Hand Feeding Baby Lovebirds

A hand fed lovebird can make a wonderful pet. Some of us purchase a baby lovebird from a breeder to hand feed out. (Please note that I do not advocate the sale of unweaned baby Lovebirds. Lovebirds do not have to be hand fed by their new owners in order to form a bond with them.) Others of us suddenly find ourselves with a pair of lovebirds that have just hatched a chick and the new parents have no idea that this new chick must be fed! Hand feeding can be a very rewarding experience if done correctly. First you need to collect the items that you will need to do the job.

If I am not going to boil the water to mix the hand feeding formula, I heat bottled water until it reaches a temperature of roughly 115 degrees F. Following the instructions on the can or bag, mix the hand feeding formula as directed. Make sure you stir the formula for about a minute to let it 'cook.' During this time, the formula should cool down to the temperature necessary for feeding. The temperature is as critical to the survival of the chick as is the formula itself. I always feed between 106F and 108F. While 106F is acceptable for Peachface and Masks, I feed Fischer's Lovebirds at 108F because they like their food warmer. Formula that is too cold can cause digestion to slow down, thus causing sour crop or Candide. Formula that is too hot will cause crop burns that require veterinary attention. I constantly monitor the temperature of the food with the thermometer. It's amazing how quickly it can cool down! I generally use a small plastic container to mix my hand feeding formula and I float the container in a pot of very hot water. This keeps my formula warm throughout the hand feeding session.

If you happen to be feeding a hatchling, you will need to feed the baby every 2 hrs. round the clock for the first 5 days. Most formulas have ratio instructions on how to mix the formula for hatchlings. If not, I use 1 part formula to 6 parts water. I use a 3 cc syringe because it's small. As I'm right handed, my instructions are from that point of view. I hold the baby on its back between my thumb and middle finger. The index finger supports the head from the back. Hatchlings don't know how to eat from a syringe, so patience is the key word here. Place a drop of food on the outside of the beak just where the upper mandible meets the lower mandible. You will see the beak move when the chick realizes that this is something to eat. Feed one drop at a time until the chick has eaten 6-8 drops. That's all they need and a lot of that is fluid. Place the chick back in its brooder for the next 2 hours. You will need to continue this procedure every 2 hrs. round the clock until the chick is 5-7 days old. As the chick starts to realize what the syringe is (remember, it can't see), you will find that it will actively try to grab the syringe when it eats. My article entitled Hand feeding Baby Lovebirds from Day 1 goes into more detail on hatchlings.

Once the chick reaches 5 days of age, the formula will need to be a bit thicker and the time between feedings will be roughly 3 - 3 1/2 hours. At this point, my last feeding of the day is at midnight and the first one of the next day is 4:00 a.m. (And just when you were beginning to think you would never get any sleep!) I continue on this schedule until the baby is 3 weeks old. Then I switch to every 4-5 hrs. with the last feeding being at midnight and the first feeding of the day is at 5:00 am. As the formula is thickened and the amount of food is increased, the time between feedings lengthens. From this time to weaning, the maximum amount of formula I feed is 8 cc. More than this will stretch the crop too much and the food will stay in the crop too long, leaving open the possibility of sour crop or Candide. I don't get too concerned if there is a little bit of food left in the crop at feeding time. Lovebirds seem to do quite well as long as the crop empties at least once a day.

Make sure you discard any unused formula after each feeding. Even if stored in a refrigerator, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. At this time, I disinfect my syringes. I use a 10% bleach solution or Oxyfresh. You may find that the disinfecting will cause the plunger of the syringe to 'stick,' thus making the syringe a little hard to use. I simply coat the 'O' ring on the end of the plunger with a little bit of vegetable oil and it will work as good as it did when it was new!

When the baby shows an interest in picking, I begin offering soft foods for the babies to sample. At first, they will usually just "beak" the food, but they will quickly get the idea of how to eat it. I use cornbread, whole wheat bread, cooked pasta, thawed mixed veggies, millet, seed and small non-colored pellets. Several companies actually make weaning pellets. As baby birds seem to like warm food, these can be offered warm. Since baby lovebirds stay in the nest box until they are between 5 1/2 - 6 weeks old, I don't put them into a weaning cage until that time.

Most baby lovebirds will begin to eat on their own by the time they are 6 weeks old. However, this is not etched in granite, and some will want to be fed longer than others. Parent raised babies are usually completely eating on their own by the time they are 8 weeks old, so I try and follow parent schedule. Occasionally, I have a baby that just doesn't want to wean and I deal with those on an individual basis. Some have been real problems, but they do eventually wean!

Lastly, when you purchase your handfeeding formula, make sure you have enough or can get enough to last through weaning. Changing brands part way through is not a good idea, as it can cause digestive upsets.

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