Care For Baby Parrotlets
Caring for baby parrotlets takes tremendous effort. It’s perfectly fine to leave the babies under the parents’ care if you wish, as it’s an added commitment to take over the guardianship of the babies from their parrotlet parents. In this article, we will share our experiences in raising these tiny ones from when they are 2 weeks old, which brings about tremendous feelings of pride and satisfaction when you see them growing up into adorable and beautiful parrotlets.
Why Handfeed the Babies Then?
We typically remove the hatchlings from the nestbox at approximately 2 weeks old. There are several benefits to doing so:
- It eases the load on the mother bird, especially so if she has more than 4 eggs in the batch. It’s not uncommon that the younger ones do not survive as their elder siblings get much larger faster and they out-compete the younger chicks for food.
- Birds tend to imprint on what they see soon after their eyes open. It is also at around the age of 2.5 weeks that the fear instinct develops in the chicks. So by socializing the babies before the fear instinct develops, they bond better with their humans companions. Chicks that only get acquainted with humans after this fear instinct develops tend to become shy and fearful.
- Feeding time is optimized at a 4hrs interval. It’s not recommended to remove the babies anything earlier than 2 weeks as the feeding interval becomes too frequent and most owners will not be able to care for them at this intensity. Hence it’s best to leave it to the mother bird. When less than 2 weeks old, babies tend to need to get fed every 30 minutes, due to their minuscule crops.
Preparation (things that you’ll need)
The diet of a young hatchling is fairly straight forward. In the wild, they survive solely on being fed by their parents, through regurgitation. The mother bird also produces a highly nutritious crop milk which it feeds to the babies, containing probiotics and nutrition for the chicks’ fast growth.
For hand feeding, you may purchase a hand feeding formula that is pre-formulated with the complete nutrition required by the baby bird. It also contain probiotics which are beneficial for the digestion of food in the chick’s gut.
We have been on KayTee’s Exact Hand Feeding formula since the beginning and it serves an excellent, well balanced diet for the young hatchlings. It comes in various sizes, such as a small zipper packet or large cylindrical tub, with their prices ranging from 10 to 20 dollars. It’s also easily available from major bird stores such as those at Serangoon North. Besides the formula, you will also need a metal spoon that is bent at the tip to simulate a mother’s beak. It’s unlikely for you to get this from the stores so you may just take any metal spoon and easily create your own. You’ll also need to get 2 bowls, one to hold the hot water bath, the other to hold the mixed formula.
Some of you may have seen baby birds being fed at bird stores with a syringe and rubber tubing attached at the end. These syringes are usually made for speed during feeding, when the store has tens of babies to feed each day. The process of tube feeding goes like this: the baby bird is picked up, and the rubber tubing is inserted directly through it’s mouth and into it’s crop (a balloon like organ which holds food in a parrotlet before it gets digested). The syringe is depressed and food fills the crop up quickly. Once full, the syringe and tubing is removed, and the next baby is fed. The whole process probably takes less than a minute.
Some personal reasons for preferring to feed with a bent spoon over syringe feeding:
- There is no bobbing action involved during the feeding, a natural action performed by the babies.
- The chicks never get to taste their food, it is injected directly into the crop.
- Higher danger of crop burn if the formula is too hot.
- Minimal interaction and bonding with the baby. Feeding time is a perfect opportunity for you to bond with your baby parrotlets. It’s no the actual provision of food that encourages the bonding, but the 5-10mins you spend talking to it, and handling it each feeding.
Things you’ll need:
1. Hand feeding formula (we recommend KayTee Exact Hand Feeding formula)
2. A metal spoon with a bent tip
3. Two bowls (1 to contain the formula, the other to hold hot water bath)
4. Kitchen towel or tissue paper (it can get messy during feeding)
How much to feed?
Though the amount of formula to prepare depends on the number of babies you’re looking after, we generally mix half a bowl of formula even if we only have 1 baby. If you only prepare exactly the amount of food for 1 bird, the temperature drops too quickly and the food gets cold before you could get started. Hence we go for at least half a bowl (surface area to volume ratio kept low), so that the food stays warm through the feeding process. If you’ve more than 4 babies to feed, you may have to top up a little bit of warm water towards the end because the formula does dry up a little as it cools.
