Incubation Debate

Incubator hatched and raised vs parent hatched and raised debate

The babies that we hand feed from Day One reach their full genetic potential, and end up to be the same size, weight, etc. as those that were parent fed from back when we first began breeding. They are just as healthy, well feathered, etc., but have a more “perfect” disposition. Parent fed females will be more rambunctious or moody when they reach breeding age. Day One babies never seem to get that way and stay more even tempered.

Day one incubated chicks do not receive the benefit of crop milk from the parents. This can be overcome to a point by good management techniques. On the other hand, there is some speculation that chicks raised by their parents for a time are less prone to diseases like polyoma, which rages thorough some nurseries like wildfire.

Another advantage to letting the parents raise the chick is that in the nest, chicks are nurtured by the hen and sometimes the male, too. The hen not only supplies food, but also heat to cuddle into. The life-energy (or aura) of the hen is present, lending the chick security, comfort, and (dare I say) love. Additionally, the hen gently touches/caresses the chick with her beak. All of these factors combine to make a chick more psychologically well-balanced than one that is deprived of natural rearing.

I don’t understand your comment about birds having a more ‘perfect’ disposition if raised from day one by humans rather than other birds. This is a human conceit. Many humans think they do a better job raising the offspring of other animals than the parents of those babies. In cases where the parent is behaving abnormally this may be true. In most cases, however, it is not.

If the breeder provides touch, cuddling etc, then the other major miss is antibiodies from the parents. As I said, this can be overcome with proper management techniques. However, many breeders who raise day one babies touch them solely while they are being fed and that is the only touch they receive until the next feeding. Additionally, the babies are raised each in separate containers to insure that the only contact they have is human contact. They are not allowed even to touch their own clutch mates. Personally I consider that to be critical deprivation.

Babies raised completely by humans from day one may only have a more ‘perfect’ disposition based on your criteria of perfection. Do these perfect birds behave like birds or like birds who think they are human? Anyone who has had a basic course in psychology is probably familiar with the studies done on monkey babies that were removed from their parents and deprived of nurturing. Their only contact with other life was during feeding, and that was kept to a minimum. All of these babies became insane. What is insanity? Insanity is behavior and thinking that deviates from the norm. The study made the point that nurturing and touch is necessary for healthy psychological development.

Even the ability to thrive is sometimes dependent on contact with another living being. Hospitals have instituted programs that involve touch, cuddling, and contact with human babies who are failing to thrive because of this deprivation. What is the impact on birds who are deprived of their parent’s touch from day one? Well, some people think they are more perfect. I have my doubts.

We are all well aware that the main purpose of incubator hatching and raising from day one is financial. I don’t have a problem with that, people have to make a living one way or another, and this is how commercial breeders of parrots have increased production. Removing fertile eggs from a hen stimulates the production of more eggs.

The downside is that the babies will have to be fed from day one and that means loss of sleep. I don’t feel sorry for people who do that deliberately. That is a choice they make for themselves. The problem I do have with those who incubator hatch and feed from day one is their misrepresentation of why they choose to raise babies this way. They perpetrate the myth that babies raised unnaturally are sweeter and better adjusted than babies who are either raised by the parents or left with them for a few weeks before being pulled for handfeeding. In fact, they get quite defensive about it.

Why do they feel the need to fabricate such stories? Because if they didn’t, the market for artificially raised baby parrots would decrease. The conscious consumer would not purchase such babies. It is the promise of sweeter and better adjusted birds that encourages the deluded public to buy them.

The truth is, according to a study by the University of California at Davis, babies who are raised by parents and handled in the nestbox are just as sweet as babies who are pulled and handfed by humans.

Incubation is how commercial breeders have reduced the number of addled, (shaken), punctured, cracked, broken and prevented hatched babies from being killed by an inexperienced mother. We increase successes — not pop more eggs. Any intelligent breeder will remove the box for necessary rests each year. Incubating insures that fewer babies get trashed by accident.

When I first started my education about raising birds, I read a justification for incubating and raising babies from day one similar to the one you use above. It made me feel that in order to the best for my birds, I ‘must’ do it that way in order to do it right. Fortunately, circumstances prevented it.

