AWS Articles

Why Babies Die

By Tom Trujillo

At about two weeks of age, the young have grown considerably and require more food. If there is a noticeable difference in size in the babies, the smallest may be positioned out of the parent's reach, causing it to weaken and eventually starve. Here's how I try to avoid seeing this cruel part of nature.

I do not position a nest in a cage corner. This limits the approach by the parents to only the sides away from the cage walls thus maybe not allowing them to reach the baby in the back or far side. Initially, I will use my 4 inch diameter nests so the hens can build their nest and incubate. If 3 or more hatch, I switch to a 5-inch nest when the babies are about a week old. I fill the bottom of the new nest with enough fresh material to be about 3/4 inch from the brim. I make sure the area where the babies are is not a deep cup but a flat plain where all chicks are at the same level. We often forget that the smallest is also the deepest in the cup making its survival chances slimmer. A level nest bed helps. Why only 3/4 of an inch from the brim? After about 10 days, the babies by a natural instinct to keep their nest bed clean, raise their little buds to the edge of the nest to deposit outside their quarters. If the nest is too deep, they mess all around the inside. The larger diameter nest allows the babies to maneuver more freely into a position where a parent can find and get to feed them all.

Finally, in the morning, I tend to the cages with babies first. By the time I finish the others, about an hour later, the parents have had time to feed. I then check nests with 4 or 5 babies to make sure everybody has been fed. I can quickly see the yellow food on the side of the neck. Even after feathers grow out just blow or gently push feathers near neck base to see if the "stored" food can be seen on either side. I have a cup with formula ready so I can quickly remove the nest and feed any empty 'neck' babies. This feeding gives them strength to try harder during the day when no one is home. I come home and immediately start to boil a small amount of water to prepare my feeding formula. (The boiling is an extra step at reducing some of the possible bacteria and harsh elements in tap water. Plus babies like warm formula better). I check nests for unfed babies, I will feed these a little for quick energy and not fill them. I want them to get "mother's milk", if you will, as it is better suited for their systems. Once every baby has some food in it, I proceed to give all the cages fresh eggfood. Just before dark I check the nests where there were babies with no food. Most of the time they are full by now. I do this routinely just because the day I don't it seems the next day I see the tragic results. The curse of all this is that it is usually the babies from one's favorite pair that this happens to.

In case there is anyone out there that has never fed a baby bird here is what I do: I boil a small amount of water and remove from stove to let it start to cool just enough to be warm for mixing. In a cup I add 2 teaspoons of the dry Gerber's Mixed Cereal for human babies and 1 teaspoon of eggfood. I add enough of the boiled water now warm to mix the ingredients to a soft but not mushy consistency. Just thick enough to stick to the flat tip of a toothpick or to cling to the tip of a spoon. With baby birds, from a day to 5 days, I use a flat head toothpick. I dip the flat part in the formula and stick the clinging formula into the beak to where the tip of the toothpick gently touch the skin where the beak joint is. The touching of this sensitive corners of the beak causes the tiny baby, with eyes not yet opened, to shut the beak and consequently "bite" off the food. Careful... Leaving the toothpick with food on the tip too far towards the edge of the beak causes the baby to react to smell and "snap" in the direction of the smell. This causes the baby to quite often swallow nothing but air. This is evident by the neck area swelling like a balloon. Just put it back in the nest for a few minutes so the air is expelled. Do not try to force feed when full of air or you will surely suffocate the baby.

After 10 days or so I just use a regular teaspoon with food clinging just past the spoon's edge so the baby "bites" nothing but food. By now the feel or sight of a mouthful causes it to quickly close and swallow. Keep feeding until the baby stops begging for more and you notice the side of the neck is full. A full neck is nature's way of weighing down the heads of bottomless pits to give the others a chance. Now if you are feeding a nest full rotate the spoon or toothpick from beak to beak so everyone remains interested in eating. Especially with very young chicks that make a tremendous exhausting effort to raise their heads and hold them. You must make it worth there while. I caution anyone from getting to eager to handfeed. Again, I just feed the one baby here and there that for some reason that day missed the early breakfast or the last meal before bedtime.

For those of you getting imported timbrados, waterslagers or rollers, let me say what I found during my visits to Europe. Birds are bred in quiet remote areas like attics, basements or a room set aside for the birds. Family members know the birds are not to be disturbed. Birds in Europe are a second family income and everyone understands quality and quantity mean money. I say this because some like to brag about how their hens feed their young even with all kinds of kids running around, dogs barking and "me moving the hen off the nest to see her babies" and the like. If you purchase an importedd bird, it may not be used to this environment. I seen people not raise a single babies and in fact in a couple of cases lost the hens.

This year at least give your imports some consideration if you breed in the kitchen or other well frequented parts of the house. These birds may not take the movement of bodies, strange voices and loud sounds well at first, especially when nesting.

Just understand and learn that our little feathered friends are very susceptible to all kinds of things that kill them. Remember one thing about imported song canaries and song canaries kept by serious US breeders; they are kept isolated from other birds to avoid song contamination. This isolated environment often ends up being a very quiet remote area where the birds are not exposed to lots of everyday loud sounds like dropped objects, doors slamming or loud music, etc. Therefore, any of these noises when heard for the first time is quite a scary experience.

Let me close with a funny experience also related to song canary isolation. I had been raising yellow waterslagers for years before I bought my first white, a hen, from Dr. Lou Popejoy in 1993. I brought it home and released her in a flight full of yellow waterslager hens and young. All the yellow birds were scared of the white one and began to fly like chickens when they see a hawk's shadow. I had to take her out. Something I had never experienced with my color and type canaries when I had them. It was like you or me seeing a ghost. Now I have just as many whites as yellow and this no longer occurs. But in another way, it reflected the conditioning to certain things only in their isolated surroundings.

@ AWS 2001