Fledging Baby Parrots


S eventeen years ago I fledged and weaned the first baby bird that I hand-raised. It was a challenging undertaking and a confusing time. I only had one person to call upon for advice and he was not helpful. I did not know how to go from two hand-feedings a day to one. Taking the baby from one hand-feeding a day to complete independence seemed nearly impossible. I also had a baby bird buzzing around my house crashing into lamps, windows and pictures and bumping her head on the ceiling. Neither the bird nor I knew what we were doing. The chick looked to me for guidance that I could not provide. Yet, we both survived and despite my inadequacies as a mother hen and to her credit, the baby turned out to be a delightful companion. Today I still face these challenges with every baby that I raise. However, experience has made me calmer and each baby has taught me how to be better at raising chicks. I now understand when to reduce hand-feedings and when to stop that last hand-feeding altogether. I am no longer frantic about baby birds taking their first flight; in fact I look forward to experiencing fledging with each new chick. I have devised methods to teach baby birds how to fly and land and, to a lesser extent, avoid windows.


Baby birds can be offered solid food when they begin picking up things with their beaks. Many will begin to eat some solid food weeks before they fledge. However, I prefer to offer them solid food only after they have taken short flights that can be better described as large jumps. In the co-parenting 

studies that I have done, I learned that macaw chicks left with their parents do not consume solid foods until they have fledged or are very close to fledging. I have never seen an adult parrot offer a piece of solid food to a chick at any stage of development. Fledging is the time that nature intended for the chicks to begin the process of independence from their parents. Chicks that are offered solid food once they have begun flying begin consuming significant quantities of solid food quicker than chicks that have been offered solid food at a younger age.

During the co-parenting studies I discovered that macaw parents had many of the same troubles feeding and fledging chicks that I had encountered. When the babies were refusing food the parents would chase them around, regurgitating food into the babies' beaks. The babies finally accepted food from the parents and then lowered their heads and allowed the food to pour out of their beaks or slung the food, while violently shaking their heads. The desire to provide the babies with enough nutrition was as strong in the parents as it is in hand-feeders, who worry that chicks will lose too much weight. Yet, weight loss is inevitable, natural and a requirement for flight. Keeping good weight records and knowing what percent weight loss is normal for a particular species can relive tension and the desire to force feed babies which are progressing normally. My macaw chicks lost a greater percentage of their weight than my African Grey chicks. I have found that 

regardless of species, bigger chicks and fat chicks will lose a larger percentage of their weight than thin, small, or undersized chicks.

When I raised my first baby I was told that the chick should get a certain number of feedings at set ages, which led to a great deal of confusion. Baby birds should be fed when empty; until the day comes that they begin refusing food. This normally occurs when the chicks are being fed three times a day. One day they are no longer interested in one of the hand-feedings. They would rather play with toys, other babies or flap their wings fiercely to build muscle, confidence, and shed fat so that they can take flight.

Take cues from the chicks and never try to force them to eat when they are uninterested in eating. When babies are forced to eat they may aspirate, lose self confidence and you will miss the natural window for full independence and the chick will take much longer to wean. I am not advocating premature or forced weaning; chicks should be fed when they are hungry. Weaning chicks display a paradoxical behavior, they will not eat solid food when they are hungry. However, once hand fed to satisfaction they will consume solid food, often immediately after being hand fed.

Competition for food among baby birds is a strong motivator towards independence. Single babies take longer to wean than babies that are kept with their clutch mates. Babies that are weaned onto a diet of various foods wean quicker than birds that are weaned onto one or two foods. Foods that are different in shape, size, color, texture and flavor inspire curiosity. The babies are more inclined to pick up and 

play with foods that are interesting in appearance. As they discover that these items may be moist, dry, rough, or smooth in their mouths they are encouraged to try more new foods. Over the years I have observed that many breeders seem to force the babies to wean too early, while the individual who purchases an unweaned bird for a personal companion, hand-feeds the baby far too long. Neither premature weaning nor delayed weaning is emotionally healthy for the chick.

As chicks mature they eat more and more food on their own and they begin to eat less and less hand-feeding formula at each hand feeding.