by Theresa Jordan
As the public becomes increasingly aware of the effects of purchasing wild, imported birds, more people are choosing to buy domestically bred birds, including quakers. Unfortunately this, in turn, has led to some serious problems with inexperienced people purchasing hand-fed domestic babies that are not yet weaned. Hand-feeding of and by itself is not an overtly difficult process; however, it can be detrimental, and even fatal, to a bird whose owner has not educated and prepared him/herself adequately to tackle this time-consuming task.
Most people want to hand-feed their baby bird because they've been told that this process, when coupled with socialization, establishes a bond between the baby and the hand-feeder. While this statement is certainly true, it gives the mistaken impression that only the handfeeder can establish such a close bond with the baby bird. In reality, a close bond can be formed between a new owner and a recently weaned baby just as easily. Teaching socialization skills is extremely important in the formation of a bond between the bird and the owner.
The handfeeding and weaning process is critical in producing healthy, emotionally secure, well-socialized quakers. For anyone inexperienced in handfeeding, I strongly suggest you ask the breeder who handfeeds the babies to give you lessons and supervise you while you attempt it. This will give you an opportunity to ask questions and gain some experience. An experienced breeder will already have encountered most of the pitfalls and problems that occur with handfeeding, and there is no reason for you to make mistakes that others can prevent by sharing their information. Most breeders are only too happy to share their wealth of information, and will allow you to "pick their brain" to your heart's content. Take advantage of this!
Once you start feeding chicks on your own, use the same techniques that the breeders follows, and remain in close communication with the breeder and/or a qualified vet who can monitor the chick's progress. Weight should be recorded daily at least until the baby is weaned, and at least weekly thereafter. Amounts and frequencies of feedings need to be noted.
In my opinion, handfeeding quakers is a bit easier than some of the other species. The quaker babies are quite willing to assist you by opening their mouths very wide when it is time to eat, standing on their legs and straining to reach the food. Their lower mandibles are shaped like little shovels, making it easier to dribble the food in and avoid accidental aspiration.
The best time to introduce weaning foods is when the baby birds start investigating, picking up items and "gumming" them with their beaks. This usually occurs at around the age of 4 1/2 to 5 weeks, and we begin to offer small pelleted food in small bowls in the aquarium along with water, while still maintaining hand-feeding a minimum of 3 times a day (or as often as the babies want to be fed). At this time you can also begin to offer pellets soaked in warm water or fruit juice, and handfeeding these to them. Keep a watchful eye on what and how much they consume on their own, and you will soon find them consuming less of the handfeeding formula. When they begin to eat some of the pelleted food and various fruits and vegetables, they will naturally accept less of the formula; don't be alarmed if your babies only eat half as much formula as they did before.
When they reach approximately 6-8 weeks of age, we then offer the larger pelleted food, again along with fruits and vegetables, while still continuing to hand-feed a minimum of twice daily. Usually it is the "lunchtime" feeding that they drop first, followed by the morning feeding. It may take a while before they will drop the "last meal before I go to sleep" feeding. I personally think it gives them a feeling of security to hang onto that last feeding!
You may also notice a change in their attitudes when they begin to eat pelleted food. They may not be quite so excited to see you approach, as if they know that they are no longer entirely dependent on you to provide their food by handfeeding. We have also noticed that a number of babies will spend almost all day sitting in their food bowl once they realize what the pellets are, as if to guard them from predators!
No-one is going to be able to give you a timetable as to when quakers or any other species of birds will be weaned. They can give you a rough estimate, but it's a lucky guess at best. Quakers are individuals, and will wean on individual time tables. Some will wean faster than others. There is no "set" age at which a quaker will be weaned. Hand-feeding and weaning can be a relatively easy and enjoyable experience even for a novice breeder or owner, as long as you have armed yourself with knowledge and experience.
This article © Theresa Jordan 1996-1997
May not be reprinted without express written permission from author.