Hand Feeding

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This page is about how I hand feed and wean my babies.
Information on this page is my opinions and methods.
Every Breeder has their own method, this is mine.
     This page is not meant to be instructional.
If you would like to learn how to hand feed,
I recommend contacting a breeder in your area. 

You can find the products I use on my Recommendations Page.

Please Make sure you have a name and number of an Avian Veterinarian in your area.  Find out their business hours and what the protocol is for emergencies.

     Hand feeding is not for everyone.  When I first started breeding lovebirds I did not hand feed because of the amount of time it takes.  The babies must be fed on a schedule.  My Occupation did not allow for feeding babies on a schedule.  My current occupation is very flexible and is set to a schedule.  I have made feeding the babies part of my schedule. 
     Before you start breeding your birds, you should think about how you will raise the chicks.  Hand feeding allows you to impersonate a human figure early into a chicks life.
Hand Raised

My babies were once all hand raised. Hand raised to me means that the babies were not taking from their parents to be raised by the breeder. Babies that are hand raised make good pets and breeders. They are tame and loving depending on the amount of time the breeder and new owner put into them. I handled the babies everyday but would always return them to their parents for feedings and warmth. As they became older they were played with more often and kept from the parents for longer times. Breeders that wanted a pet and a good breeding bird prefer a bird that has been parent raised. A parent-raised bird will take better care of their offspring.

Hand Fed

Hand fed babies are pulled from the nest at 2 weeks of age and are raised by the breeder. They are given scheduled feedings by the breeder and are usually kept warm in a brooder. Hand fed babies make the best pets. They are loving and tame. They usually make poor breeders because they were hand fed and do not know what to do with their offspring.

Dangers That You can cause if not properly trained
Aspiration Forcing formula into the babies mouth to fast or improperly causing the baby to aspirate the formula
Burnt Crops Using formula that is not at the proper temp
Stretched Crops Forcing the baby to take more formula then he can handle stretching the crop to the point that it can not empty properly
Bacterial Infections Can be caused by not cleaning the nursery or equipment used for hand feeding.  Can also be caused by contaminated food
Malformed Beaks Babies beaks are still soft and pressing the syringes into their beaks can create malformation in the beak
Dehydration If you do not mix the formula properly you could be given them the wrong consistency
Poor Weight Gain Formula too thin, Not following correct feeding schedule, Not feeding enough
This can all lead to the DEATH of your baby.
Equipment Setting Up Brooder Set Up
Getting Ready to Feed Let's Feed Weaning
  Clean Up  
     Having the right equipment is essential.  There are some items for your birds that you can buy later as your pocket book grows.  Having the right hand feeding equipment is a must.
     Many breeders have different opinions on what is the best and what you really need.  Here is a list of Items that I have:
Hand Feeding Formula
Thermometer for Brooder
Containers for Brooder
Holding Tub
Safe Feeding Area
Bowls, for mixing formula
Paper Towels
Hand Feeding Formula

Choosing a formula is easy.  There are so many commercial made formulas to choose from.  I would choose one that is easily available to you and not one that is hard to find.

Formulas contain all the necessary nutrients your chicks will need to grow properly.  You will not need to add anything to it.

I use ZuPreem Formula for my chicks.  I have never had issues with it and it works well for my babies.

Check the expiration dates on the bag every time you buy it and go to feed a new clutch.

Thermometer for Formula

There are many different types out there.  I used to use one I bought from a pet store.  I found a digital one and tested the two.  I found out that my pet store one was off by 10 degrees.
I highly recommend buying 2 and comparing the temps often.

Having the wrong temp of formula could result in an injured or dead chick.

Arm testing is not accurate enough.

Syringes come in many sizes, styles and tips.

I use Monoject syringes.  There are other syringe makers out there but I have found Monoject to be the most reliable.

You will want many.  The constant cleaning of the syringes can ruin the rubber plunger.

I prefer the Non-leur or Oral tip.  The curved tip is great for very young babies.  The curved tip has a small opening and will only let very thin formula through.

