Article by: Jeannine Miesle, M.A., M.Ed
Birds, like any other animal, thrive as adults when the parents have raised them to abundance weaning and fledging. The trend of hand-rearing began in the 1980’s when thousands of birds were taken from their habitats and placed around the world. In most countries, hand-raising because the acceptable method of breeding since the parents weren’t tame, and breeders feared they would not know how to raise the chicks in captivity. It has done irreparable damage to both the parents and chicks over the decades. Breeders need to allow the parents to once again take charge of the rearing of their chicks, which is much easier on the humans as well.
There are three methods of raising chicks: by the parents or foster parents feeding them to abundance weaning while people socialize them by handling them (co-parenting); by human (artificial) means only, known as hand-feeding or hand-raising; and by both parents and humans, both engaging in feeding (still considered hand-feeding).
The arguments for and against hand-rearing of birds in the Psittacine family abound. Hand-rearing has been the accepted technique by breeders, buyers, and some veterinarians for more than 40 years, and most veterinarians have not discouraged the practice. During that time, studies have been done by researchers and veterinarians on the benefits and drawbacks associated with this practice
There are two valid reasons for hand-raising chicks: The first is to preserve a species that is in danger of extinction due to of the enormous number of birds of that species captured in the wild and the destruction of habitat. Many have died in the process of being captured, shipped, quarantined, and sold to people not knowledgeable about bird care, leaving very few of the species left in the wild or even in breeding programs. Breeders of these species fear the parents may harm the chicks or not feed them well, so they pull the chicks hand-feed them. In these cases, hand-raising will significantly reduce the potential for eggs being broken in the nest or parental neglect. This is frequently done in zoos and wildlife institutions.
The second reason is to prevent eggs and/or chicks from being harmed by parents who have a history of damaging eggs or attacking the chicks. One reason for parent birds harming or neglecting the young is that they have not been permitted to care for the chicks themselves in the past, and they are acting out of frustration.
Image 2 : Three chicks that had to be hand-raised because their parents abandoned them (image credit Dawn Dandve; used with permission).
1. Hand-rearing: An Historical Perspective
During the bird craze of the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, with the influx of so many wild-caught birds, breeding became big business. These birds were wild and aggressive, so breeders assumed that their offspring would be uncontrollable and aggressive, too. Even after importation of wild-caught parrots was banned in many countries, breeders continued to hand-rear in order to produce tame birds for the pet trade. They assumed that if they took the eggs and chicks away from the parents and raised the babies by hand, the birds would bond with people instead of their wild parents and thus would make better pets. At the time, it was considered the best method of preparing the birds to be tame pets which would form a strong bond with the owner. It was cost-effective for the breeder since it prevented losses due to broken eggs, accidental injuries, and abuse or neglect from the parents. 2
Removing the eggs and incubating them artificially, away from parents, has been done for a long time—and this practice needs to stop! It is unnatural and results in many deaths in the egg and after hatching. Chicks are deprived of the comfort and bonding with their parents and siblings. Again, it’s thought that they’ll bond better with humans, which is not true. It creates maladjusted, often crippled and neurotic chicks, and frustrated parents.
Breeders argue that the pairs will lay multiple clutches a year, thus bringing in more money for them. Selling them before they were weaned also brought them in more money since they didn’t have to wait as long for the sales, and new owners loved the idea of hand-feeding their new chicks. Breeders also contend that hand-reared birds are more tame and trusting of humans and consequently would become more desirable and enjoyable pets which would sell quickly. Even though now, many generations later, the original wild-caught birds have long since died, and the chicks we have seen in the last 20 years are now the descendants of tame birds, the practice has continued and still persists today. 2
For those who breed on a large scale, greed takes precedence over the needs of the birds. Most birds on the market today are produced in bird mills and sold in pet shops. It is from these mills that poorer quality, often unhealthy, diseased birds come. Neither the parents nor the chicks receive medical care, and their husbandry and quality of life are sub-standard. They are force-weaned, clipped to prevent flight, and sold to anyone who will pay the price. Some breeders never give their birds a break from breeding; both males and females become exhausted, malnourished, sick, and eventually die. The hens in particular die from calcium deficiency, egg-binding, cloacal prolapses, and other reproductive illnesses. Many of the chicks either die, or are of such poor quality for not having received superior quality and quantity nutrition and care, that they are not sellable; nor do they make good breeding stock, and so they are culled. Eggs are pulled and artificially incubated, or chicks are pulled from the nest after two weeks or sooner to be hand-fed. 2
The Netherlands now has legislation preventing breeders from hand-feeding their chicks and separating the parents from the chicks.
