by Heike Ewing Ott
This article on handfeeding parrots has tips that cover the subjects of the crop, aspiration, parrot forumla, weaning and Candida (yeast). We hope you find the information helpful, although we do recommend that you receive proper training from a breeder if you have questions about handfeeding your bird.
Since several of you seem to be hand-feeding, or are about to, I thought some general hand-feeding tips might be helpful.
First, I have found a good book on the subject that would be very helpful to anyone. It is a Barron’s book, written by Matthew M. Vriends, titled “Hand-feeding and Raising Baby Birds.” I’ve been hand-feeding babies for years and I learned new things from it, FWIW.
The Crop: The crop is basically a bag of skin located just above the breastbone on the front of the bird. You can’t see it on a feathered-out baby, but you can feel it. A full crop feels sort of like a water balloon and still has “give” to it. The crop should never be filled to the point that it is firm or taut. The opening to the esophagus is near the top of the crop at the rear. When the stomach is empty, muscles in the crop contract, forcing food up and into the opening. This is why, if you put more food into the crop while there is still food in it, the new food will move through before the old, because the crop empties from the top down. The crop should be allowed to empty at least once a day to avoid letting old food sit in the bottom long enough to spoil, causing sour crop.
Aspiration: the opening to the windpipe is just behind the tongue, on the right side of the bird as you are looking at the bird (bird’s left), and is VERY small, about the diameter of a pencil lead. The bird can close off this opening while eating and swallowing for a few seconds at a time. If you are syringe feeding, angle the syringe from your right to left to avoid the windpipe and give a small amount, then wait for the bird to swallow and breathe before giving more. If spoon feeding, hold the spoon loosely and let the baby control the flow. While the baby is “pumping” is when the windpipe is shut, when it stops the head movement is when it breathes. If using a spoon to feed, it is helpful to bend up the sides of a cheap spoon with a pair of pliers, giving a semi-funnel effect which approximates more closely the shape of the parent’s beak. There are two types of aspiration: Acute aspiration occurs when enough food gets in the trachea to completely cut off the baby’s breathing, which causes death in a few seconds. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when a small amount of food is sucked into the lungs, and can often be successfully treated if caught early.
The formula: Most of the formulas that are commercially available are pretty good stuff. I personally have tried several brands and prefer Exact. I also add spirulina, an acidophilus or bacillus supplement, and infant cereal or jar baby food (about 20%). I use boiled, filtered, or bottled water, avoiding straight tap water. If a baby is thin or eating reluctantly, I may use 1/2 apple or grape juice in place of water to mix the formula. Even in older babies, the correct consistency of formula is like thin gravy. Thicker formula tends to cause slow crop emptying. The correct temperature is 102 – 108 degrees. Temps above 110 can cause crop burn, and temps below 100 can cause the crop to empty too slowly. If you consistently find the crop still has some food in it at feeding time, and there don’t appear to be any problems, it’s probably time to feed less frequently. If the crop is emptying slowly from a mild case of sour crop or too-thick formula, applesauce is a natural emetic. Give the next feeding 100% applesauce warmed to the correct temp, and when the crop empties give the next feeding 50% applesauce. If that doesn’t correct it, head for the vet.
Weaning: Beyond a certain point, a baby bird’s crop does not grow; in fact it shrinks a little around weaning time. The process of weaning normally occurs shortly after fledging (starting to fly). Some of the first signs of the beginning of the weaning process are: the baby takes less formula, spits up formula after being fed, and/or refuses to eat at all. A baby that is ready to wean can hold only about 1/2 to 2/3 as much formula as it did a week or two before. From three feedings a day, drop the middle one first, then the morning, leaving the night feeding last. When you think the baby is close to weaning, check the crop at night. If it is at least half full, don’t feed. After 4 or 5 days of no feedings being necessary, the baby is weaned.
Candida (yeast) is fairly common in hand-feeding parrots. Giving the beneficial bacteria, allowing the crop to empty daily, disinfecting everything used in each feeding, and mixing fresh formula at each feeding go a long way towards preventing it. If your baby does get it, you will see a loss of appetite, slow crop emptying, and often white spots in the mouth or in the crop. Go to the vet! Normally a few days of Nystatin or Gentian Violet will clear it right up with no after effects. If the vet tries to give you Diflucan, ask forNystatin instead. The former is systemic and stronger, and sometimes causes undesirable side effects in babies. If a hand-feeding baby has to go on antibiotics, it will be very prone to yeast; add the bacteria or yogurt to the formula at each feeding throughout the course of treatment to help prevent it.