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Birds Will Be Birds

Guest eterri

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A lot of this will apply to budgies as well as any other parrot, so hopefully it's okay in this area. If not, feel free to move it to off topic.


There is a lot of talk lately about baby birds (especially cockatiels), handfeeding, cuddliness, and generally what seems to be a rush to get these birds home, fully weaned or not. First of all let me say that I don't blame a person for wanting their pet as soon as possible. However, I do look down on breeders who choose to put money over the well-being of the birds they breed. Force weaning is one way to get rid of the bird fast, get the cash, and focus on a new clutch.


First of all, it should be noted that force weaning is the practice of limiting handfeedings from the baby bird so that it is forced to try new foods. Many will not eat enough to sustain themselves and on top of that, think of the emotional/mental insecurity of not quite knowing where that meal is supposed to come from? After all, in the wild, food comes from mom and dad and it comes regularly. The baby cries, and food is given. That's how it should work.

Force weaning has been linked to emotional problems, behavioral problems, intolerance of change, and tends to result in a high-strung, insecure bird that isn't as confident or content as an abundance-weaned bird. They also tend to overeat after they do wean.


Abundance weaning is when the baby is fed when it asks for food. During the weaning process it is also offered a variety of different foods to try. This means the baby does NOT have to go hungry and doesn't face the fear of starvation. It knows where its meals are coming from but it also has other foods around to pique its curiosity. Once the baby is reliably eating on its own, rejecting formula, and has been monitored long enough to confirm that it is sustaining a healthy weight, it is regarded as weaned.

A good bird shop or breeder will refuse to sell you a bird that is not weaned. They will also use a technique similar to Phoebe Linden's Abundance Weaning to wean your bird. Birds who are weaned too quickly can develop serious behavior problems that you will have to deal with!


Behavior problems in cockatiels as a result of improper upbringing often include screaming. It's very common for them to scream once you've left their sight as the bird feels insecure. Are you seeing the connection between force weaning, insecurity, and contact calling/screaming? Budgies are less likely to develop such problems but I have witnessed quite a few who have NO idea how to interact with their own species or entertain themselves outside of human interaction.

It is a fact that in the wild, African Greys as well as Cockatoos for instance, are "abundance weaned" long after they have fledged. Two year old Cockatoos have been observed being fed by their parents and other relatives. Greys are being weaned and taught the "ways of life" for a number of years to prepare them not only to survive in a hostile environment, but also for the rules of behavior within their very own flock. Bobbi Brinker the noted breeder has instituted a system of "nanny birds" which helps her raise her babies. She has the reputation of producing healthy and well adjusted parrots.


A well adjusted parrot knows how to be a bird first and a human companion second. A bird who hasn't been taught how to follow his instincts in a home setting will manifest his frustrations in screaming, plucking, and other unpleasant behavioral problems.


An insecure parrot is far more likely to scream for you (his flockmate) to come back. Mr. Molly was a screamer and nothing I did appeased his desire for me to be in his sight for long. It wasn't his fault, he was NOT raised to entertain himself or taught to be a bird. The best teacher for this is really the bird's parents but many choose to take on that role themselves as hand feeder. Personally, I believe in co-parenting baby parrots. They get the best of both worlds by learning to be a bird (from birds!!) and learning to be a companion (from humans).


Having a cute and cuddly baby bird is fun and heart warming. But having a cute and cuddly bird who relies almost completely on you for entertainment and interaction can quickly turn into a nightmare. For the sake of your bird, don't spend huge amounts of time cuddling and coddling him when he comes home. He must learn to play with toys and spend a good deal of time in his cage from the very beginning! He must get used to entertaining himself when you are away so that he is not miserable every moment that you are at work or school or otherwise not in the same room. Many people bring home a baby bird and shower it with attention for the first couple of weeks. Then, when the newness and novelty wears off and reality comes back into play, the baby is suddenly without as much attention as it had gotten used to. During that period of being showered with affection, your bird can become reliant on you to the point of not learning how to entertain himself when you are gone.


With Frankie (green cheeked conure) I made sure I only handled him for about an hour a day when he first came home. He had a spacious cage, plenty of toys, and lots of passive attention. He got used to seeing me go about my day as normal, go in and out of the room. I would give a quick "Hey Frankie bird!!" and carry on. I didn't handle him at the same time every day either, he got used to routines as well as scenery changing. He became comfortable with such changes and displays no insecurity when I decide to rearrange the living room or move him to another cage (as I did recently).


Sometimes, they will attention scream anyway. Frankie tried this a few days after I brought him home. My husband and I were in the bedroom (where he was quarantined) talking between ourselves and apparently Frankie thought we needed to be paying attention to him. He started screaming and we immediately left the room without acknowledging him. Now this sounds incredibly cruel, I know. But his attention screaming was nipped in the bud and he rarely does it. He has learned that he can do quieter things to ask for attention but also that he won't always get the attention he seeks. He is a very well adjusted (albeit cranky) little bird and has no problem entertaining himself with the toys in his cage until I'm able to bring him out for some one on one time.


On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Molly was fully reliant on people, rarely played with toys, and spent all his "alone time" screaming and being completely frustrated and miserable until I was able to get back into his field of vision. He lived a very sad life and the problems he had were completely avoidable. Molly didn't even know how to interact with his own kind. Pika and Molly liked each other enough to tolerate each other but they never preened one another or displayed any other common signs of same-species affection. Molly just didn't know how.