Information on avian welfare legislation – Appendix I
Of course, there are reputable, small-scale breeders who do rest their birds so that they do not become exhausted by overproduction of chicks in a short amount of time. They provide quality nutrition and veterinary care and thus raise healthy, hand-fed chicks. There are still two crucial factors missing, though: the needs of the parent birds to complete the reproductive cycle by caring for their babies, and the needs of the chicks to be with their parents and siblings and learn how to become independent, self-confident adults. 2
So this begs the questions: Are these bird breeders really achieving their goals of making a profit if chicks die from poor breeding and hand-rearing techniques? Do the chicks necessarily become better pets for having been pulled and hand-fed? And is producing such birds truly advantageous if there are more negatives attached to this practice than positives?
2. Hand-rearing Techniques
Most pet birds that are reaching the pet market today have been hand-raised. Breeders either take the chicks from the parents and nest at a very young age and at an early stage of development and raise them in brooders, or they pull the eggs from the nest, incubate them artificially, and hatch them outside the nest. After that, the chicks are raised by humans and hand-fed with a hand-raising formula from a spoon, syringe or crop needle. (See Figure 1) If the birds had been allowed to hatch in the nest, they are often pulled from the nest at approximately two weeks of age. This is about the time that the eyelids open. The hand-raised baby birds are kept in brooders or tubs, either singly or in small clutches, and are hand-fed until weaning. In the wild, parents whose chicks are lost due to predation or in-shell death will see this as nest failure and begin the reproductive cycle again. The same thing happens with captive birds. This is how breeders get the birds to lay multiple clutches within the year, thus earning them additional income 2
Image 4: Hand-feeding with a syringe. One can see how easy it would be for someone not experienced to cause beak trauma (image courtesy Kelly Vriesma; used with permission).
Image 5: Another method of hand-feeding is using a spoon (image courtesy “Hand-rearing guide for beginners”).
3. Meeting the Needs of the Hand-raised Chick
If the breeder has no choice but to hand-rear the chick, he should make every effort to meet the bird’s physiological, behavioral, and emotional needs as it goes through each phase of its development. In addition, if the breeder raises neonates together in an enclosure instead of in individual containers, he may be able to avoid the abnormal developments often seen in hand-reared birds. These groupings should consist of birds of a similar age and species. “Mixed species and mixed-age settings, however, may also yield good results, whereby the young birds seek touching, sleep readily, play with, and are curious about others. Thus, this method poses as a suitable alternative that is widely accepted and used by breeders nowadays.” 12
Image 6: When neonates are raised together, as in the case of these blue-and-gold macaws (Ara ararauna) , the risks of abnormal behavioral development are decreased (image courtesy Lorenzo Crosta in Speer: Current Therapy in Avian Medicine and Surgery).
4. Significance of the Studies on Hand-rearing of Psittacine Birds
From the 1990’s up until today, some breeders, aviculturists, and veterinarians began to notice that the hand-feeding of birds was not working. Studies have been done during the past three decades on the advantages and disadvantages of hand-feeding, and comparisons were made between chicks that were parent-raised and those that were hand-raised by humans. Except for the need to care for the chick whose parents abandoned, neglected, harmed, or refused to feed the chick, or hand-rearing in order to preserve the species, there are no advantages for the parents or chicks in hand-feeding; in fact, there are many disadvantages. 11
In these studies and observations on the effects of egg-pulling and hand-rearing, it became obvious that hand-reared chicks were not as healthy, either physically or psychologically, as were their parent-raised counterparts. In addition, many breeding pairs refused to breed anymore; in fact, many will crush eggs, harm, or neglect the babies out of frustration at not being permitted to raise their chicks as nature intended. They refused to engage in the reproductive cycle. 11
5. Responsibilities of Breeders and Potential Owners.
Hand-feeding and hand-raising birds continues to this day, even though research has shown it is not beneficial for the chicks or parents. It is also very time-consuming and stressful for the breeders to keep up this practice.
