Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keep an Eye on Your Chicks, Part 2

Over the years I’ve saved several chicks by checking on them daily. In the case of one I’m feeding right now, I checked him three or four times a day before removing him from his parents. Here’s why.

Blush and her mate came to me after they’d had a clutch with someone else and their only baby died at about two weeks.

Shortly before that I’d acquired another pair from a woman who wanted to keep two of the babies from their clutch of three, but didn’t want more birds. She complained that the hen “scolded” the male loudly and it was annoying. Sure enough, the hen was a loud complainer.

I have extra males at present, so I put the noisy hen with another male. Immediate peace transpired. She likes him and they are now feeding three healthy babies, recently out of the nest.

Her mate, Chitter, I gave to Blush. They had four eggs and two hatched. When the youngest was just under two weeks, I looked in the box one morning and he lay dead on his back. That can happen for multiple reasons and usually we never know why. However, he had blood on his neck. He’d been pecked or chewed. His older brother was incapable of such an act (they can’t bite until they’ve been out of the nest for more than a week).

I want to point out now that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a baby Bourke savaged in any way shape or form. It had to be one of the parents. Had the baby flipped on his back, and they were trying to turn him back over? I wanted to give them the benefit of a doubt. Could anything else have done it, like a spider, maybe? A wild thought and not likely. We have three cats, so no mice or rats venture into the house, and even if they did, the cage bars are too small for any rodent to enter.

I noticed that the male Bourke had entered the nest several times. Now, with Splendids this is very common. The male helps the female feed the chicks in the nest. However, with Bourkes the male usually inspects the nest before she will enter, tells her it’s safe, and once she enters to lay eggs he is unlikely to enter it again. The male will feed the hen through the nest box opening, or she will come out and he will feed her (that way food fed the babies is processed twice and is very thin). But, he doesn’t go inside to help feed the babies. Once they leave the nest, he will help feed them.

Two days after the death of the smallest baby, I took the other baby out and inspected him closely as I’d done before. Under one wing, the fuzz had been plucked off and spots of blood were present.

It was apparent that he/she was at high risk and likely wouldn’t survive unless rescued. He’s now living in a small cardboard box on the kitchen table with an oil heater nearby to keep him warm. He was two weeks old when taken out to hand feed and is doing very well. He was hatched Oct. 2, 2009 and it was Oct. 16, 2009 that I began hand feeding him with Exact hand feeding formula. Currently, five times a day, and I don’t get up in the middle of the night.

The problem now remains, which parent is the evil villain? This mother did lose another baby in her first clutch, but circumstantial evidence doesn’t stand up well in court. Perhaps the male wants to mate again and one way to accomplish that is to kill the offspring. I say this because years ago, I had two pairs of zebra finches in separate cages. They successfully raised many babies until one male, after two successful clutches, decided to quit raising youngsters and started tossing his newly hatched chicks out of the nest.

At that time in my life, I didn’t know how to hand feed, or know that I could. Wish I had. The young they produced were beautiful white babies with dark saddles. I’d put the babies back in the nest, but he didn’t allow them to stay. He wanted to mate again and to do that, mom had to have an empty nest. Ultimately, he went to a pet shop. He was a pretty pied bird who did fine in a cage by himself, but he wasn’t good parental material.

Getting back to the problem at hand…Since this hen had a clutch with another male before the one who’s in there now, could he suspect these babies weren’t his? Male lions kill offspring that aren’t theirs, what about Bourkes?? This is doubtful because I’ve been able to put eggs from one mother under another and the adoptive pair raised them without a glitch.

As a child with an aviary of budgerigar parakeets, I had a few heartbreaking experiences. I was checking nest boxes and finding baby birds torn apart. I’d been advised that maybe one female wanted the box that the other one was in. So, I moved boxes in case one liked the box and other liked the location. That helped the first year, but when it happened again the following spring, I knew I had to find out who the murderess was.

I didn’t know who was doing it until I caught the culprit in a box that wasn’t hers. Sadly, the babies were already dead, and she had blood on her beak. My grandfather told me he had that happen once with his budgies too. He broke that bird’s neck. I wasn’t able to bring myself to do that and he didn’t live close enough to do it for me. So, she lived the rest of her short life in a small cage, separated from the other birds and little interaction from me.

With my current experience, I still don’t know which parent is to blame. If I had to guess, I’d pick the male. Maybe his first mate protected the clutch and that’s why she did so much scolding. At this point in time I’m not going to separate them. If they go back and start another clutch, I’ll be watching and am very tempted to take the young out at a week of age and start rearing them myself. To hand feed babies, the best time is when they are three weeks old, but I’ve rescued them as early as a day old.

But, that’s a story for another time.

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