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Hand reared Sun Conure babies thrive after a shaky start

Kylie Martin
Keeper Diaries - Posted 2 December 2014

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Our Sun Conure flock normally cohabits harmoniously with a pair of Scarlet Macaws and a pair of Monal Pheasants, creating a colourful display in our parrot court. But on 16 September the scarlet macaws became curious about the new sounds and goings-on around the Sun Conure nest box, so much so that they started chewing on the lid of the box. Mummy Sun Conure did her best to deter the troublesome macaws, but with such large beaks it wasn’t long before the lid of the box was well-chewed. Keepers knew there were 3 chicks in there estimated to be between 2 and 4 days old, so the decision was made to intervene and macaw-proof the lid of the box. There is always a risk that any intervention will scare the parents away and unfortunately in this case the parents didn’t return to feed the chicks.

We monitored the nest box for the remainder of the day, but when the chicks were checked their crops were empty and they were cold, indicating the parents had not returned. The tough decision was made to remove the 3 chicks for hand rearing. Once removed, they were  placed in a specialised brooder to warm them up. Sun Conure chicks are altricial, meaning they have no feathers on hatching and cannot regulate their body temperature, so the brooder was kept at 34°C and humidity at 50%.

Keeper Cheridan took them home for the first night so they could be fed every 2-3 hours. For the next week keepers Cheridan, Adrian and Kylie continued to feed them 7 times throughout the day and night from 6.30am to 12.30am. To the surprise of us all, they made it through the first week – Yeah. There were ups and downs but they were thriving. In that first week they doubled their weight from 12.5g (the biggest chick) to 25g.

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We worked closely with veterinarian Micah, formulating feeding schedules to ensure they grew as they should. We weighed them every morning when their crops were empty and calculated 10-15% of their weight to determine how much each should get for each feed. It was important that their crops were emptying after every feed and that they weren’t overfed. Luckily for us there is a fantastic mixture called Kaytee Exact hand rearing formula, which we mixed with hot water to a sloppy toothpaste consistency (all measured out of course). We opted to use syringes to feed them so we could accurately measure how much each chick was getting. We chose not to tube feed them, but rather get them begging for food as they would with their parents. The begging response stimulates the glottis to close so there is no risk they can aspirate any food into their air sacs. (In other words, the food doesn’t go down the wrong way.)

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The character of each chick soon started to shine through, each having its own idea on the way it liked to be fed. The smallest chick (yellow band) always begged the best and took the most food. The largest chick (pink band) liked its head held and having your little finger in her beak touching her tongue whilst she fed. Then there was the middle sized chick (blue band). She is the most independent and was the most challenging to feed at times, sometimes not even wanting her head held whilst feeding, which made for a very messy feed. (I call them all “she” because we are yet to determine their sex.) 

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Like human babies, they tried everything to avoid a face wash after each feed. This became especially challenging when they could fly away. But the most amusing behaviour I observed was the ritual poo dance. The first part of this routine started with a head drop, then a body wriggle from side to side, four steps back, bottom out then poop. Only a mother can appreciate this one maybe.

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-18 days old     Pin feathers starting to come through

-20 days old     Eyes starting to open

-22 days old     Leg band put on

-31 days old     Feeds dropped to 4 times per day

-32 days old     Blue band was the first to reach 100g

-34 days old     Lots of wing flapping to gain some pectoral muscle

-40 days old     Introduced solid food for them to investigate

-44 days old     Ice cream container nest in brooder outgrown

-49 days old     Day time in bird cage then in brooder for the night

-55 days old     Feeds dropped to 3 times per day

No more going home with keepers – keepers coming back for last feed at 8pm

No more brooder, only cage time and fly time in rearing room

-56 days old     Flying across the room

-70 days old     Feeds dropped to twice per day

Cleaning themselves after each feed in a shallow water dish


They are now 70, 71 and 72 days old and weaning is progressing well. Only a few tears have been shed from Kylie and Cheridan as “we want them to stay babies forever.” As expected, they are losing some weight as they lose their baby fat and build muscle.

They have found their voices, sometimes sounding like a mob of seagulls at the beach, especially when we dropped the lunchtime feed. They are very tactile and enjoy a snuggle at every opportunity. We are starting some conditioning with them so they are easily handled in adulthood. The next step is to pluck some feathers to be sent away for DNA sexing. Then out into an outdoor aviary now the weather is warmer.


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