Practitioners, aviculturists, pet-shop personnel, breeders, potential buyers, and bird owners need to be educated about the potentially harmful effects hand-raising has on birds. Breeders should be encouraged to replace hand-rearing of their chicks with parent-raising and
Co-parenting (handling of birds during the time the parents are raising them.) This way, the birds would be allowed to be in their nests for several weeks after weaning, allowing them to become socialized with other birds and ensuring that their development is based on self-orientation as birds. Those seeking to purchase should be encouraged to seek out parent-raised birds and instructed about what to look for in a new bird prior to its purchase. 2 Allowing the parents to raise them for a few weeks, then pulling them for hand-feeding is not co-parenting; it is still hand-feeding.
6. Observations of Professional, Small-scale Breeders and Owners
I have received several messages from hobby breeders and owners on this topic. They sent their perspectives on hand-feeding, parent-feeding, and co-parenting. As former hand-feeders, they have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of the birds since they have begun co-parenting, and their birds are in high demand.
Comments by owners and breeders on the advantages of parent-raised birds – Appendix II
7. A Highly Respected Avian Veterinarian Compares Hand-raised and Parent-raised Chicks
In his studies, Brian Speer makes the following observations as he compares hand-raised and parent-raised birds and their wild counterparts:
“Hand-fed parrot chicks in captivity receive human socialization, feeding, grooming and vocal contact from their hand-feeders. Parent-raised birds are fed and reared by their parents, with copious amounts of parental time invested in direct contact, feeding, vocalizing, grooming and physically contacting them during their development.
After these hand-fed young are fledged or weaned, however, they typically are sold into the pet trade with no further broadening of their social education necessarily planned or recommended. Parent-raised birds learn to fly and explore their environment with and from their parents, learn to recognize and communicate socially with other conspecifics (birds of the same species), and learn how to forage and recognize environmental hazards.
Owners of hand-fed birds persist with close physical contact, vocalization, preening and other parent-to-chick types of behaviors with their own mental picture that this type of contact and relationship is representative of a “quality” or “bonded” pet bird relationship. However, the chicks fail to learn the social skills necessary to make them good companion birds. Parent-raised birds learn social skills from their parents that enable them to live a healthy, happy existence.
The young, hand-reared parrots grow to the age of sexual maturity with virtually no learned social or communication skills other than those they received since hatching, making them unable to possess the necessary sexual maturity to effectively reproduce. However, at sexual maturation, parent-raised birds have learned social communication skills which allow them to be in sexually mature, monogamous pairings within a reproductive pair bond.
Those species that rely most heavily on learned, social-behavioral interaction skills and are hand-raised are more predisposed to problems than those species that are not as dependent. Parent-raised birds have few, if any, behavioral difficulties due to learned social interaction skills.” 11
Image 7: A rescued chick that would not have survived without handfeeding (image courtesy Nousin Mun; used with permission).
8. Disadvantages of Hand-raising Chicks
Many of the chicks:
- Didn’t hatch.
- Were deformed and thus were euthanized.
- Became ill since they hadn’t received the immunity from their parents.
- Died before they had a chance to mature due to poor handling and feeding methods.
- Imprinted on people to the point that they became neurotic and very needy pets.
- Suffered from stunted emotional development so intense that they could not be apart from the human for any length of time at all, for the rest of their lives, thus exhibiting neurotic behavior such as screaming, feather-picking and self-mutilation.