You must have a place to keep your chicks warm.  Some breeders use coolers or plastic containers with a heating element under it.

I use the TLC-4 by Brinsea.  I have had only one issue.  When the chicks get older they love pulling back the filter and climbing into the top where the light is.
Thermometer for Brooder

You always want to know what the temp is inside the brooder.

I have a built in digital thermometer that lets me know the temp inside the brooder.
Containers for Brooder

I separate my babies in the brooder by age.  The containers also give them the sense of security that they were used to in the nest box.
Organized Feeding area

You want a place that is safe for the babies and comfortable for you.  Feeding babies is not a rush job.  You want to spend time with the babies.

Feeding Dish

I make the babies sit in this dish when I feed them.  It has a small lip that they can perch on if they like.  It keeps the smaller ones contained and the paper towel gives them something to grip onto.

Holding Tub

While I am cleaning the brooder and feeding the babies, I place the other babies in here.
Cover can shut to prevent escapees.

As the babies get older they will tend to wander and take off on you.  If you are feeding them on a counter or table, you run the risk of injuries from falling.


You should have a scale that you can weigh the birds on.  You will want to make sure that the babies continue to gain weight.  This is really important during weaning.

Weaning Diet

This is to help the baby make an easy transition to solid foods.

Nestling Food

I offer this diet to my breeders when they have chicks.  They love to feed this to their babies.  I also use this as one of the babies first foods.

Hand Sanitizer

I sanitize my hands before and after feeding and cleaning the babies.  This is for the babies protection, my family and my other birds in the household.


All that hand washing can dry out your hands.  You want to use a safe lotion.

Setting Up

     Before you pull your babies make sure you have all the equipment.  Check equipment prior to use to make sure that it is in working condition.
     The night before I pull my babies I set up the area where the brooder will be and my feeding station.  I turn on the brooder and set it to the correct temp for the age group that I will be pulling.  I change the temp to how the birds feather out.  Babies of different ages feather differently.  Some babies I notice also take longer then others.
     Here is a chart that I use as my guideline.  You will notice that the temperatures have ranges.  I tend to keep the temp in ranges and judge my temp on how the chicks feather out.

Age of Chick Degrees in

2-3 weeks


4-5 weeks


6 weeks


7-8 weeks
Depending on Feathering

70 - 75 or room temp

  You want to make sure that the brooder is able to hold the correct temp.  Not providing accurate temperature for your babies can result in:

  • Slow Crop emptying

  • Cold babies that can not regulate their temps

  • Overheating babies

     This is why I highly recommend purchasing a brooder and not constructing one out of plastic tubs and heating pads.  There are some breeders that do use them and have had great success.  Heating pads can short out or create hot spots.
     Some breeders also believe that you do not need a brooder that good insulating bedding, a plastic container and the warmth of other chicks is all you need.  They too have had successes.  You are though at the mercy of the environment where you live.  Depending if you live in the Frigid North or the Sweltering South, you could have fluctuating temperatures which are not good for babies.

       I pull my babies from the nest at about 2 weeks of age.  Depending on age range, I may pull the eldest leaving the younger ones till they are 2 weeks.  Some breeders will pull all the babies at once.  It also depends on the parents and how well they tolerate intruders into their box.    
     I pull in the morning after they have been feed by their parents.  I will usually time the pulling of the babies during the time I am giving the parents fresh food and water.
     If you have parent birds that are hostile or have a history of hurting their babies, then you want to pull all the babies.  You may want to wait till the youngest at least reaches 10 days.
     I always take the nest box away after the last baby has been pulled.  I do not believe in letting my birds continually breed.
     I place all the babies in the brooder.  I separate them by size and age.  I have noticed that the older babies will squish the younger ones. I take note of the size of their crops.  I also take an initial weight on them.  I usually weigh my babies only once a week, unless I suspect a problem.
     You want to weigh the babies on an empty crop and at the same time.  I usually do it Sunday mornings before their first feeding.

