Baby Care Suggestions, Hatching Through Weaning.
Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723
The most desirable method for raising Macaw babies is to permit the parents to feed them for at least the first two weeks. We provide the parent birds with all of the foods that they will need to feed the babies. Our birds get lots of fresh vegetables, whole grain breads, and other foods that are nutritionally sound.
Parent feeding ensures correct intestinal flora and enzymes, better initial weights on the babies, and a reinforcement of behavior when that baby in turn begins to raise its own young. We believe that a baby with a good head start in life makes a better breeder.
Even though we remove the babies from the nest for hand feeding at about 15 to l9 days, we know that these early feedings by natural parents make a difference, both physically and psychologically, in producing birds that become good breeders themselves. We use hand fed, domestic babies for our breeding stock If you want tame babies for pets or for breeders later, then you will want to remove the babies from the nest by those dates. Most babies start to open their eyes on about the l9th day; if they are to bond with humans, they must maintain a close relationship from very early in life.
Older babies may have younger siblings two to three days apart in ages. If you elect to remove only the oldest bird, keep a close watch on the younger birds left in the nest to be sure that the parents are not so disturbed that they stop feeding or begin to injure the younger birds. Check them a couple of times a day that first day, and once a day after that. Occasionally you may want to collect all of the babies at one time; if the hen is not feeding properly, if the parents are chewing on toes or feathers, if there is a rodent or night disturbance problem, or any other problem. Don't put if off.....bring them in. Hesitation kills.
PREPARE FOR THE BABIES
Before bringing them in for hand rearing, have the following ready:
SCALE: I cannot stress enough the importance of daily weight charts. If you have any medical problems, they should show up on the weight charts much sooner than any outward signs of illness. Even if you are already an expert, you may not see a weight loss until it is too late. If you are not getting steady weight gains, or are just maintaining weights, consult your avian veterinarian. He should have charts for comparison.
BREEDING RECORDS: Keep a chart for each baby, showing weights, parentage, dates and notes. As the years pass, you will see the value in a complete set of records.
BROODER: Depending on the size of the babies, either an incubator set at a lower temperature, or a terrarium with top heat source will do. Heating pads are not recommended by their manufacturers for use under anything because of fire dangers. They dont heat the space around the baby, just cook the bottom. Mama bird sits on top--I have never seen one sit under the babies! There are several excellent brooder-incubator combination units available, and they are an investment that will never be regretted.
BANDS: Order these early, since banding is done when the baby is about 10 ounces in weight (Blue and Golds), although ages for that weight will vary.
THERMOMETER/HYRGOMETER: Use these "at the level of the babies". Depending on your climate, they still need moisture control. Try to keep them at 65-70% humidity. Make sure that the babies cant reach the equipment. We tape the thermometer to the side of the terrarium, then completely cover it with tape from the babies side,
TRANSFER PIPETTES: These can be cut to various size openings to accommodate babies for the first few weeks. Make sure their are no sharp edges.
BENT SPOONS: For larger babies. Be sure there are no rough surfaces if you bend your own. I use a cloth in a vise, and then polish the edges on a lapidary wheel.
SYRINGES: A 60cc catheter-tip syringe, or any other size, is handy when you get a baby that has trouble with a spoon.
CONTAINER WITH LID: For a solution of disinfectant, such as Clorox. Use it for soaking the utensils after washing, unless you are throwing them away. Leave 20 minutes, rinse and set out to dry with clean paper towels covering them, follow instructions on the bottle for disinfecting.
CUP AND BOWL; For making the formula.
BEDDING MATERIAL: I use pink cotton rags; they are 100% cotton and do not have strings or loops; these will wind around legs, toes or necks. I have used wood chips and cob bedding in the past, but find that babies will eat it--it can kill them. Rubber coated wire mesh as flooring is less work, but I worry about injuries to legs or toes. I prefer the soft rag nest. I wash the rags in mild soap and Clorox.