In over ten years of breeding numerous species of birds from cockatiels on up, including Eclecutus, I have lost less than 10 babies due to the inexperience of the parents. Nearly all of my pairs produced their first clutches with me. Except for a pair of yellow-collard macaws, who I sold back to the original owner, every one of those inexperienced pairs became good parents by the second clutch…except for a senegal who figured it out by the third clutch.

After reading Rick Jordan’s book on incubation techniques, I suspect that I would have lost far more babies through my own incompetence than I ever did by letting the parents do the job they are best suited for: raising their own babies.

Additionally, the babies are raised each in separate containers to insure that the only contact they have is human contact. If you realized how much they hassle each other, pumping on each others beaks just because touch stimulates the motion — you would cease to think that together is a good thing. Neither gets any rest — which is critical for them to grow properly.

I’m well aware of how babies act in the brooder. They are awake and hassle each other when it gets close to feeding time. Otherwise, they sleep. What is very obvious to me is that they do not choose to sleep alone. They crave companionship even if it is not of their own kind. Since I have never had a disease like polyoma in my aviary. I’ve been comfortable raising birds of different species in the same brooder so they don’t have to be alone if the parents produce only one chick.

I did this with much trepidation the first couple of times, but it has proved overwhelmingly successful. I’ve raised Amazons and eclectus together, Jardine’s and senegals, Jardine’s and timnehs, cockatiels and rosellas, etc. This takes away the worry of what happens if there is a power failure when I’m gone. The babies can keep each other warm.

Of course, this would be a dumb idea if you are raising birds from different breeders. Then you are just asking for trouble. Except for a few Eclectus I purchased to put into my own breeding program, I only raise my own babies.

This was years ago, and their second females I gave them that were Day One fed NEVER went through this “hormonal” aggressive phase. Their attitude was totally different right beyond breeding age. I was amazed, because I would not have expected this at all.

Obviously the owners were more experienced the second time around and didn’t make the same mistakes they made the first time. Same bird…different owners….big difference. Different bird…..same but more experienced owners….big difference. I’ve seen it many times and I’ll bet you have too.

We learn and grow and suddenly the birds get better.

The truth is, according to a study by the University of California at Davis, babies who are raised by parents and handled in the nestbox are just as sweet as babies who are pulled and handfed by humans. I have certainly found this to be true many times over. Australians tend not to have the urge to hand raise and humanize every bird that they breed. In fact most breeders here will never hand raise a bird unless it is a medical emergency, and even then many will not hand raise and let nature take it’s course. Even for cockatiels we sell far more parent reared young birds for pets in our shop than we do hand raised cockatiels, and almost all of these parent reared birds, many of which have not even had any handling in the nest box, make great pets.

We are also finding for the larger parrots such as the GSC2 and Corellas, that hand raised and over-socialised birds have far more psychological hang-ups than wild caught babies that have been tamed after capture, or even parent reared babies that are tamed after weaning. The calmest and most emotionally adjusted GSC2’s that I have had contact with have all originally been wild caught, just weaned, birds. cheers,
Mike Owen Queensland

We are also finding for the larger parrots such as the GSC2 and Corellas, that hand raised and over-socialised birds have far more psychological hang-ups than wild caught babies that have been tamed after capture, or even parent reared babies that are tamed after weaning. The calmest and most emotionally adjusted GSC2’s that I have had contact with have all originally been wild caught, just weaned, birds. Very interesting. Us breeders best start parent raising or we will have more difficulty breeding in the future. I have read that handfed too’s are more likely to kill mates. I am going to attempt it with some of my pairs. I know of a large breeder that will only pull 2 to 3 week old babies for pet trade then keep the rest in the nest for future breeders. He has been in business for around 50 some odd years. I call him with Questions a lot. I think more of this info needs to get out.

raising from day one is financial.
The purpose of incubator hatching is not financial. The equipment needed to do this is costly. The work is long and hard. It requires a great amount of skill and determination. The purpose of incubator hatching is to decrease the amount of eggs lost in the nest box. Also to decrease the number of dead babies in the nest. Young mothers will often go through several clutches before the hen figures out how to sit and feed the babies.

Yes, of course this would be a good reason to keep an incubator handy. However, when you take the eggs away from an inexperienced hen, you are preventing her from learning. Then all she ever becomes is an egg producer, not a parent. You are denying her a critical psychological need, something that would make living in captivity worthwhile.

