Handfeeding Baby Greys


The handfeeding and rearing of a baby parrot can be a very rewarding experience that any bird enthusiast will enjoy. Watching them grow and change appearance almost daily never ceases to amaze and delight even the most experienced of feeders. The following guidelines are the essentials for a successful handfeeding program.

Formulas, Feeding Utensils, and Supplies

With the recent advances in avian nutrition there are a number of commercially prepared handfeeding formulas. Market leaders at this time appear to be Kaytee Exact, Pretty Bird International and Roudybush. Kim's Aviary has tried and tested all of the above formulas and prefers Kaytee Exact Handfeeding Formula for Macaws. It appear to give the best weight gains and early weaning results. The other formulas will produce acceptable weights and could be substituted.

The only supplements that should be added to a commercially prepared formula are natural ones like Spirulina, Wheat Grass powder, Lactobacillus Acidophilus (AviGuard or Ornabac) or Kyolic . These can be found at most health food stores or mail ordered through bird magazines. Do not add vitamins to formulas.

A glass measuring cup or small 4 ounce shot glass can be used to mix your formula in. The easiest and most ready available feeding utensil is a spoon. An ice-tea spoon works well. Place it in a vice and bend the sides up slightly to form a funnel. Syringes can also be used but care must be taken to clean them well. If you use a syringe, purchase a good bottle washer and pipe cleaner so it can be cleaned thoroughly. Before using your spoon or syringe, soak it in a disinfectant solution for about 15 minutes.

Good disinfectants like Wavicide or Nolvasan can be purchased from a veterinarian or you can use bleach mixed 1 ounce to 1 pint of water. A coffee cup can hold your disinfectant for soaking your feeding utensil in between feedings. Bleach mixtures must be made fresh daily. Be sure to rinse off the disinfectant from your feeding utensil completely before using it.

Formula must be served very warm (about 105 to 108 degrees). A human basil digital thermometer can be used to test the formula. Once you become familiar with the correct feeding temperature of formula, you can test it on the inside of your wrist before feeding.

Paper towels can be used to rest your baby on while feeding. If your baby tends to slip, try using a cloth diaper or smooth towel under baby's feet with the paper towel pulled up to his toes. Most food that falls while feeding should be caught by the paper towel. Kleenex tissues make a good face cloth for cleaning up baby afterwards.

Weighing your baby everyday on a gram scale will allow you to keep an accurate record of growth, and is the best way to identify a problem before it becomes visibly obvious. Failure to gain weight, very small weight gains or any loss of weight in a baby that's not yet going through the weaning stage means something is wrong. Gram scales (or postage scales) can be mail ordered or found at many office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot.

Mixing Formula

Mixing your formula using Kaytee Exact is an easy process. It is designed to be mixed on a 1:2 ratio of formula to water. When measuring formula, use these guidelines:

( 1 tablespoon = ounce = 15cc )

Mixing On A 1: 2 Ratio
1 tablespoon 1 ounce (30cc)
2 tablespoon 2 ounce (60cc)

Preparing Your Formula
1. Add the correct amount of water to your measuring cup
2. Heat the water in your microwave until its very warm
3. Add measured amount of formula and stir
4. Feed at correct temperature (105 to 108 degrees)

Amount To Feed At Each Feeding
20cc - 30cc 3-5 weeks
30cc - 45cc 5-9 weeks
45cc - 60cc 9-16 weeks

The formula should have a consistency similar to thin catsup. Do not feed a formula that is too thick. Water is important for proper hydration of your baby. Babies will actually grow better on a thinner formula than one that is too thick. If you have a gram scale, you can see the exact consistency that you should be mixing the formula. Weigh out 7 grams of formula to be mixed with each ounce of water when mixing on a 1:2 ratio.

The initial temperature of the water used to prepare the formula will have an effect on the consistency of the finished product so its important to measure your formula and water so you don't feed a formula too thin or too thick.

Techniques for Handfeeding your Baby

1. Feed the formula mixture using your spoon or syringe by dispensing the food along with the baby's feeding response (rhythmic bobbing motion).
2. Be sure to give the baby a chance to breath between bites of food. Do not try and feed too quickly.
3. Continue to feed until the baby's crop is nicely rounded or on weaning babies, until it refuses more food.
4. Do not overfeed, as this may result in regurgitation and possibly aspiration, which could cause death.
5. Clean any spilled food off your baby.
6. Clean and disinfectant all feeding equipment.
7. Discard any unused formula. Always mix up fresh formula for each feeding. Do not store mixed formula in refrigerator.