PLASTIC BASKETS: Various sizes are needed as nests for growing babies. For older babies, Rubbermaid™ makes a large tub that exactly fits together with a standard bushel and a quarter laundry basket. They can see out through the laundry basket but are kept safe inside it. It is a little stretch but the laundry basket will fit snugly around the top of the rough-tote basket.
A COMFORTABLE PLACE FOR YOU AND BABY: The babies should be in a location that is safe for them and comfortable for you for feeding, convenient to food preparation, where you can feed them during the night without disturbing other family members,, and where they can rest quietly when not being fed or attended to.
SPOUSE OR GOOD FRIEND: For the graveyard shift, for when you MUST go away for a short period of time, or just to wake you up at night.
ALARM CLOCK: To make sure you get up for feedings. You will need this only until getting up becomes automatic. I keep tiny babies right next to the bed so I can hear them when they start to wake up.
LARGE, HEAVY WASHABLE CONTAINER: To put the babies in when you are feeding. This eliminates the need for three hands. Make sure it is not cold; line it with the rags.
GERMICIDAL SOAP: Betadyne, Dial, etcetera. Wash every time you handle babies. Get under your nails, and especially under your rings. I wear only a very narrow band, as germs really like moist, wet skin under multiple wide rings.
Q-TIPS AND LITTLE RAGS: to clean inside dirty mouths, faces and up under tiny chins. Don't permit food to dry on faces or dribble down their chests. Formula can dry as hard as cement.
BLANKETS OR THICK TOWELS: for older babies being kept in the basket arrangement. Keep covered to keep light and drafts out, but leave a small hole so that excess moisture does not accumulate in the container.
GOT EVERYTHING??? GREAT!!! But before you touch a baby, trim your fingernails. Make sure they aren't sharp. Wash you hands, put your extra rings away. Even a 16 day old baby is about the consistency of a water balloon, you could easily puncture it with long nails or jewelry. The inside of rings is a great place for bacteria to thrive. Hands are the best mechanism for the transfer of disease. If there are other birds in the home, feed the little ones first. This will lessen their chance to exposure. If you have a cooperative family member who can care for the adult birds while you hand feed, that would be best.
If you have never hand fed before and are not sure how full is "full", an easy method to guage this is to allow the parent birds to feed the babies just before you remove them from the nest. Just feed the parents and wait 15 minutes. They will fill the babies and you will be sure just how much food is enough by seeing what they have done.
The only water your baby receives is in the formula, so be sure to use an adequate amount. If you have any qualms about your water supply, use distilled or purified water.
We do make our own formula base, and that is available with a self-addressed, stamped legal size envelope. There are many commercial formulas available, it is all a matter of personal preference and convenience.
Do not ever microwave the formula. Microwave cooking creates hot spots. I just use hot water. Test a bit of the formula on your lip or wrist before feeding it, and after mixing it well. It should be warm to the touch (about as warm as blood ) in order to stimulate a feeding response from the baby. For babies one to three days of age, the formula should be thin, enough to run off the end of the spoon.For older babies, the consistency of applesauce seems to be ideal. I give a drop of warm water after the feeding to rinse the mouth. Be careful that the baby does not choke on the water.
If the formula is too thin, you will be feeding more often and should thicken it. If it is too thick, you run the risk of dehydration and crop impaction. Parent birds keep the babies full all the time, and so we never allow them to be empty between feedings. I feed when the babies are about 80% empty. I have heard of baby macaws that were only being fed twice a day at age five weeks. Ours at that age are being fed four times a day. I wonder what long term effect such sparse feedings would have on their health?
And yes, around the clock means all night too. The amount fed varies with age, of course; you can expect to feed approximately every hour for a brand new infant for the first 3 days, every second hour for the next four days, and every three hours the second week, every fourth hour for the next few weeks. By then your schedule will be adjusted to theirs. Dont hesitate to feed more often if they need it! Ours are sleeping the night through by the fifth week (sometimes). We top them off just before we go to bed, with plain formula. (no added fruit or vegetables). It stays with them longer. After the babies are two weeks old, strained meats and fresh steamed vegetables or mashed fruit is added to the formula, but not more than 20% by volume. Keep monitoring their weight to make sure you are not adding too many extras. You can freeze the vegetables(which have been run through the blender) in ice cube trays for convenience. Just about any fresh food from A to Z is fine, use your imagination. We recommend that you DO NOT use processed food, and no just food should be fed to the birds.
