HER hands are scrubbed clean, the fine surgical needle and tiny forceps she uses have been sterilised.
Small ampoules of sterilised water have been heated to the same temperature as the inside of the incubator and Megan is now ready to help a baby scarlet macaw to leave the egg.
Her work as a hospital emergency department nurse has equipped this lady well for her passion – breeding macaws.
The egg has been in her incubator since she pulled two eggs 15 days after they were laid because the hen had peppered them with tiny holes.
“The hen was playing croquet with them, I could hear her rolling them around,” Megan said, “and when it was obvious that she was going to destroy them I took them.” Each egg had 20-plus tiny holes, but the membrane had not been punctured.
“The first egg was pretty straightforward,” Megan said, “but the second chick was positioned upside down, which made it difficult.”
Her first step in assisting the chick to exit from an egg is to determine if the chick is at the appropriate stage, which is done by candling up to six times a day to ensure that it is developed to the hatching stage. “Once that has been established, I listen for tapping, the chick trying to break out,” she said, “and when the tapping stops and you can hear the chick crying, you know that it has to be done quickly, because crying is a sure sign of stress.”
Using the sterile needle, a small hole is made over the air cell and it is enlarged with the tiny forceps.
“You then enlarge the hole bit by bit, checking constantly that there are no blood vessels attached to the membrane,” Megan said, “which is done by dribbling a little of the sterile water onto the membrane, which causes the blood vessels to become visible as red lines.”
When the blood vessels no longer show up, that section of the shell and membrane is peeled away until enough shell has been removed so that the chick can turn in the egg and come out under its own power.
“Sometimes the membrane sticks to the chick, stopping it from moving,” Megan said, “and it must be peeled away so that the chick can move.”
The two eggs came from a pair of scarlets which were in their first breeding season. “I pulled their first two eggs,” Megan said, “and was going to leave the second clutch until the hen started playing around with them.” The parent birds were almost six years old and Megan didn’t expect them to breed until they were 10. The fact that they were young and it was their first season were probably responsible for the problem.
Megan feeds all her babies under an infra-red lamp and always makes sure that the temperature around the feeding area is approximately the same as the brooder temperature.
“It is essential to maintain the warmth so that they don’t drop body heat,” she said, “because if they are cold, they don’t feed well and can develop crop stasis and resulting bacterial infection.”
Cleanliness key to do well when hand-raising macaws
Megan, who uses freshly sterilised equipment to feed each container of chicks, said some people say she’s overly fanatical.
“I don’t use fresh gear for each bird, because if they’re in a container together the odds are that if one picks something up the others will as well,” she said.
Her nursery room and all incubators and brooders are always spotless and they are fumigated at the end of every breeding season, when the nursery room is sprayed and then totally repainted. “Some people reckon I go over the top on cleanliness and sterile conditions,” Megan said, “but I’ve never lost a bird I’ve hatched through infection.”
All items placed so they’re in easy reach
MEGAN’S nursery room is not overly spacious, but everything is conveniently located and easy to reach. Around two metres wide by four metres long, the room has benches down both sides and at one end, with storage space underneath for baskets, basket liners, hand-rearing formula, baby food, pharmacy items and other necessities which do not need to be on the benchtops all the time.
She has two incubators as well as a forced-fan brooder and several conventional brooders – one of which she converted from a credenza with sliding glass doors by making holes in the shelf and placing globes in the bottom section.
Megan sits down at a bench to feed the birds, which are placed on rubber mats so that they don’t slide around on the bench surface.
An infra-red desktop lamp keeps the chicks warm while feeding and a regular desktop lamp provides light at the bench without unnecessarily disturbing birds in the brooders.
The room also contains a microwave and large windows in front of the bench allow Megan to see her birds in the back yard while hand feeding.
75 per cent fresh food only way to go
ALL Megan’s birds are fed on a 75 per cent fresh food diet – fruit and vegetables – with seed used as a supplement rather than as the main element.
