How to Feed a Bird With a Syringe?

Are you planning to hand-rear a baby chick? Food is one of the most important aspects you should know about. Here’s how to feed a bird with a syringe, and other feeding methods popular with bird owners.

Young birds separated from their parent birds cannot feed themselves and will require a handler who can hand-feed them.

Hand-feeding birds requires a fair amount of preparation and knowledge.

Based on the species you are fostering, you should look up what feed, consistency, and quantity should be given to them.

These will vary from week to week as the bird grows.

In this article, we are looking at general introductions on how to feed a baby bird.

How to Feed a Bird With a Syringe

Why You Need to Learn About Baby Bird Feeding

Newborn birds are susceptible to diseases, yeast infections, and a horde of other issues.

Hence, proper feeding and care in the early days are paramount.

Feeding them in the right way also ensures the bird grows up to be self-sufficient and can eventually feed itself.

Moreover, improperly fed or force-fed chicks can cause injuries. Let’s take a look at the various tools for feeding and the correct method to do so.

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Bird Hand Feeding Tools

There are many tools for hand-feeding baby birds, with one of the most commonly used ones being syringes.

Syringe-feeding is more in line with the natural way in which a mother bird feeds its chick.

Syringes made for bird feeding have a narrow tip that is curved at the bottom (I will talk more about this in a later section).

The curved part comes in various lengths, making a single syringe body usable across various sizes of chicks.

Syringes are not easy to disinfect, making them a second choice to stainless steel spoons. However, they are great, beginner-friendly instruments for bird feeding.

Most young birds, however, have a fear of syringes, which takes some time to get over.

With syringes, it is difficult to gauge when the bird’s mouth is full as it delivers food directly into the crop region, bypassing the throat.

On the bright side, birds fed with syringes rarely throw up the food.

Some other tools that can be used for hand-feeding are:

  • Spoons
  • Dixie cups
  • Tubes

How to Feed a Baby Bird With a Syringe?

Once the baby bird is warm and settled in, you can use a syringe to feed them the formula. Here are the steps for this:

Prepare the food

  • Prepare the food you plan on feeding the chick. This can be a homemade mix or baby formula from the store.
  • Turn it into a medium-consistency watery mix by heating it while mixing it with water simultaneously.
  • Let the mix cool down until it reaches around 102°F.
  • Do not use microwaves for heating mixes, as they heat the dishes unevenly and can form clumps.
  • Stir the mixture thoroughly to ensure it is smooth and consistent.

I will talk more about making your own bird feed in a later section.

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    Prepare the syringe

    Depending on the size of the chick, you might need a syringe ranging in size from 12 ccs to 35 ccs.

    To clean the syringe, fill it with water, shake it for 30 seconds, and discard the water.

    Repeat the process with bleach and then again with clean water. Wash it underwater again.

    Alternatively, you can use use-and-throw syringes or those with a replaceable mouth. After filling the syringe, tap it to remove air bubbles.

    Prepare the environment

    Wash your hands and wear clean gloves. Young babies are susceptible to diseases, so try not to introduce any foreign substances.

    It’s important to have cleanliness, like washing hands before you start feeding

    Position the bird

    Place the youngling so that their head pops out from between your thumb and forefinger, with your other fingers curled around their body.

    Gently tilt the bird’s head up and massage its throat or tap on its beak. This will prompt the bird to open its mouth as it elicits its natural feeding response.

    Feed the bird

    Initially, the bird might be scared and try to lunge at the syringe. Hold their heads firmly and introduce the syringe into their throat.

    Make sure the syringe is to the side and not blocking their entire airway. Baby birds swallow rhythmically while bobbing their heads.

    Try to synchronize the drops with this. With time, most handlers catch the rhythm, making feeding a very short activity.

    Once you see their crop is fully extended, wipe their beak with a damp cloth (and any food on their body). Clean the area again and return the bird to its nesting box.

    Take stock of how much the chick ate and keep increasing the amount over the next few days.

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    How to Train a Bird to Feed From a Syringe?

    Generally, baby birds take well to syringe feeding.

    On tapping their beaks, they will quickly open their beaks, allowing the handler to place the syringe down the side.

    However, if the chick does not take well to it, you can try two methods:

    Systematic Desensitization

    Systematic desensitization uses a series of gradual exposures to an object or a situation in a controlled environment to reduce the overall stress response to it.

    The syringe – a foreign object – is a source of stress for the chick.

    You can try slowly introducing it as a non-harmful object by keeping it around them or playing with it yourself.

    Alternatively, simulate the feeding position a few times before actually getting around to feeding to get them accustomed to being held.

