This is a basic overview of how to hand-feed baby parrots, but in no way takes the place of hands-on training from an experienced hand feeder. Please seek advice from your veterinarian as well.
The type of formula you use is really not as important as you may think. Everyone has a favorite and will tell you that it’s the “only good formula” on the market. Find a breeder with nice healthy-looking babies and use the formula they use. The main thing is not to switch a baby to a different formula part way through. Make sure you will be able to get enough of the brand you choose to take your baby through the weaning process. Follow the mixing instructions on the package to the letter. Even if the formula doesn’t look right to you, do this. The formulas need to be mixed with a specific amount of water to provide the best growth potential for your baby. A thicker formula does not necessarily mean fatter babies. It could mean dehydrated babies. It could also mean slower digestion, which means the baby is actually getting less formula than you should be feeding. I’ve found, if you have a healthy baby, that this is totally unnecessary. If however your baby ever needs to be on an antibiotic, then after the therapy, it can’t hurt to try to replace some of the good bacteria in their systems.
To start out, you should get several types of syringes. Practice with them into a cup to get the feel of them and then decide which you will feel most comfortable with and which you feel gives you the most control over the flow. I prefer Monoject 35cc regular luer tip (not luer lock) syringes for most babies. Remember, you will be using this syringe one-handed. The other hand will be controlling the baby bird. When babies get older and other stuff is being added to their formula, you may want to use a spoon.
Never feed your baby on a tabletop without having him confined in a basket. It’s very easy to turn your back for a second to answer the phone, or fill the syringe, or talk to a family member, then turn back to see your baby rolling off the tabletop. Various sizes of baskets can be found in almost any discount store, and are very inexpensive. Shallow baskets are usually best, as you don’t have to reach down so far and you have more control. Line the basket with a small hand towel so the baby will have good footing. A baby bird will slide all over a slick-bottomed basket when he is eliciting a feeding response. Even with a basket, never leave the baby unattended. You’d be surprised how well they can climb at a very young age, especially when they are hungry. Have your equipment ready before you get the baby from his cage or brooder.
Mixing the Formula:
As I said before, mix according to the directions on the package for the age of your bird. If you have a newly hatched chick, you may want to start with one feeding of just Pedialyte. For very young babies, be sure not to overfill their crop, as they can aspirate this very liquid formula very easily. Dripping it off the tip of their upper beak into the lower beak seems to work quite well. Never, EVER reuse formula. Even in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour, it can develop dangerous quantities of bacteria, which is very harmful to your bird.
Baby birds do NOT like their food cold. Make sure to keep the food warm. The ideal temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Never feed the formula under 100 degrees or over 110 degrees. Use a thermometer to determine temperature. Don’t trust your finger. Also never microwave the formula. Be sure to mix it to the correct temperature to begin with. Reheating in the microwave can cause hot spots that can cause severe crop burns. Too cold formula could possibly cause crop stasis (slow crop). Too hot formula can and WILL cause crop burns which will have to be taken care of by a surgical procedure at your vets.
Now that you have all of your equipment ready, and have practiced with the syringe, you will attempt to feed your baby. Like I said earlier, if at all possible, have an experienced person teach you this technique. Okay, I will assume you are right-handed for this lesson. If you are left-handed, you must adjust the instructions for this. Fill your syringe with as much formula as the baby will take in one feeding. Hold the baby’s head with your left hand slighty curved around the back of his neck and somewhat resting on his back (with smaller babies, you will be using your thumb and first finger). Any moment now the baby will be jerking up and down and you will need to maintain control of him. Let him jerk somewhat, it’s needed so he can properly swallow the food, but you don’t want him bouncing all over the basket. It’s all too easy to cause injury if you don’t have proper control. The tip of the syringe should be inserted into the LEFT side of the baby’s beak being sure that it is OVER the tongue and pointed toward the back RIGHT side. Their esophagus is on the right side. If you point the syringe toward the left, or under the tongue, you will be forcing food toward their air passage. BE ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that you have the syringe correctly positioned, or you will have a dead baby in a matter of seconds.
Just like you practiced, use a slow steady force to eject the formula into the baby’s esophagus. You don’t want a stream like a super shooter squirt gun, but you don’t want the formula trickling slowly into the baby’s mouth either. They quickly become bored with swallowing and may breathe the formula settling in the beak into their air passage. At the first sign that you are not getting a feeding response, stop the flow. Wait until the baby is ready again, and finish the syringe. The baby’s crop should be well rounded (except in 1-3 day old hatchlings), but not up near their throat. If the crop is too full, the baby may regurgitate formula and aspirate it. Also, the baby may not empty quickly enough and develop crop stasis, yeast and bacteria infections. After feeding the baby, be very gentle with them as you don’t want to put any pressure on the full crop. A baby will sometimes still act hungry after he is fed. Don’t worry, it just seems to take awhile for the brain to register the full crop.
After feeding the baby, you will need to make sure he has no formula sitting in the lower part of his beak. Dried formula in this area can cause beak deformity and is very hard to remove later. A cotton dampened cotton swab usually can be used to remove this. Make sure you have a firm hold on the baby so that he doesn’t jerk while you are cleaning this delicate area. Also, use paper toweling and a warm wet baby washcloth to gently wash any formula off his feathers. Pay close attention to the indentation below his lower beak. Dried formula in this area can cause damage to the thin tissue.
Of course, the baby is not the only thing you need to clean. Thoroughly wash and disinfect your utensils. There are many safe disinfectants on the market for birds. Allow your scrubbed utensils to soak in one of these disinfectants for at least 10 minutes between each feeding. Bleach can be used on your utensils at 1 part to 100 parts safely only if it is THOROUGHLY rinsed off.
Watch the baby for the time to feed him next. This could be anywhere from 1 to 5 hours depending on the age and size of the baby. Make sure the crop is close to empty before the next feeding. Don’t miss feedings. Missed feedings or too infrequent feedings can cause the baby to be stunted, cause poor feather quality and poor ability to fight infection. Babies that are 2 weeks or less should be fed in the middle of the night. Different species are on different schedules. You may need to feed as much as every two hours for smaller species birds and for some of the larger species as much as every three hours. After the baby reaches 2 weeks of age you may decrease the feedings gradually. By three weeks of age, you should be able to let the baby go for 8 hours (overnight) without being fed.
With larger species, you may decide to try spoon-feeding them. I always wait until I can mix in some slightly lumpy vegetables with the formula. Baby Food labeled 2nd and 3rd foods are great for this. It’s also best to wait until they are at an age when they are starting to eat some soft foods on their own. The procedure is basically the same as with the syringe. Of course, it can be a lot messier. Be sure to hold the spoon with a little bit of flexibility. This way if the bird jerks too hard, the spoon will fly out of your hand before there is injury to the baby. It’s alot easier to clean up the mess than it is to rush to the vet for a surgical procedure for a mouth cut caused by a spoon. By spoonfeeding your baby, from a bowl that they can reach, they will quickly become accustomed to eating the formula/vegetable mixture by themselves out of the bowl, which will help the weaning process along.