- Success with rearing, particularly of duck species, may be greatly increased with
hand-rearing. Losses due to predation and abandonment, in particular, may be decreased.
- Once downies have hatched and dried, they should be transferred from the hatching
incubator to a heated broody box. Broody boxes should have solid sides and a mesh top to
prevent active birds from jumping or climbing out.
- The most common method of providing heat is by an infra-red heat lamp. This is
usually suspended over the brooder box by means of a chain, allowing the lamp to be raised
or lowered as required to adjust the temperature inside the box. Incandescent bulbs may
also be used to provide heat, but are more vulnerable if knocked or splashed with water
(and may shatter), and do not allow for a period of darkness, which is important for all
except Arctic-breeding waterfowl.
- A thermal gradient should be present from directly under the lamp (warmest) to
the far end of the box, allowing the downies to chose for themselves the most comfortable
area. A sturdy thermometer may be placed inside the box to monitor the temperature, which
should initially be about 90-99 °F (32.2-37.2 °C) directly under the lamp, reducing to
65-70 °F (18.3-21.1 °C) (or ambient temperature if higher) by about three weeks old.
- N.B. thermometer temperatures are a useful guide, but
behavioural monitoring should be used also: if the downies are all underneath the
lamp and huddling together, they are too cold and the lamp needs to be lowered. If they
are staying in the far corners of the box, as far away from the lamp as possible, panting
and appearing stressed, they are too hot and the lamp needs to be raised.
Substrate and Cleaning:
- Suitable substrates for young waterfowl should stay dry to avoid wetting and
chilling and a non-slip surface is preferred to avoid splay-leg. Newspaper is not very
suitable as it quickly becomes sodden and is also slippery when dry. Towels may be used
initially but quickly become soiled and wet. Hay and straw should be avoided as they may
be a source of Aspergillus spp. spores. Wood shavings, hay, straw and paper might
be eaten, which may lead to Impaction.
Rubber mats with a stippled surface have been used successfully, as has synthetic turf.
Plastic-covered weldmesh or stiff plastic mesh on a frame may be used and has the
advantage that spilled feed, water and droppings can fall though to a gutter area
underneath to be washed away. Good hygiene is very important and brooder boxes should be
cleaned daily to avoid bacterial and fungal growth and associated diseases.
- There are two main approaches to the provision of water for downy waterfowl.
Downies may be kept with full access to water for swimming from the first or second day.
In such conditions it is important to watch the birds carefully for the first few days and
ensure they are kept warm and dry when out of the water, as there is a risk of the birds
becoming too wet with resultant Chilling. It
is particularly important for the diving ducks (especially seaducks and stifftails) to
have access to water for swimming and diving from an early age (B29).
- Alternatively, downies may be maintained with only drinking water, provided in
small vessels or in shallow bowls partially filled with stones to prevent swimming; this
may be safer and requires less constant watching, and is often used for dabbling ducks and
geese, particularly for small delicate duck species. The amount of water is gradually
increased to allow paddling, and full access to water is allowed only after the first full
plumage of contour feathers has grown.
- If full water access is provided from an early age, a constant flow with
surface-level drainage should be used, and an area of stippled rubber matting or mesh must
be provided under the brooder lamp.
- If waterfowl have been reared without full access to water they must be watched
carefully when first let onto water as they may become water-logged and sink (see:
they are also at greater risk of Chilling
until the first plumage has become waterproof.
- Food should be provided once the birds are out of the hatcher. For most species
which normally peck at food, dry crumbs or small pellets may be provided in a bowl close
to water. For species which would sieve their food, food should be finely ground and made
up into a wet slurry. Initially, crumbs with a protein level of 19-20% may be given, with
this being changed to pellets of about 15-16% from two to three weeks old onwards. Fine
grit should also be provided.
- Some waterfowl are difficult to get feeding initially, and may fail to gain
weight and die, usually during their second week (see: Starveout). A
variety of techniques have been developed to encourage waterfowl downies to feed; see:
Stimulating Feeding of
- N.B. It is important to ensure that downies are actually eating,
not just appearing to eat. Daily weighing is a useful indication, although weights
normally decreases in the first two or three days as the yolk sac is absorbed. Careful
observation is required to ensure that food is actually being ingested, and tube feeding
may be required for some very difficult birds which are slow to begin to feed.
