Feather Picking in Parrots and Macaws

I don’t know why some birds pick their feathers and others don’t. I’ve asked but my birds aren’t saying.

Parrots in the wild don’t pick their feathers – at least the ones that want to live. Parrots in the wild need to fly in order to find food and water and to escape from predators. But parrots in captivity often pull and pick at their feathers, rendering them flightless and not very attractive.

I suspect that the problem is behavioral in nature. The two macaws I have that pick their feathers are both nearing or are at sexual maturity. They both had been hand raised and hand fed from day one.

They were both pets for their first 4 years. The Scarlet Macaw was picked when I bought her and the Greenwing Macaw was fine until I put them into a breeding situation. Perhaps the stress and new demands on behavior caused them to express their stress in a physical way by picking at their feathers. They have little control over anything else. They can’t change their location, go and find different food, or get away from a bird they don’t like. Or get closer to a bird they do like for that matter.

They crave my attention and perhaps they prefer me over their cage mate. And I leave them alone for the most part, so they will transfer that bond to their cage mate. They haven’t laid eggs yet. The haven’t bonded with their mates yet either. They co-exist OK with their cage mate but that acceptance of the male as their mate hasn’t happened. With my Scarlet Macaw, the female has taken to picking the male too. Its not pretty but otherwise they’re healthy.

I started to give them baths, spraying a mist of water over them on a daily basis. I also put St. John’s Wort, a herbal supplement thought to elevate mood, in their feed. Four months later both Macaws were on their way to looking better and having feathers again.

There’s other things to try as well. Change the location of the cage so they have a different view. Or put up dividers to block their view of other birds. Changing how long the lights are on (if indoors) can make a difference too. Macaws equate the length of time the light is on with the season, shorter days mean fall and winter. Increasing days mean spring going into summer.

The main thing to remember is when a parrot does something you don’t want, watch the bird, try to understand what’s bugging them and then try changing something and see if you make a difference. If the change you make works then great, if not then try something else. Behaviors rarely change by themselves – they are usually in response to something new in their lives.

Parrots Eat Monkey Food

After the egg hatches from the parrot incubator and is moved to the parrot brooder, you need to hand feed the baby parrot until it can eat on it’s own – anywhere from four weeks to four months depending on the type of bird.


When hand feeding baby parrots, especially the Macaws, along with the other larger parrots, Cockatoos, Amazons, and African Greys, what starts out as a tiny portion soon becomes a big gulp of food. That little bag of premium hand feeding formula is great for starting birds but soon eats up your profits.


Have you ever noticed that anything with the word “parrot” attached seems to carry a premium price? These specialty foods cost per meal than a burger from the local fast food value menu.


It was before my time, and I’ve been raising baby parrots for eighteen years, many breeders made their own hand feeding formula. They would start with Monkey Chow… yes not a misprint… and add some banana or some beans to it. Throw it in a blender and they were done. I suspect they fed using the paper cup method of delivery because it would be hard to get the mix fine enough for a syringe style of feeding.


I’m sure there are breeders today still doing some variation of that. I never knew where you bought Monkey Chow, I assumed Purina made it. What I did know was that there other ways to make hand feeding formula.


I would buy pine shaving for my nestboxes from the local farm and ranch supply house. One time in the store I noticed that a fifty pound bag of Chicken Pellets (Purina Chick Starter, Feed n Grow), or something like that. I compared the breakdown of protein, carbs, etc and it was very similar to the hand feeding formula I was using. And fifty pounds was $12.00. Five pounds of something with a parrot on it was over $20.00. That’s 2000% (two thousand percent) more. More or less.


I was spending over $100 to hand feed one macaw baby all the way through to weaning. This fifty pound bag of Start n Grow was $12.00. That was a big difference.


So I tried an experiment. I bought a fifty pound bag of Start n Grow, ( not the medicated stuff – I didn’t want anything but food in the feed) I took a cup of it and threw it in the blender to grind it up smaller and the blender choked on it. So I added some water to the mix, – what a mess that was. I really began to appreciate the quick – just add some water to the ready made hand feeding formula – feeding process. Time is money too – right? The extra time to mix up the cheaper formula and the extra mess was the tipping point back to the parrot hand feeding formula.


