Hand Rearing: Common Cockatiel Chick Illnesses and How to Cure Them

Free PDF feeding and weight chart available at the bottom of this page

As someone who has recently reared their first clutch of cockatiel chicks, I know how stressful it can be to determine a chick’s health. A lack of general information out there on the web makes it very difficult to know the signs of a sick baby bird especially if that bird is younger than three-weeks old, the time that breeders will usually remove a cockatiel chick for hand-rearing. Their small stature, fragility and generally unfamiliar behaviour can make rearing such young chicks a very daunting task. However, with a little bit of research and a lot of practice, it can definitely be done successfully.

Symptoms of a Sick Chick

Click on one of the below symptoms to take you to the possible illness:

Common Cockatiel Chick Illnesses

There are many reasons why a cockatiel chick might fall ill. Young cockatiels have notoriously bad immune systems and are completely reliant on their parents, meaning that it is very easy for parental mistakes – such as passing on bacteria, lack of feeding or overfeeding – to happen. It is up to you to determine when a chick may need extra care, such as extra feeding or removal from the nest for hand-rearing. Therefore, it is vital you have a good understanding of the types of illnesses that might affect your cockatiel chick and their symptoms. 


Dehydration is a very common cause of illness among cockatiel chicks. Cockatiel parents may not be drinking the correct amount of fluids to sustain chicks or may have a diet of primarily seeds – which are low in water content – instead of additional fruit and vegetables, resulting in chicks also receiving a lower than necessary amount of fluids. Hand-rearers may also provide incorrect fluid levels or higher/lower than necessary brooding temperatures. For this reason, it’s important to recognise dehydration in cockatiel chicks.

Symptoms include:

  • Very dark red or light red skin
  • Very pale, flaky skin
  • Wrinkly skin or apparent ‘tightness’ of skin
  • General weakness, such as head lowering rather than begging
  • Constant begging
  • Lack of droppings or very dry droppings
  • Panting or heavy breathing

Causes of Dehydration Include:

  •  Brooding temperatures (aka the temperature the chick is being kept at in their ‘nest’). Use a thermometer. Both overheating and chilling can cause dehydration.
  •  Formula consistency (water-to-food ratio). If formula does not contain enough water, the chick can easily become dehydrated. However, too much water can also cause dehydration, as it can result in diarrhea, causing a quick loss of water from the chick’s body.

To Increase Hydration:

  • Add extra heat sources such as heat lights or heat mats. If the chick begins panting, it is too hot and you will need to remove or limit external heat sources. Chicks that are below 1 week old must be constantly kept at a temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit) As the chick ages, this temperature can be lowered gradually until the chick starts to develop feathers.
  • Take away or limit external heat sources. If the chick shivers, it is too cold and you will need to increase heat again.
  • Make sure you are following the instructions listed on your formula’s packaging and you read the instructions in full. For example, the formula VetaFarm Neocare will provide a separate series of instructions for neonates (newborns) and aging chicks. Feeding a neonate the same formula as an aging chick will result in dehydration, as newborns require more fluids. (VetaFarm also has a YouTube channel that shows how to mix the formula).
  • Add more liquid to the chick’s formula. Try adding an extra 1/4 of the overall formula in millilitres (eg if the formula is 20ml in all, add an extra 5ml of water). Never reduce the normal amount of powdered formula added to the mix, as this can result in starvation or possible stunting.
  • Heat some water up to 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) and give this to the chick directly using a syringe or pipette. Try giving this to the chick before each feed.
  • See an avian vet in your area. If dehydration is severe, they may be able to provide a saline injection to re-hydrate the chick.
    Example of dehydrated cockatiel chicks at around 1 week old. Chicks have pale, dry skin with white flaking of skin.

Crop Stasis/Sour Crop

Crop stasis and Sour Crop are also incredibly common among cockatiel chicks. However, these issues are primarily associated with human hand-rearing, especially among those who are newer to cockatiel chick care. For this reason, having an understanding of the signs and symptoms of crop stasis and Sour Crop is vital.

What is a crop?

The crop of a cockatiel is a pocket below the neck and in front of the abdomen that stores food after it has been eaten. This food store is what a parent cockatiel uses to feed its young. Food that is in a bird’s crop has not yet been digested and muscles within the crop work to push food into the bird’s digestive system.
When you feed your cockatiel chick, you should be able to see the chick’s crop filling.