Pipettes are the most convenient method to begin hand feeding, since they are soft and disposable.
I like to switch to a spoon as soon as possible. I feel it is a more natural way to feed, more like a parent bird's beak. I use a syringe if the baby is difficult to feed. Dont get food in the nostrils or eyes. I clean the faces and inside of the beak carefully each time I feed.
The baby's breath should always smell sweet. If it does not, I would have the baby checked , perhaps run a crop culture. There are many reasons for a sour or bad smell, and none of them indicate a healthy bird. I would not suggest trying home remedies and waiting, as some problems such as candida, can proliferate rapidly while you are fooling with such products, and may delay you just long enough so the problem is more difficult or impossible to correct.
Air bubbles in the crop sometimes form during feeding. Air is not a problem in the crop, and the best advice is to forget it. The baby will eventually bring it up. While you are feeding, wait for the baby to get each mouthful down into the crop before you feed the next. Feeling the crop will give you an idea of how taut it is and if more food is in order. Make sure you do not mistake a cropfull of air for a crop full of food. You can hold them up to a light and literally look through the crop wall and see if it is full of air or food. Again, if air is always present, run a crop culture. If they become overfilled, food will begin to fill the esophagus and could back into the throat and trachea .
Tuck the babies back into clean bedding after each feeding and let them sleep. They are growing very quickly during these weeks and they need all the rest they can get. Don't wait until the next feeding time to change the bedding if it gets dirty, do it whenever you notice it is soiled, but not so often that you are a continual disturbance.
Give yourself a minute or two to become fully awake when you get up at night for feedings. I know one lady who almost put the babies in the refrigerator and the food in the brooder when she was done feeding! Mistakes happen to everyone. Change the bedding first and give yourself some time.
Never use a crop tube unless you have a very sick bird. We never use them.
Keep an eye on the babies if several are in together. Sometimes more advanced nest mates will begin to pick on a younger sibling. If this happens, seperate them immediately. There are good and bad features about keeping babies together; they are a comfort to each other but can also just keep each other from resting properly.
If you have not already done so, get rid of all your Teflon coated cookware. Fumes from these products are fatal to birds, and need not necessarily be overheated to cause irreversible respiratory arrest.
Visitors are NOT welcome in a nursery. Most visitors have birds at home and are insulted at the implication that they may have sick birds, but diseases are spread from birds to birds, and it is better not to have people around the babies than to try to explain that they are a possible source of a viral or bacterial problem. If a visitor is unavoidable, and that does happen sometimes, ask them to spray their hands with disinfectant, and have them put their feet into plastic baggies, tied at the ankle with a rubber band. Ask them to shower and wear clean clothes, and not to have been around any pet shops or public bird facilities for at least 3 days.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS TIPS
Test the babies temperature by feeling the wing tips between your thumb and forefinger. If it feels cold, the baby may be chilled and will not respond normally to feeding or digest the food in a normal time. If the baby is too warm, it may be panting and holding its wings away from the body. Adjust the temperature accordingly. If the baby is too cold, try to warm it before you feed it. Here are some general guides for the brooder settings:
95 degrees from hatching, gradually reducing to:
90 degrees at the end of 5 days
85 degrees by another five days,
and for the next two weeks
80 degrees from about three weeks of age until they are covered with down and have pin feathers.
These figures are general, so check each baby by feel. It is thought that if they are too hot, feather development may be slowed.
Keep the toenails clean. Keep the vent and tail clean.
Check their bands to make sure that matter is not building up around the band. If this has happened, soak the feet in a shallow pan in warm water until the dirt is softened enough to come off easily. Use only enough water to soak the feet and try not to get the baby wet. Dry the baby as well as you can and put it back in the brooder with extra toweling to prevent any draft from contacting damp skin. Older babies can have this build up removed with a small pair of round nosed pliers, just pressed hard into the build-up. After a while they will keep it clean by themselves.