There had to be a better way. And there is. The answer is a flour mill. Check amazon.com or just Google “flour mill”.


Get one with a motor – and fast is good. Some mills are too slow. A mill will turn your pellets back into the flour they were before they were pellets.


Kinda funny when you think of it. They start with flour, Charge a premium for it when it goes in a bag with a baby parrot on it, Then they make the rest into it into pellets for chickens. Then they break some of the pellets into crumbles for baby chickens to eat.


Anyway, back to the topic… A home flour mill will make flour out of the parrot pellets you toss in it and make it into hand feeding formula you can use just like store bought and way cheaper than hand feeding formula from the store. Chicken Start n Grow – same thing – and way cheaper than parrot pellets. One clutch of 3 baby macaws and you are even on food costs using your flour mill/chicken pellet investment. after that save over $100 per baby macaw you hand raise..


If you think that isn’t big, think again. Now we’ve just talked about the money. Saving money is great, you also have little to no extra time grinding the hand feeding flour. So using the home milled flour isn’t any more work that using the store bought. So the last question – I can phrase this several ways, and perhaps the most important is “Is it healthy? Will my baby macaws grow up as well, will they gain weight at the same rate?


I wanted to know the answer to these questions too. So I did an experiment. I took on clutch of macaw babies (three) I already had weight gain charts from previous clutches. I knew what to expect and had the records to prove it. These were day one babies (A day one baby is one I feed from the day it hatches in the parrot egg incubator).


I started them on the store bought hand feeding formula. After a week ( They don’t eat much the first week) I switched them over to my home milled formula. And charted their weight gain. I saw no difference in how they gained weight and how they turned out. I was amazed. I never went back. From then on I always started the first week on store bought, and then switched to home milled hand feeding formula – milled from Chicken Start N Grow crumbles.


Hand feeding parrots is a healthy investment of money and time. From a quality parrot egg incubator and brooder for parrots that are needed for the best results, to the late hours feeding babies, you don’t need to spend any more than you have to. I could now cut my food cost to a minimum. If you raise large parrots, macaws, or have a large quantity of birds to feed, this is a way to be more profitable. This is a tough business, one done out of love for the animals. Give yourself a raise, take some financial pressure off. Do the same experiment yourself. See the difference.

Teach a friend or acquaintance all you know about raising birds. Pass on your knowledge. There are old breeders that have held their knowledge close to the vest, not sharing their tips and tricks to surviving in this business. Many of the breeders I knew when I was starting are gone now.

Hand feeding baby parrots is one of the most rewarding hobbies or profession you can experience. It has to be because it is tough to succeed. If you love baby parrots – give it a try. Get a local bird club person to teach you to hand feed. If you already know, teach someone – don’t be afraid of competition – that is the short view. In the long view you’ll be ensuring that these skills and this knowledge endures.

Jim Avey, is an expert at raising macaws, and manufactures related breeder equipment. Learn more at www.aveyincubator.com or www.precisionincubators.com

The Multiple Uses of Brooders


The multiple uses of brooders

Generally, with way parrot and bird breeders define brooders are a heated box for babies after they hatch and incubators are for eggs. When used with a mammal, the brooder is called an incubator. In all cases the brooder is a machine for keeping animals warm. And some brooders/incubators are much more sophisticated than a heated box.

In farming, with poultry, a brooder can be as simple as a heat lamp hanging from the ceiling over a pen where the baby chicks are kept. Chickens are smart, (most poultry is this way) they hatch, jump up, run around and start eating and drinking right away. They’re smart enough to know when it is too cold and when it is too hot. They move under the brooder heat lamp to get warm, and away from it when they are warm enough.

