By Helga Wilson

When it comes to hand feeding baby birds there are several things that need to be done before you can start. First get all materials together that you will need so that when those precious little things are ready, you will be too.

You will need:

  • syringes
  • pipette or eyedropper
  • a heating pad
  • clean towels
  • an aquarium (I use the 10 gallon size)
  • bedding for the bottom of the aquarium

Choose your bedding so birds won't have something to chew on; something that won't harm your baby or babies. We use old cotton towels that we place on the bottom off the aquarium then, place several layers of paper towels on the top. It works well and soiled paper towels can be removed at each feeding. The cotton towels can be washed and reused.

You will also need to get a screen top (my husband makes tops for me out of aviary wire.) Use the wire top to support a cotton towel placed over part of the aquarium to keep any curious birds out of the aquarium. Furthermore, it will keep heat in the aquarium. Only partially cover the aquarium so air can still filter in normally to prevent the baby from overheating and suffocating.

You can purchase aquariums from any local shop that specializes in wet pets. Sometimes you can find tanks very cheap if they have a leak. The pet shop can no longer use them for fish and it makes no difference to us if they leak since we aren't using them to hold water.

You will need some feeding syringes appropriate to the size of your bird. I never use a syringe larger then 35 cc since the larger syringes are too hard to work with. Best syringe sizes are from 12 cc to 35 cc.

It is best to use a syringe with at least a ˝ inch long smooth tip, preferably a one piece syringe or one with a locking tip. If you feel you need a longer tip on the syringe, use a latex feeding tube rather then a tube extension. Never cut the latex feeding tube longer then the distance from the bird's beak to the middle of its crop. Make sure the feeding tube is securely fixed to the syringe. Recheck syringe and tube periodically. Birds can hang onto the tube and remove the tube from the syringe and swallow it. You are in big trouble if this occurs, as it will require surgical removal by a vet! I therefore only use feeding tubes on very hard to feed birds or very sick birds that have to be force-fed, or when I feed in public to prevent any accidental drowning of a bird if it gets distracted by strangers during feeding.

Once you have your materials ready, you can begin the feedings. When I first remove the babies from their nest they are at least 2-3 weeks old. I place them right into the aquarium with the heating pad set to Medium, or into a brooder set between 85 to 92F. If the babies are younger than 2-3 weeks, then I will put them into a small basket lined with paper towels and set the basket inside the brooder. (If you do not have a brooder, an aquarium will do.) I keep each clutch in one basket or bucket. This way they can cuddle together to keep each other warmer and hold their heads up on the side of the bucket

Although there are several good brands of hand feeding formula on the market, I prefer to use Kaytee Exact. I have found that Kaytee blends well, and, being a bit coarser, it works better then other brands of formula. If you are hand feeding birds other then Macaw, use the 8 % fat content formula. Remember if you are hand feeding Macaw they require a higher fat content hand feeding formula of 12 % fat content. Make sure you have the right % of fat content formula for the bird you are hand feeding.

  • You should always place the formula in the dish first and then add water.
  • Never heat formulas in a microwave it may have hot spots.
  • Never reheat.
  • Once formula is prepared, dispose of leftover formula.

Formula should be mixed with hot water and should have the consistency similar to that of instant pudding or gravy. Be consistent with the formula - watery formula can cause diarrhea; on the other hand, if too thick, it can stay in the crop and harden, or cause choking, or bring on a sour crop.

Most birds like their formula on the hot side. If formula is too cold the bird will refuse to eat. Keep only one to two days' dry formula supply in a canister. I recommend you freeze any excess formula in your freezer until ready to use. This way you always have fresh formula and your chance of contamination is much less. Formula will spoil in very hot climate.

You can purchase hand feeding formula from a pet shop or pet supply in one pound cans or 5 pound packages. In emergencies you can make your own formula by grinding up some bird pellets. Only in extreme emergency - if nothing else is available - some of the better brand dog food pellets can be used with a little peanut butter added. However, there is a chance for bacterial contamination.

Soaked monkey biscuits run through a blender also will work. Add just a small amount of peanut butter to give better flavor and more protein. There is however also a chance of bacterial contamination.


  1. Heat water to 110 F (if not sure, heat water to where it is too hot for your fingers.) Pour over the formula then stir with a spoon until you have a gravy-like substance. Wash your hands good with soap and water. Place one of your fingers in the formula and check temperature.

    ALWAYS check to make sure the formula is not too hot! Temperature of the formula at feeding should be at 107 F. Check with a food thermometer or finger test.