- For goslings and other grazing species access to growing grass (i.e. turf, not
just cut grass) is important.
- The number of hours of light provided should mimic the normal daylight hours of
the natural environment where the birds are reared. In the case or Arctic-breeding geese,
this would be constant daylight. Tropical species may be best maintained on a cycle of 13
hours daylight, 11 hours dark, while temperate species require something in between, such
as 16 hours of light, 8 hours dark. Temperate species given too many hours of daylight are
prone to overfeeding, with the attendant risk of the development of Angel Wing.
- Young waterfowl should be given access to an outside run in suitable weather as
young as possible, and may normally be moved outside at least in daytime by as early as
one to two weeks old, depending on the weather.
- The run should be placed on clean short grass in an area not used by waterfowl
(adults or juveniles) the previous year.
- Runs should provide sunny areas (weather permitting) and shade to avoid
sunstroke/heatstroke, and should be designed to exclude mice. Thought should be given to
the fact that the direction of the sun moves during the day, so that a board giving
adequate shade in the morning may need to be moved in order to continue to provide shade
later in the day.
- The young birds should be shut away at night until the down is being replaced by
the first proper feathers. Depending on climate, some heat may be required at night at
- Until birds are both fully feathered and waterproof it is advisable to ensure
that either the birds are shut in at night or the whole run is covered at night, to avoid
the risk of birds becoming soaked during a nightime downpour.
- Once fully feathered, juveniles may be placed in larger pens, with a good-sized
pool. At this stage, birds which have previously been maintained off water must be watched
and may need to be dried if they become to wet; waterproofing usually develops properly
within a couple of days. These pens should provide sun, dry spots for resting and shelter
from rain, as well as areas in sunshine.
- Ideally, birds are raised in broods of the same age and species. Juveniles of
different species but the same age and size may be reared together also; however some
birds reared with a different species may be prone to choose a bird of the wrong species
as a mate when adult. Every effort should be made to avoid rearing a youngster
without other waterfowl for company (except for Biziura
lobata - Musk duck ducklings).
B7, B13.46.w1, B29,
B41, B95, B97,
- Hand-rearing is likely to be necessary when production of cranes,
e.g. from endangered species, is maximised to increase numbers held
and/or for release programmes. (J288.89.w1)
- Care must be taken to avoid chicks imprinting on humans so that they
will, when adult, not pair with their own species. (B31,
- Detailed protocols should be
available in the chick-rearing facilities. (B115.5.w3)
- When handling is necessary this must be done with care. See: Bird Handling & Movement
- Holding & Carrying
- If cranes hatch cleanly and start feeding properly, the main losses
and injuries are from accidents. (N28.10.w1)
- It is important to ensure that crane chicks never fall from a
- Non-slip surfaces and sufficient exercise are essential for healthy
leg and toe development. (N28.10.w1)
- Correct temperature, nutrition and exercise are essential for good
growth and development. (P91.1.w6)
- Accommodation must be predator-proof and large enough to allow
adequate exercise. (B115.5.w3)
- Partitions between chicks and adult or subadult socialization models
need to be sufficiently robust to prevent the older cranes reaching
the chicks - they must not be able to dig under the barrier or jab
their bill through the barrier. (B115.5.w3)
- These are suitable for very young chicks or sick chicks. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks can be moved to brooder boxes from the hatcher 24 hours after
after the excess fluid around the leg joints has been absorbed. (N28.10.w1)
once th chick is fully dry. (J23.21.w4)
- The floor area should be at least 1 m². (B115.5.w3,
- This can be used for two or even three crowned crane chicks (Balearica
the first three weeks. (N28.10.w1)
- If a single brooder box is to be used for more than one chick it
must be dividable with partitions to make it possible to separate
