When is the right time to wean a parrot?
There really isn’t an exact answer to that question. Each species has its own timetable that can be used as a guideline, but it will vary with each individual bird of that species. The right answer to the question is: when the bird is ready. More important than when is how it is done – a parrot must be weaned properly for developmental reasons.
Unless you are an owner experienced in hand feeding and weaning, or are a breeder, you shouldn’t be physically involved in the weaning process when you are buying a bird. An ethical breeder will not give you an un-weaned parrot to take home, and you should never accept one if it is offered to you.
It is a long standing responsibility during a crucial physical and emotional period in the bird’s development, and mistakes that are made at this time will be carried into adulthood in the form of emotional and behavioral problems. Improper hand feeding can kill or maim. It is your responsibility, however, to ask all the right questions about the methods used to wean and socialize your new parrot.
Weaning is a huge step in the development of the bird’s independence. It takes the bird from begging to have it’s crop filled to being able to satisfy its need on its own. There are carefully measured steps taken to accomplish this, and it takes a great deal of patience, commitment and know-how on the part of the caregiver. The cues have to be taken from the bird. It is during this time when bonds with humans are forged.
Force weaning is when a parrot is taken off formula before it is ready, while it’s still begging, with the understanding that it will eat other foods if it is hungry. That isn’t how parrots work – it isn’t how human babies work. Basically it is ripping away the parrot’s stability and sense of security and forcing it to face starvation as an alternative to eating something it doesn’t want or doesn’t recognize as food.
It isn’t hard to see why there will be problems with this bird in the future. Parrots that have suffered through a force weaning have shown to be high strung, phobic, and inflexible in their eating habits. They are often intolerant to change and lack confidence from the psychological damage endured through their weaning experience. Some insecure adult parrots revert back to begging behaviors.
Abundance weaning, where new foods are offered in conjunction to scheduled formula feedings, is the most effective, and kind, method of weaning. It allows them to experience the food by beaking it, playing with it until it realizes with encouragement that it is something to be eaten. Syringe feedings are maintained until it is established that the bird is eating the new foods. Hand feedings are phased out systematically as the bird stops begging for them – when the bird is ready. This produces a happier, more well adjusted adult.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.