    Keep a syringe near the chick to make it lose its fear of the object

    Counterconditioning

    In this way, we make the syringe appear like a more appealing alternative than other options.

    An example of this would be to feed your bird something sour, like cider, followed by feeding them a sweeter solution through the syringe.

    Over time, this helps to build a positive reaction toward the syringe.

    However, such elaborate training is only possible with older birds and is mostly used for medication.

    Counterconditioning or using syringes isn’t a viable solution for fledglings. What you can do is add some sweet mixture at the tip of the syringe.

    While feeding, allow the bird to consistently touch the tip without engaging in proper feeding. With some time, they might get used to the syringe being non-harmful.

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    How to Make Hand Feeding Syringe?

    If you cannot find a hand-feeding syringe (with a curved mouth), you can modify an existing syringe. For this, you will need the following:

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      • A regular syringe
      • A thing rubber or plastic tube that can be attached to the syringe
      • Non-toxic adhesive
      • Sandpaper

      Steps To Prepare a Hand-Feeding Syringe

      1. Cut off the mouth of a normal syringe using a small hand saw. Sand the edges to get rid of sharp points. If the mouth of the syringe is way thicker than the tube, cut off only a portion of the mouth.
      2. Cut a small piece of the thin, hollow rubber tube. The circumference of the tube should be less than that of the bird’s airway.
      3. Attach it to the cut-off portion of the mouth of the normal syringe and secure it there using adhesive. Block the rest of the space if there.
      4. Let the adhesive dry and test the syringe for any leakage.
      5. Wash the syringe properly before use.

      Cut off the front of the syringe and remove any sharp edges

      How to Get a Baby Bird to Open Its Mouth to Eat

      In most cases, baby birds will readily open their mouths at the prospect of food. They have little awareness and are not scared by larger things.

      However, if your bird does not open its mouth to eat, try gently massaging their throat and tapping on their beak to simulate what a mother bird does.

      If this still does not work, try inserting a fingernail between the beak and applying a gentle force to open it.

      If the chick still does not open up or thrashes around, check to see if their crop is still full. It’s best not to overfeed birds, as it can lead to a crop infection.

      A bird that refuses to eat despite an empty crop could be suffering from a health condition.

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      Best Feeding Spoon for Birds

      Here are some feeding spoons that I have tried and found to be good:

      1. Lily’s Pet Stainless Steel Spoon

      This is a stainless steel spoon with a tapering mouth. The size of 4.7 inches makes it ideal for feeding parrots, budgerigars, and lovebirds.

      If your birds are very young, you might consider filing down the edges of the spoon as it is made of very thin metal, which can injure soft skin.

      2. Bird-Controlled Feeder Spoon

      This feeder spoon is a cross between a spoon and a syringe.

      It allows you to measure the quantity and keep delivering a smooth flow without refills, without forcing a syringe down the bird’s throat.

      Though expensive, it’s a good middle ground between the pros and cons of each product.

      Traditional spoons that have been tried and tested do the job best.

      However, you can also look at some special designs, such as the scoop-shaped Wmart Feeding Spoon.

      How Do You Make Hand-Feeding Formula for Birds?

      The contents of the formula will depend on the bird. It’s best to get commercial baby bird food, as it is nutritionally better and contains necessary vitamins.

      It is believed that when birds produce crop milk, it is not just a digested version of the food; they also bring up more nutrients from their digestive tract.

      Today, commercial baby formulas have advanced enough to replicate these nutritional values while coming in various forms, like protein-rich or fat-rich options.

      However, if these are not accessible, you can make your own formula.

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      For the first few days, chicks will feed exclusively on a liquid diet with no chunks.

      Eventually, you can shift to a soft food diet, followed by stick-feeding them individual chunks. Omnivorous birds will need to be fed small insects.

      For young birds, you can create a mix of ground corn, wheat, oats, soy, cereals, nuts, or eggs. Mix it with water while stirring and slowly heating the solution.

      Some breeders also add calcium, yeast, and vitamin supplements to the mix.

      However, it’s best to steer clear of additional vitamins. Too many vitamins can result in a toxic condition called hypervitaminosis.

      How to Feed a Baby Bird Without a Syringe?

      While syringes are the best option for feeding birds, you can also use other tools, such as spoons and makeshift dixie cups.

      Spoon Feeding

      A spoon is one of the most recommended and easily available tools for feeding birds. You can use regular spoons or ones made especially for birds.

      Bird-feeding spoons will have a narrow tip.

      Some will have 360-degree stabilization built in. There are also special feeder spoons that have an area to hold the liquid, which can be slowly dripped into the bird’s mouth.