Keep your touch light when feeding. If you have a death grip on a utensil and the baby lunges forward, it could injure the baby. If you have it held loosely, it will merely be pushed out of the way or dropped.
When the babies are about 80 days old, they try to fly. This is the time that weaning begins. They are starting to drop a little weight and get their slender, adult shape. Weight loss varies with individual birds. Some of ours have lost as little as an ounce (Red Fronted Macaws), others up to 7 ounces (Blue Gold macaw, whose top weight was 2#8) They will regain some of this weight after weaning. We have noticed a weight gain at one year, and again at two years. Weaning varies by individual. Some take weeks, others are so easy it makes you wonder what all the fuss is about. They begin by eating formula by themselves from a heavy bown, placed on the floor of their container. If they do not fill themselves, get enough food down them with a spoon. At this time I usually feed when they beg for food, or if they are too empty, or if they are being fed for the last time at night. They will make entreating noises and gestures, flutter, raise their wings, or even get mad and grumpy when they are hungry.
This is the equivalent to the "terrible two's" in human babies. You are no longer on the three times a day schedule; you need to take more time to feed if you are to maintain any schedule at all. I know one lady who takes her baby into the shower - its easier to clean up afterwards! Be patient, offer a bowl of warm formula and keep putting their beak in it. When they feel it is warm, they will know it is food and will often try to "pump' it up from the bowl into their mouths. That is the beginning of weaning.
I also put small pieces of food in with them to play with and try to pick up. They eventually learn that it is edible. I use pieces of soft cooked vegetables, fruit, rolled-up bread, anything that they can easily handle. I keep changing the foods that I put in with them before they spoil or become a paste glued to the floor. I wouldn't try to keep it in a bowl at this time. It makes it too hard to find. It will be messy! Make sure they are full at night. Feel their crops. Sometimes even after they have learned to eat, they forget for a couple of days, and you will have to be sure they get enough.
Don't try to get them on a perch too soon. All that does is get them up away from the food, and they are not agile enough, or adult enough, to know to climb down to eat.
So then, the first stage of weaning is to have them eating baby food by themselves. When that is going well, offer a bowl of the adult diet. This is also when they learn to eat a good variety of food so they won't be a one item bird. Make sure that they are eating enough adult food before you withdraw the baby formula. Keep weighing them. If you sell an unweaned baby, (or buy one) spend some time with the seller or buyer and learn or teach them how to feed the baby. To do any less would be an injustice. I make new owners feed their babies here before leaving, and someone is always here to answer questions.
Even after the babies have outgrown the bucket and lid, keep using the bucket for a nap and night bed. They enjoy the security of their nest. I put them into a large indoor cage and install low branches that they can climb easily. Do not use any woods that have any questionable toxicity. Cedar, redwood and oleander are definitely NOT to be used. I like to use fresh eucalyptus, mulberry or citrus.
When the babies are ready to abandon their baby beds they will begin to perch all night. I suggest leaving it for a few days longer, just in case they want to go back to it for security.
I do not trim their toenails more than just a tiny bit of the tip until they are perching and climbing well, generally about 100 days of age. They need sharp nails to hold on. Watch carefully for injuries among siblings, they can hurt each other with sharp nails. We do trim their wings after they have learned to use them. For the few days that they are flying, keep them away from windows, turn off ceiling fans, remove all sharp items such as knives and forks from the cupboards, and generally bird proof your house. Check for things like leaded lamps or windows, chemicals, and any other hazards that you spot. Anything at all is a good perch or chew toy, so if it can hurt them or you dont want it broken or chewed, put it away. Watch your other animals, too. They could be startled by a newly-flighted bird and attack it.
When you are gone, put the babies away. No unsupervised activity, please. Leave a radio or TV on for company. When you are home, talk to the babies as often as you can . If you say the same things for the same actions (Hello when you enter, I love you, and such) when you are feeding or playing, they will be mumbling by the time they are weaning. There is nothing nicer than to have a baby that you have worked long and hard for, climb into your lap and say, I love you! All the best
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