Nest Box or Brooder to Open Container
Move babies out of the constant temperature environment of a brooder as soon as practical. A baby kept at a constant temperature or is too warm will tend to be sedentary. Movement is necessary for muscle and bone development, as well as coordination. Some change in ambient temperature is good for babies. Changing temperatures causes the baby's metabolism to change periodically and promotes motor movement as the baby searches for a warmer area.
While being a good place to keep a constant temperature, brooders have some inherent problems. Brooders are great places to grow bacteria and fungus and are difficult to completely clean and disinfect. There always seems to be a nook or cranny that is inaccessible. The sooner you can remove the baby from this possibly deadly environment, the better.
When the baby has enough down or feathers to help maintain his own body temperature without a brooder, he should be moved into an open top container. This will depend on your ability to provide a place in a room where the temperature is warm and stable. The container for the lone baby should be small enough that he cannot stretch out completely and large enough that he can turn over and around. Feeling the sides of the container against him will provide an environment similar to a natural nest. For babies that are not quite feathered, the container can be lined with a paper or cloth towel so that his body will not touch the hard side. This will feel more comfortable and limit the amount of heat loss from his body to the container. A few tablespoons of wood shavings will serve as an absorbent mattress. When lying down the baby will be surrounded by paper towels and wood shavings, but no cover. The sides are high enough that there is only a small amount of heat loss above the baby. This way the baby can snuggle toward the bottom and side of the container or rise up and be exposed to slightly cooler temperatures. Two or more babies in a container like this works very well allowing both to find just the right temperature.
The best scenario is for babies to be removed from the nest box when 2 -3 weeks old and placed into an open top container, and never experience a brooder.
When several babies are kept together the move to an open container can be made at a much younger age. When groups of babies are in the same container, it is very easy to tell if the room temperature is warm enough. Warm babies will be spread out and pant if too warm. Cold babies will be nestled together, and too cold babies will be standing on their tiptoes to climb on top of the pile.
It is more difficult to determine if a lone baby is comfortable. To error on the safe side, it is necessary for the inexperienced owner to leave the baby in the brooder longer than necessary (leave these young babies with the professional). Extremes of too cold and too warm are easily noticeable because of panting or shivering. Otherwise, it is difficult to tell if the baby's container temperature is just right. To a novice, the baby's body language may be difficult to interpret. For instance, a baby sleeping while standing with his head on his chest may be just as comfortable as a baby laying stretched out on its side, but as a baby begins to get too cold, he will usually stand up, hunker down, put his head on his chest, draw his wings tight against his body, and look like he is warm. Misinterpreting this situation could lead to major problems.
The lone baby is ready to leave the small open top container when there are enough feathers to cover his body and he is beginning to be able to walk around. For a cockatiel, small conures and small lories, this will be about four to five weeks old, an African grey Congo about five to six weeks old, and a Blue and Gold macaw about six to seven weeks of age. Match the size of your bird to one of these to gauge his rate of maturing. Generally, you should avoid purchasing a baby that is not feathered enough to regulate its own body temperature.
Until the baby goes into the cage, he should always be on some sort of absorbent bedding. The first two weeks, we use tissues and paper towels to keep the baby warm and dry. At about two weeks, we start using a small amount of wood shavings. The shavings mix with the feces and absorb the urine, keeping the baby dry. The shavings also provide a rougher surface to grip and promote movement.
As the baby grows, the container size will need to increase.
Young babies and babies just out of the brooder should be in a container with solid sides he cannot see out of that provide a darkened area to promote sleep. Most babies under four months old need about 16 hours of sleep each day.
In addition, the brain is stimulated more when the baby hears without seeing. Creating pictures to go with the sounds provides a greater amount of exercise for the developing brain. The minimized visual stimulus will also limit the number of times the baby is disturbed by movements. Being a prey animal, parrots are keenly aware of movements that may indicate a predator, and generally respond more aggressively to visual stimulus than auditory stimulus.
