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Psittacine Pediatric Tips: Healthier Babies Through Improved Techniques
by Michael Taylor DVM
Service Chief, Avian and Exotic Animals
Over the past ten years we have found that there are certain techniques that when used in the nursery consistently help to ensure healthier chicks. In this seminar I will review a number of these.
Employ Good Hygiene When Feeding Chicks:
* preferably a clean syringe or spoon for EACH chick, never reintroduce into food bowl.
* disinfect utensils by cleaning with soap and water then soaking in an appropriate disinfectant solution (see TIP # 1).
* keep the brooder clean to prevent excess soiling of the chick -- avoid wood shavings, bark, corn cob or clay litters. TRY: paper towelling or cloth (cotton) diapers.
TIP # 1
A practical and highly effective disinfectant can be prepared by adding 4 ounces fresh household bleach to one imperial gallon of warm water. Mix thoroughly. Kills a very wide range of bacteria, chlamydia and viruses (including the resistant, unenveloped agents such as polyomavirus and circodnavirus - the Beak and Feather virus).
And please remember: disinfectants, like pesticides, usually have their "darker" side. Bleach solutions, while being excellent disinfectants, are potent oxidizers and can enhance oxidation (rusting) of susceptible surfaces and can cause skin irritation. Use gloves. Rinse disinfected implements well with clean water before using.
Use A Good Quality Hand Feeding Formula:
* a prepared commercial formula will usually be better balanced, less prone to preparation error and easier to use than homemade diets -- obtain recommendations from experienced breeders and your veterinarian.
* mix up just enough fresh food for each feeding -- DO NOT refrigerate, preferably do not freeze.
* preparation of the formula should be simple and easily repeatable at each feeding (see TIP # 2).
* PREVENT CROP BURNS by using a thermometer to check food temperature before feeding -- do not rely on your skin sensitivity to detect overheated food -- microwave ovens may be used SAFELY to heat formula as long as the food is WELL MIXED and temperature tested before being fed. Digital thermometers are available from pharmacies for as little as ten dollars (eg. Excel 10, AMG MEDICAL, Montreal, QC ) and they register within 10 seconds.
TIP # 2
Determining the correct water to dry food ratio can be tricky to do when preparing formula. "Eyeballing" the final consistency is the technique most breeders use and with experience can be reasonably accurate. One excellent way to gain feedback on your preparation technique is to observe the chick's droppings after each feeding. If there is more than a small (0.5-1.0 cm) ring of clear urine around the chicks's feces then the formula contains more water than necessary. Correct levels may be simply achieved by gradually reducing the amount of water added to the formula to reach this level of urine output in the dropping.
Learn Normal Chick Behaviour for the Species You Are Working With
* watch for unusual behaviours such as:
-- poor or absent feeding response
-- poor crop emptying time
-- poor growth rate (see TIP # 3).
TIP # 3
PURCHASE A SCALE and weigh birds (at least) every other day. Perform the weigh in at roughly the same time of day (for example, before the first feeding of the morning) and record on a simple chart. This will help you eliminate food related weight swings when monitoring true developmental weight gains. Poor weight gain or weight loss may be the FIRST IDENTIFIABLE SIGN of a disease process in the chick.
Avoid Unnecessary Contact of Juvenile Psittacines:
* keep clutches in seperate brooders whenever possible.
* avoid mixing species together in brooders (see TIP # 4).
* avoid bringing in chicks from another aviary to the nursery.
TIP # 4
African, South American and Austral-Asian species of parrots have developed
over hundreds of thousands of years with virtually NO CONTACT. For this
reason, many of the disease causing organisms of concern to aviculturalists
exhibit distinct patterns of infectivity towards various families or species
of parrots. Housing different species, especially those from widely scattered
geographic locations, together is a potentially serious health risk. Mixing
the chicks from these different species in the same nursery is an even
greater disease risk. The young parrot's immune system develops and matures
during the first few months of life. This is a time when the chick is
most susceptible to disease. Challenging the chicks developing system
by exposing it to "novel" organisms is a high stakes gamble
with the potential for disaster! At the very minimum we advise separate
brooders for each genus (eg. cockatoos, ama
Avoid Unnecessary Stressors For Developing Chicks:
* variation in hand feeders.
* abrupt changes in diet.
* transport of or moving brooders (TIP # 5).
* excessively noisy or bright environment.
* fluctuating room temperatures.
* changing/fluctuating humidity.
TIP # 5
Transport of young parrots is stressful and can have a negative effect on the developing immune system (also see TIP #4). If this stressor is combined with any other stressors or if the chick is already dealing with a low grade infection the effect can be disastrous. I have found that breeders frequently tend to downplay their skills used to handfeed young parrots. Most of you have worked hard and taken time to develop those skills! Please remember that a novice owner may not be ready or able to master the techniques necessary to finish feeding your bird. At the very least, the change will be stressful for the chick. For this reason the sale of unweaned parrot chicks cannot be recommended.
Have Post Mortem Exams Performed On Chicks That Die
The loss of a parrot chick is something that no one wishes to contemplate but if it should happen FIND OUT WHY.
A properly performed post mortem examination is the most cost effective and timely EARLY WARNING SYSTEM for the aviary.
Many questions remain unanswered in aviculture. If we do not constantly strive for the truth, we cannot hope to find these answers.
Will We Learn From The Mistakes Of The Past?