- They experienced stunted social development in that they feared other birds, did not know how to interact with other birds, or how to entertain themselves when left alone. 11
9. Hand-rearing Complications
Once the birds are a few weeks old, they are forced to wean, whether they are ready or not. The humans decide when to remove the babies from the nest, when and how to incubate the eggs, and when it is time for the chicks to be weaned to solid foods, such as pellets, seeds, fruits and vegetables. “This man-made definition of weaning is very different from that which occurs in the wild or in parent-raised breeding situations.” 2
Image 8: Single bird living in a small container away from the nest and parents and siblings
(image credit World Parrot Trust, https://www.parrots.org/about-wpt/position-hand-feeding, http://www.echobonaire.org/; used with permission). :
9.1 Forced Weaning of Hand-raised Birds is Physically Harmful to the Chicks
“Hand-reared chicks are forced to wean at a very early age, sometimes months earlier than would occur naturally.
Weaning of hand-raised birds generally starts at the time when the birds fledge and is often completed after two weeks.
After fledging, the birds are more difficult to control and often have their wings trimmed prior to developing adequate flight skills. This often results in damage to the wings, inability to fly ever again, crashes to the floor and damage to the keel, vent, and abdomen.
The birds are weaned onto solid foods for which their digestive tracts are not sufficiently developed.
Sale of the birds occurs as soon as weaning has been achieved. Birds are often sold prior to weaning so the birds can bond to the new owner. This is extremely detrimental since many owners have very little, if any, knowledge of how to correctly care for and wean the birds.
These birds have essentially been raised in isolation from the time that they can see. They have only seen humans providing a food source, and there is minimal socialization for any of these birds with other birds. They are then sold into generally a single bird household.” Parent-raised birds are raised and live in a flock. So living in a single-bird home is unnatural for them 2
Image 9: Healthy, parent-raised chicks, 3 ½ weeks old (image courtesy Jerry Randall; used with permission).
Image 12: Three of this pair’s chicks at 3 weeks (image courtesy Alona Samorodska; used with permission).
11. Comparison of Emotional and Social Developmental between Hand-raised and Parent-raised Birds
Parrots are a highly social species, and their “visual, tactile, and auditory development is greatly influenced by interaction with parents and siblings.” 12 Hand-reared birds consider humans part of the flock, and this means that parrots will become accustomed to being handled and having physical contact with people. In order to achieve this level of comfort with humans, hand-rearing “has long been the accepted method, as it is thought to help strengthen the human–psittacine bond, thereby resulting in a bird that is more attached to humans and able to positively interact with people.” 12 However, the lack of parent involvement and interaction with other birds of its own species “can severely impact the emotional and social development of the captive psittacine bird and result in displays of abnormal behaviors.” 12
11.1 Social Relationships
Social relationships may be disrupted as well when birds are hand-raised. Hand-reared parrots are often more inclined to prefer social contact with their humans than with other birds.
However, birds that were raised by the parents and also handled by humans during the neonatal period (i.e., five, 20-minute sessions per week), preferred the companionship of humans and other birds of their species equally. Van Zeeland infers from this that hand-raising is more disruptive of a bird’s social development than the stresses of being tamed. 12
Chicks who are brooded and reared by their parents, in contrast, have many advantages over hand-raised chicks. “The brooding and rearing of chicks by the parents is far more beneficial for the chicks’ emotional and social development. 12See “The Importance of Parental Nurturing” – Appendix IV11.2 The Babyhood Crisis, from The Well-fed Flock. This article is so important it belongs in the body of the paper.
Most pet birds never receive a proper babyhood that helps them develop robust mental & physical health. This is never spoken about because it has become so normal & accepted, as too have the effects this improper babyhood can go on to have in later life. In this article we look at the babyhood crisis in companion Birds & how we can facilitate a positive babyhood at home.
WHAT SHOULD PARROT BABYHOOD BE LIKE?- In their natural environment, Parrots learn from their flock during varying timescales after they fledge the nest. This can range from months to (in some larger Parrots) several years. During this time they are shown by adult role models how to forage for food, what foods are safe, what behaviors are expected & how to cope with stress & danger. They are often still partly parent fed during this time until they ‘find their wings’, reach sexual maturity & find partners of their own. As a society, we severely overlook the crucial role of this babyhood & the function of role models to show safe foods, build social understanding & help the young Bird learn to regulate their emotions.
