During one recent internet avicultural discussion, the topic arose of why handfeeding of psittacine chicks for the pet market has become such a prevalent practice. Not only is human feeding of baby Parrots widely acceptable, it has evolved into almost a "rule" amongst many commercial and hobby bird breeders.
My feeling is that in aviculture this constitutes a basic "convenience issue," that is, when chicks are pulled from their parents and nesting birthplace very young, to begin the handfeeding process (or in the case of incubator hatching and pulling them as eggs), the youngsters being brought up in a home become exceedingly needy and dependent upon their human handlers.
Babies are compliant
Most chicks at such a stage cannot yet see well; they are not capable of staying warm without special conditions to make up for their lack of sufficient feathering and parents who stay close to them; and of course they have no idea how to feed themselves. All this makes the nursery-raising of them as lovely little "teddy-bear birds" for the pet market much easier for various breeders.
These young offspring often remain extremely malleable for keepers, since early on they tend to forego expressing any wild non-conformity or self confidence. They have little ability to resist those parts of the hand raising process that do not agree with their true desires.
In addition, various elements of their willful personality traits may be stifled even further by the owner deciding to abruptly trim back all their flight feathers to keep them from moving around when they choose!
On the other side of the coin, letting Parrot parents raise a baby psittacine for weeks means that when it comes out of the nestbox, it will likely be quite cautious and suspicious around humans.
Its eyes will have been open long enough to focus, make out shapes and strange movement and grow sensitive to light. Such a chick needs to be handled so much more carefully, more gently, even more slowly and naturally--i.e. oftentimes in the dark or near dark.
If not, the neonate is liable to become shy, jumpy, nippy or resistant to the touch and human manipulation it is undergoing. This scenario can certainly be inconvenient for those aviculturists raising 25, 50, 100 individual baby Parrots per season – most of these breeders have neither the time nor the desire to handle resistant chicks this way.
The ironic thing is that these same birdkeepers willingly choose to make the time to set an alarm watch on their wrist and wake up every two, three or four hours each night for months on end, trying to keep all those tiny pink featherless crops full of warm baby formula!
Why they do not realize that it can be so much more facile to leave the baby psittacines with their real parents for an extra 10 to 20 days, where they will receive optimum round-the-clock feeding? I surely do not comprehend.
Another fascinating point about this convenience issue is that those birds raised under their parents for many weeks, which are coming out apprehensive of humans, can make such awesome pets.
They absorb a poignant "childhood" phase of living in secure darkness and intimacy within a family unit - something that is denied them in a human-tended nursery situation.
They have a mother sitting with them hours a day, and a father figure that they come to recognize and perceive as a different role model. Most of all, the chicks learn to be alone in a safe place while their parents are out eating and drinking and sunning, etc.
If keepers are patient with newly-pulled and shy neophytes, after a few days these now near-fledglings will make a "conscious decision" that humans treat me nice, humans are kind, I like humans.
Some young Parrots turn this important corner in two or three days; while truly suspicious ones (those that tend to growl and even peck out distrustfully) may take a week.
To be sure, this process is significantly different than the “humans feed me and keep me alive, so I must trust humans” mentality forced on helpless early pull and incubator chicks.
Think of that.... the chicks are not obligated to be sociable by remaining totally helpless and reliant; they are instead aware of their surroundings and mindful enough to decide they like how they are treated by people.
For us here at The Perfect Parrot, this is a key component of attempting to raise the most complete hookbill pets possible.
What are the benefits?
Such Parrot babies have all the friendliness of those other chicks growing up as needy and sightless neonates, yet still remain independent psittacines at heart, quick and savvy, decisive in their activities and flying. They know they are Parrots and treat humans with a certain reserve because of this.
It is much like those sometimes scarce but notable well-adjusted wild-trapped birds sold into the pet trade back in the 70s and 80s that were imported in a way that neither injured nor traumatized them. Some of them overcame their fear of humans and turned out to be wonderful, intelligent, adaptable companion psittacines.
This brings up another thing about pets that are not handfed from a very early period. Such Parrots that have a secure identity as Parrots will be much less inclined to tolerate neglect or rough treatment from keepers. They are less likely to turn on themselves and go neurotic, or start pulling out their feathers.
Instead they may rebel or get angry or react emotionally in a way that says, "I don't need you!" This is a healthy thing in a Parrot. It gives them an advantage in the often confusing, ever-changing and sometimes fickle world of human beings.
So it appears there are two types of handfeeding approaches: (1) that of convenience done from the earliest age in a method designed to make the pet dependent and docile, pliant and submissive; and (2) that of late-pulled, nearly-ready-to-fledge chicks with the goal of easing them into the world of humans without destroying their individualism and self-assuredness.
Methinks it is better to accomplish the latter.
Ah, well. I suspect if there were avicultural conservation rules enacted saying you could not steal psittacine chicks from under their mother or father until very late in the parent feeding process, then many breeders would find they really do not have the stomach for dealing with all those strong-minded juvenile fledglings, and they would give up the business of hand rearing pets altogether...
To the benefit of many of the baby birds, of course.