Another important concept is fledging the baby parrot. Whether or not you plan to clip its wings, this is a must! A baby bird who learns to fly is confident and less clumsy. Once your bird learns to fly well, you can go on to clip its wings if that is what you choose.

More Confidant - a baby bird that has learned how to fly is more sure of themselves and less apt to have "issues" later on in life because they know who they are and what they are. That may sound a bit extreme until you run into a bird that screams incessantly because they don't know how to entertain themselves and think for themselves. Or a bird that bites every time you try and pick it up because it is afraid. A bird that has learned how to fly WELL is a bird that is far less apt to have these problems (provided that other things are there as well - this is just part of the puzzle).


Incorporating foraging can also help keep a bird busy while you're away and help it put those birdie instincts into use even under our man-made roofs.


It's a tricky issue to balance out, but speaking as someone who has dealt first hand with poorly-adjusted birds, I cannot just sit back and shush when it comes to the subject, especially in light of recent postings (here and elsewhere) regarding new baby birds. Especially those who have been force weaned or sold unweaned.


I honestly hoped to never run into a Mr. Molly situation again, but here I am facing the same issues with my eclectus, Poe. There are more complications, frustrations, and heartaches than I can begin to list here in detail when it comes to a bird who doesn't know how to be a bird. These are not dogs and cats who have been domesticated to the point of not only easily accepting our lifestyles, but also working for us. These are birds who not only need to fit into our lives but be allowed to practice what comes naturally to them as well.

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2.gif Excellent! Well said & written. I may not always agree with you Terri but your words here are without fault and I agree wholeheartedly.

Again, well done! 2.gif

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This is all really good info! :ausb: Thanks for taking the time to write it, it will be of great assistance to lots of people.

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This is an excellent article and I believe should be pinned by one of the moderators. I remember when I first joined here Terri explained to me the difference between hand raised and parent raised it made complete sense to me when she told me the difference. I hope everyone can take at least 3 or 4 points with them and remember them to pass on to other parrot owners who may be in a situation like Mr. Molly or others. Excellent information links. Thank you Terri for taking the time.

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I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post, Terri. My thoughts exactly.


No matter what a prospective seller may tell you (the bird must be weaned by the new owner in order to bond...the bird won't become tame unless he is handfed...he needs to learn how to eat birdfood now, don't worry about handfeeding...etc) it is absolutely not true that a budgie must be handfed to become tame. It is also absolutely not true that all birds wean on a schedule (budgies at 6 weeks, cockatiels at 8 weeks, african greys at 16 weeks, etc).


I have also been doing a lot of reading about abundance-weaning vs forced-weaning and the emotional ramifications of each. For the larger birds that are as a rule handfed, abundance weaning is by far the better way to go in my opinion. From my own experience with budgies, I can tell you that I did not handfeed baby 1 of the 9 that were bred in my living room. I could pick up any of those babies at will and not be bitten, and they were not afraid. Most of the babies were weaned by 5 weeks, but there was one that was still being parent-fed upon demand at 16 weeks. She could eat on her own, but for some reason still needed that reassurance that on-demand feedings gave her. I would no more have tried to discourage that than I would have expected them to eat on their own at 3 weeks of age. Each bird is different. And if I do say so myself, they were exceptionally tame.


I can tell you that Terri has done her homework here. If you are thinking about getting a different breed of bird to add to your flock, please ask the breeder how they were weaned. It is a much more important subject than you think it is. If you don't like the answers, wait and go elsewhere. No matter how much you want that bird.

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I read similar warnings to these just last night on a cockatiel site. I was trying to find it so that I could include the information here, but alas.... I can't find which site it was in. [edit] Found it and was in a bird rescue site:



Hand-feeding baby birds is extremely time-consuming. Some breeders attempt to cut corners and increase their profit margins by selling unweaned hand-fed chicks for a buyer to "finish off," claiming that this ensures a strong bird/human bond. While selling unweaned babies is now frowned upon, most breeders still wean their baby parrots far too early — long before a baby would be independent of its parents in the wild and properly socialized for a successful, happy adult life. Many also still clip babies' wings before they learn to fly (fledge) in order to make them easier to manage. Mature flying, adult behavioral modeling, and proper weaning are closely linked behaviors. A wild baby bird must be able to travel to locate food and learn how to be a bird from its parents. Forced weaning, lack of exposure to adult bird role models, and premature wing-clipping can cause long-term physical and emotional health problems that can permanently undermine a parrot's well-being. This results in the majority of baby birds hitting the pet market programmed for long-term failure as pets. The most conscientious breeders make little, if any, money from their time investment.



Edited by feathers
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Guest Thirtyfive Black

Excellent post!


Same goes for weaning a kitten too young... we found a kitten that had lost its family, it fit in the palm of your hand, we hand fed her, but she still spent 1/2 her life hiding under the bed.

Edited by Thirtyfive Black
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Terri I think alot of this information could be added into the FAQ for breeding called Forced weaning vs Abundant weaning or the topic could be weaning a bird. Since not many but some do handfeed budgies. A suggestion?

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  • 6 months later...

Thankyou for the great information.

Edited by AlexB
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  • 6 months later...

fantastic post! this information was so useful for me as i was thinking about hand raising one of my friend's chicks. nature knows best!

also i know understand why my cock who i got at 5 weeks (the pet shop said he was 8 weeks) is so untameable. when i got him he couldnt fly he didnt eat much.


well done

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  • 5 years later...

Just had a re-read of this as well, it's still good to be able to refresh our memory about this sort of thing.


Any newbies can benefit from reading through the older pinned posts, some great advice to be found.

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