Sunday, March 27, 2011

Question and Answer on Handfeeding Young Bourkes

Back & forth feeding is efficient.
They share a mother's beak, so why not?

Shawn asked a question today about feeding baby Bourkes who have fledged, but were still being parent fed when their father unexpectedly died. Their mother hasn't been doing enough, and the question is "how do you take over feeding when the youngsters aren't used to hand feeding?"

Here's my answer:

Shawn, I'm sorry to hear of your loss.

When baby Bourkes are used to being hand fed you can get away with three or four times a day for fully feathered birds (more often for younger ones). However, since yours aren't used to it, I'd offer them food more often for the first few days. Feed them as long as they'll let you. When they shake their heads and scatter Exact Handfeeding Formula on you, that usually means they're full. 

A clutch of three healthy baby Bourke Parakeets.
Meanwhile, offer them easy things to eat. If you can, buy nestling food. I get mine online from PetSolutions, however, it probably won't reach you fast enough. Millet spray is also easy for babies to start eating. My birds love cooked corn and perhaps your youngsters will try to eat it. Petite peas, cooked carrots, fresh greens that are cut up, like spinach, kale, etc. Anything to entice them to eat something on their own.

Be sure to talk softly too them when you try to hand feed them and be sure the Exact food is warm, but not too hot. Test it on your wrist. If they are hungry they should accept it. You might have to put it into their mouths at first...just a drop at a time to begin with, but they should want it when they taste it. Feed them as much as they're willing to eat. Parent birds stuff their youngsters so full they look like they could burst.

The key to taming them, since they are already feathered, is to handle them a lot and "sweet" talk to them. See my other blogs on taming birds. You may be starting late for hand feeding, but it should work okay. You have a good chance for exceptionally tame, sweet birds. Best of luck!

Here is a link to the post Shawn commented on:   Hand Feeding Answers

Nearly weaned, and eating some on their own.
I kept my favorite bird, Rosie, from this clutch of four and
it was painful to sell the others. They were all very loving.
By the way, although all my adult birds want nest boxes up, I've yet to do so. I limit my birds to two, possibly three, clutches per year and I want to be home during the entire process in case anything goes wrong. Since we may take a trip in a few weeks, and someone else will care for the birds while we're away, I'm going to wait until our return to give the birds their nest boxes. They can still raise two or three clutches this year prior to cool weather.
Peace & Blessings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Rhett's overgrown beak.

Another view of his overgrown beak, like a fish hook.

He didn't struggle or complain at being handled.

Rhett, my very first Bourke, is getting old and his beak too long. Birds with overgrown beaks are generally elderly, like Rhett. I’m currently caring for 22 adult birds, and Rhett hasn’t received enough of my attention lately. I failed to notice how “long in the tooth” he’d become. His mate’s beak has been trimmed in the past, but his was hidden within his feathers and went unnoticed until today.

Typically the overgrown portion of a bird’s beak will be a different color than the rest of the beak. If a bird’s beak is not too dark, you can hold them up to the light and see a blood vessel running through it. That’s the living portion of the beak.

Maybe because he's old and wise, he held perfectly still.
Although notice that his head is held securely between two fingers.

Overgrown portions are much like fingernails and can be clipped away. Occasionally, they will pop off by themselves. Obviously Rhett’s didn’t do that and, since it had become very long, I needed to step in. By the way, if you accidentally trim a beak too closely…Heaven forbid…you can stop the bleeding with a little cornstarch.
The trimmed portion of the beak.

It's a half inch long!
If you have larger birds, or birds who struggle, one person can hold the bird while the other one trims. However, Rhett didn’t struggle and my husband held the camera instead. Clipping Rhett’s beak was simple and easy.

As you can see, he is no worse for wear and when I opened my hand, he surprised me by remaining there. He even let me switch him to another finger. He’s a smart bird and realized he was being helped.
My sweet patriarch after job is accomplished! His mate in back.

So friendly and accepting, and he is not one of my
finger tamed Bourkes.
What is interesting about these photos of Rhett on my finger and hand is that I’ve never made any attempt to tame him. I purchased him over a decade ago, at 9 months of age, along with his first mate, Scarlett. Neither of them were babies. They were intended to be breeders. Yet, he has always come to the cage bars and talked to me. He never seems afraid, even when his cage is cleaned.

This was the first time he has gotten this much handling, and he gave me no trouble. I think he was showing his gratitude by acknowledging that he isn’t afraid of me. Sweet baby … I love him. We have several sons and daughters of his who are also breeders, and our six very tame Bourkes are his grandchildren…cousins of one another. 
He was willing to stay with me as long as I was willing to hold him. He even let me transfer him from one hand to the other. Cherry, in back, has a beak longer than it should be too...not as long as his was though.

Rhett is a wonderful patriarch. He and sweet Scarlett are responsible for my love affair with Rosy Bourkes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PARAKEET EGG BINDING ... What to do to Rescue Hens.

