Over the past couple of months, I have seen five baby birds that have suffered injury due to improper care or supervision by humans. This reoccurring issue is concerning, so I’m going to give some advice on how to properly care for your baby birds.
The first two cases were newly-adopted babies, an amazon and a cockatiel. The breeders sent soft feeding tubes with the new owners, so the new bird parents could bond over hand feeding. Formula feeding a baby bird is a great way to form a bond in which the bird sees its human as its mom.
Though this can be a great experience for both bird and owner, it must be done with caution and using proper tools. In these cases, the baby birds bit off the soft feeding tube and a section of the tube was lodged in the crop of the amazon and the cockatiel. Both of these baby birds had to undergo emergency surgery to have the feeding tube removed. When hand feeding a baby bird, a metal gavage tube should be used. This will provide a bite-proof tube to deliver your baby birds formula. These tubes can be ordered online. It is also important to seek training regarding the formula feeding, since aspiration or getting air in the crop are other risks of hand feeding baby birds. Fortunately, in both of these cases the babies had surgery and recovered from the ordeal.
The next case that came in was a newly-hatched lovebird. It’s owner stepped away for just a moment to mix the baby bird’s formula. During that brief moment, a housemate Macaw became curious about the newcomer and grabbed the baby by its beak. The injury cut the lower beak where it attaches to the lovebird’s face. Since the connective tissue where the beak grows from was injured, there was no way to repair the damaged beak. The owner was faced with the dilemma of what to do with a special needs newly-hatched lovebird.
He opted to surrender the bird rather than euthanize it. Our Registered Veterinary Technician, Kiersten Carlson has a soft spot for any animal in need of help, so she offered to foster the tiny bird while I managed its care. The lovebird underwent surgery to remove the mangled beak. It was left with ½ of a lower beak remaining. Kiersten woke every few hours to feed formula to the injured bird. It took formula fine, but it was unknown if the lovebird would ever be able to eat on it’s own, since a bird uses both it’s top and bottom beak to crush food.
I’m so happy to announce that “Kevin” has learned how to eat Harrison Fine Bird Pellets ground in a coffee grinder. Though he will always be special needs, “Kevin” is living his best life and he is Kiersten’s pride and joy!
The final two birds came in together. They were newly hatched conures. Their nesting box had been left in a cage with both parents. Depending on species and sometimes even personality, male birds can be aggressive to their offspring. Unfortunately, this was the case for the two baby conures.
Both came in with injuries from the male which included broken toes. In addition to the injuries, one of the birds was in respiratory distress. The owners were not in a position to hospitalize, so the elected to surrender the birds. The baby birds stayed in the incubator with oxygen for the day, and sadly one passed away within hours. The remaining bird improved and was able to go home with a foster. This time, assistant Kameryn Potter agreed to deal with the sleepless nights. Kameryn formula fed “Ebba” (which means strong warrior) every few hours and “Ebba” continues to grow and do well. The conure will always have a deformed foot due to the injuries to the toes, but it has learned to get around OK despite its challenges.
In the cases of "Kevin” and “Ebba,” a larger housemate caused the injuries. Birds of different sizes should never be unsupervised. Different species may be able to live peacefully together, but they should always be a comparable size. Even when you have birds of the same size, supervision is needed until it is determined that the birds get along. Also, if you are planning to breed birds, carefully research if the males should be left in the cage. In some circumstances, males may be willing to care for the young while females lack the instinct to nurture the hatchlings. Since either parent may be aggressive to the hatchlings, it is important to monitor the parents with their young. If neither the male or female will care for the hatchlings, then gavage feeding the babies will be needed.
Finally, once your baby bird is weaned, it is important to choose an appropriate diet. Parrot type breeds (budgies, lovebirds, cockatiels, parrots, cockatoos, etc.) should eat nutritionally balanced pellets. I recommend Harrisons or Zupreem. Seeds are not proper nutrition. Feeding seeds, is like feeding your child junk food and just like a human child, your bird will happily choose the junk food if allowed.
Health consequences of an improper diet may take years to develop, so many owners do not realize the damage until it’s too late. Additionally, I recommend an annual exam for all pet birds to check overall health and beak trimming needs.
Our feathered friends rely on us humans to keep them safe from hatchling to old age, so I hope this information will help.