Rearing Cockatiel Chicks - A Simple Guide

Eve Spain July 18th 2017

Raising and weaning your young bird is a demanding but rewarding task, we believe that chicks should not be handled or hand fed and that the parents should be left alone to raise their chicks. It is not necessary to remove chicks from the nest in order to have a tame bird. However you should be prepared to intervene if necessary.

Our advice is if you do not have previous experience would be to leave the chicks with the parents.

The decision to hand rear your chicks is a common one. It a decision people make believing it is a simple task, in reality it is demanding. Whether you decide to hand tame birds or not before deciding you want to breed you should be acquainted with what is involved in raising chicks, hand tamed or not. It is important to have expert support and advice there are many people with experience that may be willing to assist ask for help and or advice.

Be prepared (What you will need)

It makes no difference if you are planning to pull your cockatiel babies for handfeeding there are several preparations you must make. First, you need to purchase a quality handfeeding formula. Second, you need to determine which of several handfeeding tools you feel comfortable using. Lastly, you need to choose a brooder that is appropriate and able to be warmed to the proper temperature.

Formula

There are many excellent handfeeding formulas on the market today. The best way to determine the one you will use is by asking other breeders about their experiences with price, how well they mix, how well they hold their temperatures, if they burn easily, and, most importantly, how their babies do on them. I personally use the Pretty Bird handfeed formula, as I find it to be reasonably priced, it mixes easily and quickly without a great deal of separation occuring during the feeding, it holds the temperature very well, and it contains a number of important ingredients, such as lactobacillus and digestive enzymes. As I said before, however, there are many other excellent products available today by other manufacturers.

Feeding Utensils

If you have decided to let your birds breed now would be a good time for you to purchase feeding utensils. You should seek the opinions of experienced breeders and handfeeders. You should ask what utensil they use and why, as well as what age baby they feed with this utensil. For example, a bent spoon, in my opinion, is not an appropriate tool for feeding a day old chick; however, it will work well on a two week old chick. Syringes are excellent tools, but you must use them slowly until the babies begin "pumping" their heads ferociously, at which time, you can increase the speed somewhat. I prefer the syringes which have rubber-tipped plungers as they operate very smoothly. For older babies, I like to spoonfeed, although it is a messy proposition and requires a lot of handy paper towels! Pipettes and droppers are other options for feeding.

Whatever utensil you decide to use, always clean it thoroughly with hot, soapy water, followed by a good rinse and a disinfecting soak. Good disinfectants are properly diluted bleach, Roccal-D, Avinol, Wavicide, and many others. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the disinfectant off and out of the utensil before the next feeding, and change the disinfectant solution each time you feed.

Brooders

Now that you have decided which hand feeding formula and utensils you plan to use, it is time to choose a brooder. A lot of your decision on what to use for a brooder should be based on the age of the babies you are pulling, and how many babies there will be. A small amount of very young babies will do best in a dark brooder at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35C), while a larger amount of older babies will do better in a glass fish tank at a lesser temperature. Whatever brooder you use should first be cleaned and disinfected, making sure you rinse the brooder thoroughly to remove any disinfectant residue. After the brooder is clean and dry, I put about a couple of inches of pine shavings on the bottom of the tank and cover that with a thick layer of paper towels. The shavings will help to distribute the heat evenly over the bottom of the tank, while the paper towels will help to absorb the moisture from the chicks' droppings. I then place a heating pad under the tank, and cover the tank with a plastic tank cover or wire grill and a large bath towel, leaving one corner open for air circulation into the tank. Be sure to heat the tank up to the correct temperature before you add the chicks. A non-breakable thermometer at "chick level" in the tank along with this temperature guide should help.

