Handfeeding Canaries
by Ginger Wolnik

Published in the Pacific American Singer newsletter, volume 6, number 2, April 1999.

Unlike breeders of pet parrots, canary breeders usually let theparents do all the feeding of their chicks. This does not mean thatyou cannot intervene occasionally, especially if you have a bird thathatches a day or two later than its nestmates. Exclusivehand-feeding is an all-day job, but you can sometimes save a "runt"by giving it just one or two booster feedings a day. It is importantthat newly hatched chicks go to sleep with a full crop their firstnight, so if you feed a late-hatched bird at dusk, it could make thedifference in survival without any additional human feeding. Once achick gets too weak to beg, it is doomed. Feeding the smallest chickin the nest in the morning can give it the strength to compete allday. So, unless you are a strict "Darwinist," be prepared tohand-feed your canary chicks if it becomes necessary. It is not muchbother if you limit yourself to two feedings a day.

The easiest method for hand-feeding is to use a commercialformula. There are several brands; I use Kaytee Exact HandfeedingFormula for Baby Birds. It comes as a powder that you simply mixwith warm water as needed. For newly hatched chicks, you can use thewide end of a flat toothpick as a spoon. I also use the metal toolthat is used for expanding plastic leg bands because the tip is likea tiny spoon. Mix just a little amount for each feeding; do not savethe leftovers for later, the risk of spoilage is not worth it. Thetiny chicks are so transparent that you will see the food going intotheir crop as they eat. When they are full, they will stop begging,then usually sleep.

Try to clean up any spilled food, it can harden and form a cruston the chicks and restrict growth or blood circulation, especially onthe feet. Dab with a piece of dry tissue and most of the food willstick to it. Also have a little bowl of water ready to moistentissue to wipe their faces clean if necessary.

Hookbill hand-feeders usually use a syringe to put the formuladirectly into the chick's crop, but I do not recommend this forcanaries. Just drip or dab the food into the canary's beak like theparents do and the chick will swallow it on its own. Let the chickswallow and breathe between each mouthful. When the crop is full, itwill quit begging. Don't try to force it to eat more than it wants.Sometimes, they gape like a yawn and lick or smack their beak cleanwhen they are full. This is not begging, so don't try to force morefood at this point. Begging is usually distinguished by wingflapping and cheeping.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to get a new hatched chick or avery weak chick to beg. I found it best to prop them up and tilt thehead up so the beak is pointing skyward. Gently stroke them underthe chin. Tapping them lightly on the top of the head can also work,that is how the parents wake them when they want them to eat in thoserare cases where the chicks don't notice their return. Another trickfor feeding the very weak chick is to just put some watery food onthe tip of the beak. Even with the beak closed, the chick willrealize something is there if it is at all conscious. Then it willopen slightly to lick its beak to clean it. That is when you need tobe ready to shove in a tiny mouthful! If you can keep the chick andthe food warm, it will perk up fairly quickly once food gets to thecrop and hopefully open its mouth again so you can put more food in.Don't force food in or overstuff it. Also don't burn the crop withhot food. I keep everything warm by putting the chick and the foodin little bowls that float in larger bowls of warm water, the "doubleboiler" method. Like banding, the more you do this, the easier itgets.

Every canary breeder should keep a supply of hand-feeding formulaon hand. Good luck, hope you do not have to do any handfeeding, butplease be prepared in case you do.

Handfeeding 6 Day Old Canary Chicks
Band removal tool used for feeding spoon.
Bowls of warm water and Kaytee Exact Handfeeding Formula
With a large nest of 5 like this, supplimental feeding just before dark insures that all chicks get fed and grow equally.

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