Handfeeding and Handraising -
Blue Capped Cordon Bleu Finches

(U. cyanocephalus)

BY Christine Kumar (USA)

  • Toothpicks
  • Cotton swabs
  • Cotton balls
  • Paper towels
  • Crock pot
  • Soup mugs
  • 1 ml syringes
  • 3ml syringes
  • Humidifier
  • Sanitized feathers from a pillow
  • Bowl to use for makeshift nest
  • heating pad
  • Herp Night Heating Bulb - 75 or 100W
  • Utility clamp light
  • Human Fever Thermometer - should go from 96 - 106įF
  • Containment box
  • coffee/spice Mill
  • Zupreemís Embrace or equivalent handfeeding formula (23% protein)
  • Vetafarmís Insectivore Food (40% protein)
  • Spoon

    Mixing Formula:
    1 part Zupreem Embrace to 1 part Insectivore Food. Any measure will do - just pick one size and stick with it.
    Add formula to coffee/spice mill and give it a few minutes go round.
    Meanwhile, set crock pot on low. My crockpot gets to 185įF.
    Place Soup Mug into crock pot.
    Fill crock pot with water until mug is just ready to float.
    Add the following mix to the mug:
    Put the finely milled formula into the soup mug and add 2 parts water.
    Let stand for about 2 minutes so that it absorbs all the water it will.
    If thick, then add more water. Formula should be slightly runny especially for day 1- 5 chicks.

    Signs that Chicks have Hatched:
        Gulping of insects or egg food.
        Both parents out of the nest at the same time.
        Both parents remain in the nest for long periods of time, I have found during the day incubation, only one parent or the other will sit on the eggs. At night, sometimes the cock will stay in the nest, other times he will not.
        When my blue caps are incubating, I can tell because I see their tails sticking up if nothing else. If you can see in the nest and donít see tails sticking up this is an good indication that something is going on.
        If you can actually see the birds bodies and you see that they are looking down a lot, this means they are investigating the chicks, not necessarily feeding them.

        A hatched blue cap as a maximum of 24 hours before it will dehydrate and starve to death unless it is cared for. I have read that for Gouldians it is a few days. I know from first had experience that for zebras it is also about 24 hours.
        If you know you have chicks in the nest but do not see any feeding activity, you have about a day to make up your mind what you are going to do: Let the parents take care of the chicks, let the parents starve the chicks, try fostering the chicks to societies (you would have had to set up eggs and have nesting societies to do this) or try hand feeding the chicks.
        I had no luck getting my societies to feed the blue cap chicks. I let some blue cap eggs hatch under the societies, and while the society cocks investigated the chicks and kept them very warm, they didnít feed the chicks.

        If you donít have an immediate brooder setup, you can keep chicks warm for several days under the societies. They are incredibly tolerant of hands and nest inspections. I found after several days, this was too much of stress on the societies as the chicks need to be feed so often, so I set up a brooder situation (see below).

    Feeding Chicks Day 1-5:
        Pick chick up with a spoon. I found that trying to pick them up is the most difficult part and I was afraid I would crush them. A warmed spoon takes care of this worry, just roll the chick on and off the spoon.
        Place chick in the palm of your inferior hand (usually the left). I find it is easiest to feed them when they are on their bellies. However, you will get the occasional chick that cannot bear to be on its back and will insist on begging in the classic estrildid crouching pose.
        Using a toothpick, dip it in formula and get a small amount of food on the toothpick. I mean small.
        Place food into the beak of the baby.
        If chick does not automatically swallow when food is placed into its mouth, gently push its lower jaw up with the toothpick. It should swallow immediately. A tap to either foot or wing will also usually accomplish the same result, swallowing.
        Do not be alarmed when the chick jumps/twitches all about, they do this when they eat for some reason, so don't hold finch overtop of crock pot as during one of these fits, they might accidentally drop.
        Do not worry about getting formula into nostrils because they do not appear on a blue cap chick until it is well over two weeks old. In fact, it is the last orifice to open up. First the ears, then the eyes, then the nostrils. Also the facial feathers are the last to come in, so this makes clean up easier.