They do get tired of the babies eventually, but they love them until then. You really miss the interplay between parent bird and baby bird when you incubator hatch.

I can not stand to watch as the hen tries in vain to feed her first born baby only to sit and watch it slowly starve to death.

Chris, this has happened to me….but not very often. Less often than you imagine. They do get it right if you let them learn. One way I have helped is to take the baby out and feed it, then put it back.

Young mothers often do not know how to gently roll the eggs or how to exit the nest box without crushing her eggs.

Actually, I’ve never yet seen a hen that didn’t take good care of the eggs. Egg damage is a human management problem caused by two things:
1. wrong nestboxes
2. careless intrusion

Yes pulling the eggs will stimulate the hen to lay again but anyone who cares about their birds will not just pull egg after egg and let the hen lay and lay. The breeders that care about their birds will pull the nest boxes so the birds may play and rest.

All birds do not sit and feed their young well. This is why so many of the parrots are on the endangered species list. How many hyacinths would you watch die before you would step in and feed them? Or any other baby bird for that matter.

Birds are on the endangered list because of
1. habitat destruction for land development.
2. Capture for the pet trade…(it isn’t just the US that has a pet trade.) also smuggling and poaching.
3. Vermin control because of damage and competition for crops.

People who complain about incubator hatching are the same people who can not accomplish it. It takes a lot of hard work and investment. Incubator hatching is a skill of itself. Many books are written about it. There are even lists devoted to it. It is not as simple as you put an egg into the incubator and 28 days later you pull out a baby.

I have been following this thread from the beginning and now I have a question. It is my understanding that the egg shell is made of calcium and the inside is primarily protein. I’m wondering if a breeder is pulling the eggs and incubator hatching and the hen keeps laying and the breeding keeps pulling, where is the hen getting all of this extra calcium and protein to produce so many eggs?

Do you feed the hen the extra calcium and protein, and how do you know if she is getting the right amount so that her own body and bones do not suffer? How do you know when to stop letting her lay eggs so that she doesn’t wear herself out? The little bit of breeding that I do, Tiels and Lovebirds, is done the old fashion way since I work outside my home. I leave the chicks with the parents but give the babies two feedings per day by hand and return them to the nest.

I handle the babies a lot and it doesn’t seem to bother the parents. Some how I manage to produce sweet babies with this method. I only allow 3 clutches per season because that seems to be enough. I take the nest box down at the end of the season.

I’ve missed part of this discussion, so I may be speaking out of turn, but I wanted to comment on one thing. Anyone who can’t stand to allow their breeders to LEARN how to incubate their eggs and raise their chicks in spite of the losses that sometimes occur during the process, is missing the boat in my opinion.

From reading various articles about wild parrots, I learned that chick mortality rates in the wild are as high as 80%. Infertile eggs, DIS eggs, and chick losses are all part of the natural process of bird breeding, in the wild as well as in captivity. When the eggs or chicks are snatched away from a young pair because they don’t seem to be doing it right, their opportunity to learn is taken away from them, and they may then never “get it right.”

Yes, I have let $800 blue quakers die in the egg, or in the nestbox, so that my young pair could learn from their mistakes. It’s paid off – they are excellent parents now and raise fat, healthy chicks for me to pull age. Letting a few chicks go at the beginning to avoid ending up with a pair whose eggs need to be incubated or chicks raised from “day one” was well worth it, in my opinion. I am a breeder because I love my birds – especially the quakers – and I am sad over every single lost chick whose pathetic little body I must remove from the nestbox.

But in 10 years I’ve learned that I am not a good breeder if I allow human emotion to interfere with the normal development and maturation of my pairs. I have an incubator. It’s in storage, gathering dust. I’ll use it if I have an emergency, or an unusual disruption of the aviary that causes some pairs to leave their eggs, but I won’t use it to subvert the normal learning process or to force my pairs to produce more than the usual numbers of chicks or clutches. Just my opinion.

These points were made because the needless accidental destruction of viable embryos is a tragedy. Is it, really? Is the salvaging of EVERY SINGLE fertile egg and/or chick really a good thing? I don’t think so.

