WHEN THE CHICKS HATCH
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.
Day One & Two
How exciting! You've just peeked in the nest because you knew the eggs should be hatching soon, and there in the nest, in place of the small white eggs, are your first chicks! They are pink, naked and blind and have huge glowing nodules on the sides of their beaks. You may notice that not all of the eggs have hatched yet. That is okay. They should all hatch within the next day - two days max.
This is the most exciting time! Your birds have successfully hatched their first clutch of eggs! Read more on how to handle potential problems, what to look for, and what NOT to do when the chicks hatch!
It's day 15-16 of brooding for your parent birds. This morning, while attending to your birds, you may have noticed them acting a bit strangely. They may be bopping in and out of the nest as if irritated by something. They may be standing in the nest looking down at their eggs, even occasionally pecking at them. Don't be alarmed! This is exactly how they should be acting! It means their eggs are about to hatch! The parents can hear those chicks peeping through the egg shells and are waiting for them to emerge. They know when to help the chicks, and will pick gently at the shell to help them out, if necessary.
This is a very stressful time for both the chicks and parents. If a chick is having difficulty and the parents aren't helping, you may have to assist the chick out of the egg...but rest assured, most chicks emerge without any problems.
Many parents will eat the discarded shells, though some will merely toss it out of the nest box.
Day Four & Beyond - Nestlings
By now all of the chicks should have hatched. If there are still unhatched eggs in the nest, they probably won't be hatching - they may be infertile, or the chick may have died in the shell (both of these problems can be largely solved with proper nutrition). It is time to remove the unhatched eggs. You do not want the eggs to break and foul the nest! Broken eggs will leave a mess and can contaminate the nest box quickly. Your chicks and parent birds can become ill if bacteria spreads from those eggs.
Somewhere between 8 and 10 days of age you'll want to band your chicks. I say "somewhere between" because some chicks aren't large enough at 8 days and the bands merely fall off or the parent birds pick them off. Most of my chicks are able to be banded at 8 days. You want to be able to get the closed band over the chicks foot, and pull the hind toe through. If you wait too long, you won't be able to get the band on! If you are using open bands (those made of plastic or aluminum that have a slice in them to open the band), it won't matter when you band them.
NOTE: I have had bird store owners tell me that they do not want banded birds. They claim the bands can be dangerous and cause injury to the bird's leg if they get caught on something. However, in all my years of breeding, I have always banded my chicks and have rarely had a problem with leg injuries caused by bands. Other stupid stuff I've done, sure, but rarely injuries related to bands!
Reasons a good breeder will band their chicks
As much as you'd like to, you must not bother the parents too much. A quick check is good, but you should not interfere unless you think something is wrong. By the end of the day, you may hear tiny little peeps coming from the nest. This means the chicks are healthy and waiting to be fed. In most cases, the parents will not feed the babies for the first or sometimes even the second day! The chicks will still be living off the yolk sac (you might be able to see it in their tiny bellies). Fear not, the parents know what they are doing! Let them do what instinct leads them to do!
By now all the chicks should have hatched. If there are still unhatched eggs, you should not remove them...they will help support the newly hatched chicks for a few more days. The parents will have begun to feed the chicks and you will notice the crops of the young ones look like they are swollen and may look like they have "tumors". Don't be alarmed!
When I first started raising birds, my Zebra finches were very successful! They were wonderful parents and fed their chicks diligently. I had heard that if you touch the chicks or eggs, or even the nest, that they would abandon their young, so I never even peeked into the nest! One day I decided I just had to look and was horrified to see that my chicks had some awful deformity! I was convinced they had some kind of funky disease! Their throats were swollen and full of what looked like tumors! In a panic, I ran to my local bird store and told the gal what I had seen. She chuckled and explained that what I was seeing was the bird's "crop" and it was full of seed the parents had fed it! Boy was I embarrassed! That was one of the first times I spent an entire day researching about my birds. I realized there was a lot I didn't know, and a
lot I had to learn to care for my birds properly! I did NOT want to be embarrassed again!
You can obtain bands from a number of locations. Many bird clubs offer bands through their association with a National bird club or even have their own club bands made "just because". If you do not want to join a bird club, you can order plain plastic bands through several Internet sites. Below is a list of Internet locations where bands may be purchased. When ordering, choose multiple colors if you have more than one pair so that you can identify siblings from each clutch and parent pair.
