It is important to provide a wide variety of foods to young weaning birds. If they are only fed a limited diet of seeds, they will be reluctant to try many new food items in the future, which would be detrimental to their health.
The best time to introduce birds to a healthy diet is during the weaning period:
- As soon as the chicks start moving around, provide them with spray millet to chew on.
- Fruits and vegetables: Initially I buy jars of fruits and vegetables in the human baby food section in the super market (i.e., Gerber's), then graduate the chicks to fresh fruits and vegetables. They contain enzymes that are vital to longevity and good health; and they cannot be reproduced in pellets or any other commercially produced diet.
- Another popular weaning food is soaked monkey biscuits mixed with peanut butter.
- Sprouted seeds -- enhanced nutrition that parrots love. Soaked seeds benefits parrots of any age -- but also make a great weaning food. The soaking softens the harder outer skins / shells allowing the chicks to more easily break it open and eat. For information on sprouting, please visit this website.
- Once the chicks have started to eat the above weaning foods, it is time to add their staple foods -- which could be seeds, nuts, and/or pellets. They will start playing with it and soon start eating from it.
- Once they are eating all of the above, start adding calcium / mineral blocks. I would recommend against using the flavored kind, as they have very questionable ingredients / additives. My recommendation is to go for the basic cuttlebone and non-flavored mineral block.
- Keep in mind that variety is key.
As the chicks are starting to eat on their own, you can gage from the chick's crop when it is time to reduce the number of daily feedings. I am not someone who will stick to a strict feeding schedule. I look at the chick's crop and when it is getting close to empty, I will feed - allowing the crop to empty once a day (usually overnight) -- to avoid food in the crop from going bad. But during the daytime, I make sure that the baby gets sufficient nutrition - which means "no empty crop."
A variety of factors influence the speed of digestion: the temperature of the chick's brooder, the thickness of the baby formula, the nutritional content of the formula itself, the chick's activity level -- and so on. Sticking to a strict schedule doesn't take into consideration these variables.
As the chicks start to eat on their own, I find that their crops are full longer and I can increase the times between feedings, and eventually skip feedings.
I will continue to handfeed the chick for as long as it wants to be handfed. Many breeders will force-wean chicks -- they have to. I have been in their nurseries and they have HUNDREDS of chicks at a time. There is no way they can give each one individual attention or take into consideration the needs of individual chicks. They will drop feedings whether the chick begs to be fed or not, thereby forcing it to begin eating on its own or starve. Some babies catch on fast, others are more needy and they won't make it in such an environment. Survival of the fittest, so to speak.
If you ever watched wild birds, you will find that parents are feeding their young long after they have fletched the nest. I think this is part of a nurturing environment and an important step in producing well-adjusted companion birds. In fact, birds of all ages continue to love warm handfeeding formula. Maintaining the habit of regularly "handfeeding" even adult birds will come in handy when you have to administer medication or supplement with vitamins and minerals. For me, it is something that I truly enjoy doing. It's heart-warming to see how excited they get whenever they see the feeding spoon or syringe -- at ANY age. It is a fun bonding activity for me; in addition to having valuable application when I need to supplement any of my pet's diet (calcium, vitamins, medication).
The weaning process varies. Below are approximate times when you can expect your chick to wean:
Cockatiels and Lovebirds: Around 8 to 10 weeks. There is the occasional bird that doesn't require feedings at 7 weeks, and then there are birds that still beg at 12 weeks.
Smaller Cockatoos: 12 to 15 weeks
Larger Cockatoos: 15 to 18 weeks
Large Parrots: wean 12 to 16 months.
*Again, the above are only approximate times. Some larger parrots may need to be fed for as long as 6 months.
Although the above are guidelines, it is best not to put a "timeline" on the weaning process. Each chick should be treated as an individual and its own well-being and physical needs has to be taken into consideration during the weaning process.
For any bird that has never fledged before, flying can be very scary - as it is for their anxious owners. But this is a natural process and as they practice it will get easier. To prevent injury, please make sure that windows and mirrors are covered so they don't fly into them. One way to train them to understand mirrors and windows is to take your bird to them and tap their beaks against them, to give them an idea that there is something there. You can practice flying with them in wide open rooms. In the beginning, they will fly into things. You can minimize this though by taking the said precautions. After some time (sometimes up to six months), they will master the art of flying.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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