage birds can be done by pet bird owners
Newly hatched Cage birds, like this baby macaw parrot, are sometimes available in pet stores which typically get their start at life in heated aquariums, extremely vulnerable to temperature and touch. With proper training, owners can help rear these fragile birds and accustom them to human socialization.

small birds need play toys for development

It won't be long before small birds get bigger. Then the proper toys will be a key to making sure they develop their motor skills and reflexes while in your care.

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