the chicks for the first week. (N28.10.w1)
- If two boxes have a removable panel between them, the panel can
be removed for temporary socialisation under supervision, or one
chick can be given a larger area for exercise. (P90.1.w2)
- The sides should be at least 20 cm tall. (N28.10.w1)
- They should be easy to clean. (B115.5.w3)
- The substrate must be non-slip, e.g. indoor-outdoor carpeting,
non-slip rubber mats for cars, or Astro-turf matting. (N28.10.w1)
- Have two or three sets of mates to allow them to be changed
daily to be washed and sterilised. (N28.10.w1)
- The design should allow easy access to the chick. (B115.5.w3)
- Partitions between brooder boxes should allow visual contact between
chicks but prevent physical contact - e.g. plexiglass, plastic covered
wire or flexible plastic mesh. (B115.5.w3,
- With wire or mesh, chicks may damage eyes or bills fighting
through the barrier. (B115.5.w3)
- A mirror can be used to assist correct imprinting. (P96.1.w1)
- Power must be available, together with a means to suspend an
infra-red lamp over the brooder box. (N28.10.w1)
- Note: the box size should be sufficient to provide a
temperature gradient so the chick can place itself where it is at
its most comfortable temperature. (N28.10.w1)
- In addition to the main, thermostatically-controlled heater,
there should be a back-up heater, on a separate thermostat, for
each box. (P90.1.w2)
- The temperature under the heat lamp should be 35 °C initially,
and the room maintained at about 26.7 °C. (J23.14.w5)
- Keep the temperature in the brooder box at 35 C for the first
week, reducing to 28-30 C in the second week and 25 C in the third
and fourth weeks. (P91.1.w6)
- Non-tip, sterilisable food and water containers are needed for each
- Ceramic cat food bowls are useful for this; they are heavy
enough not to be tipped over. (N28.10.w1)
- Glass marbles or pebbles placed in the water bowl may help stop
a chick slipping if it steps into the bowl, as well as encouraging
it to drink. (N28.10.w1)
- A sod of earth and grass can be placed in a brooder box to allow a
chick to scramble on it looking for insects, which provides some
- This should provide a controlled environment, with a heat lamp,
- Food and water should be available.
- For ease of cleaning, a concrete floor covered with 5-6 cm (
2inches) of sand, shavings or wood chips is recommended.
- Shavings: a rubber non-slip mat or piece of carpet may be placed on
the concrete, under shavings, to ensure good, nonslip footing. (B115.5.w3)
- There is a risk of pathogens growing in wet shavings. (B115.5.w3)
- Wood chips: these should be dust-free and preferably laboratory
- Sand of 2.5 cm (one inch) deep provides a good surface with minimal
chance of slipping, and there is less risk of pathogens growing in wet
substrate than with shavings. However, while it is being cleaned (faeces
sifted out), dust from the sand can fill the air. (B115.5.w3)
- Note: there is a risk of particles of sand or shavings
getting trapped under the eyelids and causing irritation or injury.
- For the first two weeks, non-slip carpet placed over the sand or
shavings is recommended. (B115.5.w3)
- These should be about 3 x 7 m to be large enough to house growing
chicks and let them exercise.
- An outdoor run of this size also may be used for a female and
her chick, if the chick requires intensive care.
- A non-slip surface is important.
- Turf is an excellent surface, providing good environmental
stimulation for the chick, but is difficult to disinfect.
- To reduce pathogen and parasite loads, use turf-covered pens on
alternate years, till lime into the soil, or remove the sod and
replace with fresh sods each year. (B115.5.w3)
- In temperate climates, it may be sufficient to leave the pen
fallow for 4-5 months each year.
- Concrete substrate covered in 2.5 cm (one inch) deep sand can be
used. The sand can be removed at the end of each year and the concrete
scrubbed and disinfected.
- Flooring must provide good, non-slip surface.
- Splayed legs, hock rotation, joint damage and slipped tendons may
occur due to slippery flooring.
- Outdoor carpeting without either backing or foam padding is suitable
as a substrate, particularly during the first 7-10 days when chicks
are more likely to get bits of sand or shaving substrates in their
- Carpeting must not unravel or fray, nor have loops which small
sharp toenails can catch in.
- Carpet must dry quickly.