    --Temperature check without thermometer: Formula should be hot to your finger and get it red, but should not burn you. If you can count from # 1 to 30 with your finger submerged in the formula without getting burned, it is just right to feed.

  2. Place the bird in front of you on a towel facing you.

  3. Fill your eye dropper, pipette or syringe with food.

  4. Place the head of the bird between two of your fingers (Index and middle finger in a V position so you can lock the Head in between those fingers.) Use your thumb to pry the beak open.

  5. Once beak is open insert the full pipette or eye dropper into the bird's mouth above the tongue. Slowly squeeze the food into the bird's mouth. Refill and repeat until birds crop is full.

    Just a small, additional explanation on hand feeding:

    Make sure that you put the syringe (pipette) into the beak on the baby's left side - your RIGHT side - aim it toward the back of the throat, across the tongue at a slight angle to the left (your left). You will want to feed the formula slowly and watch the baby carefully as he will stop (pause) drinking the formula to take a breath. If you keep feeding the formula when he is trying to take a breath he will inhale the formula and this can kill your baby.

    Birds have 3 holes in their mouths - one in the roof of their mouth, one in the middle of their tongue and one in the back of the throat on the left hand side (as you look at them). The holes in the roof of the mouth and the tongue are for breathing - the one into the roof of the mouth goes into the upper respiratory tract (snares, upper sinuses). The hole in the tongue goes into the lower respiratory tract - lungs. Normally, while eating, these holes are closed. The hole in the rear left hand (the bird's right) side is the esophagus and leads to the crop and intestinal system. Make sure you have a firm grip on your babies. Healthy hungry babies some times will have strong feeding responses (they pump some times very strongly) A firm grip will prevent injuries.

    Understanding your bird's anatomy and how it works may help you in hand feeding. Remember to go slow and watch your baby - he'll tell you what he needs (air or more food).

  6. Count all pipettes, eye droppers or your C C. in the syringe required for bird to be full. Check time of feeding and write it down, record when bird or birds have emptied out. This will aid you while hand feeding. It is important to know how many hours elapse before the bird will require the next feeding. If you keep a record of your formula intake & the time elapse between feedings it will aid you in recognizing any problems that may come up during hand feeding. If you are consistent with your formula preparations you will know how much to feed the next time the baby is hungry. Formula intake may have to be adjusted up or down in CC.( Mill. Liter intake). several times until you get it just right.

    Good record keeping will help you on the way to a healthy baby. Furthermore it will alert you very quick of any problems you may have. One of the problems of hand feeding babies can be a slow crop a crop that does not empty out on time. Most breeders call this a sour crop or yeast infection. There are several conditions that can be the cause of a slow crop.

    a) Overfeeding or feeding a baby while there in still food remaining in the crop. If you feed too much formula, reduce the formula intake somewhat at the next feeding. If this was the case the baby should empty out the next time normally.

    You made the formula too heavy & it set up in the crop. Try feeding some liquid like Pediatric Electrolyte, apple juice, or baby spinach & massage the crop to dissolve some of the set up material in the crop. After the crop is totally empty, at next feeding feed a small amount of Yogurt this will give the baby some good Bacteria & aid with the baby’s digestion.

    The baby may have a bacterial infection. Some times a sour crop is a secondary problem to a much larger problem. If the problem of a slow crop persists, consult with a vet as soon as possible. Your babies life may be in jeopardy. Most of all, remember that overfeeding will kill. Never feed babies until they are totally empty. Baby’s crop must be completely empty at least once every 24 hours. A baby must always be empty at first feeding in the morning. This is one of your most important things to remember. Do not kill your baby with kindness. Overfeeding can be deadly for your baby.

    As the baby grows it will require more food intake so you need to increase the amount of formula offered to the baby until it enters weaning stage.

  7. Repeat process when empty again. Important! AGAIN do not feed any baby birds until crop is totally empty.

  8. Remember: non-weaned birds do not have much body temperature of their own so they need to be kept warm. I recommend babies be kept in a brooder or a heated aquarium at a minimum of 85F degrees. Depending of the babies age the temperature should be between 85F and 92F for very small babies. If you do not have a heated aquarium, you can place the aquarium the babies are in on a heating pad. Make sure you have a thermometer placed in to the aquarium to maintain proper temperature so babies won't get too hot or too cold. This is very important - if babies get too cold their digestive system will slow down, if they get to hot the will suffocate. Always maintain temperature consistency in the brooder or the aquarium whatever you use; it is very important.

Most of all remember you are holding your baby or babies live in your hands.

Hope this helps!

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