Two week old cockatiel chick with visible healthy crop. Crop is below the chicks neck and in front of its abdomen and looks similar to a large round breastbone.

What is Crop Stasis/Sour Crop?

Crop stasis occurs when the crop is no longer able to empty its contents into a bird’s digestive system. Ideally, a cockatiel chick’s crop should empty 20 minutes to an hour after a feed. Some chicks will not completely empty their crops between meals, but should still have digested at least 3/4 of the crop contents.
Sour crop is a disease usually characterised by a bacterial or yeast infection. It can occur as a result of crop stasis or can cause crop stasis. Bacteria or yeast is usually introduced by the parent or hand-feeder and colonises the crop to prevent old food from being digested. This results in old food ‘souring’ in the crop and producing toxic gases, causing illness and eventual death of the chick.

Symptoms of Crop Stasis/Sour Crop include:

  • A crop that fails to empty once every 24 hours
  • A crop that appears very full before each feed, despite the resting time between each feed
  • Prominent veins visible in the crop and apparent ‘movement’ of the veins and crop contents
  • No droppings or less droppings than usual
  • Mucousy droppings
  • Regurgitation
  • Difficulty walking or standing/appears to fall forward a lot
  • Constant begging or increasing lack of appetite/begging
  • Sneezing (if bacteria or yeast has entered the respiratory system)
Cockatiel chick with crop stasis. The crop is large and hangs lower than a normal chick of its age. Chick falls forward often and hangs its head for long periods of time, even while other chicks are begging.

Causes of Crop Stasis/Sour Crop Include:

  • Incorrect formula consistencies. Incorrect consistencies can result in digestion difficulties, increasing the amount of time it takes for a chick’s crop to empty its food into its digestive system.
  • Incorrect formula temperatures. If a chick’s formula is too cold, it will result in digestion difficulties, causing crop stasis or Sour Crop.
  • Overfeeding. When a chick is fed too much, the crop can become distended. If the chick is consistently being fed too much, the crop remains distended for long periods of time, which can damage the muscles within the crop. Damaged crop muscles will no longer be able to push food into the chick’s digestive system, meaning food will sit at the bottom of the crop for long periods of time and sour, causing Sour Crop.
  • Incorrect brooding temperatures. Cockatiel chicks, especially when they are featherless, rely completely on their parents to keep them warm. Without warmth a chick’s body will begin to chill, slowing down all internal processes including digestion.
  • Poor sanitation of feeding instruments. Before a chick is fed you need to ensure that their feeding tools have been washed and sterilised. Unclean tools that still have food or other substances on them could be potentially toxic to the chick and unsanitised tools will contain bacteria that can enter the chick’s crop and digestive system. Poor sanitation results in the spread of bacteria, parasites and fungi, and is one of the leading causes of Sour Crop in chicks.
  • Poor sanitation of the nest. Chicks that have not yet reached fledging age will spend most of their time on the floor of their nest. If this nest has a large amount of droppings and old food, it is likely the chicks will ingest this at some point. Droppings and old food contain dangerous bacteria, fungi and potential parasites, which can enter the crop and digestive system of a chick, resulting in crop stasis and Sour Crop.
  • Incorrect nesting materials. Chicks may ingest commonly used nesting materials such as wood shavings, dirt or shredded paper. These materials can get stuck in the chick’s crop and block the digestive system, keeping food stuck in the crop and preventing digestion. This is known as impaction.
  • Chick not emptying its crop at least once every 24 hours. The crop should be completely empty after a 4 hour rest period, meaning the crop is no longer visible and sits flat against the chick’s chest. Without emptying, morsels of food may sit at the bottom of the crop while more food is added, causing it to sour. Excess food consumption without appropriate crop emptying can also cause crop distention and issues with digestion.
Chick with crop stasis/Sour Crop (left) with other clutch-mates. Chick’s crop hangs lower than other clutch-mate’s crops (distention) and chick appears weak.