    How to tell a Begging from a Gasping Chick:
        A begging chick will open its beak, waggle its head from side-to-side while also waggling its tongue from side-to-side.
        A gasping chick will open its mouth wide but will not waggle its head or its tongue. Sometimes it will repeatedly gasp for a few seconds. It is not uncommon in newly hatched chicks for them to gasp for breath after being fed each toothpick full of formula. Do not mistake gasping for begging, as you might put formula in the chicks mouth when it is actually taking air into its lungs. Only place food into a chicks mouth when it is obviously and actively begging for food.
        As the chicks get older, the gasping will become less pronounced although it will continue to occur up through fledgling.

    How to know when the Chick is Full Enough:
        The first obvious sign is that the chick stops begging.
        You should be able to monitor the food level in the crop. The neck of a blue cap is very long as compared to a gouldian or zebra. You will see the neck start to bulge. In one day old chicks or in chicks that have gone too long between feedings, formula will pass right through the crop and directly into the stomach. You can actually see the food pass and then appear in the belly area. One day chicks have very little storage capacity in their crops and so therefore, they really need to be fed on the hour. As the chicks get older, you can stretch the time out between feedings.
        Never feed the chick so full that it is regurgitating. If you see the chick regurgitate, stop feeding it immediately. It is plenty full if not over full for that feeding.

    Troubleshooting Feeding Tiny Chicks:
        If not begging, tap beak lightly in a side-to-side direction
        If not swallowing, tap lower beak lightly in the direction to close it.
        Not begging: Tap beak lightly with either finger, toothpick or cotton swab and chick should beg
        Still not begging after beak tap: Gently rub under chin with finger, cotton swab or toothpick.
        Still not begging after beak tap and chin rub: Try touching its feet and wings. I have determined that chicks are ticklish especially on their feet.
        If none of the above three things stimulates begging, this indicates either a happily fed baby (you would know this because you would see the food in the crop) or a very weak/sickly baby. Place small amount (1-2 microliter quantity, if you are unsure about how much is 2 microliters, then use this as a comparison: the average droplet of water from an eye dropper is approximately 8 microliters. Basically the toothpick will be barely even wet) of very dilute formula on beak and run the toothpick in the direction from the lower beak to the upper beak. This will slightly part the beak and some liquid will go in. Baby should reflexively swallow.
        If none of this works, then the chick is either already full or just about ready to die. I have only had one chick refuse to swallow, and it was already dying when I found it. I couldnít save that chick.
        If you are going to try to stimulate a severely dehydrated and starving chick, patience is of the utmost. I found a chick that hadnít been fed in almost 24 hours is extremely weak and doesnít have any energy at all. It can take 30 minutes to finally stimulate begging. Once the chick is finally begging and has had a mouthful or two of formula, put the chick back into the brooder for about Ĺ hour so that the chick can gain energy for the feeding. It should beg more robustly in a short while.
        Do not overflood the beak of the chick. If you put too much on the beak, then the chick cannot breath even after it has swallowed the formula. It is imperative to clean the beak immediately so that the chick doesnít breathe in the formula which could spell disaster.

    After handfeeding/before returning chicks to the Nest Bowl:
        Clean entire face/beak with dampened cotton swab. Swab should be wet enough to have excess moisture but not so wet water is dripping out of it. All formula must be cleaned from the chickís face and body otherwise when the formula dries, it will stick to everything and anything in its nest. After washing soiled areas with damp swab, use dry swab to dry chick off. Be forewarned that as soon as you have all the formula removed from the chickís face, it will start begging again. Murphyís Law!
        Using dampened swab, clean any feces from anus of baby. The first few days, feces have a tendency to get stuck in this region. This resolves itself as the chick grows.
        Use the spoon to return chick to nest bowl.
        I use cotton balls, grabbed at the ends and elongated to about 4", as pillows for the chicks. I have found that it is best to keep their heads up after feeding them. Therefore, place the chickís head on the cotton ball pillow.
        Recover the chick with the feathers.
        Shake down the thermometer and place into nest bowl immediately adjacent to the chick(s).

