The following is a post I requested from Wendy Craig, of Wendy’s Parrots about the requirements for hand-feeding and weaning baby parrots. Wendy has been raising a wide variety of parrots for over a decade. Her flock is composed of African Greys, Amazons, Alexandrines & Macaws, including the highly endangered Blue-throated Macaws and Red-fronted Macaws of Bolivia, which she specializes in. She is widely regarded as one of best breeders in the country, with babies that are renowned for their excellent health and sociability. Wendy is also a trainer, and has several free-flighted Red-fronted Macaws who were trained as adults, and one Scarlet Macaw that was trained after weaning.
Purchasing unweaned baby birds is a recent fad among a minority of flight trainers, who believe it is necessary to have a “baby bond” when beginning outdoor flying, rather than patient training. In addition to birds inevitably outgrowing any baby bond, the dangers of inexperienced owners hand-feeding babies is well-known enough that the sale of unweaned birds is illegal in the state of California. For more on the baby bond being unnecessary with good training, see the guest post by Barbara Heidenreich.
So You Want To Buy An Unweaned Baby Bird?
by Wendy Craig
With all the knowledge out there these days I’m still surprised at the number of phone calls I get from people wanting to purchase an unweaned baby parrot as well as all of the information I read on the internet supporting it. So let’s take a look at it.
Why would you want to by an unweaned baby and why would someone want to sell one? Exactly who benefits from the sale of these unweaned babies? Is it the baby? The buyer? The seller?
I’ve heard it said that handfeeding a baby bird is an art. I’m not so sure I’d call it an art but it is a learned skill. And not all baby birds are the same. So you can’t really learn to hand feed properly from feeding only a few babies. Macaws, Grey, Cockatoos, Eclectus all feed differently. They like it at different consistencies, different temperatures, different rates of delivery etc. And then there are variances with each individual bird. Sound confusing? It can be! You can feed the formula too cold and get a bacterial infection or too hot and burn the crop. Then there is slow crop and what to do about that? Would a novice even know what constituted a slow crop? The number one injury from hand feeding is aspiration. One veterinarian even suggested that 79% of all hand feed baby birds aspirate to some degree. Did you know there were different degrees of aspiration? The one that is readily apparent is the immediate aspiration of a baby. That is when it dies right as you are feeding it or right after. Then there is a second degree aspiration where the baby becomes ill after a few days. Symptoms vary but a dose of antibiotics in time can sometimes solve the problem. Then there is the third degree aspiration or the sneaky kind. The one that isn’t apparent for months or years after it happens but ultimately leads to an early death, sometimes after a lengthy illness and sometimes quite suddenly. Still want to buy an unweaned baby bird?
And is hand feeding all there is to weaning a baby bird? Absolutely not! This is where so many make mistakes and don’t even realize it. You can wean too early or wean too late. Either can cause lifelong problems for your bird. Baby birds need if at all possible older babies and adult birds to emulate. They need a variety of foods of different shapes textures and colors and consistencies to sample and learn from. They need to be on a flexible schedule of their own choosing. But again, is feeding all there is to weaning a baby bird? Again, Absolutely Not!
Part of the weaning process is also a socialization and learning process. The preparation for a baby bird to grow from a neonate to a juvenile and eventually to a successful adult bird. This involves the bird learning that it is a bird. Climbing, playing, flying, interacting with other birds and bathing are all a part of this process. And besides learning that it is indeed a bird, the baby also needs to learn to live in a world dominated by humans. This does not mean the parrot needs to learn to be dominated, not at all, but to live in what to them is an unnatural environment manufactured for the comfort and convenience of humans, not parrots. This is not something easily done if you are not set up for it or don’t have the experience. These babies need to be gently guided through lots of positive interaction with their human care givers while never forgetting that they are birds.
There is also a very old misconception still prevalent out there, that a bird will bond better to you if it is hand fed by you. This doesn’t even begin to make sense. In the wild the parents feed their babies but do the babies stay with them, joined and bonded forever? No they wean and eventually go off on their own. This is a natural progression. I have raised hundreds of baby birds and they do not bond only to the hand feeder. Once they have learned all the necessary skills to daily living and are eating well on their own they are ready to leave the hand feeder and move on to their new life.
There is another misconception out there that a baby parrot can more easily be trained to do almost anything as long as it is purchased unweaned. Again not true. Professional Parrot Trainers all over the world as well as many novice trainers have trained older birds to do hundreds of tricks including free flying outdoors and then return when called. Training your bird takes a good positive relationship and understanding, not a mommy/daddy/baby relationship. This type of relationship is sure to end in failure.
Now let’s look at the selling of unweaned baby birds from a Breeder/ Seller standpoint. What’s in it for the breeder?
The sooner a baby bird leaves the care of a breeder, the more money the breeder makes and the less time he or she has to expend and time is another form of money.
So even if you pay less for an unweaned baby than for a fully weaned one, the breeder is making more of a profit. And unfortunately many breeders are in it only for the money. And this is true even if you buy it for less. Not only does the breeder no longer have to feed that baby, formula, which can be expensive, they don’t have to feed the variety of weaning foods either. They don’t have to take the time to prepare the food or clean the dishes or feeding syringes. They save on disinfectant. They don’t have the cages or even the tubs to clean out or the bedding to purchase. They don’t have to worry about toys or environmental enrichment. There aren’t baby birds learning to fly in their homes, breaking and or destroying personal items. There isn’t poop to clean up, tissues to buy or the inconvenience of being stuck at home to feed babies when friends and family members are out and about. And it goes on and on and on. No wonder why these breeders tell you that you need to feed these babies in order for them to bond to you! It increases their profit margin! And it is so much less labor!
So who benefits? Always the Breeder. Only the Breeder.
Please buy your babies from Good Reputable Breeders. They don’t worry about the money, they don’t do it to benefit themselves. They sell only Fully Weaned Well Socialized Babies because it Benefits the Bird! The bird should always come first! And while benefiting the bird, it also Benefits you as the consumer.