To Prevent Crop Stasis/Sour Crop:

  • Ensure you are following the instructions listed on your formula when mixing food for chicks. These instructions will contain information on preparing and mixing the formula to the correct consistency. Read these instructions thoroughly. Ensure all information you read is specifically about your brand of formula, as different formulas have different nutritional values and therefore require different consistencies in order to promote digestion and growth in chicks. 
  • Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the formula before each feed (thermometers can be purchased relatively cheaply from local supermarkets, but be sure to wrap some gladwrap or a probe cover over the end of the thermometer before use to protect it from moisture, as the thermometer will quickly malfunction if placed directly in formula)The temperature of a chick’s formula should be between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius (96.8 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • When feeding a chick, it is important to ensure that you only ever feed it 10% of its body weight at each feeding. Some chicks, especially hand-reared chicks, will become spoilt, and may beg for more food than they need, making it even more important to monitor their intake. Ensure you weigh the chick both before and after feeding. Cheap gram scales can be found at Woolworths and other supermarkets. Recording these weights will also be useful to monitor weight gain and chick development. Remember that when it comes to cockatiel chicks, overfeeding can be far more damaging than underfeeding.
  • Keep cockatiel chicks warm by using heat lights and heat mats. Place towels or blankets over the chick’s ‘nest’ to keep the heat in. Put a thermometer inside the nest so that the nest temperature can be constantly monitored. Chicks that are below 1 week old must be constantly kept at a temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • Wash feeding tools after each feed and soak in a sterilising fluid mix. Milton sterilising fluid mixed with water is commonly used among cockatiel breeders, as it will rid of all present bacteria to ensure it is not spread to chicks. Tools must be soaked in Milton for around 15 minutes in order to properly sterilise the tools. Make sure to read the instructions of your chosen sterilising fluid.
  • Clean out your chick’s nest every time the chick is taken out for a feed. This includes wiping down surfaces – if possible – and replacing nest lining.
  • Line the nest with paper towelling, as it is both easy to clean and allows you to view droppings and identify any changes that may signal health issues. Cockatiel chicks are also unlikely to ingest paper towelling and it is easier for chicks to walk or stand on paper towel than it is on other surfaces such as newspaper.
  • Ensure the crop empties completely once every 24 hours. An empty crop should not be apparent to view, as it should sit flat on the chick’s chest. Give the chick at least a four hour rest period if below 1 week old and increase as the chick ages. Older chicks can have a 7 or 8 hour rest period, usually between the hours of 11-12 and 6-7. Chicks should not go without food for more than 8 hours.

To Cure a Chick With Crop Stasis/Sour Crop:

  • Add more water to the chick’s food. This will be easier for the chick to digest. Try to add an amount of water equivalent to 1/4 of the amount of normal formula (eg. 5ml of extra water to a formula that is 20ml in all).
  • Give the chick some warm water about half-an-hour after each feed. Make sure the temperature of the water is between 36 and 40 degrees. This will help to move the crop contents and encourage it through the digestive system.
  • Add some apple sauce to the chick’s formula. Try to use 3/4 formula and 1/4 apple sauce. Do not use home-brand apple sauce, as this is likely to contain high amounts of sugar that can be damaging to the chick. Apple sauce speeds up the digestive system, encouraging the crop to empty faster.
  • If it is believed to be a severe case of Sour Crop, give the chick some warm water mixed with some bicarb soda (only a pinch of bicarb). This will neutralise the chick’s crop contents and slow the release of toxic gases into the chick’s body. This is not a cure, but a short-term solution that should prolong the chick’s health until it reaches an avian vet.
  •  Nilstat, a natural anti-fungal treatment, can be given to the chick to kill off yeast in the chick’s crop. Nilstat is available at chemists over the counter, and is relatively safe for cockatiel chick consumption, as overdoses or unnecessary dosage is not usually damaging. At 2 weeks old, a chick can be given approximately 0.2ml of Nilstat every 8 hours. Ensure this Nilstat is given at least an hour before feeding (although it does not necessarily always need to be followed by a feed). It is best to seek the advice of an avian vet if possible for the correct dosage for your chick.
  • See an avian vet in your area. Crop stasis and Sour Crop are both emergencies and can result in chick death if not treated. An avian vet may flush the crop of its current contents (clearing the souring food), check for impaction and take crop samples to test for bacterial, yeast or parasite infections so that an effective antibiotic can be given.
Cockatiel chick with crop stasis (left) and older chick with healthy (filling but not yet full) crop (middle). The chick with crop stasis is lowered to the ground and appears to ‘hide’ next to the bag, as ill chicks feel vulnerable to predators. Chick on right has a healthy full crop that does not dangle as the left chick, and allows the chick to still sit upright.

