Buying unweaned parrots is, quite frankly, often a disaster. Hand feeding a parrot is both time-consuming and exacting. Even experienced breeders occasionally make hand feeding mistakes that can serious injure or kill the baby. Despite this, every year hopeful parrot owners purchase unweaned baby birds from pet stores and bird mills, assuming that by feeding their new pet they will develop a deeper, more meaningful bond with their bird.
The Myth of Weaning Parrots
It’s a popular myth amongst some parrot owners that hand feeding a baby parrot will result in a stronger bond between owner and bird. This myth is perpetuated by well meaning owners who successfully weaned baby birds and, often, by unscrupulous breeders who want to move “stock” as quickly as possible.
In actual fact, there’s no evidence suggesting that hand feeding baby birds results in any long term bonding benefits. Certainly the baby bird depends on its human hand feeder until it can feed itself. But bear a couple of considerations in mind.
First, while hand feeding may create a temporary bond, there’s no substitute for long term consistency, love and respect when building a bond with a parrot. Older parrots surrendered to parrot rescue centers have been adopted to new owners and developed deep bonds indistinguishable from parrots who were weaned by their owners. It is, however, accurate to say that a parrot’s initial experiences with humans will follow it throughout its life—incorrect hand feeding and mistakes made while weaning can produce nervous, distrustful adult parrots.
Secondly—and it must be admitted this theory is open to debate—hand feeding a parrot could even get in the way of bonding. Rather like human teenagers, parrots sometimes distance themselves from their parents (or hand feeder) as they wean. Like teenagers they need to express their own independence and find their own place in the flock. While this is unlikely to permanently damage your relationship with your bird, it suggests that hand weaning may not be as necessary as some suggest.
The Parrot is Not a Chicken
Obviously parrots aren’t chickens, but when dealing with unweaned baby birds it’s surprising how often people take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. A baby chicken is capable of feeding itself upon hatching. True, it needs its mother to help it survive, but it comes into the world feathered, able to walk, drink, and feed itself. Hand feeding a chick pretty much involves offering a handful of chicken feed and letting the baby do what nature intends.
In contrast, a baby parrot is naked, blind, and with an undeveloped beak. A baby parrot cannot walk, feed, or take care of itself in any way. In this respect parrots resemble humans more than chickens—without parental care neither species would survive. (Assumptions that baby birds are all essentially the same is, coincidentally, one of the forces at work behind the live parrot eggs scam).
An unweaned parrot must be fed on a regular basis. Are you willing to take the baby everywhere with you, feeding him on a set schedule whether you’re at home or at work? Hand feeding baby parrots requires mixing baby food and administering it with a syringe. Make a mistake while hand feeding and several nasty conditions can develop, including:
- Aspirationoccurs when hand fed formula enters the lungs instead of the crop, which can be fatal.
- Beak Abnormalities may develop if the syringe presses against the still-developing beak.
- Crop Burn, which occurs when hot formula, quite literally, burns a hole in the baby’s crop. Bad cases of crop burn can burn a hole right through the skin.
- Crop Stasisoccurs when the baby cannot empty the crop, often resulting in serious infections as formula sours.
Unweaned babies are often sold by bird mills and pet stores at a discount. The money saved isn’t worth the potential heartbreak. Instead, avoid any store or breeder willing to sell unweaned baby parrots. Look for breeders with reputations for selling well-adjusted, socialized and weaned parrots. The time and effort you’d have spent hand feeding a baby bird is much better spent gaining your new parrot’s friendship and trust.