- Non-slip rummer mats (as used in cars) or pieces of Astroturf also
provide a non-slip substrate. (N28.10.w1)
- Newspaper is not appropriate; it does not provide a good
enough surface. (N28.10.w1)
- For each brooder box or indoor run two or three mats or pieces of
carpet are needed to allow daily cleaning.
- Soiled/wet carpet should be replaced with clean dry carpet pieces.
- Carpets should be left to dry in sunlight to help bacteria
- Wet or soiled sand or shavings should be removed and replaced with
dry bedding. Cat litter scoops or wire mesh scoops can be used to sift
faeces and soiled bedding.
Weight and growth rate
- The chick's growth rate, as indicated by its percentage weight gain
per day, indicates its health.
- Plotting weights on a graph allows the chick's growth rate to be
compared to a normal growth chart.
- For chicks up to 2 kg, a scale with 1% accuracy should be used.
- Weigh young chicks inside a box. The floor of the box should be
lined with a non-slip substrate such as carpet.
- A closed box may be used to reduce human contact during weighing.
- Chicks which are being hand-reared can be taught to walk onto
platform scales once they reach about 1 kg, but walk-on scales
generally are accurate only to about 20 g, limiting their usefulness
for monitoring weight gain in chicks of this weight.
- Weigh chicks as soon as possible after hatching.
- Initially weigh a chick at the same time each day, until records
show it has started to gain weight. After this, weigh at appropriate
intervals determined by the chick's health and the rearing methods
- Expect a 10-15% weight loss during the first three to five days as the chick
absorbs its yolk sac; it should then start to gain weight.
- Chicks which lose more than this should be encouraged to eat and
- Subcutaneous fluids and/or gavage feeding may be needed if the
chick continues to lose weight or becomes lethargic.
- During days 10-40 the chick's growth rate is fastest and must be
- Weight gains of more than 10-15% per day on several consecutive days
are of concern, being linked to leg development problems.
- Note: parent-reared chicks rarely develop leg problems seen
commonly in hand-reared chicks, despite often showing faster growth.
This is likely to be related to the facts that parent-reared chicks
get more and better exercise, that they are always on natural
substrates (never concrete) and that they are fed livefood by their
parents, and fed consistently through the whole day.
- Hand-reared chicks get less exercise than wild chicks; they can gain
weight too fast, putting strain on their legs, and this can result in
permanent deformities. Restricting food intake and enforcing exercise can
be effective if initiated at the first signs of leg weakness. (J23.17.w5)
- The legs of each chick should be checked daily.
- When the chick is standing, walking on a flat surface, the legs
should be parallel to one another, perpendicular to the ground,
without any bowing inwards or outwards at the hock.
- When the chick is walking on a flat surface, the middle toe of each
foot should point forwards, parallel to one another. If the toes
begin to point outwards or inwards, this may indicate the development
of leg rotation.
- Good leg development can be encouraged by ensuring adequate
- If the chick is raised next to a live imprinting model and
follows the adult/subadult crane a lot of the time, it may not
need more exercise.
- Parent-reared chicks, which rarely develop any leg problems, get
more and more varied exercise than do hand-reared chicks.
