When raising cockatiels, occasionally it becomes necessary to handfeed babies for one reason or another. Some breeders prefer to handfeed babies to sell as pets and these tame youngsters bring somewhat higher prices at the pet shops and from individuals than aviary birds. You should not handfeed unless for some reason it becomes necessary to do so, for this is a tedious, time-consuming chore and no matter how good the formula or how proficient the person doing the feeding, the youngsters do not grow off or begin to eat on their own as quickly as when their parents are rearing them. You should never handfeed tiny babies for it is learned from experience that if the parents do not feed the newly-hatched chick it is because the baby is too weak to take food or digest it properly. The parents instinctively know when something is wrong with a baby and will allow it to die and this is simply nature' s way of weeding out the weak from the strong.

A healthy Cockatiel youngster will cry for food as soon as it hatches and the parents will begin feeding within two hours. The baby will stand holding his head up and mouth open to be fed. If more than 5 babies are hatched, they should be fostered out to another nest with babies of the same size. However, if this is not possible, they can be left with the parents and supplemental feedings may be given late in the day to the oldest of the babies to relieve the parents of some of the work. Cockatiels are very attentive to their babies and occasionally while regurgitating food into the babies' crops, will get some on them and in their efforts to clean the babies will accidentally injure one. If this condition occurs, one can gently clean the babies with a piece of cotton dipped in warm water, then dry them thoroughly. Observe the beaks to be sure no sticky food has accumulated, as this will cause skin irritations. If the nestbox appears to be soiled, it should be cleaned and fresh dry nesting material put in the box. If one works quietly, the parents usually do not become alarmed at the activity. When the babies are 8 to 10 days old, the eyes will open. If on occasion, the eyes do not open after 10 days, bathe them gently in a weak, warm boric acid solution to remedy this situation.

The youngsters are completely feathered at the age of 4 to 5 weeks and will begin leaving the nestbox. At this stage of growth it may become necessary to handfeed for the reason that some babies are reluctant to leave the nestbox, even though they are fully feathered and almost as large as the parents. If the female is sitting on a new clutch of eggs, she may pluck the babies to try and force them out of the nest box or the parents may quit feeding entirely those remaining in the box. You watch the youngsters closely and check their crops each evening to be sure they are full. If a youngster remains in the box and appears to be hungry or has been plucked. You can take it out of the nest box and begin handfeeding, but you should place it back into the breeding box so male has a chance to feed it some of the time until the youngster begins to eat on its own. Incidentally, if one wants tame cockatiels, they are just as easily tamed at this age with hardly any effort. They learn very quickly and after being fed and handled a time or two, the youngsters will become completely gentle and tame and will fly to the person who feeds them any time that person enters the pen.

The young cockatiels, after leaving the nestbox, very soon start flying to the feed table to eat when they see the other birds there and at the age of 8 weeks are usually eating well on their own and can be removed to a holding pen. When handfeeding baby tiels, regularity in the feeding schedule is most important. The crop must never become entirely empty. A temperature from 85 to 95 degrees F., must be maintained in the brooder at all times when the babies are very young and the formula must be fed lukewarm at all times. If these important details are not strictly observed, the babies can chill very quickly and will not be able to digest the food. Diarrhoea and resulting loss of appetite can occur with tiny babies that have not been kept sufficiently warm or if the food is fed too cold. Two or three drops of Kaopectate will relieve the condition. Babies that are contented and comfortable will settle into a routine of eating and sleeping until they become empty again. Tragic accidents can happen unexpectedly when feeding baby tiels if one is not careful in handling them. To avoid a sudden fall, a deep pan or box lined with a thick towel may be used to hold the babies and, when feeding, the baby should be held securely with its feet resting in the palm of the hand. The tiny bones are soft and easily broken so the babies must be handled very carefully and the feet and legs given support at all times. You can successfully raise many babies on the following diet.

