by Heike Ewing Ott
Abundance weaning is the preferred method for weaning Quakers and other types of parrots. This article provides a good overview of abundance weaning and why it is a better alternative to force weaning babies or weaning on a schedule.
The preferred method of weaning these days is something called “abundance weaning.” It involves giving the baby LOTS of different kinds of interesting foods to play with, chew on and eventually eat, while continuing to hand feed formula until the BABY doesn’t want it any more. If you are hand feeding a baby, presumably you know how to check the crop to see if it is full or empty, and when you do this you can also get an idea of what the contents are. If it is time for the baby’s feeding and the crop is half full or more of solid foods that it has been eating, skip that feeding.
When you find that you are consistently skipping a feeding (for 3 or 4 days) because the baby has food in its crop, it is time to drop that feeding. The last one dropped is usually the night feeding, because the baby should always have a full crop to sleep on, since they don’t eat during the night. When a baby is beginning to eat on its own some, you should give it a half hour or so in the mornings to see if it will eat some by itself before you offer the formula. I have seen Quakers wean anywhere from 10 weeks to 18 weeks, and have heard of Quakers who didn’t wean until even later, but they are perfectly healthy and well-adjusted birds now.
The kind of weaning that involves dropping feedings whether the bird wants the formula or not, thereby making it go hungry and “forcing” it to wean, is labeled “force weaning” by those who strongly disapprove of it. In case you hadn’t guessed yet, that includes me. Force weaning has been linked to emotional problems, behavioral problems, intolerance of change, and tends to result in a high-strung, insecure bird that isn’t as confident or content as an abundance-weaned bird. They also tend to overeat after they do wean.
Studies in cockatiels, which are likely applicable to other parrots, have shown that hungry babies just beg more and eat less. This is because they are instinctively driven to choose the behavior that is most likely to succeed, i.e. result in their survival, and since very young birds are inefficient eaters, they are more likely to be well-fed if they can convince the parent to feed them than if they eat on their own. Therefore, if they are hungry they will just beg more, ignoring the food that may be right next to them. When they are NOT hungry, and are not driven by the instinct to survive, is when they will play with toys and experiment with foods that are available to them.
I personally have seen this many times in my own babies – when it is time for them to be fed and they are hungry, they just sit at the front of the cage and beg whenever they see me; but AFTER they are fed and no longer hungry, they will go play with and eat some of the weaning foods that are in their cage. Therefore, by instinct, a baby that has been force-weaned has gone VERY hungry and has finally decided that its parents have “abandoned” it and will not feed it, whereupon the survival imperative finally drives it to try eating on its own. This process does NOT lead to a happy, secure, well-fed and healthy baby, and I do NOT recommend it. In fact, I consider it to be perilously close to abuse.
The time that you will have with your pet may well be 20, 30, or even 40 years, and it will never be as close to you and dependent on you as when it is hand-feeding. Cherish and appreciate that time, and do not try to end it prematurely. A few extra weeks of hand-feeding are insignificant when compared to the years of companionship you will get from your bird. Take the long view, and let your baby decide when it is ready to wean.