There’s a valid reason for “survival of the fittest” and the process of “natural selection,” and when we insist on “saving every one,” we subvert the process and, over time, degrade the quality and health of the birds we are breeding. We see this most obviously in dogs. When a breed becomes popular, the “backyard” breeders who breed indiscriminately and save every puppy get into the act. We see the results in collies, cocker spaniels, and rottweilers, to name a few of the “ruined” breeds. If we ever want to improve the overall health, pet quality, and resistance to disease of domestic parrots, we must do two things:

1) Breed our BEST birds – the talkative sweethearts that are wonderful pets – instead of our WORST birds – the ones that are aggressive, pluck, won’t talk, or have behavioral problems.

2) Allow weak and sickly chicks to die and stop intervening in the process with artificial incubation, assisted hatching, day one feeding, and etc. Of course there are circumstances in which normal, healthy chicks need help due to accidents or emergencies, but the majority of chicks that require breeder intervention to hatch or survive probably shouldn’t survive – or, at the very least, should never be allowed to breed.

Although I am guilty of intervening more than the above would allow to save blue quaker chicks and one mini macaw (Shamrock), I make the people who buy these chicks sign contracts that they will never allow them to breed or sell them to anyone who will breed them. (How enforceable that really is I don’t know, but I try.)

My cockatiels, on the other hand, have been subjected to my “sink or swim” tactics for a couple of generations now – and my 2nd and 3rd generation cockatiels are big, strong, healthy birds with sweet personalities who demonstrate resistance to infection and illness. In fact, people who are used to “pet store” cockatiels often show open-mouthed amazement when they first see my young cockatiels.

Although my breeding practices have not changed, my chick mortality rate has become extremely low when breeding these 2nd and 3rd generation birds – I didn’t really realize how well my own birds were doing until I bought some birds from an ACS champion breeder and set them up to breed – compared to my young birds of my own breeding, their performance is dismal! Well, I’ll shut up now – I don’t really mean to brag about myself or imply that I as a breeder am better than any other – I’m only trying to point out that the quality and overall health of the birds will improve if the process of natural selection is allowed to take place without breeder intervention to “save them all” at all cost. Very much just my opinion, Heike

I have been following the discussion of incubator hatching baby birds with some interest, and have decided to contribute my own perspective which has been gained partly through my professional work as an avian behavior consultant. It is also based, however, on my experiences breeding African Greys and parrotlets, and on conversations with breeders who are lucky enough to be able to co-parent and/or parent-raise their chicks.

Most recently, I have been able to talk at length with Katy McElroy who breeds cockatoos. She has installed nestbox cameras, has had these in place for some time, and has been able to observe at length and in great detail the interactions between her pair of Moluccan Cockatoos and their chick, which they raised to past fledging. Her findings have now been presented at AAV and other conventions, because they are so astonishing.

What is astonishing is the level of interaction between parents and chick, and the amount of care, attention and instruction provided to the chick. Observers of her video tapes are consistently struck by the realization that this could *never* be duplicated in a breeder’s nursery. They have been further led to wonder if this is the reason that so many adult cockatoos do not fare well in the domestic environment over the long term. Given these nestbox observations, it would appear that solely on the basis of common sense, chicks should experience at least some time with their parents whenever possible.

We breed color mutation parrotlets at our home, and now have two pairs that raise their own babies to fledging. The difference between these
parent-raised babies and those we pull to hand feed is marked, in terms of their coloring, size, energy level, and personality. This is another species in which it appears to make a significant positive difference to leave babies with the parents.

Because of the experiences of people like Ms. McElroy, I try to leave African Grey chicks with their parents for up to four weeks, but find that
this is not always possible. For one thing, I have proven pairs that were patterned for a number of years to expect that their chicks would be removed at the age of two weeks. It has taken some patient instruction to teach them that they can feed past this age.

Secondly, I live in an area that occasionally gets quite warm in the summer and very cold in the winter.These extremes are not enough to warrant breeding indoors, but do sometimes dictate that I will pull babies earlier than I might otherwise have done so. And, I have hatched chicks in trouble and fed from day one also. I would agree that it is true that these Day One chicks are quite sweet and docile, much more so than the others that stay for four weeks, who tend to be quite opinionated.