For babies one to seven days of age -- 2 tablespoons Gerbers Mixed Baby Cereal, 1 tablespoon Gerber's Strained Oatmeal with apple sauce and Banana (human baby cereal preparation). Mix with warm water to a thin consistency and test the food against your lip. If it feels warm, it is the correct temperature for feeding. Feed with an eyedropper every two hours round the clock and only very small amounts at the time. A baby food jar makes a satisfactory container for small amounts of formula, as it can be set in a small pan of warm water so that it can be heated and will remain at an even temperature while the feeding is being done. When the baby is a week old, the formula may be changed as follows:
Using a pint jar as a container, put 3 tablespoons corn flour, 1 tablespoon Wheat Germ and fill the remainder of the jar with Gerber's Mixed Baby Cereal. This dry mixture may be kept in the refrigerator to be used as needed. To mix for handfeeding, fill a 4-ounce baby food jar half full of this dry mixture and add one heaping tablespoon Gerber' s Strained Oatmeal with fruit. To this add enough warm water to make the right consistency for feeding from the eye dropper although the formula may be thickened somewhat. The fruit in the human baby cereal preparation is necessary for it aids digestion and ensures good elimination, along with its food value. To one feeding each day, a drop or two of vitamins should be added. Occasionally, even when particular care is exercised in preparing the formula and feeding baby tiles, digestive problems may occur. Sometimes the formula will not digest quickly and will remain in the crop, eventually causing an impacted crop. To relieve this condition a very thin, cooked baby cereal with one or two drops of black strap molasses may be given. If too much food is given or not sufficiently warmed before feeding, it may not digest and sour crop can result. Usually, a few drops of plain unflavored Milk of Magnesia will sweeten the crop and correct this condition. Baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon to a pint of water, is also good to give for a day or two. Night feedings may be lengthened to four hours after the baby is 10 days old and eliminated entirely when the baby is three weeks old. After the baby tiel is two weeks old, feeding every three or four hours during the day is sufficient. One must exercise his own judgement and watch the crop closely so that it never becomes entirely empty.

It is very easy to overfeed young tiles because they beg for food even when full, but whenever the crop looks rounded and plump, the baby has taken enough food for a time. A few drops of tepid water should be offered after each feeding. The temperature in the brooder may be gradually reduced to 85 degrees F., when the baby is two or three weeks old and, as it begins feather out, one should continue to slowly reduce the temperature. At the age of three weeks, to the dry formula mixture add 3 heaping tablespoons of sunflower meal. Sunflower meal can be purchased at health food stores and must be kept refrigerated, otherwise it very quickly becomes rancid and cannot safely be used. This complete formula is sufficient until the baby begins eating on his own. As they grow larger, baby tiles can easily be taught to eat the formula from a spoon. In this formula for handfeeding older babies, Gerber's Strained Banana may be used in place of the oatmeal/applesauce if desired after the baby is two weeks old. Some tile babies seem to like the taste of the strained banana and will eat more readily when this is offered in the formula. From the age of three weeks to five weeks, continue to slowly reduce the temperature in the brooder as very little heat is needed after the babies are full feathered. When they begin to exercise their wings and climb about, it is time to remove them to a roomy flight bottomed cage with perches and introduce them to seeds, whole wheat bread, pieces of apple, kernels of fresh corn, etc. to get them started on a mature diet. Seeds, game bird chow, uncooked oatmeal etc., should be sprinkled liberally all over the floor of the cage along with mineral grit (remember, this is their teeth), and very soon the youngsters will begin picking up food. However, morning feedings should be given until the youngsters are eating enough and one feeding should be given in the evening so the babies do not go to bed hungry.

No two cockatiels are alike as they all have distinct personalities, and some youngsters will become independent much sooner than others. Some youngsters have been known to beg to be fed at the age of five months! Much hard work, patience and many lost hours of sleep are involved in handfeeding a baby Cockatiel, but the end result of all this is a loving, gentle Cockatiel and a great sense of satisfaction and real accomplishment for the person who has raised it. We have discussed supplemental handfeeding babies when necessary and checking the condition of babies nestboxes periodically, but cannot emphasise too strongly that can only be done with tame and gentle breeder pairs. In instances where breeding birds are untamed or become nervous and easily upset, then one must leave them strictly alone if any success with them is to be attained. It is known that extremely nervous cockatiels will tolerate no interference with heir breeding activities and will, in most instances, desert the nest altogether and not return to it after human handling of eggs or babies.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.