- Increasing exercise at the first signs of leg problems, as well as
food restrictions and taping as necessary, may be used to correct the
- Providing the opportunity to swim may assist in ensuring adequate
- From two months of age, chicks spend a lot of time practicing
flying, and need an unobstructed area, at least 15 m long, for
exercise. Once they have fledged they may be wing-clipped. (B115.6.w8)
Diet and feeding
- The feed needs to be appropriate for a fast-growing bird with a high
metabolic rate and is different from the diets for adults for either
maintenance or breeding. (B115.5.w3)
- This should be fed from hatching until the chick fledges or finishes
growing its flight feathers. (B115.5.w3)
- Once the chick has fledged and finished growing its flight feathers,
the diet can be changed to standard crane maintenance diet. (B115.5.w3)
- A diet of no more than 24% protein and 0.73% sulphur-containing
amino acids is recommended. (B115.5.w3)
- Diets which are too high in protein, particularly sulphur-containing
amino acids, have been linked to developmental limb problems. (B115.5.w3)
- For further details of nutritional requirements see Food and Feeding for Birds (Bird Husbandry and Management)
- Food must be fresh (no more than three months from manufacture),
dry, intact and free of contaminants (e.g. mould, vermin). (B115.5.w3)
- Initially, the diet needs to be in the form of chick crumbs or
crumbles. Once the chick is self-feeding, 5 mm diameter pellets can be
mixed in and the proportion of these increased gradually, so that by
3-4 weeks the chick is eating pellets without any crumbles. (B115.5.w3)
- For parent reared birds, provide a 50:50 mix of crumbles and pellets
from the beginning. (B115.5.w3)
- If a balanced diet is not available, or its vitamin content is
suspect, a standard dose of water-soluble vitamins and electrolytes
designed for poultry can be added to the water; use of this should be
stopped once a proper balanced diet is available. (B115.5.w3)
- In many facilities a poultry starter ration (e.g. turkey starter) is
used and supplemented with protein sources such as insects, fish or
- At Walsrode, in addition to a standard starter diet, a mixture is
given mased on insectivorous food and meat; the quantity of this is
reduced gradually so that by 6-8 weeks chicks are eating only the
- The insectivorous/meat mix is as follows: 50% insectivorous food
(designed for small birds and quail), 25% finely ground beef hearts,
10% quark (a yoghurt-like milk product), 10% mealworms (with half
provided live and half quick-boiled), 5% lettuce or other green foods,
a trace of fortified yeas, trace of a calcium supplement and 5-8
fresh-killed crickets (Gryllidae). This is mixed with water as
needed to give a moist but not saturated mixture, and each chick is
given 50-100 g daily. (B115.5.w3)
- Supplementary feeding may be needed using gavage of a liquid
- Gavage with small quantities of food may stimulate a
newly-hatched chick's appetite. (B115.5.w3)
- Crane chicks appreciate live food such as crickets, locusts and
mealworms; these should be provided in moderation. Naturally available
insects such as cranefies and grasshoppers, also small slugs, are also
- Provide soluble calcium grit - oyster shell or limestone. (N28.10.w1)
- Chicks provided with access to e.g. a grassy outdoor area for
exercise will find some natural food (insects such as grasshoppers and
crickets) for themselves. (J23.21.w4,
- This should be available at all times. (B115.5.w3)
- Provide in a non-tip bowl, sufficiently deep to allow the chick to
drink, shallow enough to make sure it can get out easily if it
stumbles into the bowl. (B115.5.w3)
- Marbles in the bottom of the bowl attract the chick's attention
(encouraging drinking - see below) and help to keep the bowl upright.
- Replace the water daily, and more often if it becomes contaminated.
- Bowls with a large open surface are likely to need changing more
- Note: It is important to make sure the chick is drinking.
Crane chicks need to be taught to drink. Chicks which do not drink
enough and become dehydrated may appear dazed and lethargic, and stop
eating (dehyrated chicks lose the desire to either eat or drink). (B115.5.w3)
Teaching/encouraging chicks to feed
- Chicks are precocial. In the wild, they can feed themselves from about
2-3 days old, but they appear to be dependent on their parents for some of
their food and will continue begging until they leave/are driven away at
the start of the next breeding season. Hand-reared chicks generally can be
taught to eat out of a disk containing food, by sticking a bright red
dowel into the food as an attractant: the chicks peck at this and
unintentionally get a beakful of food. (J23.17.w5)
- The dowel can be suspended over the food; chicks will peck at
this red, swinging, object. (P1.1980.w8)
- Chicks which are slow to learn to feed themselves may need to be
force-fed initially. (J23.17.w5)
- For about a day after hatching, chicks mainly rest. They should be
offered food once they are alert and active. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks need to be offered food initially, for example using forceps.
