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Weight loss during weaning

Expert Question

I just purchased a baby Ducorps Cockatoo; 6 months. She came in weighing 326 grms and has dropped steadily to 298 today. I have been talking with my vet and breeder, and don’t feel I’m making progress. I feel much of this is stress related, new environment, etc. I have taken vacation time to be with her for the next week, but will return to a full time job by 12/1. Although she is (was weaned) and does eat some, but it’s not enough. I have tried everything, except syringe feed. Which I’m afraid to do because I’ve never used this method, and there are so many things that could go wrong. I am going to purchase a syringe and formula today, but I’m concerned that I won’t administer it correctly (also, I don’t feel it’s good to let her regress feed using this method). I have no other choices, do I???? The vet suggested we do an x-ray; that’s now an answer to me, that’s a way to make money. The breeder just kept asking if I tried this-or-that. YES, I have tried it all hot food, wet food, soaked food, the breeder sent 2 lbs of the seed/pellet mix he was giving her. I bought Nutri-am cakes from the vet, various other food cakes and bars, oatmeal, veggies, parrot mix; sweet, spicy all kinds. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVISE THAT COULD HELP. I’M DESPERATE, AND SO AFRAID THAT SHE’S STARVING!!!!

P.S. I own a 6 yrs old african gray, whom I’ve had since 10 weeks old. So I have some parrot experience. HELP!!!!!

Expert Answer

Dear ??? (you did not give your name…):
I searched my sources and the internet and could not find any reference to weight charts for fledgling DuCorps Cockatoo chicks of six months age. Therefore, as I am in no way a cockatoo expert, I will offer what I can about your new fledgling parrot.

The weight drop that you describe is less than 8%. If the cockatoo baby is the same as many I have known, then he or she will be eating very well at the home breeder aviary and will not necessarily lose the amount of weight considered normal and/or acceptable for a bird of that age and species. Much has to do with whether it is a flighted fledgling or whether the wings have been trimmed, thus keeping it rather chunky and overweight up until the time it moves to a new home and leaves behind many of its baby eating tendencies….that is when it might slim down.

The history of this cockatoo is essential to your knowing whether it weaned “fat”  or weaned “lean” and active—hence the fledging routine, amount of calories it was being fed, whether it rejected the syringe hand-feeding process or was slowly moved onto a finger-food warm mush diet dispensing with the syringe entirely, and the like. If you choose to reintroduce warm soft food and you are not syringe competent, then the best way is to offer hot soaked warm wheat bread, adult avian pellets, tofu, oatmeal or the like which are all just as good as hand-feeding formula for a parrot of this age.

Be aware that some needy cockatoos are manipulative and WANT their keepers to revert to baby feeding foods, especially if unsure of new life situations..

If your veterinarian recommends that you do an x-ray to ascertain that there is no consumed foreign body in the digestive tract that could be hampering assimilation of nourishment or passage of foodstuffs—it would be foolish of you—or me with one of my birds for that matter—to opt out of such a safety precautionary and simple med procedure. This is one of the first things I like to authorize if there is confusion about what is going on inside a bird. Fledglings DO imbibe odd things from wood chips to cloth fragments to metal casings. Unless you suspect your vet of being untrustworthy, it is not
appropriate to suggest that he or she has money on the mind when proposing a diagnostic procedure…

Now, you did state that you worried about this weight loss being stress related, but I do not know what stress that would be. A new pet entering a home should have as much or more nourishment, affection, privacy, sleep time, stimuli, comfort and familiar dishes, treats, toys, etc. as it had in it’s previous location. There will be many changes, to be sure, but a well-raised youngster is both ready for new adventures, and strong enough to make changes in its lifestyle without suffering malnutrition or depression….

So, as I see it, there are two options. One is to call the breeder or pet source of the fledgling bird and arrange to have it returned to that person for stabilization and observance—something we have had to do in the past with (not coincidentally) Goffin’s cockatoos; so that the bird can re-adapt, begin eating well of all types of things again, and be moved into your home a bit more carefully when it is totally prepared…

The second is to realize that it is not unusual for parrots that are not adept fliers to lose 15% or more of their weight mass upon fledging and moving to new homes. Monitor the fledgling carefully; make sure that it eats well things like millet spray, cooked lentils, buckwheat, mung beans and green stems and twigs, crumbled walnuts, canary seed, and anything it really takes to as a youngster; realize that cockatoos are not such big eaters and your new pet will most likely lose some weight, then gain it back as muscle when it begins flying around its new home; and step back a little bit without worry that this bird if well brought up from a breeder that you trust, will adapt and be fine in the long run. (We all worry about our new additions to the flock, I might add!!).

Weight loss with accompanied lethargy, emotional neediness, poor digestion or suspect excrement are one thing. Just a bit of fasting and new-home weight drop are something else and can be interpreted safely by the observant owner…Good luck. I wish I had known the name of your DuCorps to refer to in this message.

With aloha, EB

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”