Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Answer to Deborah's Post

Deborah wrote:
"Hi, I wonder if you would be able to give me a little advice? I have a pair of Bourkes. The hen has hatched two sets of eggs but each time she has appeared to abandon the nest once they hatch and all the babies have died after a few days. She has now hatched another 4 chicks but seems to spend very little time in the nest box and I'm not sure if she is feeding them. I am out at work all day and it is possible she goes in the nest box during the day but whenever I am home I rarely see her in there and she does not spend the night in there. Is this normal or should she be in the box most of the time. I don't know how they are keeping warm! Do these little ones need hand rearing or should I leave our Ruby to look after them...and risk losing them again?"

Most Bourke hens spend a lot of time in the box with their young and do sleep with them all night. Mine only leave to defecate and grab a quick drink of water before heading back in. The male feeds the hen. If he isn't doing so, then he's a problem for her and she may need help feeding them.

I hope it isn't too late to help hand feed them. Find some "Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula." It's available online, but you don't want to wait for it to arrive. Call around. Our local Grange carries it, as do a few other pet supply stores. Follow the package instructions. It's easier than you might think. You'd need a small dish and eye droppers. If all four survive, you will probably use half of a 5 lb. bag until they are eating on their own, but you can start with a smaller bag if that's all you find. Time is of the essence right now.

Don't be afraid to pick up the babies and look to see if they have food in their crops. It's pretty obvious. Their skin is thin and their crops will be very swelled with food. They are full when their crops are so full they are visible around (or over) their shoulders. Parents usually stuff them so full that I don't worry about over feeding them. They'll  refuse more food when they're full.

When I have babies in the nest I keep the room they are in about 70-72 degrees, so if mom leaves, they have a better chance of survival. With four they will help keep each other warm. Even eggs in the nest help warm the first babies that hatch. If she's hatched four, she must have fed the first one or two something to keep them alive until the others hatched.

Since you aren't home during the day, I'd feed the babies before going to work, but leave them in the nest and hope that she also feeds them. Then feed them again when you get home and before you go to bed. A small heater in the area of the nest box will help keep them warm too. If you're lucky, mom will do some of the feeding and you will only have to supplement them. As they grow, they can get along with fewer feedings, but when tiny they need to be fed every few hours. When mine are tiny, newly hatched, I get up in the middle of the night and feed them to be sure they are okay. However, if she's in the box with them I wouldn't disturb them. If she's not there, then feeding them during the night for a week or two will help keep them warm ... being under nourished makes them more susceptible to getting cold.

If you can get them through this, you will be glad you did. Hand fed babies are so tame and affectionate. Bourkes are easy to tame, but being hand fed makes them really special.

If you have other questions, you can also reach me via email at:

Good luck!


neversink7 said...

I've seen Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula for sale at most pet stores including Petco or Petsmart.

Deborah said...

Thank you so much for your quick reply....I am busy ringing round trying to find some formula. I am in UK and having a spot of bother at moment.....but will not give up! Will let you know how I get on. Many many thanks again.