WHAT IS A DOMESTIC BABYHOOD LIKE?– This of course depends on where they hatch & what understanding caregivers have of babyhood, but it’s rarely what they need. Most hand reared chicks are removed from parent Birds before they ever learn they are a Bird because ‘good companions’ must think they are human. Their early days are spent being fed by humans & the chicks don’t hear the vocalizations of their parents, feel their parent Bird’s feathers against their skin or look up to see their parent(s) & thus begin to learn what species they are. They often spend weeks in plastic tubs with rows of other chicks of varying ages who also are deprived of early days of same species bonding, sensory input & interaction.
Image 11: Loving parents feeding their baby (image courtesy Alona Samorodska; used with permission).
The chicks are then weaned, often far earlier than nature intended & are placed in cages or aviaries. They have no adult Birds to show them how to fly, climb, eat or behave. No role models to show them how to engage in healthy & natural behaviors such as same species bonding, foraging or stripping bark from branches. The chicks eventually find their way (although they often develop very subtle unhealthy methods) but even happy looking chicks feel anxious during this time. They are then pre-wired for anxiety with no adult Bird to model healthy coping strategies to deal with it. This is when we see the increased rate of stereotypic behavior & feather plucking/ skin picking that is seen in hand reared Birds. These behaviors may not be seen until well into adulthood, but the anxiety starts this early on & we don’t even see it. They also often see humans as their mate because they have been raised as ‘mini humans’. This isn’t touching, funny or cute when they try to mate or feed you, it’s heartbreaking.
Parent reared chicks usually have more robust mental health long term & have those vital early interactions between parent & chick. Sadly parent reared Birds are still taken away much earlier than nature intended & they too seldom have a chance to fully learn these important behaviors. When these chicks go home, they then rely on human caregivers to show them correct & healthy foods to eat, how to eat them & model calm, well-regulated behaviors that put their new baby at ease. Sadly most baby Birds enter homes who have different priorities.
HOW HOMES HARM BABY BIRDS- Our priority should be a relaxed babyhood, teaching natural behaviors such as foraging & appropriate chewing & showing how to eat nutritious foods. The priority of most families with a new Bird is compliance, tameness, entertainment & speech. People will stand for hours & bombard the bewildered baby with trick commands & say the same word over & over again in their face to try & get them to talk, but claim there ‘is not enough time’ to show them how to eat vegetables. These bombarding sessions are often very overwhelming for the young Bird who has just left everything they know & has no time to settle in. Most baby Parrots are quite slow learners & some even learn skills one day & forget them the next, this can wind caregivers up (especially when the perfectly normal biting phase starts). Birds are social animals & need caregivers to mirror behavior for them to learn. Baby Birds grow up seeing often frustrated & wound up behavior & this teaches them that the environment is stressful & stress responses are normal. This coupled with the anxiety they have already experienced leads to so many of the ‘problem behaviors’ we see later on. The misunderstanding & mishandling of hormonal behaviors increases this problem.
A GOOD BABYHOOD– Just slow down, be calm & enjoy the ride! It’s not a race. The chick doesn’t need to be bombarded & doesn’t need to learn everything all at once. Spend time together where the two of you ‘just BE’. Take natural teaching opportunities that arise & accept the fact that they aren’t mini people, but a beautiful species in their own right. Be around them with calm breathing & a steady pace of life, model calm & gentle behaviors. We often feel as though we need to be ‘in their face’ & bombarding them with instructions for them to learn & develop, but this isn’t how they learn by nature.
Be a role model who models calm, open & loving behavior & eat healthy things such as fruit & vegetables in front of them & unhealthy things away from their view. Avian mental & physical health is ALWAYS the priority, compliance & performance should never be seen as more important. Expose them to a wide array of nutritious foods, foraging activities, toys & safe objects & allow them to explore in their own way. We don’t need to constantly hover over them or micro manage their play, we just need to be their safe space if they need help or reassurance. I have rescued so many elderly Birds who never had a proper babyhood & every one of them went through a ‘delayed babyhood’. When surrounded by the right care & environment they just let go of all the anxiety & tension & really started to act & play like a baby. Some of them were already several years older than the life expectancy of their species, they just laid there & didn’t move when they arrived, but then became flooded with youth. A youth that was so wrongly denied to them for so many years, Let’s make sure this never happens again.
