The Joys & Jolts Of Hand-Feeding: Let’s Get The 101 Lesson

Frankly, I’ve been successful hand-feeding, but I’m always looking to improve. I also notice little things, like our GCC who cries out between feedings. I checked her, and sure-enough, two hours after being fed, her crop was empty.

Baby, what did you do with the food? Your crop was so engorged, what the *** happened?

Seriously, it’s all good, but now I know. Need to give her a little PB (no J) – or fat. Ahhhh… that’ll do it!

Feeding babies can be tricky. Each bird is DIFFERENT, so just as you think you have figured out how to feed… But it is also THE COOLEST when they fly to you and coo as you feed them!

Where did I learn this? it’s hard to find good info — and I’ve searched and looked. Or maybe there are sooooo many parrots 🦜 that there has been a LOT for me to learn (402 psittaciformes, or parrot species) in the world.

Thank goodness for Tony’s posts! From FB:

Hand-rearing: Some simple basics by Tony Silva

Source: Tony Silva’s FB Page (with some highlights/edits by me, to make it easier for me to find key elements to refer back to)

The breeding season has started. For some it is early; for others it is late. This is evident by the number of messages that I receive each week discussing issues that are being faced by individuals hand-rearing young parrots. This quest for information is the subject of this article.
Hand-rearing is a rewarding, challenging, time consuming and frustrating affair. No one can ever claim that they never face issues in hand-rearing, but it is possible to significantly diminish the problems if some very basic provisos are followed. On the other hand, if the breeder attempts to cut corners, the flow of problems will be incessant. They breeder can then expect a continuous chain of events that will severely affect the health of the chicks being reared.

So how can a hand-rearer achieve greater success and reduce the presence of problems? The answer consists of two words: hygiene and providing a proper diet

Hygiene encompasses keeping the chicks on a clean substrate, keeping the brooder immaculately clean, thoroughly washing the feeding instruments and then disinfecting them and continuously applying a disinfection policy—wiping surfaces down continuously, reducing dust, washing hands and then disinfecting them and reducing the contact the young have with outsiders.

Proper diet means understanding the importance of the appropriate water:solids ratio and the dietary needs of the young, feeding the young according to a strict schedule, feeding the formula at the proper temperature and insuring that the formula is made fresh each time. I must state that I do not recommend attempting to mix various ingredients to produce a formula in order to economize. When I get messages regarding this subject, my ire escalates and my response is short and to the point: If you cannot purchase one of the countless formulas available on the market worldwide why did you venture into breeding? The commercial formulations are not optimum, but they produce results far better than someone wanting to rear young on mashed banana and oatmeal cereal, which are woefully deficient in minerals and calcium.

Points mentioned above in greater detail:

Newly hatched chicks have an undeveloped immune system. This makes them especially vulnerable to infection. This is why strict hygiene is important. This is also why chicks that are incubator hatched should be kept separate from those removed from the nest, which have often been fed by the parents and have a different bacterial platform. Ideally incubator hatched and parent started chicks should be kept in separate rooms, but if this is not possible use separate incubators and always feed the parent started chicks last.


With incubator hatched chicks, I start them on tissue but quickly transfer them to shavings, which are absorbent and prevents them from sitting on their feces. In over 40 years of hand-rearing I have only ever experienced a handful of chicks that have swallowed the shavings. I have such a low incidence of this because I keep the chicks satiated; they are never—and note that the word never is stressed—allowed to empty during the day. When breeders tell me that they must allow the chicks to empty before the next feeding to avoid crop stasis, I always state that the problem is one related to management and not digestion. In the wild and in the nest the chicks are kept fed at all times. I follow this dictum. Visitors to my home, who have entered the nursery invariably make a comment as to how quiet it is. This is because the chicks are kept fed; they do not have to frantically vocalize or move to capture my attention to let me know that they are hungry. This is also why beak deformities are so few in the young I produce; macaws will pump insatiably, even the edge of the tub they are held in, when hungry and this is one of the causes of a deviated upper mandible.

When chicks are allowed to empty between feedings, they must often be kept singly, or they will grasp and pump each other, this in an attempt to obtain a feed. In the process they often damage the tender bill. Raising the chicks alone is unnatural and often produces behavioral issues that become evident much later in life.


KEEP BABIES TOGETHER BY NEST: By rearing chicks together they display a natural behavior and can learn from opening their eyes that contact is pleasurable—they seek warmth from each other, often play preen or mouth each other´s feet. I have observed these same behaviors in nests in which I have placed a video camera.

To maintain the level of hygiene, we change the bedding three times daily; the soiled shavings are used as ground cover for the trees in the yard. The chicks are transferred to clean tubs and the used tubs are washed in soapy water first and then in a disinfectant solution. This means of cleaning must be understood, as most disinfectant lose their properties in the presence of organic matter. By neutralizing the organics, the disinfectant can play its role. We use this same principal of cleaning for all instruments used for feeding, the nursery walls and floor, feeding surfaces and brooders. This task is performed daily.