Time and patience is required. (B31)
- Usually, chicks will be feeding themselves adequately by 10 days
- Cranes offer food to their chick from their bill. Similar methods
can be used to teach chicks to eat. (B115.5.w3)
- Most chicks respond best to long, thin red shapes, although Balearica
spp. and Mississippi sandhill cranes may respond better to black. (B115.5.w3)
- While offering food, play a recording of the brood call used by
crane parents, or imitate this. (B115.5.w3)
- Food can be offered to the chick from a red feeding spoon held in
the bill of a crane-head puppet, the the tip of a feeding utensil is
dipped in water then in crumbles, and the food sticking to this is
offered to the chick. (B115.5.w3,
- Chicks will generally stab at the stick or spoon, get some crumbles
in their bill and swallow these. (B115.5.w3)
- Offer food until the chick loses interest (for newly hatched chicks
this may be only five minutes). (B115.5.w3)
- Move the feeding utensil closer to the bowl of food, so that in two
or three days the chick is pecking at the food where the utensil dips
- After a few days, the chick will eat when the food is moved in the
food. At this stage, a the puppet head, taxidermy head or dowel can be
suspended from a string, with the string passing through an eyelet in
the ceiling and then to a point outside the pen, so the attractant can
be bobbed up and down in the food without anyone entering the pen.
- Encourage feeding five or six times daily until the chick is
routinely eating without being fed and is gaining weight; this may
take 4-14 days. (B115.5.w3)
- Colour contrasts and shiny objects may be used also to attract the
chick's attention to the food: bits of hard-boiled egg yolk scattered
over the chick crumbs, placing brightly coloured sweets (candy) such as
Smarties, or a shiny object, partly buried in the crumbs for the chick
to peck at. (N28.10.w1)
Use of live food
- Live food (e.g. mealworms, waxworms) may be placed on top of the
crumbles to encourage feeding.
- This may be the only way to start self-feeding in a chick which has
initially been parent-reared.
- Note: There is a risk that the availability of live food will
further discourage a chick from eating crumbles. This is a problem
because the insects do not provide a balanced diet.
- Chicks which are used to live food will start digging through the
crumbles to reach mealworms (mealworms burrow to the bottom of the
- For chicks which are not used to live food, the insects may first be
offered e.g. from the bill of a crane head puppet.
Dampening the food
- For chicks which are reluctant to eat dry crumbles, moistening the
food may encourage them. The moistened food sticks to the feeding
utensil better, improving the chance of the chick getting a good
mouthful of food when it pecks at the utensil.
- Food should be moistened just before feeding and discarded
afterwards, since bacteria and fungi are more likely to grow on moist
- Moist food also provides the chick with some fluid intake.
- A poultry chick of a couple of days old, which is already eating,
can be placed with the crane for the crane chick to imitate the other
chick's pecking. (N28.10.w1,
- Chick crumbs can be scattered onto the poultry chick's back; the
crane chick may peck at these and discover crumbs as food. (N28.10.w1)
- Liquid food can be offered from a syringe; the tip of the syringe is
coloured red and a drop of food suspended from the tip is taken as the
chick pecks at the red tip. Once the chick is feeding, the syringe tip
can be dampened and dipped into the crumbles, and these offered to the
Methods involving handling the chick
- The chick's bill can be dipped into the crumbles, so it becomes
accustomed to the food bowl as a source of food.
- Crumbles can be placed into the chicks mouth to make it accustomed
to the texture of the food.
- Gentle force feeding can be carried out using dampened chick crumbs
and wetted egg yolk on a teaspoon. The chick is held with one hand; it
is allowed to stand, perhaps backed up into one corner of the brooder.
The head is held carefully between finger and thumb and the chick's
bill is opened gently. The tip of the spoon holding the food is
introduced into the bill and a forefinger is used to push some food
into the chick's mouth. Keep hold of the chick for a moment; some food
is likely to be shaken out of its mouth by the chick head shaking, but
some will remain and be swallowed. (N28.10.w1)
- Note: These methods may disturb the chick and make it
frightened of the foodbowl and/or the handler; the other methods are
Tube feeding (gavage)
- Chicks reluctant to feed may be tube fed (fed by gavage).
