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Hand Feeding Tips

Before I get into this article, I'm going to start by saying that hand feeding any baby bird is a very serious commitment. While I can hand feed from day 1 if I have to, I prefer not to unless I have no other options, as I feel that my parent lovebirds can do a much better job than I could ever hope to do. They know how much to feed and the temperature is always perfect. If I want a tame baby, just socializing will get me what I want. I don't have to make the baby dependent on me for food in order for it to love me.

With that said, these are a few things that will make the hand feeding experience a bit easier if you find you have no other choice.

  1. Proper temperature for the formula is between 106F-108F. Momma lovebird's body temperature is 106F so what does that tell you? Use a thermometer (meat thermometers work well) so that you can see the temperature rather than just guessing.
  2. Use a syringe that is comfortable for your hand. I have a small hand so I use either 3 cc or 5 cc. 10 cc is large and I have a hard time controlling the flow of the formula properly.
  3. Hold the syringe properly. The plastic "tabs" at the top of the syringe are where you put your index and your middle fingers. The plunger is braced against the base of the thumb instead of against the tip. When feeding, pull with your fingers rather than pressing with your thumb. If you feed too fast and the baby aspirates formula into its lungs, death is usually instant. There are no reprieves. If you are unsure about using a syringe, an eye dropper is acceptable for younger chicks and spoons are great for older ones.
  4. When you chose a brand of formula, make sure you have enough to last the entire time you will be handfeeding or that you have access to the same brand. Changing brands in the middle can upset the baby's digestive tract, as formulas are different.
  5. Even when baby lovebirds are 4-5 weeks old, the maximum amount of formula that I feed is 8 cc. I will feed more often rather than increase that amount, as the crop will overstretch with larger feedings and weaning will be harder at the end.
  6. You can almost count on hand feeding for at least 8 weeks. Parent raised babies are eating on their own by 8 weeks and I try to mimic parent schedule. Some babies may want to be hand fed longer than that and I don't refuse these feedings. Weaning is stressful for baby birds and they need to be able to have confidence in their own abilities.
  7. When you first take a baby lovebird to hand feed, make the formula a bit on the liquidy side for the first 24 hours. Never hand feed before the baby has digested any food that may be in the crop from the last feeding that mom did. The baby has to adjust to the difference in formula from what mom fed and a bit more liquid is helpful.
  8. After each feeding, I offer one or two drops of warm water (same temperature as the formula) so that any remaining formula is washed out of the mouth. This discourages the formation of yeast in the mouth from formula that has fermented there.
  9. I always do clean ups (if necessary) after each feeding. Formula that has dried around the mouth or on feathering hardens like cement and the baby will be uncomfortable as a result. I use a warm, damp paper towel for clean up.
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