However, I think the most pertinent point to make here concerns a domestically-raised chicks success in the domestic environment over the long term. I maintain quite a heavy case load as an avian behavior consultant. For each case, I take a very detailed history and keep a file on each client. Consistently, it appears that behavior problems manifest themselves somewhere between the ages of two or three and whenever sexual maturity hits. Certain patterns are quite obvious, and it is most apparent that certain practices contribute to later behavior problems in parrots. Perhaps it is more correct to say that these parrots are having problems because they do not have the skills to withstand the sometimes less than ideal circumstances they encounter in the home. Incubator hatched chicks have more problems than chicks that have two weeks with their parents. This also holds true for chicks that are weaned too early.

In fact, it has become accepted knowledge now among the majority of behavioral consultants and many vets in the industry, based upon our
experiences with clients, that incubator hatching, rearing from Day One, and deprivation weaning are often common denominators among parrots who have problems later in life. One of the very common problems occurs in both African Greys and cockatoos, in that sexual maturity does not necessarily lead to the ability to breed successfully. I think it is most pertinent to the discussion that we not just look at how the chick turns out at the age of one year, but how that same chick is faring at the age of eight or ten years.

We would all do well to take some lessons from literature that reports on studies done with wild birds. One such book is “The Lives of Birds” by
Lester L. Short. In this book, Mr. Short discusses the types of learning that birds display. On page 50, he writes, “The degree to which a bird can
change its behavior is sometimes considered a measure of its “intelligence.”

These changes can only occur when information is stored in the nervous system and be called up when similar behavior is necessary to cope with a
similar environmental hurdle. Species that feed in diverse ways or on diverse foods, or that can exist in different habitats, tend to have more open-ended learning potential, because their behavior requires flexibility.”

He goes on: “Associative learning is one way in which birds adapt their behavior. This form of learning is accomplished by observing another bird,
often a parent or older bird. Oystercatchers, for example feed on mussels. Some individuals pry open each shell, while others hammer a hole through the shell. Each oystercatcher uses one method exclusively. In experiments in which eggs were moved from one nest to another, it was found that the chick’s preferred method of feeding was learned from the foster parent.”

“The cream-stealing titmice at the start of this chapter used their beaks to poke through metal bottle caps in much the way that they would search for insects, seeds, and fruits in the wild. In fact, birds such as tits, Jackdaws, crows, and jays regularly seek food by probing, looking over and under branches, pecking as a test, and other exploratory ways. The milk-bottle context, however, is new, suggesting intelligent behavior. Not long after the titmice began their cream sampling, other species of tits, as
well as other bird species, learned this method, another example of learning by association.”

Such studies and observations point out the very obvious fact that parrots and other birds are genetically programmed to learn after hatching, and I have come to believe that it is exactly what they learn that will determine in the long run the extent of the problems they will have in captivity.
Chicks who stay with their parents are different…perhaps not as
sweet…but with a better sense of themselves that creates less of a feeling of vulnerability for them as they struggle to live in captivity. Simply put, they seem to have more “resources” with which to deal with challenge.

And, let’s face it, living in a cage in captivity presents some dramatic challenges to a parrot that has evolved to fly free in the wild. It is
possible that they will be best prepared for these challenges if they are allowed learning from both parrot parents, and humans.

The example of the titmice again calls to our attention the simple fact that birds learn from each other. After I bring my African Grey chicks indoors, I use nanny birds to assist with their rearing, and have seen firsthand that this associative learning takes place in parrots. In fact, I have used it to help “rehabilitate” older Greys that had not had the advantage of learning from their parents early on and were not faring well in their
homes. For example, I can have a food rigid Grey on a seed-only diet eating fresh fruits and veggies within 8 weeks *without* making the bird hungry or offering any type of other coercion, but simple the ability to watch other Greys with good eating skills.

Mr. Short also comments in this same publication about the issue of “imprinting.” He, of course, describes the difference between precocial
species (those that leave the nest immediately after hatching) and altricial species (who stay in the nest until fledging). Imprinting (filial) is critical to survival in precocial species, because it insures that the chick will follow his mother as she leads him to find food.”

Mr. Short states: “While filial imprinting occurs only in precocial species, some species of both altricial and precocial birds sexually imprint – that is, they learn to identify characteristics of the parent or parent substitute that will later influence their mating preferences. This is important in keeping the species pure.”

“…This period of sexual sensitivity occurs later than filial imprinting and is variable. The age at which the Mourning Dove sexually imprints is
between the seventh and fifty-second days of life, while the Bullfinch is capable of sexually imprinting up to two years of age.”

