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Judy Leach's Parrots
Breeder Specializing in Macaws, including Hyacinth Macaw

To Feed or Not to Feed - The Truth about Handfeeding a Baby Parrot

Fact or Fiction

If you are thinking about adding a parrot to your family and have been talking to breeders and pet shop employees, I sure that you have heard one or more of these statements from some of them:

There is a lot more to all of these statements than you might imagine, and, incidentally, all of them are false. Any seller of parrots, whether breeder or pet store, that makes any of these statements, does not care for the welfare of the baby, or, for the emotional trauma that you will experience if you accidentally kill your baby. Let's explore each of these statements and the unspoken meaning of each of them.

Feeding a Parrot Baby is Easy

Handfeeding a parrot baby is not really difficult. The danger is the possibility of accidentally aspirating the baby. This can happen any time during the handfeeding process. Maybe the baby gets excited and jumps just as you put the food into his mouth. Maybe he tries to fly or explore and isn't quite expecting the food that you are trying to feed him. Maybe you just get impatient when he is more interested in the wall behind the counter than the food you are trying to feed him. Whatever the reason, it only takes once. The result might be that enough food is shot into his lungs that he dies in your hands in a matter of seconds, or maybe just a little food gets into the lungs and he gags and coughs for a couple of minutes and then seems fine. In the second case, you may notice that he is breathing heavier a week or so later. A fungal infection has started to develop in his lungs from the fluid in you put into them. Over the next couple of weeks you will watch your baby die slowly as his ability to breath becomes more difficult. Aspiration pneumonia can take 4-6 weeks, or more, to kill the baby - a very slow hard death. Even an experienced breeder and handfeeder can accidentally lose a baby now and then to aspiration, but if you lose your baby, it's the only one that you have.

In addition to the dangers of handfeeding, there are so many other dangers that can be crippling or life threatening for the baby if they are not recognized in time. Problems such as splay leg, scissor beak, ruptured air sac, stretched crop, constricted toe, stretched crop, deyhydration, and many other possible problems can be corrected if recognized soon enough. An inexperienced feeder may not see a problem until it is too late to correct it. Even if they see that there is a problem, they may not know how to fix it. I frequently get emails from breeders that have problems with babies and don't know what to do about them. Most inexperienced people would be unlikely to see the problem until it was too late to correct it.

Handfeeding a Baby Parrot is Important to the Bonding Process

All baby animals have a bond to their caretakers built through nurture, training, and dependence. Whether the babies be wild or domestic, all babies of all species must develop and grow, and eventually leave their parents to build an even stronger bond with their own family unit. Handfeeding a baby parrot does not necessarily mean that it will bond to you as a part of its family when it gets older. In fact, the laws of nature that prevent animal from breeding with siblings can cause just the opposite effect. In nature, a parrots will seek a mate outside of the family unit that it was born into. So it would seem more logical that a parrot would develop a stronger, long-term bond with a person that was not its caretaker as a baby.

The job of a good breeder is to care for their babies in a way that will prepare them for a future life with a new family where a life-long bond will develop. The babies must be taught good behaviors that are acceptable in a family unit, nurtured to be affectionate and responsive, and encouraged to explore the boundaries of their natural curiosity and intelligence. The babies must also be encouraged to be confident in themselves so that they don't develop fears of the unknown and a dependence on their "mother". This isn't a job that many breeders find easy. Some may feel that they have to find homes for babies before they are weaned because the babies become too attached to them, but, in fact, the babies are fearful and don't have the confidence to be away from their "mother".

In addition to the training and personality development that occurs before a baby is weaned, proper weaning is every bit as important to the future of a baby parrot. A baby that has been force weaned or fed past the his normal weaning time can develop serious psychological problems. A person inexperienced in handfeeding will not always recognize when it's time to start weaning a baby. Even if someone has had some experience in feeding, each baby is different. Although, there are average ages that each species will wean, there are many more variables that must be considered. An average age assumes an average rate of development, and as with children, development, both physically and mentally, can vary by individual. Considering the life long effects of the feeding and weaning processes, it is best that they be accomplished by someone that is experienced and knowledgeable.

You Can Save Money by Buying an Unweaned Baby

It's very likely that the initial cost of an unweaned parrot baby will be less than the cost of a weaned baby, but will you really save anything at all. Looking strictly at monetary cost, you will have to at least invest in a supply of handfeeding formula and something to feed the baby, ie. syringes, pipettes, etc. If the baby isn't fully feathered, you will need bedding and some kind of container to keep him in. Depending on his age, you may need a brooder to keep him warm until his body can maintain its own warmth. If this is all you need, you have probably had to spend the difference of what it would have cost for a weaned baby. This is assuming that everything goes 100% without problems.

But what if everything isn't perfect? Handfeeding babies sometimes develop yeast or bacterial infections. If the problem is recognized, this will incur vet bills for tests and medication. Crops may be under or over filled resulting in an underweight baby or a stretched crop. Improper bedding support can result in splay leg that will cause permanent crippling if not recognized in time, or incorrect feeding techniques can cause a crooked beak or beak deformities. If all of these things are avoided, the possibility of aspiration exists during the entire feeding process and becomes more possible as the baby gets older. Getting even a little food into the baby's lungs only once, will cause aspiration pneumonia. Although it's possible to save a baby with aspiration pneumonia, it's a long and expensive process. Most of the time, it isn't recognized until it's to late to do anything. If you lose or cripple your baby, you will not only lose more than the monetary cost, you will have to live with the heartbreak and guilt of ending the life of a baby that you had grown to love. The ultimate price will be paid by the baby that lost his life because of someone that didn't have the experience to care for him.

Another Look

So let's take another look at the reasons for buying an unweaned baby and add what the sellers aren't telling you.

Although there is a certain amount of risk any time that you buy an animal from someone, you need to rely on your judgement and the reputation of the person that you have chosen to trust. If someone tries to talk you into buying an unweaned baby, be wary as to the motives of the seller. Breeding parrots is a dedicated undertaking and anyone that has chosen to take on the task should have a love for parrots and be dedicate to the quality of life that they send their babies into. A person like this would not jeopardize the life of even one baby to an inexperienced buyer.