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Emergency Pigeon Feeding

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Very young pigeons 2-5 days old
Use a very small syringe for newly hatched birds. I have found that Kaytee Exact Baby Formula used in a very liquid state is a substitute for pigeon milk. This is fed through a syringe with a soft rubber tube attached to where the needle should be. This is done by opening, gently, the baby's beak and carefully inserting the tube all the way into the crop, making sure the tube goes over the top of the tongue and against the back of the throat.  Wet the tube. Make sure the tube is in the crop before pressing the plunger. Feed two or, preferably, three times a day. There is no need to feed baby pigeons during the night.

Newly hatched baby pigeon.

From five to about 21 days old
A medium sized syrnge works best starting at about 5 days. At around 5 days old, start mixing the Kaytee Exact according to the directions on the can, and it becomes more of the consistency of a cheaper ketchup.. You also move up to a larger syringe and tube.  This will let you fill the squeaker up with one insertion, great for you and the bird.  The larger syringe lets the thicker mixture flow through the tube.  The tube is a very soft flexible rubber tubing.  The thinner the tubing wall, the better, because it means a smaller overall diameter with the largest possible interior diameter, permitting the mixture to flow more readily.  If there is too much resistance in the tube, the mixture will not flow easily, and the tube may even shoot off the syringe.  Messy!  Test to make sure you can easily press down on the syringe before using it on the babe.  No reason to squirt the mixture all over it as well

From about three weeks to independence
Larger syrnige is best as they age. Once the baby is large enough to accept a larger tube and syringe, move all the way to this 60 CC size in order to accomplish the feeding with one insertion, not because they will take 60 CC of food!.  I generally feed about 35-50 CCs at this stage, depending on the size of the squeaker.  At around three weeks, it is time to start the weaning process by leaving a few small seeds for it to peck at and a container of water so it can drink.  If you have another pigeon(s) around and you can arrange it, have the squeaker watch the others eat and drink and eventually let it be with them.  It will learn much more quickly this way.  Pigeons learn by imitation, just as we do. Once they have started to eat and drink a little by themselves, try skipping their morning feeding and see how they do.  Drinking comes a bit slower, so just dip the beak in the water a few times a day until they find that too. You may have to give them water for more days than you did feed so keep watch that they don't get too thirsty.  At first they will need supplemental feeding in the afternoon and in the evening before you retire.  Soon you will be able to drop the afternoon and eventually the evening supplemental feeding as well.

Baby pigeon at about three weeks of age.