As well as blue and gold and scarlet macaws, her aviaries contain sulphur crested cockatoos, galahs, eclectus, barrabands, kings, rainbows, Indian ringnecks, gang-gangs, cockatiels and mutation’s.
“I feed them fruit and vegetables first each day and when those have been eaten, I give them seed,” she said, “but only a little.”
Megan has spent several years researching diet for her birds and said that in her opinion there is nothing as good as fresh food.
“Most of my breeding age birds breed well every year,” she said, “and I put it down to the fact that they are properly fed.” Food provided includes pear, apple, grapes, oranges, carrot, sweet potato, chilli, beetroot and pumpkin. “Some won’t take the sweet potato and pumpkin raw, so I cook it in the microwave and feed it to them with peanut butter,” she said.
She feeds boiled eggs twice a week and also provides spinach, broccoli, silver beet, seeding grasses and catoniasta berries on the branch as well as various nuts. “They particularly like the berries and strip the branches bare,” Megan said.
Macaws need high fat content food and Megan feeds them a mix of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts every day.
Main diet for her pair of gang-gangs are catoniasta berries, fresh gum nuts, almonds, casuarina seed and any other natural bush vegetation available as well as fresh meat on the bone once a week.
Until recently Megan used stainless steel bowls and brackets for fresh food and seed for her macaws, but she is now switching to bakelite bowls which attach to a bracket by a swivel nut underneath the bowl.
“The macaws and the gang-gangs, which are near them, love tipping the stainless steel bowls out,” Megan said, “but they can’t do it with the bakelite bowls because they are firmly anchored at the bottom and have to be twisted by your whole hand to loosen them, which the birds can’t do. “The gang-gangs had a go at chewing the bakelite, but didn’t like the taste and gave it up.”
Hourly turning cycle works well
MEGAN uses Kimani incubators and brooders and prefers to use an hourly turning cycle rather than the two or four hourly cycle. “Kimani is happy to accommodate my preference,” she said.
All her chicks are syringe fed because she believes that is the safest and most hygienic method. “Spoon feeding is messy and I don’t crop feed because the chicks don’t get to taste their food, which I believe can create weaning problems,” Megan said. “Also if food is too warm, there is an increased risk of crop burns, whereas the chick will let you know if the food is too hot when it is in the mouth.”
Food is mixed in sterile containers at a temperature of 50-55 degrees celcius and allowed to cool to 41 degrees celcius before being fed, with temperature maintained using a baby bottle warmer
. “Anyone knows that the best breeding ground for bacteria is leftover food which is kept warm and moist, which is exactly the case with surplus food on a bird’s face or in a brooder,” Megan said.
She said she prefers syringe feeding all her youngsters because the syringes can be kept in Milton antiseptic solution when not being used, but metal spoons can’t. “That is because metal spoons react to Milton solution, the same as with other chlorines,” Megan said. “The added advantage is that syringes are stored in Milton and used directly, without the need to rinse, which has the risk of contamination from water.”
Gang-gangs need meat protein for success
AS well as hand-raising macaws, Megan also raises sulphur-crested cockatoos she breeds and she takes in eggs to hand raise for other breeders. “I have done white-tailed black cockatoos,” she said, “as well as many eclectus, galahs and other parrots.”
Gang-gang cockatoos presented her with problems for a couple of years before they were solved when she was put on the right track by vet Tim Oldfield.
“They would get to 48 hours then their colour would change to almost white and they would die,” she said. “This happened two years running and the same thing occurred with another breeder who encountered exactly the same problem.”
Tim told her that gang-gangs eat small rodents and insects in the wild and that maybe the youngsters needed animal protein.
“I bought some Heinz baby food beef and vegetables and lamb and vegetables and mixed it with the Roudybush formula 3 that I always use and it did the trick,” she said. “The birds then made progress the same as all the other species.”