    Homemade Brooder/Nest Bowl
        Get a cardboard box. The one I used was 12" x 12" x 30"
        Place heating pad set on low in the bottom of the box. I found that I could not get a good temperature while using just the heating pad. It seemed to always be either too hot or too cold.
        Screw the Herp bulb into the Utility light. Do not use a light that is made of plastic as these lights are designed to generate heat and plastic might melt.
        Clamp the utility light above the box
        I used a 1 pint bowl for a nest for young chicks. I lined it with paper towels and then filled it full of sanitized chicken feathers from a feather pillow purchased just for my birds.
        Using a baby fever thermometer, place it into the nest bowl right next to the chick so that you can monitor temperature.
        Only through trial and error will you be able to determine the best location within the brooder box for the baby chicks. I found that chicks younger than 2 weeks liked 100 - 102įF brooding temperature. I have read 96 - 98įF for zebras, however, I found that at this temperature range, the chicks were sluggish and did not digest as well.
        A small glass or bowl of water can be placed inside of the box to increase humidity thereby decreasing dessication and dehydration.
        It is a good idea to run a humidifier as well. I kept the humidity in the room at 65% and the room temperature at 80įF.

    Appearance of Chicks From Hatch to Weening:
    Day 1: Chick hatches with lots of fluffy tan or peach colored down on their heads and backs. Skin tone is a creamy pink or peach with diffuse red. Almost no food storage capacity in the crop whatsoever. Food goes directly to the stomach. Chick has a tendency to sleep in the same position it maintained while in the egg before hatching.
    Day 2: Chickís skin will have already started to darken to a black. Crops starts to expand with most of the storage being on the right side of the neck. While sleeping, chick still stays in a curled up, prehatch position.
    Day 3: Noticeable lengthening of neck with increasing crop size. Very faint peeping sounds are first audible.
    Day 4: Down is already becoming more sparse on head. Body size is noticeably increased to at least 2-3 times the original hatch size. Peeping should become more pronounced.
    Day 5: Beginnings of pin feathers emerging from wings and dark line appearing on eye in the location where eyelid will ultimately be located.
    Day 6: Eyes are open!
    Day 7: Beginnings of tail pin feathers are emerging. Also can see the lateral lines on the ventral side where feathers will emerge Ė but no feathers coming out yet. Crop has substantial storage capacity already and it is best to switch to a 1 ml syringe for feedings. Chick is now able to scratch eyes and facial area with feet. Feathers appearing on dorsal line and ventral lines.
    Day 8: Sputnik banded #1342. Wilbur banded #1343. Harry Houdini banded #1344. Boulee banded #1345. Boulee is the chick that hatched out under the societies (Mikimoto, Ozzie, Harrier, Ringo and Joel). I didnít even discover that he existed until he was ~5 days old and I heard a begging blue cap chick and started to wonder what the heck was going on.
    Day 9: Feathers are beginning to appear from the quills. Feathers appearing pretty much everywhere on body, legs, head, etc. Ear holes have opened up.
    Day 10:Standing on two feet more often, wobbly though.
    Day 11: Tail Feathers turning blue
    Day 12: Pip banded #1341. Breast Feathers turning blue
    Day 13: Able to stand very well on their own. Starting to sleep with head tucked under wing.
    Day 14: Sputnik copped an attitude and started to make the sound of being attacked. Harry also has an intestinal infection. Started him on Ronivet and using Neosporin for his cloaca, very very swollen.
    Day 15: Sputnik tried to fledge today. I put him back into the nest. However, he is coming out of his nest bowl and perching. He is much more finicky about eating Ė not eating as much or as often. I find this is typical of these birds once they fledge. Sputnik still has head down. Chicks started sleeping with their wings tucked. Wilbur has an intestinal infection. Started him on Ronivet and using Neosporin for his cloaca, very very swollen. I thought the neosporin would help with the pain.