Image 13: This image shows what a typical hand-rearing nursery looks like. “After the incubation of the eggs, the birds are hatched and the chicks placed in large nurseries for hand-rearing. In this nursery setting, the birds are housed alone or in groupings with other birds of the same species. These large nest-bins can be pulled out to allow them to socialize with the other chicks who share their bin and those in the bins next to them. When these nest-bins are rolled in, they provide a secure, dark nest cavity. However, this method of chick-rearing is not as preferable as leaving them with the parents; they are not receiving the attention and socialization that are necessary for development that they would normally receive from the parents” (text and image courtesy Yvonne Van Zeeland in Speer: Current Therapy in Avian Medicine and Surgery).
When placed in these bins and rolled in to darkness, the birds are entirely alone, which is terrifying for chicks. They need the parents and siblings to be secure.
12. Comparison of Growth Rates between Hand-Raised and Parent-raised Chicks
In order to hand-raise birds, breeders will place the eggs in an incubator or remove them from the nest, separating them from the parents just after hatching. This disrupts the instinctive parental care the parents give the birds and is extremely stressful to them and the chicks. It “disrupts the normal behavioral and physiologic development of the bird.” 12 For example, a study on growth rate differences between hand-reared and parent-raised chicks showed slower growth rates in the hand-reared chicks. 12
13. Imprinting, Reproduction, and Sexual Maturation among Hand-reared Psittacines
If birds are cross-fostered to other species or raised by humans, they are more likely to imprint on their caregivers. They “learn to identify with these foster parents or caregivers, and may choose these as their preferred social and sexual partner after maturation.”: 12
Most of the time, cockatoos (Cacatua spp.) are more likely to display these behaviors as opposed to South American parrot species (macaws, Amazons, conures), but birds from any species can exhibit these aberrant behaviors. Birds which have imprinted on humans or have been improperly reared “may develop inappropriate reproductive behaviors as a result (e.g., impairment of normal copulatory behaviors and laying of eggs on the floor) and are less likely to successfully reproduce.”: 12 These undesirable behaviors may not be the same in the males and females. For example, the hand-reared male may not inspect the next box as he should, and he may not reach a desirable level of fertility. The female does not seem as affected by it as the male, which demonstrates that males are more strongly influenced by sexual imprinting than females. 12
Image 14: Lovebird parent feeding chicks (image courtesy YouTube; permission unavailable).
14. Vocalization Differences between Hand-raised and Parent-raised Birds.
In studies, hand-raised birds and parent-raised birds differed in their abilities to learn human and species-typical vocalizations. These differences were in both the extent and speed at which they learned to vocalize. Hand-reared birds were capable of imitating human speech at an earlier age than parent-raised birds. They were also able to mimic these sounds found in human speech at an earlier age and to a greater extent than parent-reared birds; however, they were unable to “produce the species-typical vocalizations until placed with normal vocalizing conspecifics for at least a week.” 12 These differences were the result of the increased, earlier level of social interaction “whereby the extensive exposure to human speech and human contact function as positive reinforcement. This, in turn, results in hand-reared chicks that quickly master the ability to talk.” 12 However, that should not be the primary goal of the breeder or potential bird-owner.
To some bird owners, the ability of a bird to talk is one of the main reasons for getting the bird; however, these individuals have not been educated to understand that this is not nearly as important as the companionship the human will get from the bird and the care and attention the bird will receive from the human. This should be made clear to the prospective buyer.
15. Comparison of Physical Development and Injury between Parent-raised and Hand-raised Birds
Parent-raised birds also have increased physical advantages. “The limited movement of a group of chicks within the nest box, for example, provides them with the necessary support for the appendicular skeleton to develop properly. Chicks raised individually in incubators, in contrast, lack the support of the nest and siblings and frequently move around (allegedly in search of parental or sibling contact). This excessive moving around has been associated with a significantly higher incidence of bony deformations and osteodystrophy” (abnormal bone development). 12 It is true that deformities such as splayed legs can happen with both hand-raised and parent-raised chicks, but the numbers are by far higher with hand-raisedbirds.