“…Ideally American Robins recognize other American Robins, mate, and produce more robins. What what happens if a bird doesn’t recognize its own kind? In captive situations in which one species of bird is reared byfoster parents of another species, the young bird may sexually imprint on its foster parents. When it is mature, the bird tends to seek out mates that belong to its foster parents’ species, ignoring potential mates of it’s
own kind.” (pg. 49)

Could this matter of sexual imprinting begin to explain the problems that we are seeing when we attempt to pair domestically bred birds? We can’t know for sure. However, I believe it to be a troubling possibility. Does itexplain the number of cockatoos that are given up each year because they
have chosen the opposite sex human in the household as its mate to theexclusion of the other human?

I know well, and talk often with, the owners and directors of a number ofrescue and sanctuary organizations across the country. Each facility is
continuously full and has a waiting list. New facilities are starting every day on a shoestring, simply because of the vast numbers of domestically
raised parrots that are being given up each day. Last February, I spoke at the Gabriel Foundation Symposium 2000, which was specifically held to
address the growing problems of unwanted parrots. There too, it was generally recognized among many of the participants that incubator hatching and rearing from Day One is contributory to the problem, simply because these very intelligent species miss out on the information they learn from their parents when allowed to stay with them for even short times.

Lastly, it is folly to assume that all species of parrot will react the same way to certain rearing practices. In explaining this fact, the very valid
example is often given that all dogs belong to one species, even though there are many “races” or breed. However, parrots all belong to different
species, originate from very different places on earth, and have very different social customs – about which we really know very little. Because
we keep them all as pets, we tend to lose sight of this very important fact and go on to assume that we can use certain practices across the board with all species, unaware of the potential dangers of this assumption. This is another problem I see with incubator hatching. It is beginning to appear
that certain species, at least, fare very badly when raised from Day One.

I’m sorry…but anyone incubator hatching *by choice* is simply behind the times.

Pamela Clark

I was going to come in on this discussion at some length, but Heike and Pamela have said it all. Trying to save every single embryo by incubation and/or hand rearing from day one will result in the survival of the weakest rather than survival of the fittest. It will lead to the decline of many parrot species, both through a decrease in quality of the birds due to the survival of birds that shouldn’t have survived, and due to a decreasing pool of birds available to breed from.

Those who trumpet incubation as a means to save every single embryo possible are doing aviculture a dis-service. They contribute to the decreasing quality of birds and to the glut of birds (many of which will end up unwanted and passed on from owner to owner to sanctuary) that is developing in the USA.

While I accept that some have a moral conviction that every single embryo should be saved, I also am in no doubt that the vast majority of those who incubate and raise from day 1 are doing it as a means of improving their financial gain from breeding parrots by increasing the number of babies they produce. I could say a lot more, but Heike and Pamela have expressed it far better than I would have.
cheers, Mike Owen Queensland

I’m on digest and miss threads related to specific topics sometimes – especially if the subject title is incorrect (the old skip over thing). But I’m still here and I did catch the incubator hatching topic which I think was excellent.

I incubator hatch, but not as a common practice. Personally I think it is too damn much work . Sometimes we incubate the first clutch of the season for our CAGs in case they shut down after a single clutch (which has happened). We need to have a certain amount of productivity or loose our steady customers.

However, I won’t loose my breeders for the sake of keeping a customer and we remove nestboxes after the 3rd clutch (earlier if I think a hen needs a rest sooner – depending upon her demeanor and weight). I also assist hatches (incubate them for a day or two until they are out of the shell and then put them back in the nestbox. I have only had 1 problem with a pair of Rainbow Lorys that decided to eat the baby when it was replaced, but I have saved many more than the one I lost.

In the future I will just back off from that pair and let nature take its course. I have also let birds inadvertently starve babies, crack eggs, etc. in the hope of having them adjust to parenthood (and by the way, I found that it works). T

he approach all depends on the specific pair of birds, the situation involving that pair and yes… sometimes finances (i.e. can we afford to let the parents kill another clutch of babies – weighed against “will we have the time to incubator hatch every single egg this pair produces”)

As with most subjects, this topic is not strictly black and white (at least to me). At a certain point we should at least consider some of the other views and perhaps make adjustments to our practices – with a foundation based in common sense.