How to mix the formula
Depending on which region you’re in and the climate of that region, the formula consistency (thickness) may vary. In our instance, Singapore is generally a hot and humid country, so we do not anticipate the chicks to lose water and dehydrate as quickly. Therefore our formulation is often of a thicker consistency.
As long as the chick is getting sufficiently hydrated, a thicker consistency also means the meal last longer between intervals. But we do not recommend owners to deliberately pump up on the consistency in an attempt to lengthen the feeding intervals. Dehydrated or overheated babies will look red and the skin will be wrinkly and dry.
The temperature of the water should be approximately 43 to 47 degree (Celsius). This factors in a little temperature fall which will take place during the mixing, assuming you have kept the dry formula in the fridge. Simply add the water to the formula powder and stir till a smoothie-like consistency is achieved.
Ideally at the point of feeding, your formula should sit nicely between 39 to 41 degrees. If the formula gets too cold, the chick will not respond to it. If it’s too hot, it burns the chick, so ALWAYS check the temperature of the mixture with your fingers before you let the chick take the meal.
1. Do NOT ever pre-mix the formula or re-heat. The formula contains probiotics and digestive enzymes which are aimed to help the hatchling digest and promote healthy intestinal tracks. It should be served fresh.
2. Do NOT microwave the formula, this is extremely important. Uneven heat distribution produces hot spots in the food which may scorch the hatchling and cause crop burns.
Feeding from a metal spoon comes naturally to the hatchlings.
Once they sense the warm spoon at their beak, they’ll bob their head up and down swiftly to swallow the formula.
To get started:
- Lay a kitchen towel or a napkin on the table. The feeding can get messy, this allows easier cleaning afterwards.
- Place the formula in a hot water bath to keep the formula warm throughout the feeding
- Retrieve the hatchling from nestbox/cage and place the hatchling centrally on the kitchen towel/napkin (try to warm your hands so as not to shock the naked babies!)
- Take a spoon of formulation and place it near the hatchling’s beak, she’ll bob her head naturally to feed.
- With a clean piece of tissue, always wipe off any drips on the hatchling’s beak, to prevent bacterial growth.
We do have a video of the feeding process. This was taken several years ago with our phone so the quality is pretty low. We promise to furnish with an improved version in the subsequent months to come so stay tune!
As the crop of the hatchling is clearly visible, you’ll be able to see the full stomach with your naked eyes. The hatchling itself knows when it’s full so it’ll reject further feeding thereafter. You may take that as a cue. They generally do not tend to over-eat so you do not have to be afraid of overfeeding.
How long should I be hand feeding?
A general guideline would be 4 to 6 weeks (starting from 2 weeks old). The parrotlet will begin to reject hand feeding and move on to hard seeds by 2 months old. This is a fairly automated and natural process.
Another cue would be when their pin feathers start to open up. At approximately 1.2 months old (such as the parrotlets below), start introducing solid food into their cages, thereby starting the weaning process.
The transition over to solid food is almost second nature. We’ve never had any troubles getting the babies to wean off the hand feeding formula.
To help ease the transition, start with softer solid foods such as millet sprays. These are to parrotlets as hamburgers are to kids. They simply LOVE them. Drop small segments of millet seeeds into their cage for them to explore and nibble on.
At this point, it’s crucial to introduce a variety of diet which includes fruits and vegetables. Diet variation has to start young. Vegetables in general are all acceptable, though we noticed that the parrotlets have a strong affinity to broccoli. Fruits should be non-citrus such as apples, pear and berries. Lack of variation in diet may lead to malnutrition and eventually death so please take note! In addition, always remove fruits and vegetables not consumed within a few hours, as they will start to turn bad.
If your babies seem not to be interested, or fearful of the new foods, one trick that we’ve tried and worked, is to hold the food, and either eat it, or pretend to eat it in front of the babies. While doing so, make really excited chewing sounds and declare to the babies how delicious the new food is. It may sound really silly, but the young ones do trust you, and will readily eat anything that their new moms and dads have shown them to be safe to eat. We still do that when introducing new toys or foods to our adult parrotlets!
Approximately 2 months old, the parrotlet should transition to solid full entirely and hand feeding will be rejected by the babies thereafter.
Congratulations! You’ve made it! Give yourself a pat on the back, and we’re sure you’d agree that all that hard work in the last 6 weeks was all worth it!
We hope the information has been useful to you, and please do not hesitate to contact us if you’ve any questions or additional experiences which you’d like to share with us.
We’d love to hear from you!