LadyGouldian.com - click to be directed to the bands page
National Finch & Softbill Society - for Gouldians, Societies & Zebras, click the "Order Online" link, order size XF for plastic bands, and size D for closed aluminum. If you have joined the NFSS, be sure to order bands for the correct year! You want your birds banded with the year they hatched. I also purchase at least one stick of size E in the closed aluminum bands just in case I miss my window of opportunity and the chicks are too large to get the D bands on!
Red Bird Products - you will have to print out an order form and either fax or mail it. These bands tend to run small so you'll want to order "Canary" size bands.
L & M Bird Leg Bands - I have never ordered from this company, but I know others who do and feel their bands are of top quality.
AC Hughes - these are high quality bands and run the same size as those used by the NFSS - BUT, they are located in the UK, so shipping will take a bit longer. Prepare accordingly and order your bands early!
5 Day Old Gouldian Chicks
There are many ways to keep track of your birds with bands. I choose to keep various spread sheets and database files that track all of the information regarding my birds, and band with a numbered band (NFSS) on the birds right leg, and a "family" colored plastic split band on their left leg. There is no "right or wrong" way to band your chicks, though consistency does help. It is my humble opinion that you should pick a system and stick to it!
Each of my breeder hens is assigned a color from the colored split band assortment. Each chick that hen produces is banded with that color. This way, even if I pair the hen with a different male next season, I know not to breed chicks with the same colored bands as they are siblings - though they may have a different father. It also helps me when selling my birds. If a buyer is looking for an unrelated pair, I know not to sell them birds with the same band colors! Because I sell most of my chicks before the next breeding season, I do not have to worry about two different fathers. If I happen to keep a nice chick to show, I have its pedigree and records in case I forget who the father is. If I then decide to sell the chick, the purchaser is given a pedigree with the parents names and genetic trail. There is little chance birds in my own aviary are ever paired to another related bird.
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Removing Chicks From Their Parents - Fledging to Weaning
Fledglings, or those chicks who've left the nest, will continue to beg for food from their parents until they are about 40-50 days old (from hatch date), sometimes a bit longer. Around the 45th to 50th day your fledglings should become independent of their parents. They should be feeding themselves, drinking from the watering device, and flying around the cage. They should be no longer begging for food from their parents. The nodules on the sides of their beaks will have begun to diminish and they will be sleek and fast.
Whatever you do, do NOT remove chicks that are still being fed by their parents. You will begin to see the parent birds drive the chicks away when they are ready to start a new nest. If the chicks are independent, they may be safely moved to a large flight to build their muscles and learn to fly better.
RULE OF THUMB - when the nodules on either side of the beak diminish from 3 each side down to 2, the chicks should be ready to be moved.
Occasionally, a parent bird will toss it's chicks. This might happen for a couple of reasons - Either the parents are too young and got "freaked out" by the new additions to their nest, there may actually be something wrong with the chicks, or the parents are overly eager to start a new clutch of eggs. These issues should be avoided if you've paired your birds well and have brought them into good breeding condition. However, should chicks be tossed...
You have three options:
Fostering is the easiest way to save abandoned eggs or chicks. No one wants to lose a chick, therefore most breeders will keep at least one pair of foster parents for just in case emergencies! Foster parents can be one of several types of small, gregarious finches such as Society or Zebra finches, or even a previously successful brooding pair of Goulds. I even had Canary hens feed Gouldian chicks. Hopefully you'll have set up a pair and fed them the same foods you have fed your Goulds, you've brought the foster pair into breeding condition, and have set them up to breed at the same time as the Goulds. They may be sitting on eggs, or even have chicks in the nest! I recommend foster pairs to novice breeders only because hand-feeding is time consuming and exhausting! For the new bird owner/breeder, a foster pair can save your chicks!
If your Gould pair has abandoned the eggs or chicks, it is imperative you move the clutch to the foster parents immediately. If eggs are left too long, the embryos will not survive. If chicks are not fed and kept warm, they will not survive either!
Keep in mind that Societies and Zebras fledge at an earlier rate than Goulds. If the foster pair stops feeding the chicks before they are ready, remove the foster hen and leave only the cock. He will then continue to feed the chicks as long as they need him to. See the You Have Eggs link for more information about fostering.