Crop Burn

Crop burn is a condition that commonly occurs with chicks that have been hand-reared. Cockatiel parents will usually always feed their chicks food at the correct temperature, but human parents are able to heat formula to temperatures that can be dangerous for chicks to ingest. Crop burn is a very serious matter and can cause very painful and damaging injuries to young cockatiel chicks.

Symptoms of Crop Burn Include:

  • Large weeping wounds on the chick’s crop
  • Scabs on the chick’s crop
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy

Causes of Crop Burn Are:

  •  Feeding chicks food that it above normal temperatures. This food will burn the chicks crop from the inside, resulting in weeping wounds – or burns – appearing on the outside of the crop.
  • Chicks directly leaning on heat mats and other hot objects.

To Prevent Crop Burns:

  • Ensure the chick’s formula is at the correct temperature. Formula should be between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius (96.8 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit). Anything above 40 degrees will cause crop burn.
  • Ensure the chick does not have direct access to any hot objects such as heat lights or heat mats. If using a heat mat, place a towel between the mat and the nest to prevent overheating and gauge the temperature with your hands before allowing the chick into the nest.

To Cure Crop Burns:

  • Give the chick some cooled water to cool down the crop. Ensure this cooled water is only given after the feed that is likely to have caused the burns, as cool water can slow down digestion and chill the chick.
  • Seek out an avian vet. Crop burns are very painful and although there are some potential aides, it is always best to seek veterinary help to best solve the problem. The chick will likely need vitamins, liquids to prevent dehydration as well and sterilisation and bandaging of the wound.
An example of a heat source that a chick will be unable to reach, therefore will not cause crop burns.

For infographics relating to crop burns, visit the site: http://www.ask-noodles.com/uncommon-problems-with-hand-feeding.html 
This site also contains general information relating to cockatiel hand-feeding.


Cockatiel chicks are very fragile, making them prone to injury. There are many ways a cockatiel may get injured, but most occur due to accidental parental damage or during fledging.

Symptoms of Injury Include:

  • Obvious changes in walking or standing, such as instability or strange leg positioning.
  • Obvious changes to wing positioning, such as lowering of wings or holding wings out from the body.
  • Cuts on the body.
  • Bruising on the body.

Causes of Injuries Include:

  • Parents accidentally stepping on or falling on chicks.
  • Parents deliberately injuring or abandoning chicks.
  • Chicks biting or falling on one another.
  • Falling out of the nest.
  • Attempts at flying that result in falls or crashes.

To Prevent Injuries:

  • Bird-proof your aviary/house. Identify items that your chick is likely to want to fly to or land on and ensure these are either safe, or provide a safer, more inviting option. You may want to purchase a play gym for your chick. This will not only distract them from flying elsewhere and provide them with entertainment, but will also give them something to jump off to practice their flying without the risk of a long and potentially damaging fall.
  • Monitor cockatiel parent behaviours. If parents appear to discard the chick, you may need to remove it from the nest for hand-rearing. Untamed parents may also be prone to jumping or stepping on babies when you check on the chicks, so make sure to tap on the nesting box to warn them before you open it. The height of the entry to the nest and the nest itself may result in injuries when the cockatiel parent jumps into the nest for the chicks.
  • Monitor chick behaviour. If chicks are biting or injuring one another, their nesting box may be too crowded or they may be hungry. Check the chick’s crop to ensure it has been recently fed.
  • Close windows when chicks are first learning to fly. Chicks that are uncertain may be prone to running into windows. You can also introduce windows to chicks by placing them beside a window and monitoring their behaviour. Chicks that are raised indoors and let out often will quickly learn what windows are.

Curing Injuries

  • Damaged Wings: The below video describes the procedure for mending wings.

  • Damaged Legs: The following video demonstrates bird leg-wrapping.

  • When mending a chick’s leg, it is best to use a medical or veterinary tape, such as Vet Wrap. This type of tape is designed to be adhesive only onto itself, meaning it will not stick to the chick’s feathers or feet. It is easily and non-painful to remove as well as relatively inexpensive.
  • Seek out an avian vet. Not all injuries will be easily mended and sometimes bruises on the body of a chick, especially on the abdomen, can be signs of internal bleeding. If not attended to, these issues can cause serious problems in the chick’s development and possible death to the chick.
Example of bruising on a cockatiel chick’s abdomen. This bruise turned out not to be an injury, but the chick’s liver visible through its skin. This is normal in some chicks. However, it is always best to get an avian vet’s opinion, as similar bruising occurs with internal injuries and haemorrhaging.


