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The Challenges of Handfeeding Baby Cockatiels
By Judy McElveen

So many times, I have heard people say that it is impossible to handfeed a cockatiel from day 1 and have it survive. Well, I beg to differ! Feeding cockatiels from day 1 is just like feeding cockatoos from day 1, which people do all the time, except the cockatiels are smaller.


Here’s how I do it after the baby hatches in the incubator or is abandoned by its parents. I first take a cotton swab moistened with warm sterile water and clean the little creature and put it into a brooder set at 98.5 degrees F. The brooder is kept at about 80% relative humidity. This temperature is one degree less than the incubating temperature and I will keep it this warm for the first 3 days. After the baby has warmed up, I take it out and try to dribble a little electrolyte solution into its beak. I hold the chick sideways while I do this, placing the solution into one side of its beak so that, if it isn’t swallowed, the liquid will fall out the other side of the beak rather than aspirating the baby. I continue to do this every 2 hours until the chick produces the first feces, which will be green and contain mucus.


After that first bowel movement, which indicates that the chick’s system is up and running, I begin to feed it every 2 hours (or when the crop empties) for an 18-hour period. Others feed around the clock for the first week but I have experimented and find that there is no difference in weight after 2 weeks in a chick fed on this schedule and one fed around the clock, so long as the chick is fed when its crop empties rather than on an arbitrary schedule. Feeding when the crop empties (or is almost empty) is very important for the chick to achieve its maximum growth potential.


It is very important not to overstretch the crop! Cockatiels are susceptible to this, as they will continue to accept food and beg, when overfull. During the first week, in order to stretch the crop, give food until you can see the level of food half-way up the crop. As the skin is translucent, this is easy to see. If the chick does not empty after 2 hours during that first week, cut back on the quantity of food given to stop the crop from stretching more. By the end of the first week, the crop should be emptying after 2 to 2 ½ hours and, by the end of the second week, it should empty in about 3 hours. At this time, the crop should hold 10 to 12 cc’s, which you can gradually increase until the chick is emptying its crop in about 5 hours (4 feedings a day). Your goal is to get the crop to the point where it holds enough food that you only have to feed 3 times each day, approximately 7 hours apart (approximately 7:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.).

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