Weaning Baby parrots
Weaning Baby Parrots
By Pat Pecora
and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
Weaning is a gradual process in
which babies learn to eat on their own. Each baby is an
individual so there is no set time table or schedule in which to
wean, but rather something that is done at the chick's own rate.
Even siblings within a clutch often wean at very different times.
Different species of birds wean in different general time frames
and usually larger species of birds take longer to wean than the
smaller species. A baby parrot’s weaning experience can affect
him for the rest of his life. It is up to the hand feeder to
make it a pleasant one in which the baby feels safe and secure and
builds confidence and independence. Keeping him well fed
helps him develop desired traits such as trust and happiness which
enable him to be a good companion.
It is important that anyone hand feeding or weaning a baby have an
accurate gram scale and a notebook. The baby should be weighed the
first thing every morning before any food is fed and his weight
recorded. The weight can speak volumes in terms of how baby is
doing. It will also let you know if at any time during the weaning
process you need to take a step back and start giving him a bit
more formula. At this time I always do a quick check of the
baby and make a note of anything out of the ordinary.
Is he alert and responsive? Do his eyes look bright and
shiny? Are his nares clean and dry? How is his posture?
Are his feathers ruffed up? Is he breathing normally with no
harsh clicking, whistling or raspiness? Do his feet look
nice and plump. Is his mouth clean rather than sticky or
One of the most important things to do when
weaning a baby is to keep him well fed. Hungry babies are
far too frustrated to try eating on their own. When they are
hungry they can only think of how they want that hunger satisfied.
When their hunger is well satisfied they are happy, ready to
explore and try new things. A full, well fed baby will go
over to a crock of food and taste or eat the food, whereas a baby
that is hungry might just sit there and cry waiting for someone to
come feed him. As babies get a little older I often find
that the first thing babies will do after a formula feeding is
toddle over to their food bowl and practice their independent
I start to offer babies food long before they are actually able to eat it.
As soon as I see babies start to pick at the bedding, their feet,
a poop (I know gross), etc, I will put bits of food in with them.
I like to use foods that they can be successful with in picking
up. Crumbs of birdie bread, Cheerios or any non sugared
cereal work well as does anything that is easy to break apart. At
this point the food bits are something for them to explore and
play with but eventually they accidentally swallow some and start
to associate it with the fact that it is something to eat.
Babies will not search for food so it needs to be highly visible and
easily accessible. Food dishes need to be heavy so they are
not easily tipped over. Wide bowls with low sides placed on the
cage bottom work well. I usually put a few bowls of food in with
them so that they never have to go far to find them. I start
giving them a water bowl about two weeks after first giving
them food bowls or when I see that they are actually starting to
eat and might want a drink after they eat. This usually
corresponds to about the time I am taking them down to two
formula feedings a day. Up until then they are getting
plenty of water in their formula.
In the wild eating is a social event that parrots enjoy and babies learn
quickly by example. I find it much easier to wean babies
when I have more than one baby rather than just a single
baby. With a group of babies, all it takes is for one to try
something and it perks the others curiosity and they want to try
it too. I usually keep a calm adult bird in my nursery with the
babies to act as a mentor. I will bring the adult bird a
dish of the same food at the same time I bring the babies a bowl.
I will move the babies close enough so they can see the adult
eating and hopefully they will want to do the same thing.
When I have a single baby I eat all my meals with the baby and
will offer him foods while I eat.
The consistency and variety of food I offer changes as the chick matures
and his eating skills develop. In the earliest stage when the
baby is still on paper towels but starting to be aware of things and
pick at them I will sprinkle a few pieces of cereal or birdie bread
on the paper towel with him. After I see him recognize and
seek out these food crumbs as something he wishes to play with and
explore I will start putting them in a small dish.
Scenic weaning pellets are one of my very favorite baby foods. They
are served warm and wet and offer complete nutrition. I will
offer these to chicks as soon as I take them out of the nest box.
They are readily accepted by the chicks because they closely
resemble what the parents were feeding them. I often use my
fingers to feed the Scenic. At times I will gently grab the
chick’s beak which usually elicits a feeding response. As
the chick gets used to eating the Scenic I will then switch to a
spoon with bent up sides and eventually just put them in a dish for
him to eat on his own. Chicks that have been hand fed from day one
don't accept the weaning pellets as easily but after a few tries
they soon learn to like them and look forward to them.
About the time I move the chicks into a small cage they are ready to start
learning to eat other foods. At this stage they are usually on three
formula feeds, are at least partially feathered and no longer
require a supplemental heat source. I start with soft easy to eat
foods like beans, rice, cooked veggie mash, scrambled eggs, small
pieces of banana or apple, cooked pasta, cooked sweet potato, etc. I
usually offer them each a couple of bites with a spoon or my fingers
as I bring the food and then leave them to eat on their own.
This type of food spoils fast so I always make sure I change or
remove it after about two hours. As their eating skills
progress the foods they are given become more challenging for them
to eat on their own. Once they are eating the soft foods well,
I will start giving them fresh fruits and veggies
than the softer cooked ones. These are served in larger
pieces. I try to offer them a wide variety of healthy foods
daily. The wide variety at an early age helps prevent them
from becoming finicky eaters as they are older. Babies also
like fresh millet sprays. I usually give them one daily and
sometimes I will boil it first. I hang it in their cage from a
millet holder. They enjoy eating/playing with it.
I feed all my birds pellets as part of their daily diet. Pellets are
formulated to provide the balanced nutrition that all birds need.
As soon as the baby has mastered crunching Cheerios, or something
similar, I start giving them a small bowl of pellets which I leave
in with them at all times. Babies seem to like to crunch
on things and even though the transition from crunching softer
Cheerios to the harder pellets is challenging at first, they soon
master it and appear proud that they did so.
While I consider pellets the most important part of my birds diet, they are
lacking in variety and stimulation which is also important for
the bird. The addition of nutritious veggies, fruits, sprouts,
cooked beans, grains, birdie bread, etc. fulfills this need. I
also feed some birds a small amount of seed and they get an
occasional nut as a treat.
I try to observe my babies carefully every day to see about how much food
they are actually eating. When it is time for their mid day
feeding I check their crop to see if they have been eating on their
own and get an idea of how much food is in it. When I
consistently find that they have eaten a fair amount of food I start
to drop this feeding. I do it gradually rather than all at
once. For example, if I am normally giving them four syringes
of formula per feeding, I will eliminate one syringe per day
and then stop giving the mid day feeding completely as long as I
feel food in their crop.
As the chick’s eating skills continue to improve, the next feeding I
drop is the morning one. I start by giving them a bowl of
foods to eat on their own the first thing in the morning followed by
their formula an hour or two later. I will usually feed them a
couple of mouths full of food the first few times I make this change
to let them know that this is what they are to eat now. As they
start eating more on their own in the morning, I start to decrease
the amount of formula I give them. Most of the time, they will
naturally do this on their own. When they start to refuse to eat or
regurgitate I know they are telling me they have fulfilled their
hunger. Eventually they refuse the morning feed and just run
away and go play.
The night time feeding is always the last one to be dropped. Even if
the baby has a fair amount of food in his crop at the end of the day
I still like to top him off with some nice warm formula. Babies
generally don't eat during the night and this helps keep his
appetite satisfied until morning. I think it also helps baby
to feel secure, content and happy which enables him to get a good
night’s sleep. When baby no longer wants the formula he will
simply refuse to eat it or will regurgitate it. Once baby
has not had any formula for two weeks and has maintained his
weight I consider him weaned.