Brooder are used to keep young babies without feathers warm (incubators are for eggs). Once the baby has enough feathers to help regulate his own body temperature, a brooder will not be necessary (approximately five weeks old for an amazon-size parrot). At this stage a baby should be kept between 70 and 80 degrees. They should also have an aquarium or cardboard like container to get into if they feel cold. Multiple babies are easier to brood because they can huddle or spread out to keep warm.
Most breeders use thermometers, experienced breeders will rely on body language to determine if the baby is cold, hot or just right. With experience you can tell with a high degree of accuracy. Basically young babies should be lying down and stretched out most of the time. A balled up appearance or multiple babies bunching on top of each other are too cold, and open mouth breathing or panting is too hot.
Pet owners should not buy a young baby that needs a brooder. Before a baby starts flying it will look more mature than it actually is. Even though the baby can regulate its body temperature fairly well it requires someone with experience to properly maintain the environment and stop problems from starting. Healthy babies that have been flying for a few days can self-regulate their own body temperature and are old enough to go to a pet home, but since they are young and moving to a new and strange environment they should be kept at normal room temperature for a couple of weeks.
Ventilation and humidity are important environmental conditions that can become problematic if you are not paying attention. Ventilation and humidity requirements are the same for a baby parrot as they are for you. 50% to 60% relative humidity is adequate. Too little humidity is worse than too much. Young babies that become dehydrated may experience slower food transit time and become malnourished. As soon as a baby becomes nutrient compromised many other problems can quickly develop.
Supplying a moisture source can increase humidity levels. A water dish can be placed in a brooder with young babies that are in containers keeping them from getting into the water. Some brooders have a water reservoir that is not accessible by the babies. Once the babies become mobile it may be necessary to increase the humidity in the room instead of just inside of the brooder.
A small amount of air movement is necessary. Too large a fan in a brooder, or a space heater blowing on a baby that has graduated from the brooder, can remove moisture and cause dehydration. Cool drafts can also cause dehydration and heat loss.
Many times babies are placed in small tight quarters or containers with high sides. This will reduce airflow and may not allow fresh clean air to get to your baby. Stagnant air and moisture in the bottom of your container will promote bacterial and fungal growth. If you would be comfortable staying where you place the baby, then it is probably an appropriate environment.
Price range and quality of brooders can vary tremendously. Inexpensive units can cost as little as $100.00 and as quality increases, can go up to $1000.00. Generally professionally manufactured brooders are relatively inexpensive and well worth the expense. If all you need is a brooder for a few weeks to brood an older baby, it is possible to make a brooder with a small heat source and small container from items in your home.
The basic components of a brooder are the container to hold the baby and a heat source. Additional components include thermostat, built in thermometer and humidistat, water reservoir for humidly control and ventilators. The need for the additional and higher quality equipment will increase as the number of babies you will be incubating increases.
A simple short-term brooder can consist of a small room, closet or bathroom, and a small space heater. With a little time and patience, you can easily control this type of brooder within about five degrees, which is adequate for four or five week old babies and an attentive caretaker. Brooders can also be made from an aquarium or small box. A small human baby heating pad is probably the best and least expensive heat source. The baby should not be placed on top of this type of heat source, but next to them, so they can move away if necessary. The temperature between the baby and the heat source will be warmer than the ambient temperature in the rest of the container. A baby can easily be overheated while lying on a heating pad while the temperature above the baby remains cold.
Temperature requirement for all age parrots are constantly changing. Sleeping verses awake, moving verses not moving, and before or after eating are examples of where the ambient temperature requirements will vary. For this reason Hartman Aviary never uses enclosed temperature controlled brooders for babies. At Hartman Aviary our brooder is an entire room heated on one side of the room so the far side of the room is slightly cooler for the older babies. There is a counter on the warm side with the heat source underneath. The heat radiates through the counter and into the open top containers that sit on the counter. The counter top is a few degrees below the necessary temperature for very young babies. On the counter top we place small human baby heating pads that are set on the lowest setting. The containers are place on the counter with only half of the container on the heating pad. This allows the baby or babies to move to the most comfortable temperature on the bottom of the container. For very young babies the container needs to be small so the baby does not need to move very far. When multiple babies are in the same container it is much easier to keep them comfortable.
It is not advisable to use heat lamps because the radiant heat can burn babies' skin. The light form the lamps can also damage the developing eyes, even before they begin to open.
*Important: It is VERY easy to regulate the temperature range necessary for a baby with most of his body covered with feathers. It is easy to tell if a feathered baby is too warm or cold. They can tolerate as much as a ten degree temperature range. It is VERY difficult to regulate the temperature for a younger baby. Keeping a naked baby warm requires lots of experience to know exactly what temperature is necessary. The critical temperature range can be as small as two degrees.
*Important: Brooders are used to help things grow. They do an excellent job of growing fungus and bacteria as well as babies. Clean them often.