Babies beginning to play with toys and food items you have put in his container need to be moved to a larger space where they can stand and move around. As the baby becomes more active and begins investigating his environment, he can be moved into a clear sided container. As a bird matures, he very quickly becomes adept at processing new experiences and needs to see more of what is going on around him. If you are providing lots of tactile and nurturing stimulus, the baby will rarely be afraid and scary situations will be processed very quickly and turned into learning experiences.
Important: The feet of a bird coming from a nest or brooder are not very strong. For the most part, he has been lying down or standing in one place on a flat surface. In the cage, he will have to use his toes to grasp the wire and perches. Begin developing his feet and leg muscles by placing a perch and toys large enough to stand on in the bottom of his container. Make sure the perch is steady and will not roll. Small concrete perches that stand an inch or two high work well.
From the Container to the Cage
Moving to a large open cage form a small container is a scary proposition for a baby. The best way we have found to make this transition is a cardboard box. In most cases the container can be put inside the cage for a few days until the baby discovers the box.
Baby parrots love small dark places. The inside of a box is dark, warm and tempers noises just like a nest cavity. Baby parrots, just like humans, like little hide-outs where we can observe the world without being observed.
The first day of cage life will be stressful for your baby. We need to make this transition as stress free as possible. We can do this in a few ways.
The cardboard box or other small container laid on its side will give the baby refuge from his new interactive environment. The box should be large enough for him to get all the way inside, but not more than about twice his size from his neck to the base of his tail. A dark box will simulate the dark conditions in a nest and supply more comfort than a lighted area. For a few days, the baby will spend most of the time inside. Place a piece of newspaper in the box that can be changed as it gets soiled. Slowly, he will venture out for longer periods and within a couple of weeks, will begin to abandon the box for life on the perch.
For the first week or so, you can reduce the strain on the babies' feet and legs by putting a few layers of newspaper on 1/2 of the bottom of the cage. This way he can slowly venture from the paper and return when his feet get tired of gripping the wire on the cage bottom.
The paper will also be useful for scattering solid food on. Birds are likely to pick up food from the ground before they will eat from a dish.
If the cage is in a busy area, by a door or window or exposed to drafty conditions, you should think about wrapping the sides of the cage with a towel or sheet. This will keep down drafts and reduce visual stimulation. Make sure you leave at least a few inches open in the front to let the baby look out and see what's going on.
Remove all high perches from the cage. The perching instinct in young birds is strong and you may soon find an uncoordinated baby attempting to get to a high perch that he could fall from. A couple of perches should be placed on the bottom of the cage. About one half should be over the papered area so the baby can get on and off easily. As the baby gains dexterity and strength in his legs and feet, the perch can be moved higher. Your baby will fall off many times before he learns what it is all about. This is not different from a human child needing a side rail to keep from falling out of bed. Perches on the bottom and side of the cage must be stable so they will not move and turn when the baby stands on it.
As you notice your baby progressing through the developmental stages, you can add higher perches and remove the box, paper and skirting from around the cage. Depending on the weaning stage of the baby, you may need to leave a small section of paper to scatter the food on.
Don't forget toys. Initially toys should be on the paper and close to the bottom of the cage. They can become more complicated and higher as you raise the perches.
Important: There are two kinds of stress. Watching a movie, exercising or doing a satisfying job is stressful in a good way. Babies of all types are genetically programmed to see life as this good type of stress. They are learning sponges and process most experiences in a positive way. When there is not enough sleep, food, warmth or nurturing from mom most activities can be recorded as bad stress.
Important: Remember that babies have a short attention span. When training and socializing, keep sessions short. Pay attention to your baby's attention span and stop each stimulus before he loses interest. To achieve maximum development, you must expose the baby to as many different situations and experiences as possible. All babies should be conditioned to The Aviator Harness and know all about the outside world before they begin to fly. Get them out of the house, to the park, or your neighbor's. When you are on the deck, he should be with you. Treat you baby parrot in the same ways you would treat a three-year-old child and you will develop a well-adjusted, stable, lifelong companion.