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Hand Feeding Your Regressed Bird

Written by Dan

Note: this article is to help owners with weaned birds that have regressed or that are weaning to learn how to hand feed. It is not intended to teach how to hand feed a very young baby of just a few weeks while the general idea may be similar, it is a lot more complicated (and risky), the exact procedures that are only briefly touched here.

You've just received your new baby bird and he isn't eating much. You figure he's just taking some time to get adjusted to the cage. However, this doesn't improve your bird starts crying out of hunger. He simply isn't eating (or isn't eating enough). Your bird has regressed.

This is, unfortunately, a rather common occurrence, especially with birds bought from breeders that are shipped (or picked up) soon after they have weaned (often between 8-18 weeks, depending on the species). The stress of being in a new home causes them to regress and thus you are left with a bird that needs to be handfed.

What now? The first thing you need to do is purchase the items needed for hand feeding: hand feeding formula, syringes, and a gram scale. The most commonly-used hand feeding formula for birds is the "Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula" though you should ask your breeder (or whoever raised your baby bird), which formula he/she used, as you should stick with the same one. Hand feeding formulas can usually easily be found at regular pet stores like PetsMart and Petco.

Next, you need to get syringes and yes, I do mean several of them, as one syringe usually lasts no longer than a few days before starting to get hard and bad. The syringes need to be labeled with cc (cubic centimeters the same as ml, milliliters), and these can usually be found at vets and pet supply stores (regular pet stores may even have them). These syringes range in size from 1cc per syringe to 60cc again, it is best to ask whoever raised your bird what size syringe was used as this is what your bird will most likely accept. If you do not have a way of finding this out, get sizes you think will fit your bird best (a medium-sized parrot, for example would probably be well off with a 12cc or a 20cc syringe). Note: an alternative to hand feeding with syringes is to use a spoon. Most birds, however, are not hand fed this way and while it may be worth a shot, your bird will most likely not accept formula (not very much, anyway) from a spoon.

You also need to purchase a small gram scale (such as an office or kitchen scale) to be able to track your bird's weight at least once a day (in the morning before the first feeding) and make sure he is eating enough. The scale will also help you measure out the grams for the formula when you are mixing it all together. (A scale is also always handy to have in the future as weight loss is one of the first signs of illness.)

Before starting with the feeding, find out from the person who raised your bird how many feedings he was receiving when he was last hand fed so you may do the same. It will most likely be twice per day, one in the morning and one in the evening, though it is also possible this will change you will have to be the judge of how many times your bird needs (by amount of begging, weight, etc. throughout the day). With our bird, for example, he had been on two feedings per day but because of the stress of a new home, he regressed even further to three feedings per day. After about three weeks, he went back to two and then to one after two weeks and finally weaned the week after a total of one and a half months, but always keep in mind that some birds are faster and others are slower, so it may be completely different with your bird.

Now you are ready to hand feed your bird. You need to find out whether or not you have to heat the formula or not. In many cases, since your bird has already reached the weaning age and simply regressed because of his new home (or if, like in my case, he came home not completely weaned yet, and I had to finish it up), he is old enough that he doesn't need hot formula. Thus you do not have to heat water or worry about crop burning, one of the biggest concerns with hand feeding water used with the formula should be at room temperature. However, as the weaning age varies greatly between species (as well as bird size), it is also very possible that with the age and size of your bird at the time you have to hand feed, heating may be necessary.

The general formula/ratio for weaning birds is 25-30% powder formula and 70-75% water. Example: if you were to be making a grand total of 30g, you would need to first put about 7.5g of the formula in a small bowl and then mix in 22.5g of water.

Right after mixing these together, put the mix into the syringe. A good idea is to usually have your bird on a towel on a table, as things may get messy. Since your bird has been hand fed for quite a while, he'll most likely be the one running the show, also making this much easier for you you won't have to worry as much about food going down the second hole in his beak, the one that goes to his lungs (this can be deadly). However, you will want to "aim" the syringe to the left part of his the inside of his beak (your left, his right side), as that is where the hole toward his crop is. Be very careful and make sure that it is aimed there the whole time.

Now that you have put the syringe in his beak and it is positioned correctly, simply start pressing the syringe slowly. Your goal is to have a constant flow of the mix coming out where he can comfortably and constantly eat it you don't want to overflow his beak. Likewise, if you are going too slowly, he will probably make it known to you (with begging for formula via squawks which he will do anyway, so you don't have to worry when you hear those). While this is not too big of a concern, take your time and make sure it is done right and carefully if your bird is young enough that he isn't quite running the show yet, too much might result in some going down the wrong hole (as stated above).

Birds usually don't eat more than they need, so your bird will probably start refusing formula when he is full (again, ask the person who raised your bird how much he was accepting per feeding when he/she last hand fed him just so you have an idea). Medium-sized birds, for example, usually eat about 25g per feeding if fed twice a day, though this may vary by a few grams either way depending on how much regular food he has eaten and how many feedings he is on per day.

Always offer a variety foods during the weaning process to try to get him off the formula (this includes pellets, seed, veggies, etc. see our nutrition article for more on this). This is also important so that your bird doesn't become a picky eater and accepts all kinds of foods. A good food to offer weaning birds (among many others you should give) is millet this helps them get used to regular foods.

As you see your bird eat more regular foods, you should begin cutting down the number of feedings per day until he is completely off the formula (and likewise, increase the feedings if they aren't eating enough, as said above). If it has been a few weeks on the same number of feedings, and it doesn't look like your bird is naturally coming off the formula, you may want to try taking off one feeding anyway and see how he does; however, if when you do this he does not eat enough regular food, return to the previous number of feedings.

Don't worry if it is taking longer than you figured it would or than experiences you have seen online each bird is different and while I too myself thought our bird would never be weaned, he eventually did. Yours will too!

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