Spicy, a Normal Bourke with his mate,
Sugar, a Rosy whose feathers came in
darker after recovering from egg binding.
An offspring whose mother suffered
egg binding and his egg was fostered.
I’ve mentioned egg binding in other posts, but thought I’d do one specifically targeting the subject. Until a more experienced bird breeder gave me excellent advice, I lost a few hens to this.

Symptoms: Most hens already with one to three eggs will leave the nest and look lethargic and ill. Interest in their eggs will be gone. They will fluff up and appear inactive and obviously sick. If they are sitting on the floor and puffed up, that’s an obvious sign something’s seriously wrong. Death can occur within 24 hours, so it’s important to act fast.

Pick her up in a warm towel. You will be able to see a bulge near the vent, but do not press there or you will kill her instantly if the egg breaks.

Common Advice:
I followed directions given in my bird books, but it was not enough. They say to wrap the hen in a towel to restrain and protect her while holding her vent over steam. This is called “steaming the egg.” They also recommend carefully adding Vaseline to the vent area being careful NOT to massage the area. I followed this advice at different times with three hens, but none of them subsequently laid the egg and sadly all three didn’t survive.

Bonnie and Clyde, Rosy Bourkes.
Bonnie survived egg binding and has
had several successful clutches since.
What Worked:
Instead of Vaseline, lukewarm mineral oil was carefully put into the vent with a small eye dropper. It was also given to the hen orally. Surprisingly, my hens seemed to want to ingest the mineral oil and I had no trouble feeding it to them via the eye dropper. Next, I also held them over steam for a minute or so…being careful not to let them get too hot as my bare fingers were there too. Once they seemed moist and warm, I put them into a small carrying cage with water and seed present. I completely covered the cage with a towel to give them privacy and warmth. Next, I boiled a large mug of water and put it inside the towel so that the steam could reach the hen. Don’t put it in the cage with her…she might injure herself on the hot liquid.

An area heater nearby is a good idea too. You want her to stay very warm, about 98 degrees or so, if possible. Don’t forget the steaming cup of hot water inside her “tent.” Moisture helps, and for this reason a very small cage is an advantage.

Sugar's dark feather pattern after suffering egg binding
and losing feathers. I expect her to be pink again after a molt.
Check on Her Every Hour:
If the egg isn’t laid within an hour, repeat the whole process again. Then check after another hour and keep checking and repeating the process until the egg is laid. I’ve never had to do it more than twice before it successfully helped my hens lay their oversized egg.

Right after being subjected to this unpleasant treatment, my hens have not wanted to return to their current nest and I successfully fostered their previous eggs under other hens. However, the egg that is covered in mineral oil doesn’t hatch…probably because air cannot penetrate the shell in spite of attempting to rinse the oil off of it.

Admittedly, I always wonder if I’ve given a hen enough mineral oil, or too much. You don’t want to injure her with too much. However, too little may not do the trick. So, if the first application doesn’t work, I use a little more the second time. So far, I’ve used this method with three hens at different times and all three hens laid their egg and have recovered. Two of the three have gone on to raise several more clutches without further problems. The third has laid infertile eggs without a problem.

The first time I attempted to feed mineral oil to a hen, I used a tiny syringe instead of an eye dropper, managing to get mineral oil all over her head. As a result, all the feathers around her head eventually fell out and she looked awful for several weeks. When they came back in, they were much darker than before. See the photo. I expect her to be pink again after another molt.

Sugar and Spice successfully mating
while she was still pink.
My bird books say to wait 60 days before allowing a hen to breed again. I’ve chosen to wait an entire season, typically nine months. I see no reason to stress a hen further. Besides the mineral oil tends to leave them unable to achieve fertility until it is completely out of their system.

It’s always important to have enough calcium present for your birds. A bird that is too young or who doesn’t have enough calcium can produce soft eggs, causing egg-binding. My birds always have cuttlebones and mineral blocks available, as well as oyster shell and grit. The problems I’ve had with egg binding didn’t appear to be soft egg shells, but rather eggs that were too large for them to easily pass.
Spicy is a handfed bird, rejected by his parents.
He's a male Normal Bourke. Notice a tiny bit
of blue above his cere (nostrils). This is
only present on mature Normal males,
not on Normal hens.
If your birds don’t appear to be using their cuttlebone or mineral block, there are calcium supplements available to add to their water. If you decide to do this, however, follow the directions carefully…you don’t want to over medicate them.

In other posts I covered advice given to me for hens who had fertile eggs that didn’t hatch. Two readers and a friend recommended adding small salt blocks intended for rabbits. These contain iodine. For a long time the birds ignored them. However, I notice recently that the birds are beginning to chew on them, so I’m hopeful that those hens in the past that had fertile eggs that didn’t hatch will now be successful.

May God bless you and your feathered friends
with good health and productivity.