Image 15: Cockatiel chick that was rescued and hand-raised by Nousin Mun who has a rescue center in Bangladesh. In this case, hand-raising saved the bird’s life since his parents abandoned him, but he has splayed legs. She has worked with him to bring the legs together (image credit Nousin Mun; used with permission).
Image 16: This hand-fed chick has difficulty with his feet since he is not in the nest with his siblings (image courtesy Nancy Watters; used with permission).
Mother Nature’s way of parent-rearing always has a higher success rate. The chicks have a strong start since parents will always rear their chicks to completion.Darrel K. Styles, DVM
Image 28. Healthy, parent-raised chicks (image courtesy Jerry Randal; used with permission).
17.1 Bacterial Infections
Unweaned birds are particularly susceptible to bacterial infections. The causes are poor husbandry and an immune system which is not fully developed. Hand-feeding practices are the primary cause of crop infections: “Over feeding, feeding too frequently, improper formula temperature, or feeding before the crop empties can all lead to bacterial overgrowth. Primary viral infections destroying the immune system underlie severe secondary bacterial infections in young birds. Spontaneous, primary bacterial infections are uncommon in young birds when proper husbandry is practiced.” 9
Image 26: Porridge formula was too hot and infection set in, causing major damage to the crop (image credit Galabin Mladenov; used with permission).
Image 27: Surgery was required to close the significant fistula between the crop and the outside (image credit Galabin Mladenov; used with permission).
17.2 Illnesses due to malnutrition
Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life. They are organic compounds that combine to form proteins, and protein is broken down into component amino acids before being absorbed by the intestines. Amino acids are required for optimal health, but the body cannot synthesize them; they must be provided in foods or supplements. The terms, “EFA’s” and “amino acids” are used interchangeably. EFA’s refer to the Omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. Most hand-rearing mixes for psittacines and pelleted diets lack sufficient quantities of the Sulphur amino acids (methionine and cysteine). 5
Without sufficient Ca/D3 there is not enough calcium present to harden the bones in growing birds. This occurs mainly in hand-reared birds whose mineral intake is unbalanced. It is also termed, “Rubbery Bone Syndrome.” 4
17.2.2 Hepatic lipidosis
Hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, is caused by high-fat foods, B-vitamin deficiencies, and obesity. It is a slow, on-going, progressive disease in which the liver tissue is replaced with fat. Juvenile, hand-fed birds that are overfed or hand-fed long after they should have been weaned are often diagnosed with it. Hand-feeding formulas are calorie-dense, and baby birds tend to be sedentary; any extra calories tend to end up being stored as fat in the liver. This is most often seen in cockatoos as they tend to beg even after satiated.5
18. Co-parenting: The Ideal Method of Raising Chicks
Many veterinarians and aviculturists are now encouraging breeders to allow the parents to feed and raise them to weaning. Humans are able to help with the care, and as they continue to handle the chicks, the chicks become socialized to humans; thus, the parents are able to fulfill their instinctive reproductive responsibilities. So all concerned have the best of both worlds. Adults get to feed and care for their babies, humans don’t have the round-the-clock feedings, and babies grow up into healthy, mature adult birds. The result is well-adjusted birds who aren’t constantly desperate for their chosen person’s attention.
