The Dangers of Hand Feeding Baby Parrots - Talk Parrots Forums

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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-16-2012, 06:07 PM Thread Starter

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The Dangers of Hand Feeding Baby Parrots

by Liz Wilson

In the 20 years I worked with avian veterinarians, I have seen over and over how easy it is for an inexperienced hand feeder to do serious physical and psychological damage to an un-weaned parrot chick -- indeed, many parrot babies do not survive the human's learning process. From my experience, these helpless babies most frequently die due to one or more of the following causes: starvation, aspiration pneumonia, crop burns, and bacterial and/ or fungal infections.

When new owners phone pet stores and/or breeders to complain their baby parrot is begging incessantly, inexperienced personnel may misinterpret the situation and assume the baby is simply getting spoiled, as opposed to actually being hungry. If so, the advice given often involves simply ignoring the baby. Actual incidents involve people being told to put babies in a back room or out in the garage so the constant begging sounds don't irritate them too much.

Unfortunately, without more information, these well-meaning but uninformed people on BOTH ends of the phone cannot judge if a baby is crying not because it is spoiled but because it is actually starving. Too many times I have seen situations where new buyers have incomplete and/or incorrect instructions detailing feeding frequency and/or volumes of food that are simply too small to maintain the survival (much less growth) of a baby parrot. Whether the store personnel actually goofed or the new owner simply misunderstood, I couldn't say -- either way, the babies suffer terribly. IF they survive, the long term repercussions include both chronic physical problems and some very serious psychological problems that could destroy their future potential as pets.


Inexperienced hand feeders often don't know how easy it is for a parrot to accidentally inhale formula, which can happen if food is pushed into the baby's mouth either too fast or too slow. Food inhaled into the lungs results in a serious medical condition called aspiration pneumonia, and parrot chicks rarely survive this. Some reputable breeders switch their un-weaned chicks over to spoon feeding before sending them home with a buyer, and they allow the chick to leave their care only after it is down to only one feeding per day. Spoon feeding takes longer than syringe feeding, and can be amazingly messy, but it is definitely safer for the chick, since the possibility of aspiration is virtually nil

Crop Burns

Incredibly common, crop burns are caused by feeding formula that is too hot. This often results from the use of microwaves to heat the baby's food, for microwaves are famous for producing "hot spots". The owner does not realize the damage until days later, when the burn inside the crop fistulates, forming an opening to the outside -- in other words, the crop is burned clear through. This condition will lead to serious bacterial and fungal complications if not dealt with swiftly by a competent avian veterinarian.
Crop burns are easy to prevent, simply by stirring the food thoroughly, then using a candy thermometer to check the temperature prior to feeding.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

All baby animals, parrot or otherwise, are prone to illness because their immune system isn't fully developed. Because of this tendency, excellent hygiene is critical. All feeding equipment should be sterilized after each use, and formula should NEVER be reheated
The early signs of a parrot baby getting sick can be extremely subtle and are often missed by an inexperienced owner, and babies can die extremely quickly. The moment an experienced hand feeder wonders if there is a problem is the moment the avian vet should be contacted -- a "wait and see" attitude generally results in the death of the bird.


Obviously, the process of hand feeding a baby parrot is an extremely complex matter, with tremendous potential for disaster. The training a novice hand feeder needs can't be covered in a couple of minutes prior to the purchase of an un-weaned chick. So why, you ask, do people want to take on that kind of responsibility? From own my experience, once the possible dangers are explained, people quickly change their minds about wanting to do it, and are delighted to have experienced personnel finish off the process.

So if hand feeding is so potentially dangerous, why is it that so many people are encouraged to take home an un-weaned chick after minimal teaching? Simple, really -- hand feeding is incredibly labor intensive. The sooner a parrot chick is gone, the higher the profit ratio for the store or breeder. So it behooves the seller to convince the buyer that hand feeding is safe and easy.

Does "Let the buyer beware" sound familiar, anyone?

Incidentally, the old wives' tales about parrots only "bonding to the hand feeder" are simply not true. As I have mentioned before, hand fed parrot chicks only appeared in the pet trade about 20 years ago. Humans have kept parrots as pets for thousands of years, and those birds were wild animals who were captured and tamed, NOT babies that were hand fed by humans. Do you actually think that no human ever had a bonded relationship with a parrot prior to 15 years ago?

The subject of bonding is a complex one, and grounds for an entire column in the future. Suffice it to say, you do not need to be the one holding the syringe to have your baby parrot learn to love you -- you need to be the one that nurtures and teaches and protects... and the one the baby learns to trust.

The Dangers of Hand Feeding Baby Parrots
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-17-2012, 04:03 AM

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Brilliant post!

I don't know if anybody read my threads before, but somebody had messaged me on an advertising site as they had seen my babies for sale, asking me how to look after a chick that wasn't weaned

The breeder had told her to feed him warm rice pudding on a spoon. When I got him, he smelt like vomit, was very underweight and extremely lethargic. After getting him eating well he got back on track very soon. She was able to take him home three weeks later!

He had also been living with no heat, as the breeder told her he didn't need any

- Alexandrine parakeets Kona, Peaches, George (missing), Holly (RIP), & Orange winged Amazon parrot Paulie
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-17-2012, 04:50 PM

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Thankfully in Australia it is illegal for a pet shop to sell an unweaned baby to anybody. And the reason why I will not sell an unweaned bird unless it is to a very experienced person that I know well. My babies do not leave me unless they have been fully weaned and eating on their own for 2 weeks at least.

I have only ever had one bird love me that I have hand raised, but she still accepted other people, for some reason she loved me. I hand raised her (a Sun Conure) for a pet shop, but everytime I went to the pet shop as soon as she heard my voice she would call out for me. She was very slow to sell. She was sold but returned as the guys flat mates complained she was noisy. I ended up buying her as she had won my heart. But even though she loved me she went to everybody for a scratch.

We seem to have been handraising over here alot longer too. I got my first hand raised bird about 40 years ago.

But great article and very true. I don't like syringe feeding at all and either only crop feed or spoon feed. Even after nearly 20 years I still use a thermometer for every feed, never re-use left over food, and the only thing I use the microwave for is to heat the water I use to make up the mix. But she did miss one problem, Crop Stasis caused by feeding food too cold. From my experience these are more prevalent than crop burns. I cringe every time I hear that someone tests the temperature on either their wrist or their lip to make sure it's not too hot.
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 04-06-2013, 07:28 AM
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Yeah, great article. Kate, although it is illegal here in Aus for shops to sell unweaned babies, unfortunately it still happens way too much.
And i have to agree with you about the crop stasis being much more of a common problem that crop burns. Maybe thats just an education thing in Australia or something where we are over paranoid about burning them with food that is too hot?
The other issue ive come across a few times is with inexperienced people who have somehow pierced the crop with the crop feeder.
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 04-07-2013, 08:52 AM

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I hate seeing people who don't know what they are doing by an unweaned baby , it gives me such nerve

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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-13-2014, 06:39 AM
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Red face parrot breeding, chick raising, parrot handfeeding

At a bird farm I do business train patrons that purchase babies to wean them properly for several weeks before they take them home. With proper teaching & supervision by professionals would it b better done in that fashion? Curious
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