Age of Chick Degrees F/(C)
1-5 days 94 - 96 (34.4 -35.5 C)
6-9 days 93 - 95 (33.9 - 35 C)
10-14 days 91 - 93 (32.8 - 33.9 C)
15-21 days 86 - 90 (30 - 32.2 C)
22-28 days 81 - 85 (27.2 - 29.4 C)
29-35 days 76 - 80 (24.5-26.6 C)
36 days to weaning 81 - 85 (27.2 - 29.4 C)

Feeding Procedures

The decision to pull the chicks from the nest is not to be taken lightly, should you be planning on taking over the role of the parents .

I usually pull my babies at 2 to 3 weeks of age. I have handfed chicks as young as 1 day old but, only if there are problems that require me to intervene at that early age. If you wait much longer than three weeks it can be difficult for your chicks to accept handfeeding; however, I have been more successful at an older age with a bent spoon than with any other utensil. If you pull the chicks earlier than 2 weeks, they may not get all the natural immunities they need from their parents; at that point, it is important to add an avian specific lactobacillus acidophilus (a "good" bacteria) to the formula if it doesn't already contain this.

I will not start hand feeding until the newly pulled babies' crops are empty. I prepare the formula according to the directions on the container, and use a candy thermometer (available at most supermarkets) to make sure the formula is 102-104 degrees Fahrenheit before I start feeding. If using a syringe for feeding, begin by placing the baby on the table in front of you and inserting the tip of the syringe gently into the left side of the chick's mouth. (IMPORTANT: when the chick is facing you, his left is YOUR right.) Point the tip toward the right side of the chicks mouth. Carefully with a slow, even pressure on the syringe plunger, begin dripping the formula into the chick's mouth. You want the formula to be fed slowly so that the baby recognizes you are feeding it, and so the formula goes down into the chicks crop and not the windpipe. The amount of formula depends on the age and weight of the baby. If you keep an eye on the chick's crop, you will see it filling as you feed. Make sure you do not fill the crop to the point where the food comes up into the chick's neck; it should also not appear pendulous or over-expanded. It is a good idea to try a little at a time until you determine what is enough. Here is the handfeeding schedule that I use:

Age of Chick Feeding Times Feeding Amount
1-4 days Every two hours 1 - 2 cc’s (1-2ml)
5-7 days Every three hours 2 - 3 cc’s (2-3ml)
8-14 days 7:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM, 7:00 PM, 11:00 PM 4 - 6 cc’s (4-6ml)
15-24 days 7:00 AM, 12:00 PM (Noon), 5:00 PM, 11:00 PM 7 - 10 cc’s (7-10ml)
25-34 days 7:00 AM, 5:00 PM, 11:00 PM 11 - 15 cc’s (11-15ml)
35-44 days (fledging) 7:00 AM, 7 PM 11 - 15 cc’s (11-15ml)
45 days to weaning 7:00 PM 11 - 15 cc’s (11-15ml)

You'll note that the amount per feeding gradually increases as the baby gets older, until the time of fledging. During this time, you'll be hard-pressed to get the baby to take much food. Do not let this fool you into believing the baby is weaned. Instead, it is "dieting" to remove the large abdomen they have as babies so that flight will be attainable. You'll note that, during fledging, babies seem more interested in flying than eating. You must make sure you hold them down during feeding, as they will take off clumsily, and may injure themselves upon landing. A chick may lose 10-15% of its peak weight during fledging.

As the chicks begin to feather out and need less heat, I place them in a small, grate-less cage with low perches so the chicks can reach them easily. On the bottom, I place a wide variety of foods, pellets, and seeds. Once they are able to perch, I add a dish of fresh water, I place the food in dishes, and add a grate to the bottom. As the chicks get older I add more perches at higher positions to encourage them to fly and exercise their wings. It is very important to have a gram scale that has readings in one gram increments to check your chicks weight during the hand feeding and weaning process. If you notice the babies not gaining weight (or losing too much weight during fledging) you may need to offer formula more often, or it may be indicative of a problem which needs a vet's attention, such as Candida (yeast). I use Nil-stat a drop or two in the formula for Yeast infections.