Zoos, avian specialists and veterinarians use brooders for special needs. Parrots and hookbills are birds that are hatched naked, helpless and rely on their parents for food and warmth in the wild and humans as foster parents until they can eat on their own and can sustain their own body heat. This can be 3 weeks to 16 weeks or more depending on the specie. Some of the special features used for exotic birds are digital humidity control, very precise temperature management and nebulizer attachments to dispense medications in a fine mist inside the brooder.

If an animal is sick or recovering from surgery, a time in a brooder can help keep them warm so they can concentrate on getting well. The brooder/incubator can also be an oxygen chamber to assist with breathing, and a delivery system for medicine.

One specialized brooder type is portable. Design for the transport of babes and able to run from multiple power sources such as a car’s power supply as well as a 120VAC wall outlet. The special Cooler Brooders are insulated, have a clear inner lid so you can visually check on the babies without letting all the heat out.

Some brooders can be equipped with supplemental oxygen and nebulizers – which dispense medications in a mist to be breathed by the animal. Respiratory problems are common in exotic birds and a fine mist of medication is a great way to get medicine where it is needed with having to attempt to place a mask over the birds head.

These techniques are gaining popularity with the breeders of Bulldogs and other mammals that are delivered by Cesarean operation. These animals sometimes have underdeveloped lungs and need a little help with processing oxygen and warmth before they can survive on their own. A newborn bulldog puppy can spend a few hours to a few days getting healthy.

Brooders are used by the US Army for mosquito research, some are used to collect water samples from swimming pools for analysis. Others have been used to transport semen from bulls, horses and even elephants! How they collect the semen is a story for another time.

All of these types of brooders and incubators are available from precisionincubators.com.

Chickens are smarter than Parrots?

Chickens are Smarter Than Parrots
Chickens are smarter than parrots, at least when they first hatch. Chickens hatch from the egg, stand up, dry off and start looking for food and water. They can eat by themselves right away, they know how to drink water – right away. That knowledge is hardwired into their DNA. They just know what to do to survive. As a human, I think we have a lot less hardwired DNA – we have to learn everything.
Parrots are born pretty dumb. They don’t know anything. Their eyes are shut. They are naked except for some fuzz, they can’t walk. They look like space aliens. About the only thing they know how to do is gulp food if placed near their mouth. We call it a feeding response, and it can be pretty strong.
Chickens move around. They know when they are too hot and too cold. If you hang a heat lamp in a corner of their room, they will huddle under the heat lamp when they are cold and move away when they are hot. This is commonly known as a brooder setup or brooder box or just brooder. And chickens will need the extra heat until they grow real feathers and develop enough physically to generate their own body heat.
A parrot brooder is a completely different animal. They are not nearly as large. They are an enclosed box, with a heating element to provide heat, most have a fan to circulate the heat. The professional models have humidity controls and readouts, and digital controls for the temperature too. High and low temperature alarms and accuracy down to a tenth of a degree are necessary to take care of the baby parrot.
A professional parrot brooder will be hundreds of dollars. A chicken brooder (Also the same for poultry of all kinds, quail, pheasant, duck, turkey, goose) can be set up for about $15.00
A parrot is, of course, much smarter than a chicken, but it takes a while for a parrot to catch up. One of the real joys in raising parrots is hand feeding them while they are growing up . A month to four months later, depending on the type, parrots have pretty much learned to eat on their own, can sit on a perch. and are saying their first words. Some parrots, mostly macaws even have the ability to be semi housebroken. At least they learn to not poop on you when they are sitting on your shoulder. Sadly chickens never learn that- they go everywhere and often.
If you would like to experience the joys of hand feeding and raising your own parrots, a good place to start would be to get a local parrot breeder to teach you. There’s skill involved and done the wrong way can cause great harm to the baby parrot. One way to find local breeders is to search Google for parrot blogs, parrot bird clubs. And then post a question.
Chickens are really fun too. Don’t underestimate the friendliness of chickens. They will recognize you on sight if you are the one that raised them and come running to say Hi! They don’t really say Hi – Chickens can’t talk. But they can show their joy at seeing you. And there’s many breeds that are beautiful and varied in color and size.
Find out about the joys of having a pet bird. They will amaze you every day.