Feeding Schedule

Age In Weeks Number of Feedings Hours Between Time Frame
0 - 2 10 2 6:00am - 12:00am
2 - 3 6 3 7:00am - 11:00pm
3 - 4 5 4 7:00am - 10:30pm
4 - 5 4 5 7:00am - 10:30pm
5 - 10 3 7 8:00am - 10:00pm
10 - 13 2 12 9:00am & 9:00pm
13 - 16 1 24 9:00pm - 11:00pm

Use the above schedule as a guideline for feeding your baby. Babies grow at different rates and should be treated individually. Some babies do better remaining on 2 feedings per day until completely weaned. Be sure your baby's crop empties completely at least once during each 24 hour period.

Weaning Your Baby

After your baby reaches 8 weeks of age and has made the transition from brooder to cage, it is time to begin introducing weaning food. Pellet food is a safe food to start weaning your baby onto. We have found that Dr. D's Plant-Pro pellets and/or Zupreen pellets are the best for weaning babies. Weaning your baby to pellets may take a little longer than when using a seed diet but I feel it is defintely worth the extra time it may take. However, if you are having problems weaning your baby to pellets, go ahead and wean to a seed, fruits, and vegetables diet and then later convert your baby to pellets after it is weaned. If you choose to wean your baby to seeds, do not give them before nine weeks of age because your baby could swallow them whole and compact its crop. We have also had problems with choking when trying to wean babies younger than 8 weeks of age to pellets so please consider not beginning weaning until 8 weeks of age.

Babies play with weaning foods for a few weeks before they actually begin to eat them. At 8 weeks of age, your baby has not yet learned how to perch (or is just beginning to), so place dry pellets in a ceramic dish on the grating floor of the cage. Also begin introducing water in a separate dish next to the dry pellets. Your baby will begin playing with the pellets at this age but it is very unlikely that any will really be eaten yet.

At 9 or 10 weeks of age your baby will be placed on two feedings a day. Your baby's crop should stay full until late afternoon from the morning time feeding. Around 5:00pm, begin introducing warm, moistened pellets to your baby. (Place 1 tablespoon of pellets in dish, cover pellets with water, and warm in microwave. You may also use applesauce or banana instead of water.) Also have a separate water dish next to the warm, moistened pellet dish. Warm, diced, cooked vegetables and other foods can also be offered as well but be sure your baby is learning to eat its pellets, too. We usually begin offering other foods once a baby has learned to eat pellets.

Check your baby's crop before the night time feeding to monitor how much if any of the warm, moistened pellets your baby is eating. (The baby's crop will feel like play-dough or harder if there are pellets in it.) Do not leave moistened pellets or vegetables in baby's cage more than 4 hours to prevent spoilage.

At 13 weeks of age, your baby should be placed on one feeding per day which is given at 9:00pm - 11:00pm. By this time, your baby should have begun eating either dry pellets or the warm, moistened pellets. If your baby is not eating either moistened pellets or dry pellets at this time, then leave your baby on 2 feedings per day. Some babies can take longer to learn eating skills.

Once your baby has been placed on one feeding per day, begin giving warm, moistened pellets in the morning around 8:00am as well as the afternoon at 5:00pm. Dry pellets and water should always be available as well. Check your baby's crop at night before the night time feeding . If it is very full with pellets that baby has eaten, then you can skip the night time feeding. If you are not sure, then offer the formula but don't force the baby to eat if the baby refuses.

As your baby approaches 16 weeks of age, it should be eating on its own. You may have to supplement a night time feeding every other day or two, depending on how much your baby eats.

Do not consider your baby weaned until it has a full crop of pellets every night for two weeks in a row without supplemental feeding of formula. If your baby is not showing signs of weaning by 14 weeks of age, a trip to your veterinarian is in order. A mild yeast or bacterial infection can cause slow weaning of babies.

Your baby can lose up to 15% of its weight during the weaning stage. Once baby is weaned, its important to continue monitoring how much it actually eats by feeling its crop and watching its weight until your baby is 5 months old. This is also a good time to start introducing baby to other people foods but try and limit the amount to 1 or 2 tablespoons per day. This way your baby will still be getting enough of the pellets needed for proper nutrition and vitamins. You can also begin sprinkling Spirulina on the dry pellets since you are not using the formula anymore.

Important Note: DO NOT WATCH YOUR BABY when it is eating its wet or dry pellets. Babies usually will continue to beg if they can see you. So Hide!

Remember that weaning time is a very stressful event in your baby's life. Never try and force your baby to wean by withholding formula. Forcing a baby to wean can cause psychological problems later on like feather picking or screaming. Your baby is only a baby once so sit back, relax and enjoy it!

Check out our Commercial Site for our "Shopping Cart" where you can order a "Handfeeding African Grey's Booklet" with tons of information on feeding your baby grey and other inportant information!"

Return to Kim's Aviary Home Page

Copyright 1997, Kim Thomas, Revised - May 97.. http://www.oocities.com/RainForest/6463/handfeed.html