by Vera Dennison
Whether you should buy a baby bird that is weaned or not, is not the issue here. I would like to help you deal with the situation where you have bought a baby bird, the seller has informed you that “it is still hand fed three times a day and this is the food you must feed it and this is how it is done.” That is about all the help you will get! And then you take your cuddly new baby bird home, you feed it like the man said and all is well. And then suddenly one day the bird refuses to eat, and, like the frustrated mother of a two-year-old toddler, you prepare food umpteen times a day and only manage to squeeze a mouthful of formula into the reluctant beak now and again. You even buy another formula at great expense, thinking that there is something wrong with the one you are using. Still your baby bird seems to have lost his appetite. Now the panic starts: Is he sick? Will my bird ever eat again? Will he die of hunger in front of my very eyes?
You should know your bird well enough to be able to tell if he is sick or not. The chances are he is simply refusing to eat the same amount of food as normal. He needs less food. In fact, he is even allowed to lose a little weight at this stage. Indeed, over feeding at this stage can lead to death, as we discovered years ago when we were still novices, crop feeding baby Indian Ringnecks. They had no opportunity to refuse food. We just filled their crops to capacity three times a day. They all died suddenly, and the post mortem showed thick layers of fat under their skin. Clearly we had fed them to death. Had we known, or had we fed by spoon or syringe, we would have been able to let the birds tell us, by refusing to eat, that they did not need so much food any more.
So what do you do? At first, feed less at each meal and then after a few days, leave out one meal. Your bird should be eating more eagerly at fewer mealtimes because you are not over feeding him when he does not need so much nourishment. Once your bird is fully feathered and starting to fly, he can be put into a cage with some water and fresh foods. Continue feeding him twice a day while he experiments with the foods in his cage. If he has older birds from which to learn, he might learn to eat by himself sooner, but even if he is on his own, his instincts will gradually kick in and he will know how to shell seeds and eat other foods. By not over filling his crop at each meal, he will be just a little hungry enough to be inclined to nibble on the foods left in his cage. As he eats more of the adult food, you can feed him less and less until you can see that he can shell seeds and eat the contents, and that the bits of fruit and greens and pellets are actually swallowed, not just chewed and dropped onto the cage floor.
You can calculate the expected weaning age by taking the age at which species would leave the nest if parent reared and adding 2-3 weeks for medium-sized parrots (Greys, Amazons) and about 10 days for small species (Lovebirds). Lories and Lorikeets can be weaned within a day or two provided they are ready for it, but most other parrot species are weaned gradually over a month or so. Amazons can be independent by 12 weeks of age, Greys and Eclectus at 14 weeks or so, and Cockatoos and Macaws at between 5 and 9 months.
There are no prizes for the birds that wean the youngest or the quickest. Forced weaning can lead to physical and emotional stunting, whining, hungry and stressed birds. Enjoy your baby bird; do not wish him to grow up faster. This is the time during which you are bonding and during which he is learning to trust you implicitly. This is the time during which he will be willing to try all the good foods that he must eat if he is to remain strong and healthy and live a long, happy life as your companion.
The book “Hand-feeding and Raising Baby Birds” (available to order online here) is a very comprehensive guide, and contains all the information needed to successfully raise chicks from eggs.