    Day 16: Harry sort of fledged today. (actually looks like Harry is a hen, gotta come up with a new name) but Harry is just cruising around only inside of the brooder box. Harry has recovered from whatever intestinal infection and his cloaca appears normal again.
    Day 17: Wilbur continues to struggle with what I believe is coccidiosis. I started treating all three chicks with coccivet today. It seems that the swelling is going down somewhat of Wilburís cloaca.
    Day 18: Found Sputnik out of the nest bowl today. Must remember to keep the screen overtop just to be sure.
    Day 19: Sputnik officially fledged today. Sputnik went for the grande tour of the birdroom today! YIPPEE! All the birds still have their head down even though they are covered with feathers everywhere except for under their chins. Both Sputnik and Harry are spending time perching on the dowel I put in the brooder box for them.
    Day 20:
    Day 21:
    Day 22: Pip fledged today, I can hardly believe it! Putting Pip in flight cage to socialize with societies and blue caps, but he doesnít seem to realize he is a bird and pretty much stays as far away from the other birds as possible. Going back to nest bowl in brooder at night and for naps. Bleuy is very interested in Pip. Societies were curious but not intrusive.
    Day 23: Practicing flight, taking tiny little excursions. Putting in flight cage with societies and blue caps but still sleeping in nest bowl for naps and at night. Bleuy trying to preen Pip, Pip not sure what to make of it.
    Day 24: Head feathers continue to come in quickly. Bird is now able to fly quite nimbly and does tricks like jumping from my shoulder, flying straight out about one meterís distance, turning 180 degrees, flying back towards me and landing on my head, all executed in about 1 secondís time. First signs of serious independent food exploration start to take place. Still taking at least 1 ml of formula about every 1.5 - 2 hours. Slept second half of night on perch. Garibaldi and Mickey are approaching Pip. Pip attacked in flight cage by Scare-D-Kat (another blue cap cock.)
    Day 25: Becoming even more independent. Actively flying about birdroom and seeking out more typical birdlike foods, attracted to rolled oats. Given a tray of Quiko and grounds misc nuts to snack on (calcium, bioplus and feather up added) in cage. Also placed a very shallow water dish in brooder for drinking. Spent entire night on perch. Garibaldi and Mickey remain interested in Pip, Pip is not sure what to make of them. Pip attacked a second time by Scare-D-Kat. No more putting Pip in flight cage where Scare-D-Kat is. Luciano made the society warning sound fortunately otherwise SDK might have seriously hurt Pip.
    Day 26: Food Experimentation continues but still relying mostly on handfeeding. Spent the second half of the night perching on a woven nest in bird room rather than on brooder perch. Garibaldi has tried to approach Pip, but Pip is afraid of her. Garibaldi accompanies Pip around the bird room, but at a distance.
    Day 27:
    Becoming more independent and sleeping outside of brooder/nest area. Starting to pick at egg food. First night spent entirely outside of brooder. Shows no interest in extra heat setup any longer.
    Day 28: Woke me up by coming to my bed and begging for food. Brazen little sucker! Has many secretive hiding spots in bird room, on top of bound books, hidden in silk leaves, on rungs of chair. Pip attacked Mickey (his father) today, shocking!
    Day 29: Pip is becoming very independent. Shelling his own seed, eating some egg food. I took some photos today of him posing with the other chicks, Day 15, 13, 12, 8.
    Day 30: Pipís beak is beginning to turn from black to red. Sad to see that he isnít a baby anymore.
    Day 33: Pip let Garibaldi preen, feed and perch next to him today, first time.

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