Brooder Set up
This is Stage one and two.

Stage One:  the parakeet bath
Babies 2-3 weeks I find prefer to be enclosed and this also prevents the babies from wandering.  The bottom is stable and helps to prevent splayed legs.

Stage Two:  Open disposable container.  Just big enough to keep the babies contained.  This is for the older babies.  They like to look out but still need something to lean against.

Stage One
Stage Two

Babies will excrete waste in the corners of their containers.

Stage Three:  Top to the parakeet bath

It allows the babies to explore the brooder but still give them a sense of security for the ones that like to be enclosed.

Stage three and Stage two set up
Stage four

I take out all containment devices

As the Babies get older you may find them lining up to be fed.

Waiting in line to be fed by age.  Eldest to youngest.
Stage 5:

I add perches and food dishes.  Even at this young age, they know how to make Birdie Soup.

Getting Ready to feed  
     Have everything ready before taking the babies out of the brooder to feed.  I start to set up by taking out all the materials I will need.
Paper Towels
     I tear off several paper towel sheets and set them aside.  This is to reline the brooder.  I then take one to two sheets and tear them into 4's.  I take one of the 4's and line the holding tub, another to line the feeding dish, one for my hands and one for the syringes to sit on.  I also wet one to clean the babies after they eat.
  I take out 2-3 syringes.  I share one between the babies.  Sometimes syringes can become slow if the plunger gets sticky with formula.  You want to have another syringe ready to go.
     When making the formula, you should follow the directions on the packaging.  Each manufacture has directions for mixing their formula.
     I have two containers that I mix the formula in.  You only want to make what you will use at one sitting.  You can not store made formula.  I use hot tap water to prepare my formula.  I find that the water from the tap ranges from 118-120 degrees.  Once I mix up the formula and finish setting up, the formula has cooled to 106-108 degrees.
     For the first feedings I tend to make the formula more liquefied.  Then I slowly thicken it to the right consistency over the next 24 hours.  Making the formula to the right consistency is very important.  You could make it to thick, the bird will not be able to swallow it and empty their crop properly.  You will also have difficulty getting the substance through the syringe.  Make it too thin and you increase their chances of aspiration.
     The packaging on the formula I use recommends 1 part powdered formula to two parts water.  I usually make it to a gravy consistency, and thin it out with water till I reach the consistency I want for the age chicks I am feeding.
     Most important thing about formula is to have the right temperature.  This is when having an accurate thermometer is needed.  The formula if too hot will burn the crop, if too cold the bird will not be able to empty his crop and may even refuse feedings.  The formula's maximum temperature should not exceed 106 degrees.  The minimum temperature should be 103 degrees.  I find that the younger babies prefer the formula on the warmer side and the older babies do not mind the cooler formula.  I always feed from youngest to oldest till they reach about 4 weeks, then its first come first serve.
     Discard any unused formula.
     While the formula is cooling to the right temp.  I remove the babies and put them in the holding tub and clean the brooder.  I find that when I am finished cleaning, the formula is at the correct temperature.
This is how I set up
Waiting their turns in the holding tub.
Cover shut to prevent escapees.

As the babies get older they will tend to wander and take off on you.  If you are feeding them on a counter or table, you run the risk of injuries from falling.

Is It My turn Yet?
I have the babies sit in the dish when I feed them.

It is nice for smaller babies, it has a edge to it to keep them contained.  The 2-3 week old babies are still not sure of their legs and the edge helps them to stay contained.

As they get older they have the choice to perch on the edge while they eat. 

     The first feeding for the babies the day that I pull them is the noon time feeding.  I then feed them every 5-6 hours.  I let the crops empty prior to the next feeding.  Each Baby is different.  I have some that will want more and others when they know they have had enough.
     Creating a schedule for your babies is very important.  Babies should empty their crops within 4-5 hours.  I have seen older babies empty it with in 2-3 hours.  If your babies are not emptying their crops, you should contact your Veterinarian immediately.
Age of Baby Times Formula Consistency Amounts

2-3 weeks

6:30 am, 12:00 pm, 6:00 pm,  11:00 pm


4 - 6 cc's

3-4 weeks

6:30 am, 12:00 pm, 6:00 pm,  10:00 pm


6 - 12 cc's

3-4 weeks

I start to offer them Millet and Weaning food.