Weaning

At around 4 weeks of age you can start to offer solid foods to your chick to start the weaning process along with fresh water, at this age I usually put soft food in twice daily and pretend to eat it with my birds so they recognise it as food. You can provide any of the following on a daily basis either to the parents if being parent raised or hand raised.

Millet, seed/pellets, whole wheat/grain bread/toast, frozen veggies like corn, peas, carrots, mixed veg (run under the hot water tap as they prefer it to be warm or steam, cooked are softer for them at this age), Egg & Biscuit mix, bread & corn mix, Leafy veggies, sprouted soak seed, baby food from the jar (organic) you can mix the fruit varieties in the veg, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs (made with water not milk), cooked mashed sweet potato, or steamed sweet potato cut into cubes, some crushed pellets in warm water, fresh herbs, green leafy veg like kale, steamed broccoli, mashed cooked vegetables. These are just a few ideas; provide them in shallow bowls like tea saucers or the clay flat bowls so they are easily accessible on the cage floor along with a saucer of fresh water. You will find that once they start eating more of these foods they will voluntarily eat less formula.

Housing

Your young chicks should remain separated from other breeding pairs until fully weaned. Nest boxes need to be cleaned every other day. failure to maintain proper hygiene can cause bacterial or fungal infections. Proper selection and provision of substrate for nest boxes is an important consideration in disease prevention. At least 3 inches of material should be provided.

Disease Prevention

Most medical issues arise in young birds in the first week of life, at fledging, or at weaning. Environmental factors such as housing, hygiene and diet play an important part in ensuring the health and well-being of young chicks.

There is debate on the need for hand raising and the disadvantages of hand raising can include stunting and an increase in husbandry-related diseases such as crop stasis or aspiration pneumonia. Many avian veterinarians and behaviorists also believe that hand raising may lead to behavioral issues because chicks cannot learn species-specific behaviors from parent birds and become imprinted on people.

To recap general environmental conditions hygiene, temperature and diet. Temperature guidelines are for newly hatched psittacine chicks, 92°–94°F; un-feathered chicks, 90°–92°F; pin-feathered chicks, 85°–90°F; and fully-feathered and weaned chicks, 75°–80°F. Nutritional guidelines A diet of 25%–30% solids should be fed to chicks >2 days old (more dilute formula for newly hatched), with the environmental temperature between 102°–106°F.

Skin, feather quality, and distribution of the feathers should be examined. Healthy chicks have yellowish pink skin, and feathers first appear on the head, wing, and tail. Abnormal feather growth or delayed or abnormal opening of eyes can be a sign of stunting. Stress bars (lucent areas across the vane of the feathers) indicate a period of stress when that portion of the feather was forming. These are common during weaning, so a few stress bars are not uncommon. A large number of stress bars may indicate an underlying illness or condition.

The normal gut microflora in chicks is primarily gram-positive bacteria. The presence of large numbers of gram-negative bacteria or budding yeast indicates infection. Bacterial infections can occur from multiple sources: an unsanitary environment, inappropriate storage of formula, and use of unclean feeding utensils.

Problems

If the following problems are noted, veterinary advice should be sought:

  1. Abnormal feather growth
  2. Delayed or abnormal opening of eyes
  3. Large number of stress bars
  4. Abnormal emptying of crop, crop stasis
  5. increased mucus accumulation
  6. Abnormal curvature or weakness or deviation from normal posture
  7. Increased respiration
  8. Respiratory distress
  9. Poor feeding response
  10. Regurgitation
  11. Crop burns
  12. Failure to thrive
  13. Swelling in neck area
  14. Splayleg or Rotational Leg Deformity
  15. Beak deformities
  16. Constricted toe syndrome
  17. Cryptophthalmia (Eyelid Atresia)
  18. Lockjaw
  19. Choanal Atresia

references

  • Avian terminology
  • pediatric-diseases-of-pet-birds