Stunting is quite common amongst cockatiel chicks that are raised by cockatiel chicks. If you have chicks that are still in their original nest, it’s important to understand the signs of stunting so you can step in and get the chick growing back to normal.

What is stunting?

Stunting is when a chick’s growth becomes impaired due to a range of usually parental and environmental factors. A stunted chick will look small for its age, appear to gain very little to no weight and be underdeveloped, meaning it will likely look quite young compared to the rest of its clutch-mates. Stunting cannot be reversed, meaning the chick will likely always have slow growth, but growth can be encouraged again with human intervention.

Example of a stunted cockatiel chick. Chick has large ‘sunken’ eyes, large nares, is behind in development (eyes should be open at this point) and has small wings and toes for its age.
Example of a chick (around 15 days old) that is healthy for its age. Nares and head are appropriately sized and wings and feet are far larger than the stunted chick’s.

Symptoms of Stunting Include:

  • Chick noticeably small and underdeveloped for its age
  • Chick underweight for its age
  • Large head
  • Enlarged nares (nostrils)
  • Small wings and feet
  • Large eyes with a ‘sunken’ appearance

Causes of Stunting Include:

  • Chick being underfed
  • Lack of nutrients in food
  • Chilling or overheating/dehydration
  • Incorrect food consistency

To Prevent Stunting:

  • Ensure the chick’s formula is at the correct temperature. Formula should be between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius (96.8 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Ensure you feed chick 10% of its body weight at each feed. Weigh the chick prior to feeding and after feeding to ensure it has consumed this 10%.
  • Keep cockatiel chicks warm by using heat lights and heat mats. Place towels or blankets over the chick’s ‘nest’ to keep the heat in. Put a thermometer inside the nest so that the nest temperature can be constantly monitored. Chicks that are below 1 week old must be constantly kept at a temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Use a good quality hand-rearing mix. VetaFarm has a Neocare range of food for parrot chicks that contains all the nutrients a cockatiel chick will need for healthy development.

To Cure Stunting:

As stated above, stunting can never truly be cured. The chick can, however, be nursed until it begins to grow again and eventually reaches adult size, but will never end up back at the normal size and development for its age. There are some ways to encourage this growth.

  • Get into a normal feeding routine. Ensure the chick is being fed the correct amount at the correct temperature and consistency.
  • Measure the nest’s temperature and ensure the chick is always kept warm. This encourages digestion, which in turn will encourage growth.
  • Monitor the chick’s growth by recording its weight before and after feeds, how much it eats, when it eats and any developmental changes. This will allow you to identify what is and isn’t working with your chick’s diet so further growth can be encouraged.
  • If the chick is still in the nest with the parents, remove it for hand-rearing or ‘co-parent’ (provide additional food for the chick while it is still in the original nest). The parents may be underfeeding the chick in comparison to the rest of the clutch, meaning the chick may die or become ill if not removed, as it will be generally weaker and less able to beg for food when needed.
  • Seek an avian vet. A vet may be able to provide you with specific hand-rearing food or supplements to assist the chick’s growth. They may also be able to identify the primary cause of the stunting so stunting in later clutches can be prevented.
Stunted chick (left) and non-stunted chick (right) featured in the above 2 images at around 6 weeks old. Both are flying well and are starting to eat seeds. Although the eldest non-stunted chick looks much larger in this image, they are both the same size. There have been no further health issues with the stunted or non-stunted chicks.

Air in the Crop

After you have fed your cockatiel, you may notice there are bubbles of air within the cockatiel’s crop, usually situated closest to the neck or on the chick’s shoulders. This can be distressing for hand-rearers to see, but is not always a sign of illness in chicks. However, when combined with other symptoms of illness, bubbles of air in a chick’s crop can be a sign of something far more serious.

Symptoms of Air in the Crop Include:

  • Bubbles of air visible within a chick’s crop, usually after feeding.

Causes of Air in the Crop Include:

  • Feeding too slowly. When food is coming out of a feeding implement – usually a syringe or pipette – chicks will bob their head and consume food until they feel the feeding implement taken away. If food is being dispensed too slowly, air may also enter the chick’s mouth, which can lead to air bubbles forming in the chick’s crop.
  • Allowing air bubbles into the feeding tools. In the case of syringes, crop tubes and pipettes, air if often sucked up with the food, resulting in air bubbles. When the chick is fed, it will consume these air bubbles, which will then sit in the crop of the chick.
  • Feeding tools damaging the chick’s crop. Sometimes tools such as crop tubes and pipettes can catch on a chick’s crop, cutting or otherwise damaging it. This will allow air to easily enter and bloat the crop.
  • Sour Crop. When food has been left to sour in a chick’s crop, this food will produce toxic gases that will eventually poison the chick. These gases can occasionally be seen within the crop as air bubbles. See Sour Crop section for more information about prevention and curing this problem.