4-5 weeks

6:30 am, 12:00 pm, 6:00 pm,  10:00 pm

Thin Gravy

12-15 cc's

4-5 weeks

I add Seed and continue to give them millet and weaning food.

5-6 weeks

6:30 am, (12:00 pm), 6:00 pm, 9:00 pm

Thin Gravy

12-15 cc's 

5-6 weeks

I continue to offer them seed, millet and weaning food.

6 weeks to weaning

6:30 am, (12:00 pm), 6:00 pm

Thin Gravy

5-10 cc's

6 weeks to weaning I start offering fresh foods and I continue to offer them seed, millet and weaning food.
Let's Feed
     Babies have a natural feeding motion when presented with food.  They will bob their heads with a rhythm type motion.  As they are bobbing their heads, they will open their mouth and allow the formula to enter their crop.
     First couple of times you are feeding it will be awkward.  Once you catch on to their rhythm you will find it very easy to hand feed.  Always follow the rhythm.
     You will set the baby in front of you.  You will introduce the syringe to the left side of the beak.  The first couple of hand feedings for the chick, it may be awkward.  There will be no rhythm.  By the next day the chick realizes where the food is coming from and will bob in a rhythm for its food.
     As you place the syringe on the left side of the beak you will start by slowly pushing down on the plunger and dropping small amounts of formula into his mouth.  The baby may start to react to the formula and bob up and down.  You can proceed slowly, pushing on the plunger at a slow rate.  You want a steady even rate taking breaks so that the bird may rest.
     For a 2 - 3 week old chick, I would use a 3 cc syringe to feed.  I might give 1/4 cc at a time and let the bird rest.  I increase the amount as the baby becomes used to hand feeding.  Follow his rhythm.  He will tell you when it is enough.
     For a 3 week - weaning chick, I will use a 6 cc syringe.  I follow his rhythm.  Each chick has different tolerances.
     Some of the 5-6 week old chicks will eat 10 cc's, walk away and then come back for another couple of cc's.
     Dispensing the formula too slow can also increase the chances of the baby swallowing air.  Air will fill the crop decreasing the space for food.  You can release the air from the crop.  While the bird is sitting in front of me, I have it start to bob for food and slowly and carefully apply gentle pressure to the air pocket in the crop.  As the bird bobs, he opens the crop and I am putting pressure on the air pocket.  Please do not try this, unless some one has shown you.  If you do not do it properly, you can push up formula from the crop and the baby could aspirate it into their lungs.
I always feed one chick at a time.
I hold the baby's head loosely to keep him lined with the syringe. 
Empty Crop
Empty Crop
Half Full Crop
Full Crop
Once they are old enough to perch.  I let them eat from a standing perch
Who will get to eat first?
     By always having food available to the babies in the brooder you are starting the weaning process.  Put it is too early and you will waste food.  They really do not start exploring till they are 4 weeks.  They start to pick up things and test everything.  Some birds wean quickly, some take longer.
     I let my babies decide when they are weaned.  When they stop requesting meals or taking less then 3 cc's a day.  It is a good time to stop.  But offer a meal the next day to make sure.  Some babies will stop taking formula but not eat enough solids to compensate for the loss of formula calories.  You want to keep an eye on those babies.
     Some babies also need the stimulation from the formula to begin eating solids.
Clean up
     Throw out any unused formula.  Clean your syringes thoroughly between feedings.  I let my syringes and formula container soak in antibacterial soap between feedings.  I am not afraid to throw out syringes either.

Hand Feeding Movies
Viewing These Movies is not a substitute for Training from a Breeder that Hand Feeds

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