Ok, sounds easy, but how exactly do I do it?
Hand feeding works best with two people.  One person holds the bird and the other inserts the tube and presses the plunger.  Here's how we do it.  One person holds the pigeon in their right hand, placing the bird on a counter or other flat surface, and cupping the right hand over the bird's back to hold it down firmly.  While holding the bird, place the thumb of the right hand behind the bird's head.  This will help to hold the head up and keep the neck straight, making it easier for the other person to insert the tube.  With the left hand, grasp the lower half of the bird's beak.  This will help open the beak.  The other person grasps the top half of the bird's beak, opens the beak, and inserts the tube, being careful to insert it gently and to place it over the tongue into the throat, keeping it against the back of the throat, and gently easing it down into the crop (see diagram below). If you feel any resistance, remove it and try again.  For a good sized squeaker, the tube will go in farther than you think it will. Remember, if you're using a soft rubber tube, you can't hurt him with it.  When you've got it in, push the syringe plunger.  If everything went perfectly, the crop will instantly fill, and you can withdraw the tube with no muss and no fuss.  You actually get quite quick at this after doing it a few times.  We've found that the person using the syringe sometimes has to lay the syringe on the counter, insert the tube, then pick up the syringe and press the plunger.  It's too hard sometimes to do it all with the syringe in your hand--so have a long enough piece of tubing to allow you to do this.
Sometimes food will start coming out of the baby's mouth as you're pressing the plunger.  This probably means the tubing is not in far enough.  Take it back out, let everybody calm down, and try again, inserting the tube farther this time.  If you have trouble inserting the tube, make sure you are keeping the bird's head up and its neck as straight as possible.
Be gentle, stay calm, and remember that if you're having to hand feed the bird, it really needs your help and will die without it.  We were very clumsy and nervous the first time we had to do this, but we've hand fed several squeakers and also some sick or injured adult pigeons, and we haven't killed one yet.
More Notes
Very young babies that don't get real pigeon milk usually grow much more slowly than babies that get the milk so don't get discouraged and be patient. Hand feeding babies from day one is a last resort because they do grow much more slowly than when fed by their own parents, and sometimes they just don't make it.
Babies need water, too. Keep a close watch on the babies when you first set them out to to see that they get the water they need. Some signs to watch for are: blinking eyes or the crop will feel hard. If the crop is hard, give them a little water with the syringe and tube, and massage the feed in the crop and it will soften up. Once you see them take a good drink on their own, they will not have any more problems.  But make it easy on them. Always place the water in the same container and put the container in the same location in the cage. Just like people, pigeons need more water when it's hot, so watch them closely in hot weather.
Tube Feeding: Excerpts from an article by Dr. Kevin Zollars, DVM: Pigeon Debut, March 1998, pp 12-15
The use of tube feeding in our sport is nothing new. Even though fanciers have heard about it, or seen it done, relatively few practice its use. Tube feeding by definition is the passage of a tube from the mouth into the crop of the pigeon. The tube is then used to pass liquid into the crop by means of a syringe. The fluid passed into the crop can be water, electrolytes, vitamins, protein, fats, carbohydrates, or a mixture of the above. Tube feeding can even be used for antibiotic administration.
Over the years, research has documented the usefulness of tube feeding. One piece of research was called Evaluation of water deprivation and fluid therapy in the Pigeon, written by Martin and Kollias. It was published in The Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. This research showed that in the face of 48 hours of water deprivation, tube feeding could be useful. It showed that the administration of a sugar solution (5% dextrose) into the crop by tube feeding was a very effective method for rapidly restoring fluid deficits. This was found to be even more effective than injecting the same solution under the skin of the pigeon.
Tube feeding is like force feeding. It adds vital nutrients to the body when the pigeon may not actively take in these nutrients on its own. Tube feeding can be useful to aid in  weaning of the young birds. This is the time when the squeakers are left on their own to learn how to eat and drink. Every year, there always seems to be at least one squeaker that does not "catch on" as quickly as the others. He may even get weaker and weaker as he falls further behind. This is a good time to tube feed. Youngsters in this situation can be fed a solution of 5% dextrose (available cheaply from your veterinarian) or, better yet, a high calorie feeding solution containing fructose and glucose. In the pigeon, fructose has been documented to be a highly digestible sugar being quickly converted to usable energy. (The sugar fructose can be found in grape juice, honey, and in powdered preparations in health food stores. ) Fructose and glucose can be found in many commercial feeding preparations formulated for baby parrots. These types of solutions are excellent for those problem squeakers, previously described. Squeakers can be tube fed twice a day for 1-3 days. By this time, they usually have figured out how to eat and drink on their own.
Sick pigeons generally do not eat or drink as much as they should. This is a natural phenomenon in all animals, including man. Tube feeding can be beneficial in this situation. It will deliver vital nutrients that the bird would otherwise not take in on its own. Again, there are commercially made products for birds that contain all the necessary fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that a sick pigeon needs. They come as a powder, to be mixed with water. They are usually used on parrots, but are fantastic for sick pigeons. I use them regularly for individual bird treatments. Another good mixture is made by grinding pigeon pellets and water together in a blender. This is also a well-balanced diet for the sick, non-eating bird, and can be fed twice daily very easily. Oral antibiotics can also be mixed right into the formula and placed directly into the crop.
Tube Feeding: The How To's & Materials Needed The first thing needed is a feeding syringe. Feeding syringes are a little different than regular syringes in that they have a larger opening at the end. This allows the passage of thicker and larger materials, such as ground pellets or very thick feeding solutions. A "regular" syringe can be used if you are only going to feed water or water/electrolyte solutions. Glass syringes are nice, but they can break easily when dropped. Plastic syringes are best, as they are very durable and easily cleaned. There are two types of feeding tubes available: rigid stainless steel tubes; or flexible, rubber feeding tubes. I prefer the flexible, round tipped feeding tubes, as they are soft and flex as they are passed into the crop.
This is safer, because it will move with the pigeon if it struggles, preventing damage to the mouth, esophagus, or crop. The rounded tip provides easy passage of the tube into the crop. Rigid feeding tubes such as the stainless steel ones can cause damage, if handled improperly. Soft rubber tubes are much safer. The tube size I use has an outside diameter of no more than 0.4 cm (4 mm). Once learned, this procedure is very easy and can be done alone. When first learning, have an assistant hold the pigeon so both your hands are free. When holding the pigeon, care must be taken NOT to put any pressure over the crop area. (Pressure on the crop can cause regurgitation [vomiting] of the feeding solution.) Next, the pigeon's neck is straightened out vertically while the beak is opened. With the mouth opened, it is easy to see the opening into the trachea or windpipe. It is on the lower portion of the mouth just behind the tongue. It will contract open with every breath. The tube is then gently placed past this opening to the rear of the mouth on the bird s right side. If done correctly, the tube will pass very easily down the throat into the crop. Do not force it if you feel resistance.
The Tube Feeding Procedure

Diagram of how tube should enter the throat.

The tube is passed approximately 3-3 1/2 inches. Once in the crop you can actually feel the tip of the tube by feeling the skin on the outside of the crop. Now slowly inject the solution into the crop. I do not like to fill the crop completely because this can cause some overflow. The neck should be kept in full extension during the feeding to discourage any overflow or reflux. After injection of the solution the tube is slowly and carefully removed. If reflux occurs during the feeding process the pigeon should be released immediately to let him clear his throat on his own. Attempting to hold the bird upside down or trying to swab out its throat will only cause undue stress. This will only increase the chance of aspiration (the breathing in of some of the solution.) This can cause infection but this is rare.

Some tips when Tube feeding Pigeons:

Always lubricate the feeding tube before use. A small amount of a lubricant such as K-Y Jelly or Vaseline wiped on the tube will help its passage into the esophagus.

Feed liquids should be warmed slightly. Excessively hot or cold liquids can cause irritation and possible regurgitation.

Feeding formulas should only be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two days. There is a possibility of spoilage if stored for longer periods of time.

The cleaning of the feeding tube and syringe is important. This is especially important when feeding a sick bird. The feeding can be from 70-100 kCal per day depending on the health status of the bird. You would want to feed a total of 100 kCal to a sick non-eating pigeon.

Regular feeding formulas will contain 1.0-2.0 kCal per ml. Calorically dense formulas