The disinfected tubs are allowed to dry (INCUBATOR) in the sun, which provides ever additional disinfection.

Parrot-Baby FORMULA

Keep It Clean

Because all commercial formulas contain some fat, the tools used for feeding chicks will need to be washed with soap and water to eliminate the greasy residue. Syringes are soaked in soapy water. They are scrubbed with a baby bottle brush. Alternately hot soapy water can be drawn into the syringe, which is then vigorously agitated. All feeding tools are rinsed well with copious amounts of water and then they are allowed to air dry.

Feeding syringes are assigned to specific brooders. They are kept in plastic cups that bear a number that corresponds to a brooder. This deters cross contamination. The formula, once made, is poured into the respective plastic cup and from there the chicks are fed.

Chicks tend to be kept in the same group as they move from brooder to brooder and then into tubs. Daily the brooders they are housed in are cleaned thoroughly and then wiped with a disinfectant.
Visitors are not normally allowed to enter the hand-rearing rooms, but if they are they must wear a smock, sandals that we provide and they are not allowed to touch or handle the chicks. This is important because diseases such as polyomavirus and psittacine beak and feather disease can easily be transported and transmitted to the chicks through contact.


Commercial formulas are the best product for feeding chicks. They are not excellent, but they are good. I state this because all formulations are based on poultry science and do not take into account the different needs of the different parrot species. What the breeder can do is to incorporate other ingredients to make these formulas much more suitable. These include pureed vegetables for Eclectus Parrots, fat in the form of nut butters for macaws, conures, amazons and African Greys Psittacus erithacus and fruits and vegetables for lories. We always have on hand steamed carrot, broccoli and sweet potatoes that is liquefied and poured into ice cube trays. This facilities their use when needed. Fruit is always cut fresh. I prefer tropical fruits over temperate fruits, which are less nutritious. The tropical fruits we use are papaya, guava and mango. Papaya is the staple but the others are also employed if in season.

HOW MUCH: For fat, we employ natural peanut butter that does not contain hydrogenated fat or sugar. We boost the fat in the formula for all species, but especially for those requiring fat. This means that 250 ml of formula contains a teaspoon of peanut butter for the non fat requiring species and a tablespoon for species requiring fat. I started this decades ago after having examined the crop contents of many wild chicks, which are invariably fed by their parents the foods with the highest fat content. The fat satiates hunger and deters the desperate agitation seen in hungry chicks.


Areas of important and not related to hygiene and diet are brooder and formula temperature. Newly hatched chicks cannot thermoregulate. They must therefore be kept warm. We start at 32-33 (91 DEGREES FARENHEIGHT) degrees Celcius and slowly drop this as the chicks feather. Unless they are kept sufficiently warmed, the chicks will become listless or hyperactive as they move incessantly to try and warm themselves, injuring the toes and wing tips in the process. Chicks that are cold also display a slow digestion.

Formula temperature is also important, as cool food will be rejected; hot food on the other hand may cause severe burning to the tender crop walls. We feed formula at 40 deg Celsius (104 FARENHEIGHT) . We heat the water in the microwave with the peanut butter or pureed vegetables (fruit are added afterwards) and vigorously stir this before adding the powdered formula. This is then stirred again until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and all hot spots have been eliminated. This also gives the microwave heated water the opportunity to reach its temperature (which invariably increases after microwaving) and thus prevent burned crops.

If you have issues with a chick not digesting

Please do not utilize tonics (which are not intended for birds and often contain high amounts of iron and occasionally arsenic and lead). You can use tea, cumin water (produced by boiling a spoonful of cumin seeds in 500 ml of water) or what I refer to as papaya cream, which is made by adding the seeds and some of the flesh of a ripe papaya to a blender, liquidizing this with some Pedialyte (an oral electrolyte solution) and then passing this through a fine colander to remove any large seed particles. This is warmed and fed to the chicks.

The unused portion should be refrigerated, where it will set like jelly. Once warmed it reverts to a liquid. This works far better in starting crop motility than any other product I have used. Once digestion has resumed, you can slowly start incorporating formula into the papaya cream.
When crop stasis occurs, it is important to consider the cause: bacteria, fungus or the ingestion of the substrate on which the chick are maintained. These are management issues that must be addressed along with stimulating the crop back into movement.

If you adhere to strict hygiene and feed a good diet, hand-rearing will be a pleasing experience that will teach you much about neonatal development.

Finally, if you enjoy aviculture, please Do NOT support the World Parrot Trust. They are a menace to bird keeping and aviculture. I ask you to spread the word to others who may be unaware of this. This is why the STOP the World Parrot Trust logo appears on my page. Harrison´s Bird Foods and formula have spoken up negatively against hand-reared. Do not use their products. There are also far better formulations available that in my opinion yield superior results. We as a community need to support organizations and manufacturers that support aviculture. It is time to stand up and defend our hobby. Without our money these business and organizations would not exist.