Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hand Feeding Baby Birds of the Smaller Kind…

These photos are of Fuchsia, the Rosy Bourke baby I previously wrote about. In these photos she/he is 18 days old. How do you sex a Bourke? It’s difficult in a baby bird, but adults are easier. I’ll cover that in a future post since this is about hand feeding.

A newly hatched chick should be fed a watery mixture of food almost every 2 hours. For best results, get up in the middle of the night and feed them. After a week, you can cut back to 3-4 hours. Fuchsia is being fed about every 4 hours, 5 times a day. However, I’m not getting up in the middle of the night. She waits from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., 9 hours without food. She’d probably like to be fed in the middle of the night, but I’m lazy and she’s doing fine without it.

I use Exact Hand Feeding Formula. The proper mixing amounts are included with the package. It’s available at numerous sites on the internet, in larger pet shops and usually at the Grange. With a glass measuring cup, I boil a cup of water in the microwave. I put 1 ½ teaspoons of powdered Exact in a tiny bowl and mix in 3 teaspoons of boiling water, stirring until well dissolved. Newly hatched chicks to 2 days old get 1 part Exact to 6 parts water. Two to 5 days get 1 part Exact to 2-3 parts water. Five days until weaned, they get 1 part Exact to 2 parts water.

Formula should be stirred until all lumps are out of it. This also helps it to cool. I keep the Exact in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and the cold powder helps cool the mixture. It should be warm, but not hot when fed. They don’t like it cold, however. I test it on my wrist just like with any other baby formula. When very warm, but NOT HOT, I pull it up into a glass eye dropper (usually found in pairs at pharmacies). When it starts to get too cool, I set my smaller dish into a larger dish of the extra boiled water and that re-warms it. Always checking, however, to be sure it’s not too hot or too cold.

Some books on birds recommend using a thermometer to be sure the temperature stays at the optimum degree (they’ll tell you what that is). I trust my wrist. Or, as you can see from the photo, a dab on my fingers tells me if it’s cooled too much.

Fuchsia learned very quickly to know where the food comes from. I slowly squeeze the formula into her mouth until she turns her head away. She puts the tip right into her beak and turns her head away when she’s ready for a short break. When she’s ready, we go at it again. She usually eats very quickly and I fill the dropper only a few times. There’s always food left over, but it’s easier to retrieve it from the bowl and into the eye dropper if there’s enough in the bowl. By putting my fingers around her head, it helps steady it. She tends to “bob” back and forth. I don’t hold her still, just create a barrier that restricts how far she wobbles from side to side.

I’ve read that you don’t want to inject any air into a baby bird’s crop. So, I make sure the dropper is full of only formula with no air in between. I even eject a small amount before putting it to her beak to be sure any air in the tip is exhausted before she’s fed. That’s another reason to have enough food in the bowl so the eye dropper can submerge far enough to avoid sucking air with the food. (However, I’ve noted what looks like a “bubble” inside their crops and it never seemed to harm them. Don’t panic if you see this too.)

Parent birds stuff their youngsters so full that they look like they could burst. I don’t worry about overfeeding hand fed babies. Their little crops do bulge. However, never force feed them. Let them decide if they want more or not. Check their crop and you’ll get used to seeing it at the size they are comfortable with.

Apparently some breeders put a tube down larger birds’ throats and feed all the formula at once. That is fast and efficient, but I can’t imagine doing it to a small bird like a Bourke or Splendid. They eat quickly anyway, and it’s much safer to let them eat from an eye dropper at their own pace. I’m certain they’re happier that way too.

Be sure to inspect glass eye droppers before every feeding. If it becomes chipped at the tip it won’t be noticeable and you don’t want to use it if it’s damaged. Children can become curious and play with droppers when you don’t know about it … so check them. Eye droppers are very fragile; anyone can pick one up to move it and accidently damage it without realizing it.

Be sure to clean all your utensils thoroughly after each feeding. Run hot water through the eye dropper until there’s nothing left in it. Also make sure the rubber bulb on the end is well rinsed. Because food can dry inside, I sometimes leave the dropper in the bowl of boiling water (now very hot, but no longer boiling) while I clean up the baby.

Yes, the baby gets sponged off too. Formula is going to spill out the side of a baby’s beak and probably on its chest. If left there, it will harden and be difficult to remove. It’s much easier to take a damp cloth or tissue and wipe it off after each feeding. Fuchsia appears to enjoy the attention from this procedure.

Do not save left over prepared formula. Mix it fresh each time you feed.

When I began feeding this baby almost a week ago, I was disappointed to need to do it. I knew it would take time and effort to save this baby’s life. However, I find now that I truly enjoy my moments with this baby and have great affection for her. She has a pleasant, peaceful effect on me.

In the future, I expect to walk around the house with Fuchsia on my shoulder and exchange “birdy” kisses with her. Although it’s easy to tame a young Bourke, just like with a young Budgie, when hand fed the birds bond in a unique way.

What about our three cats? Trust me, they leave the birds alone. I expect to introduce this baby to them when it’s outside the cage. More risky, but I’m confident they can learn to accept the new, tame pet that’s occasionally loose in the house. Never unsupervised, of course.

I have lots of cats with bird stories to share. I’ll get to them eventually, I promise. Have a great tomorrow.

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