Of course there are exceptions: Parents who harm their babies or refuse to feed them must have the chicks removed from the nest, but if the aviaries are kept in the correct manner, this doesn’t usually happen. Co-parenting leads to well-adjusted birds who aren’t desperate for their person’s attention all the time. Many species take a considerably longer time to wean than humans allow them. Money is the root of this problem; there is not a quick turnover if chicks are allowed to be with the parents for a longer time
Fortunately, increasing numbers of breeders nowadays are allowing parents to incubate, hatch, and raise their chicks themselves until fledging. Human interaction with these chicks may then either begin in the nest box when the chicks are about two weeks old or after the chicks have successfully fledged. Using these methods, the juvenile birds are accustomed to human handling via brief daily interactions while still able to benefit from the interactions with their parents and siblings. Particularly, the co-parenting technique appears successful at producing offspring that are less responsive to stress and well-socialized to both humans and parrots. In addition, this method increases the chances of the chicks displaying normal reproductive behaviors once they mature since they had more intense contact with the parents and siblings than with humans. This often lowers the cost, time, and effort involved in successfully raising the chicks compared with conventional hand-rearing techniques. Human contact with the neonate may, however, also increase the risk of abandonment, abuse, or infanticide. As a result, the co-parenting technique may not be applicable to all species and individuals, especially those that appear prone to poor parenting. 12
Image 29: Indian Ringneck father feeding the chicks. As Nature Intended.
The days of hand-rearing as an accepted method of rearing chicks are over, but many breeders refuse to discontinue the practice. For some, it’s a habit they’re afraid to break, as they think it will decrease the numbers of birds they can sell. For others, they enjoy the process so much they don’t want to give it up because of the pleasure it gives them. But with co-parenting, they can still enjoy handling the birds and offering other foods once, and even before, the birds are totally weaned, giving them ample opportunities to bond with the birds.
That bond can only be had in a nurturing, warm, loving environment. A hand-raised chick will not be sweet and loving if all that’s done is feeding him and leaving. These chicks need to be held, talked to, and have time spent with them to become the ideal pet. It doesn’t matter if he’s hand or parent fed; unless the humans engage him and give him attention, he’ll still be wild.
Rearing chicks by hand is completely unnatural in the normal lives of birds. If breeders would take the current thought to heart and allow their babies to be parent-raised and co-parented, they would find their birds would be in greater demand since the purchasers would be more satisfied with their birds than with birds from breeders who have hand-raised their birds. In the long run, then, these successes would attract more clients.
The purpose of this paper is not to vilify those who choose to hand-feed. And the physical and psychological issues may occur in any chick, whether it is hand-fed or not. Not every hand-fed chick will experience physical or psychological issues; and not every parent-fed chick will grow to maturity without them. These are generalizations gleaned from many years of research, experimentation, and observation. The purpose is to persuade the breeder who hand-raises to consider allowing the parents to raise the chicks while still being actively involved in their handling and development.
Knowledgeable veterinarians, bird owners, and aviculturists must continue to educate breeders and future companion-bird owners as to what to look for in a companion bird. They need to know of the potential difficulties that can result from the development of abnormal human-bird bonds and the potential for physical, social, and emotional damage from hand-feeding. We encourage new bird owners to seek education from their avian veterinarians and other respected aviculturists.
In the words of Pamela Clark, “The solution? If you really love parrots, then vote with your dollars. Simply refuse to purchase unweaned babies. Don’t purchase babies who can’t fly because their wings were clipped before they ever had a chance to fledge. Don’t purchase a baby who is ‘weaned’ at an age before they would have fledged in the wild. Don’t purchase a baby whose early beginnings are going to commit him to a life of dependence, fear, and behavior problems. Educate yourselves and then drive this market toward improvement. We don’t want family members that have been reared by ‘farming industry practices.’ That is the answer. You are the answer.”
- Appendix I: Animal Welfare Issues and Their Influence on Legislation
- Appendix II: Comments from “The Science of Avian Health” Members and Breeders
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Jones M.P. How I Diagnose and Manage Nutritional Disease. In: Proc North Amer Vet Conf, 2007. Reprinted in International Veterinary Information Service (IVIS) with the permission of the NAVC.
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6. Paul-Murphy J., et al. Animal Welfare Issues and Their Influence on Legislation: Advancement in Management of Welfare for the Avian Species. In: Current Therapy in Avian Medicine and Surgery, B. Speer, Ed. Elsevier Pub. Co., 2016. p.681
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Pamela Clark’s References:
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Linden, P, G. with Leuscher, A. 2006. “Behavioral Development of Psittacine Companions: Neonates, Neophytes, and Fledglings.” Manual of Parrot Behavior. Ed. Andrew Luescher. Ames: Blackwell Publishing.
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