DIY a water-heated brooder for baby or sick birds in 12 easy steps


A brooder is a really useful thing to have if you will have baby chicks or even if you have an adult parrot. A brooder provides an internal environment with controlled heat and humidity (something like a little sauna) that is critical to chicks AND sick birds. They are extremely useful because they provide a heated environment that can be quite difficult to replicate, especially in air-conditioned rooms, varying day/night temperatures or during colder months.

Why is it important?

For a baby parrot

Chicks need to be kept warm so that it can rest comfortably and so that its body can function correctly. The warmth helps babies digest their food and help them in overall development. Providing ambient humidity is also essential in producing quieter, fatter babies with a greater growth rate. Even if you intend to let the chicks stay with their parents who will be cuddling and keeping them warm, a brooder can still be very useful in case the chicks fall sick or get rejected by their parents and they have to stay alone. Here is a very useful source on feeding and housing baby parrots.

For a sick parrot (of any age)

Birds are prey animals and hide their illnesses very well and by the time you see obvious sick symptoms, your parrot might be seriously ill. Sick birds are rapidly depleting their limited energy reserves and lose heat rapidly. Providing warmth is SO IMPORTANT because it allows birds to concentrate more of its energy on repair and recovery and less on maintaining normal body temperature. Sick birds should be maintained in an environment of 80 – 85 F (27 – 30°C). Sometimes this can, with benefit, be increased to 100 F (38°C) for a period of 24–48 hours, after which it is gradually reduced.

A brooder is wonderful in providing much needed-heat and support a sick parrot if you do not have immediate access to the vet/

A brooder can be bought at a shop, but it can be DIYed easily and much cheaper with simple materials. I made the brooder below under SGD$40. There are many types of brooders that can be heated by a heating pad, water or a heat lamp, but I chose to make a water-heated brooder because heating pads have posed dangers to overheating and underheating parrots. I’ve also found that the heat generated by a water-heated brooder is more gentle and well-spread out, giving a general comfortable warmth that can be easily measured with an internal thermometer. A water-heated brooder also provides much-needed humidity.

*I made the brooder with inspiration from Rainbow Parrots here but I have adapted the steps so it doesn’t include any drilling or waiting time as I have found that plastic/acrylic cracks easily if not drilled properly.

What you will need:

A 100 watt fish tank heater with a temperature control dial

You can easily get the heater from any aquarium or pet shop with a fish department. Make sure the heater comes with suction clips like the black ones in the picture above to attach the heater to the bottom of the tank.

2 similar sized transparent containers suitable for the size of your parrots

Food containers like the picture above are possible, but I got 2 plastic fish tanks from the aquarium. The containers/tanks should be able to stack on each other like in the brooder set up below.

A pad or cloth for the bottom of the brooder

The pad or cloth is supposed to act as an insulator against ‘direct’ heat. The cloth I used was originally a (new) piece of cloth meant to clean the kitchen and does not have thread that could be easily pulled out by claws that may tangle.

A thermometer AND humidity reader

The reader is essential for the brooder to know how warm it is inside, whether the fish tank heater is working, if the temperature and humidity in the brooder is constant (super important!) – especially if the temperature and humidity difference between the brooder interior and the exterior is significant. This reader can be bought quite easily from aquariums or online. For my Singapore readers, I bought my electronic time/thermometer/humidity reader from Carousell.

(For chicks) Anti-slip friction mat

The anti-slip friction mat is to lay over the first layer of insulation (the pad or cloth for the bottom of the brooder) to help chicks grip and learn to walk properly as they waddle around the brooder. I got the same anti-slip friction mat as the ones for the car dashboard to put keys and whatnot and it was wonderful in helping Bailey learn to walk properly. But do make sure that the chicks do not bite and Ingest any pieces of the mat!

Paper hamster bedding

It is possible to use wooden shavings in place of paper hamster bedding, but I chose to use paper bedding because I can’t ever be sure about the safety of wooden shavings especially if the type of wood is isnt known. I am also afraid if my birds will ingest the shavings, while the paper hamster bedding is comparatively less fine than wooden shavings.

Small container with a small sponge cut out to fit the container

This is to put inside the brooder to increase the humidity levels of the brooder. I suggest using a sponge instead of an open water container because it has less risk of spills and an open water container is a drowning hazard especially with small inquisitive chicks.

A towel (preferably darker colors) to cover the top and sides of the brooder

To keep the temperature and humidity levels in the brooder controlled and give a safe and cosy environment in the brooder.

Salt

To add to the water tank to keep down the growth of pseudomonas and other pathogenic bacteria.

Steps

1. Adjust the temperature knob of the aquarium heater to the appropriate temperature for baby chicks, or 30-32 degrees celsius for a sick parrot. Do not plug the heater into the socket yet.

Source: Psittacine Pediatrics: Housing and Feeding of Baby Parrots, Hagen Avicultural Research Institute

2. Attach the suction cups of the heater on the base of the tank. Attach the aquarium heater to the suction cups to hold it. Make sure the heater is parallel to the bottom of the tank and the heater is not touching the bottom of the container.

3. Arrange the cable of the heater such that the end exits the sides of the tank. The plug of the heater should be outside of the tank.

4. Fill the bottom tank with water about 2-3 inches above the heater. Add a tablespoon of salt into the water.

5. Line the 2nd tank with the first layer of insulating cloth, followed by the anti-slip mat (for chicks) and the paper hamster bedding

6. Test if the temperature and humidity meter is working in room temperature. If the readings accurately reflect the outside temperature, attach the meter to the interior of the 2nd tank using double sided tape or blu tack

7. Then, insert the 2nd tank inside the bottom tank that has the heater and water in it. The water in the bottom tank should come up around the sides of the top tank so that the whole inside of the brooder will be warm.

Source: http://www.rainbowparrots.com/brooder.php

8. To keep the top tank inside the bottom tank with the water coming up the sides, You can either use a bent metal bar or 2 cords wrapped from the edge of one side of the top tank, under the bottom container then hook it to the opposite side of the top tank. In my picture, I used 1 raffia string to go around the width of the containers, 1 raffia string to go around the length till it formed a ‘t’ shape. I used clothing clips to hold the strings in place to push the top tank down.

9. Switch on the heater and use the towel to cover the open top of the container.

10. Check the temperature of the brooder by looking through the tank at the temperature and humidity meter.

11. If you need to increase the humidity level, soak the sponge in water and place it into the small container at the corner of the brooder. Cover the brooder and check the humidity levels again. If the humidity level is still not high enough, damp the towel covering the brooder. The towel will need to be re-dampened several times a day. Change the towel to a clean towel often to prevent bacteria from growing in the towel.

12. If you are co-feeding chicks like what I did, add a little ladder like the one in the pictures to give the parents access into the brooder.

13. Evaporated water must be replaced so that the horizontally laid heater remains submerged

I hope this post helped you! Ask me any questions you might have at lifewithbirbos@gmail.com and do share with me pictures of your finished brooder :)