To Prevent Air in the Crop:

  • Tap the syringe, crop tube or pipette before feeding to the chick so that air bubbles rise to the top of the formula solution and are less likely to enter the chick’s crop.
  • Fully immerse the feeding tool into the formula when sucking it up. This will reduce the amount of air bubbles in the tools.
  • Ensure you are feeding the chick at the correct speed. If air bubbles appear to be an issue, it is likely you are feeding your chick too slowly and you will need to dispense food at a faster pace. However, make sure that your chick’s mouth is not so full that the food is falling out. The chick should have time to breathe while eating, so dispensing a relatively small amount while the check is bobbing its head and then taking the tool away completely for a few seconds will allow the chick to breathe. This method also gives the food time to hit the crop, meaning the chick will be less likely to overeat and more likely to feel full.
  • When the chick becomes old enough (usually 5 or more days old) to bob its head and actively consume food, move to using a syringe rather than a crop needle or pipette. Syringes do not fully enter the oesophagus and crop and are therefore unlikely to cause damage. As syringes sit at the base of a chick’s beak, they also allow food to pass the chick’s taste buds before being digested, meaning it will be easier to motivate a chick to eat other foods such as seeds, fruit and vegetables when it is old enough to begin weaning.

To Cure Air in the Crop:

  • Lightly massage the air bubble. This will help the air to exit the cockatiel’s crop. Try massaging in small circular motions to make the process more comfortable for the chick. Do not massage in an upward motion as this can cause the crop contents to exit the chick via regurgitation, which can possible aspirate (choke) the chick.
  • See an avian vet. Some birds will have a dangerous amount of air in the crop, which can be a serious sign of illness such as a perforated crop. Illnesses such as this can cause eventual death in the chick without veterinarian intervention.
Example of a cockatiel chick with a bubble of air above its shoulder.


It is relatively easy to aspirate a cockatiel chick, especially when you are unfamiliar with hand-feeding techniques and general bird anatomy. Aspiration is, however, an emergency and can very quickly result in the suffocation of a chick. Therefore, its best to learn the signs of aspiration and first aid procedures as early as possible when hand-rearing chicks.

What is Aspiration?

Aspiration occurs when food travels down a chick’s air passage instead of its digestive passage. The air passage of a chick is placed underneath the chick’s tongue and the digestive passage travels over the top of the tongue and down the back of the chick’s throat. Aspiration is the same as choking in humans, and can cause serious damage, if not death, to a cockatiel chick. Aspiration may cause distress to the chick instantly, but food also may gather in the chick’s lungs over long periods of time, resulting in a serious respiratory illness called ‘Aspiration Pneumonia’.

Symptoms of Aspiration Include:

  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Gasping for air
  • General difficulty breathing, such as heavy or laboured breathing (note that cockatiel chicks will naturally have a fast breathing rate, so telling the difference between normal and abnormal breathing is important).
  • General signs that can be perceived as choking

Causes of Aspiration Include:

  • Feeding a chick too fast. Food will bank up in the chick’s mouth and prevent it from breathing. When it does breathe, it will inhale food, causing choking.
  • Accidental aspiration of environmental items such as nesting substrate.

To Cure Aspiration:

Unfortunately, due to the structure of avian windpipes and lungs, there’s not much owners can do to help an aspirating cockatiel chick. The chick will need to either cough up or sneeze out the food that has become stuck. To assist the chick, you can place it in a suitable clean and warm nest and monitor the nest’s temperature.
It is best to seek an avian vet as soon as possible to assist the chick. They may be able to remove food build-up in the lungs, airway or nostrils.

General Illness

Although there are many documented illnesses in cockatiel chicks (far more than mentioned here), there are some illnesses that will not be easily identified by hand-rearers. It may be due to a serious of symptoms that do not match up to one single illness, or it may be because the symptoms experienced by the chick are relatively unknown to the owners. There are, however, some symptoms that are generally accepted as signs of illness among cockatiel owners and are likely signs of serious underlying issues.