      However, for most purposes, a regular spoon will suffice (though it can be very messy).

      The size of the spoon will depend on the size of the bird. You can buy stainless steel spoon sets that come in multiple sizes.

      Spoon feeding is a useful alternate to using a syringe

      Use Dixie Cups

      Dixie cups or paper cups are a simple and effective way of feeding birds. They can be molded such that one end forms a narrow mouth (by pinching).

      The paper is unlikely to hurt the bird, and it is a good option for people without traditional hand-feeding tools.

      They are use-and-throw and come without the hassle of sterilization.

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        Feeding Baby Birds: Methods That Are Not Recommended

        Breeders need to feed several chicks at a time, which is why they use a few methods that take a lot of finesse to perform.

        I would not suggest either of the below methods for any of my readers:

        Tube Feeding

        Sometimes a tube, also known as a gavage, is used to feed chicks.

        Gavage feeding is dangerous and poses many problems. It is a method of force-feeding in which the tube is forced down the chick’s throat.

        Gavage-fed chicks do not learn how to eat properly, are difficult to wean, and can develop an infection if the gavage damages any membrane on the way in.

        It is mostly used by breeders with many chicks – however, as I said earlier, I don’t recommend it as a feeding method.

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        Power Feeding

        Power feeding is another method of feeding birds using a syringe that tries to do it very quickly.

        As the bird opens up its food and airway to eat, the entire contents are dumped quickly.

        The force keeps the pathway open until the entire syringe empties into their throat.

        This is also a method commonly used by breeders to save time.

        I do not recommend power feeding to anyone either. It overrides the natural method of feeding by dumping contents beyond the throat.

        Such birds can have problems learning to feed themselves later in life.

        Depending on the species, most birds can learn to feed themselves between three to nine weeks.

        When Can Baby Birds Feed Themselves?

        Birds can be weaned off once they turn into fledglings. The age will vary based on the bird species.

        It can range from as low as 3 weeks to more than 9 weeks.

        A good estimate is when the bird is fully covered with feathers and active enough to move around on its own.

        A fledgling will exhibit curiosity and explore its surroundings.

        Many fledglings will cry to be hand-fed; however, it’s important to start the weaning process to teach them to feed themselves.

        The weaning process may be short or long for birds, depending on their individual temperament.

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        Frequently Asked Questions

        How do you use a bird syringe?

        To feed a baby bird with a syringe, first, prepare the food by heating and mixing it with water until it reaches 102°F.
        Use a syringe ranging from 12 cc to 35 cc and clean it thoroughly before filling it with food.
        Wash your hands and wear gloves, then position the bird with its head between your thumb and forefinger and gently tilt its head up to prompt it to open its mouth.
        Introduce the syringe to the side of its throat and synchronize the drops with its swallowing rhythm.
        Once its crop is fully extended, wipe its beak and return it to its nesting box. Keep track of how much it ate and increase the amount over time.

        What do you feed a sick bird?

        Birds have a high metabolic rate and can starve to death in 48-72 hours without food energy.
        Adequate nutrition is essential for fighting and recovering from illness.
        The priority is enticing the bird to eat on its own, offering a variety of familiar foods, and ensuring easily accessible water and food bowls.
        Acceptable foods include millet, pellets, seeds, some fresh fruit, and easily digestible human foods such as applesauce, mashed ripe bananas, and soft vegetables.
        Ground-up pellets mixed with fruit juice, infant rice cereal, or baby food can also be offered. Force-feeding should be avoided.

        Should I force-feed my bird?

        Breeders use methods like tube feeding and power feeding to feed multiple chicks at once, but these methods are not recommended.
        Tube feeding is dangerous and can cause infections, while power feeding overrides the natural feeding method and can cause problems with the chick’s ability to feed itself later in life.

        How do you get a bird to open its mouth for medicine?

        Baby birds usually open their mouths readily for food, but if not, gently massaging their throats or tapping their beaks can simulate a mother bird’s actions.
        If that doesn’t work, gently force open the beak with a fingernail. Check if the crop is still full to avoid overfeeding and possible crop infection.
        If the bird still refuses to eat, it may have a health condition.

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          Wrap Up

          Caring for young birds is a huge task. Most young babies need to be fed every half an hour. Baby birds pulled out of their nests at a very young age have a high mortality rate.

          If you find a baby that is out of its nest, it’s best to return it to its nest as the first option.

          If you absolutely have to take care of it, it’s best to consult professionals, especially if you do not have any experience with bird feeding.

          For injured baby birds, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

          Thank you for reading.

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