Force Feeding / Gavage / Tube Feeding

Administering Medication ... Hand Feeding Methods ... Handfeeding Protocol ... List of Handrearing Supplies Needed ... Handfeeding Formula for Softbills / Turacos


Force feeding, also known as Tube or Gavage feeding - is a method of feeding, in which the food is pumped into the crop through a tube that has been put down the esophagus and into the crop.


Associated Dangers:

Punctured Crop:

If the tube is pushed too far, or if the baby / bird jumps, the tube may be pushed through the crop membrane and the outer skin to cause a puncture. If this happens, food put into the crop will leak out of the puncture.

The only way to correct this problem is to suture the inner and outer layers of the crop and skin. Antibiotics must be administered to prevent infection. If left uncorrected, infection will set in, and the baby will starve to death because the crop will no longer hold food.

Delayed Weaning / Insufficient Socialization:

Tube feeding bypasses the bird's natural feeding response and chicks fed this way may take longer to wean and be poorly socialized. Breeders may choose this method as a quick way to feed many chicks. The resulting chicks may develop behavioral problems as the feeding sessions themselves are part of the bonding process.


Tube Feeding Instructions

Provided by Dr. Rob Marshall, Avian Vet - http://www.birdhealth.com.au

Utensils For Crop Feeding:

A syringe and crop needle should be used for crop feeding. In between feeds, boil the utensils, etc., so as to prevent any food spoilage and subsequent infections. The utensils are soaked in a Water Cleanser after cleaning. Any formula must be made fresh and the leftovers discarded.


Amounts and methods for feeding ER formula

The size of crop needle and amount of Formula are as follows:

Bird Type and SizeCrop Needle Size and LengthAmount of Formula Fed
Orphaned Wild BirdsSyringe or small spoon3ml
Budgerigar-sized18 gauge, 3cm long3ml
Cockatiel-sized16-17 gauge, 5cm long5mls, 2 times daily
Pigeon and Galah-sized21-14 gauge, 7cm longPigeons: 20mls, 2 times daily.
Parrots: 10mls, 2 times daily.
Ducks and ChickensStomach tube50mls, 2 times daily.


Formula Preparation Tips for Preparing the Formula

  • Hold the small cup in the larger bowl so that the hot water keeps the formula warm.Adding a couple drops of hot water from the tap at a time, use the butter knife or back of the spoon to mix the powder into a paste.Use the knife or spoon to squash the formula against the side of the cup to smooth out all lumps.Continue adding a couple drops of hot water at a time until the formula is the consistency of maple syrup.It is best not to make the formula in the microwave. Mix by hand with the hot water and double check the temperature before feeding.Continue feeding for one day after the bird is seen eating seed on its own.

Spilled food around the bird's face should be cleaned with a warmed cleaned cloth before it dries. A “bib” may help keep the feathers clean, as well as a fine warm water mist spray over the body when weather is hot, but prevent chilling.

The Crop Needle Technique

Some tips when crop needling birds (The crop needle is a blunt needle or crop tube passed gently and directly into the crop.):

Crop Needle Technique

  • Always lubricate the crop needle prior to use. A small amount of spit, oil or Vaseline helps the tube to slide into the fragile and often dry oesophagus.

  • Make the formula very warm and fresh each meal. Pre-warm the syringe and needle. Use hot water and not a microwave to heat the formula, as this avoids “hot spots” that burn the crop lining.

  • Clean and disinfect the crop needle and feeding syringe after every feeding.

  • Extend the neck as the needle is slowly introduced from the right side of the beak into the left side of the back of the mouth. The crop needle is then passed gently into the crop. Check it is in the crop by feeling for the crop needle through the skin on the outside of the crop. Now slowly inject the formula into the crop.

  • Fill the crop with the formula. Stop when the tongue moves in a swallowing motion and then quickly but gently remove the needle. Medication may also be mixed into the ormula.

  • Immediately return the bird to the heated hospital cage / brooder.

For sick birds, Dr. Marshall recommends the following to hydrate and provide crucial nutrition to your bird patient.

  • Emergency Rescue Formula Alternatives
    • Glucodin 5% (glucose powder) and hot water.
    • Honey 5% and hot water.
    • Polenta (corn powder) or rice flour and hot water.
    • Strained baby food.

Notes: This formula is used for seed-eating birds and not for Lorikeets. Lorikeets are best fed grapes, apple puree or apricot juice by spoon, rather than by a crop needle.


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