Symptoms of General Illness Include:

  • Puffed-up feathers or spiked pin-feathers (pin-feathers are the prickly developing feathers of chicks, and usually grow lying against the chick’s body rather than spiking outwards).
  • White fluid on or around the eyes and nose.
  • Faeces pasted to a chick’s vent, body and beak (can be due to hunger)
  • General lethargy
  • Crop emptying too fast
  • Dark green faeces or very light green faeces (usually liver disease or failure)
  • Blood in the faeces
  • Dark veins apparent on the body (can be due to dehydration)
  • Tail bobbing and extended/lowered wings
  • Feather loss and feather plucking
  • Noticeable weight loss or extreme weight gain
  • Unusual colour or consistency of urates (usually the white part of bird faeces)
  • Refusing to eat or constant begging (can be due to crop stasis or Sour Crop)
  • General fearful behaviours such as hissing and backing into corners
Example of very dark green cockatiel chick faeces. This chick was confirmed to have had liver failure.

If these symptoms are noticed in your chick, it is best to approach an avian vet for their advice.

Cockatiel Chick Products Checklist

Click on any of the below links to purchase.

Cockatiel Chick Free Food Intake and Weight Log Book with Healthy Weight Examples

This weight chart can be printed to monitor your chick’s food intake, weight gain and overall development at each feed.

Cockatiel Chick Logbook Printout





‘ Cockatiels and their Mutations as Pet and Aviary Birds’ by Terry Martin and Diane Anderson, 2007 Edition
Purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/Cockatiels-their-Mutations-Aviary-Birds/dp/0975081772/ref=asc_df_0975081772/?tag=googleshopdsk-22&linkCode=df0&hvadid=341773529662&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=368900972664616224&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9071221&hvtargid=pla-596515603633&psc=1



8 thoughts on “Hand Rearing: Common Cockatiel Chick Illnesses and How to Cure Them

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  1. Hiya we have an a couple of birds breeding as soon as egg hatch the problems occur. The parents get sick vomiting getting weaker not eating as much or drinking aswel as the chicks. They shake their head after being fed bring up food. Any ideas. We treated for cankers but no luck


    1. Hey Sham!

      Have you noticed any unusual symptoms in the parent birds before the eggs hatch such as tiredness, fluffed-up feathers or lack of eating or drinking? Have there been any unusual droppings as well (bright green, whole seeds in droppings, very dark droppings etc)? Also is it definitely both parents that are sick, or just one?

      If both parents are sick, there’s a good chance it is something viral. Psittacosis (parrot fever or parrot chlamydia) is relatively common in cockatiels but not fully understood in the bird community. It can sometimes sit as an underlying condition for long periods of time without showing any symptoms, and is known to be passed onto chicks and cause severe illness and death in susceptible chicks. It is a little unusual if the parents are getting ill specifically after chicks hatch though, as usually it will be primarily the chicks who get sick if the parents appear healthy beforehand. I would definitely look into getting the parents tested for Chlamydia. The test usually consists of a blood test and screening, and vets may also check for other conditions as well, which would be very helpful for you. The only way Chlamydia can be treated in birds is for an avian vet to put the parents and any surviving chicks (if possible due to their age) on doxycycline and vitamin A injections for a few weeks (as well as any other necessary antibiotics).

      How often do your birds have clutches? If it is primarily the mother who is ill, and they have more than 2 clutches per year, it may be exhaustion or a calcium deficiency that is causing the problem. The best thing you can do to combat this is to stop breeding for the next year to give the parents a rest and see if they can get their body back in working order for the next breeding season. Exhaustion may also make underlying conditions like Chlamydia worse, as the bird’s immune system will be too poor to fight the condition as it normally would.

