Raising Cockatiel Chicks
Very young chicks are fed day and night by their parents for at least the first week. During the daytime, the parents will provide them with the available fresh food items (as detailed on the Cockatiel Breeding page), and at night they will regurgitate food for them
If the parents are well-socialized, you should be able to handle the babies every day to check them over. They should have full crops and as they grow quickly, you will see a difference on daily basis.
Maintaining weight charts is also a way to catch problems early. The daily check-up and handling of the chicks will also socialize them thus resulting in them being better pets after weaning.
The nest boxes need to be cleaned at least every other day. Depending on the number of chicks, the nesting box can get really dirty, potentially causing bacterial or fungal infections in the chicks.
The best time to clean the nest box is when the parents are outside the box getting food for the chicks. As they will try to get into the box, block the entrance. Place the chicks in a bowl lined with paper towel in a warm and draft-free location close to you. Remove all the nesting material, scrape off any droppings and spread new nesting material at the bottom. Pine chips are a great choice. As they are larger than the normal pine bedding, which chicks could ingest or be fed accidentally by the parents. Once the box is clean and dry, place the chicks back into the box and return the box to their original location to the breeding pair.
Banding The Chicks:
If you intend to close-band the chicks, the time to do so is when they are around 7 to 14 days old. The window of opportunity for close-banding is very small. I would start checking when the chick is 7 days old. If it falls off, try again the next day. The ring has to fit over the foot, but it should be tight enough not to fall off. If you wait too long, the ring won't fit. For more information on leg banding, please visit this webpage.
Pulling the Chicks for Handfeeding:
You may decide to handfeed the babies and two to three weeks of age is a good time to pull them from the nest as they are sufficiently strong at that time and young enough to accept humans easily. Please do not handfeed unless you know what you are doing. It is best to have someone experienced guide you. Various things can go wrong if done incorrectly. Please refer to the below graphic for information.
- You will find a lot of useful resources on the Breeders' Resource Page.
If the chicks have to be pulled for whatever reason and they are younger than a week, you need to keep in mind that the young chicks will need night feedings (at least 1 to 2, between 12 and 6 am in the morning). The general rule is that the chick's crop should never be empty during a 24-hour period -- except once. And that is important. The crop needs to be empty once a day or else spoiling food will build up and cause bacterial or fungal infections in the chick. Candida, for example, is a common problem with young chicks.
Leaving the chicks with the parents for a couple of weeks and then pulling them really gives the chicks the best of both worlds: the natural care by and antibodies from their parents and the socialization by humans. Some breeders leave the chicks with their parents to raise; except for taking them out for half an hour or so a day to socialize them to humans. This will, of course, save them time and hassle.
You could take the middle route and provide supplemental feedings to the chicks, but continue to leave them with the parents for the rest of the day. This is especially recommended if the bird parents have double-clutched and are tired and in less than optimal condition. If you do so, make sure to feed the youngest / smallest chick first. The strongest / larger chicks are the first ones to be fed in the nest by the parents, as they are the loudest and pushiest of the chicks. Supplemental feedings may be especially important for the little ones, as the over-worked parents concentrate on the larger birds.
Other breeders feel that a chick raised by humans is more imprinted on them. I believe that the quality of the time with humans count more than the fact that the chicks were denied contact with their natural parents. Having visited several breeding facilities, I really don't believe that the chicks benefit from being kept in buckets filled with other chicks and having a tube inserted into their crop at feeding times. Considering the sheer volume of chicks many breeders have to care for -- this is all the time they have. I believe the true motivation in most cases to pull the chicks early is to give the parents time to double-clutch to increase the chicks available for selling.
However, many breeders feel that chicks pulled at 2 to 3 weeks of age for handfeeding make better breeders and parents in the future; as they are less nervous; are more comfortable when the human caretaker checks on the eggs and takes care of the usual chores associated with caring for the flock and chicks. I don't know if there really is a difference -- a well-socialized chick could just easily have been fed by their true parents and taken out for daily playtime by humans.
Choose whatever option works best for you. The quality of time you spend with the chicks really is what counts.
- Not always goes smoothly at times when it comes to raising chicks. Cockatiels are usually good parents; but occasionally there are some poor parents amongst them. It may be that they are too immature, physically stressed due to over-breeding or some other health issue; and you may see parents abuse the chicks. This often exemplifies itself in them pulling out their feathers or biting them. If you see this abuse, the offending parent needs to be removed. If the other parent is doing fine, you can leave the chicks with the other parent. If not, pull them altogether. It could be the circumstances, but many times abusive parents should not be placed into a breeding situation.
The babies will wean between 8 and 12 weeks of age. It varies a lot with cockatiels and you must let each baby wean at their own speed.
The chicks usually fledge when they are around four weeks old and have started to eat some food on their own. They are not completely weaned until they are about 8 to 10 weeks old. I found spray millet to be a great weaning food for chicks. Here is a website with further information on weaning chicks.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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