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Hand feeding challenges (Part Three)

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

I have been very fortunate in my 35 years of hand feeding baby birds not to have any issues, but certain challenges can occur. Below are a few issues you may encounter and how to avoid them.

Food not digesting: Most of the time the reason for food not digesting is when the bird is too cold or the food being fed is too cold. Using heating pads underneath the bird's container is a great way to keep the birds nice and warm. Heating pads create a moist heat and won't dehydrate the birds like heating lamps. I also use a heating pad underneath my towel as I am hand feeding. You can use a thermometer to check food temperature, but I just test the temperature of the food on my wrist. I test on different areas on my wrist during different feedings to make sure my skin doesn't toughen up to the heat of the food.

Food not digesting can also be caused by bacteria, which will require antibiotics from your vet. To help prevent bacteria make sure you clean the area around the bird's mouth after each feeding (I usually use a clean tissue or paper towel). Food left over around the mouth can cause bacteria growth.

Sometimes a baby's crop will not be completely empty in the morning. If this happens I recommend using papaya enzyme or rice water to help the food digest. Papaya enzyme is a chewable tablet you can crush and add to water, or boil rice and use the water to mix your formula. A few other tips to help digest food are to feed the food runny (with more water), feed with less food and more times a day, or lightly massage the crop to stimulate digestion.

Burnt Crop: Feeding food that is too hot will burn the crop. After a few days a hole might even develop in the crop, which most people won't notice until food comes out of the hole during a feeding (the feathers can sometimes cover the injured area). This is a serious problem and the bird must be taken to the vet for surgery. The vet must scrape and cut away the dead, damaged skin, then use stitches or glue to close the hole. The bird must then be fed less food more times a day so the crop will not overstretch and healing can continue, as well as taking antibiotics.

Stretched Crop: Some people will overfeed babies so they can feed less times a day. This is a problem because the crop can get stretched out and hang below the exit area for the food (leading to the proventriculus). Overfeeding will prevent the complete process of digestion and elimination. If the food can not exit the crop it will sour/spoil and make the bird sick (sour crop). If a bird's crop is stretched you can "bra" the bird. Take non-stick medical tape and lift the crop so it is above the exit area. You can then attach the ends of the tape under the wings and onto the back. The bird must be fed less because there will be less space in the crop. Most of the time the crop will shrink back to its normal size.

Thank you for reading my three part blog on hand feeding baby birds!

- Written by Christie Price

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