      My advice would be to take the chicks out of the nest and hand-feed them yourself – or at least co-parent (feed on occasion but still let parents feed as well). Make sure to use the ‘weight log-book’ I’ve attached to this article and keep a close eye on their weight gain, food consumption and overall development. Make sure their food is at the correct consistency, heat (using a thermometre),make sure they are only eating 10% of their weight at each feed and that their crops are at least 3/4 empty at each feed and that their crops are completely emptied overnight. I have a lot of information in this article, as well as in the article ‘How to Hand Rear Cockatiel Chicks’ (https://codylwrites.com/2020/11/06/how-to-hand-rear-cockatiel-chicks/) that should help you out. I would also make sure to use the advice in this article (Common cockatiel chick illnesses and how to cure them) under the heading ‘Dehydration’. If parents are not eating, they will not be able to feed their chicks the right food and the chicks will be rejecting it (shaking their heads as you’ve mentioned). This means the chicks will definitely be dehydrated, so will need extra help re-hydrating. I would also keep a close eye on their crops. If they’re not emptying properly over the appropriate amount of time for their age, I would also look into treating them with Nilstat and using other remedies from this article. Use the amount mentioned – or less – in this article. Nilstat is relatively harmless, so should not cause illness in chicks even if slightly overdosed. If the crop doesn’t get any better, it would be best to have them see a vet.

      Separating the chicks from the parents should give you an idea of whether the chicks also have problems, or whether the problems were primarily from the parents. Take the nesting boxes out of the parents’ cage and this will also give them some time to rest and get back to health without the stress of breeding and caring for chicks. Make sure the parents are on a healthy diet of pellets, some seeds and a lot of fruit and vegetables (particularly kale, bok choi and other healthy greens, excluding any dangerous foods – a good article listing healthy and toxic foods is: https://www.cockatielcottage.net/tablefoods.html). Add some more safe toys to their cage to keep them active (list of safe an unsafe toys: http://www.healthybird.net/catalog/index.php?main_page=page&id=2) and give them a cuttlefish to chew on, as this will help the mum’s calcium levels, which are probably low after egg laying.

      If the parents still appear to be ill after all of this, I would definitely take them to the vet to make sure there is not something serious – such as a virus – that is making them ill. Psittacosis/Chlamydia can last years and without treatment, it will continue to make the parents ill and impact the chicks.

      Hopefully this all helps. Remember to keep a close eye on droppings (this article is great for comparing healthy and unhealthy droppings: https://www.talkparrotlets.com/threads/%E2%80%9Cdoes-this-poop-look-normal-%E2%80%9D-guide-to-bird-poop.82666/) and let me know if there are any improvements in the parents or the chicks.

      All the best,


      1. Thanks ever so much for your reply. Answer to your question their dropping turn very watery when they become sick. Before breeding they are completely fine. We lost many pairs and chicks last year. We treated for cankers this year before breeding season hoping this will stop. The parents become sick they start vomiting become weaker not eating well unable to fly as well sitting at the bottom of aviary. As for they chciks same symtoms until they become very weak vomiting crop not emptying. This has only started since we have moved them to outdoor aviary. Breeding in the house they where completely fine. We managed to save some sick parents by isolating them giving them treatment for cankers cant say for sure of that helped. I will definitely look into the the links you have given. Many thanks


      2. Hey Sham,

        The droppings definitely suggest that the parents are not eating as much as they should. What are you giving the birds for the canker treatment? There are a lot of infections that get into the crops of birds and if they only seem to get sick when they’re nesting, there might also be a chance there’s some kind of fungus, bacteria or – as you’ve suggested – parasites within the nesting boxes themselves. It might be best to take out the current nesting boxes and replace them with new ones before proceeding with treatment, just to eliminate the chances of further ingestion of bacteria, yeast or parasites. It’s also a good idea to ensure you’re cleaning the new nesting boxes out well. Chick droppings, especially old droppings, can make good breeding grounds for disease, fungus, bacteria and parasites. Try not to use much water, as it can encourage fungal and bacterial growth, and instead use something like a clean paint scraper to get rid of any droppings stuck to the sides.
        Make sure you are properly soaking and sterilising anything you use to feed the chicks, and dispose of/sterilise any feeding materials after you feed each individual chick, as reusing feeding tools can also pass around diseases from chick to chick.
        If you can, see if you can pick up one of the parents and feel their crop to see if there appear to be any illnesses. Parent birds will empty their crops very quickly so if the crop feels quite large, there’s a good chance they have sour crop. If so, it would likely explain why the Canker treatment was working, as even if it’s not Cankers, the crop-targeted treatment would still help clear their crops to a degree (though I’d still approach an avain vet, as they may be able to provide a more effective antifungal or antibacterial medication if that is their condition).
        Again, the best way you can really identify any potential illness would be to approach an avian vet. Since all parents seem to be effected, you would probably only need to take the one bird for the moment, as it’s likely all birds will have the same condition and your vet will be able to recommend treatment options for your flock.

        All the best!


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