- This provided nutrients and fluids, and may encourage the chick's
Teaching/encouraging chicks to drink
- This may be required for a chick which, despite regular exercise, is
gaining weight too fast (more than 10-15% per day sustained over
several days) and/or is showing early signs of developmental limb
- Several methods of limiting food intake can be used: (B115.5.w3)
- Remove food at night; this mainly prevents chicks from eating
early in the morning (they normally do not feed much at night).
- Leave food overnight, but remove it for most of the daytime,
providing it for only four 15-60 minute periods during the day.
- On this schedule, the chick still gets enough food for
growth and to not feel too hungry, so it is unlikely to
develop vices such as eating bedding or faeces.
- For a chick eating pellets, change the food back to crumbles or
a crumble/pellet mixture, so that eating takes more time and
- Remove food at night and only provide it three or four times a
day for an hour each time.
- This regime is most likely to make the chick frantic and/or
encourage it to develop vices such as eating bedding.
- "Regular exercise is necessary for normal development and
growth of strong, straight legs." (B115.5.w3)
- Developmental leg problems are less common in parent-reared chicks
than in hand-reared chicks, and this may be due to the hand-reared
chicks getting less exercise and therefore the leg muscles being less
well developed. (J29.3.w1)
- Chicks should be exercised daily to help prevent leg problems. (P96.1.w1)
- Chicks which are parent reared in captivity or the wild are active
and moving most of the day; this amount of exercise is unlikely to be
provided by human caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
- In a large (400 m²) pen with many stimuli (pools, plants, insects,
toys) and a live adult crane in an adjacent pen, chicks may get
sufficient exercise. For chicks kept in smaller pens without such stimuli, at least 20
minutes of exercise twice daily is needed. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks can be walked for any time from 10 minutes upwards (depending
on the age of the chick and available time of caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks should be exercised on natural surfaces providing a
non-slippery surface; smooth concrete and tarmac (blacktop) are
slippery and should be avoided. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks should be started on exercise gradually and the amount
increased slowly. (B115.5.w3)
- Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane
chicks can be run together in an outside short-grass paddock by about
8-10 days of age. This situation encourages ranging and foraging for
insects, increasing exercise. (N28.10.w1)
- If chicks are ill their exercise may need to be decreased. However,
if sick chicks do not get exercise they are likely to develop leg
- Development of toe problems does not appear to be prevented by
- This is useful for exercise, particularly for chicks with leg
problems such as hock rotation or bowing, and traumatic leg joint
- Two or more chicks can be swum at the same time, if they are
- Do not swim chicks in cool weather. (B115.5.w3)
- Note: purchasing and maintaining a suitable pool requires a
certain monetary outlay.(B115.5.w3)
- A caretaker must always be present when chicks are swimming. (B115.5.w3)
- Swimming sessions may be carried out for 5-20 minutes. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks should be removed from the pool before they start to sink or
to get cold. (B115.5.w3)
- Young chicks may lose buoyancy if swum for more than a few minutes. (B115.5.w3)
- Once out the pool, chicks can be kept outside if it is sunny and
warm (above 27 ºC (80 ºF); otherwise they need to be placed inside
under a heat lamp. (B115.5.w3)
- Take care when placing chicks back on land as they may be unsteady
- Chicks with leg problems can be swum several times a day, or for up
to 30 minutes at a time. (B115.5.w3)
- Many chicks object to being made to swim; some may injure themselves
trying to get out of the pool. (B115.5.w3)
- Some chicks relax to much and float rather than swimming. Providing
insects for them to catch on the surface of the water may encourage
- Caretakers can purr at the chicks to encourage them to follow, or
nudge them gently. (B115.5.w3)
- If 2-4 chicks are swum at the same time they may encourage one
another to keep moving. Aggression between chicks can be prevented by
using hands, long-handled brushes or brooms to keep them apart. (B115.5.w3)
Socialisation and behavioural requirements
Young crane chicks are aggressive to one another and will actively attack one another, particularly if food-stressed; this aggressiveness
decreases with age. Hand-reared chicks need to be kept separate (i.e.
housed individually), at least when not under supervision, to prevent them
fighting and injuring or even killing one another, until nearly fully grown. (J23.14.w5,
- Young chicks being exercised in groups need to be supervised
- Aggression levels vary between species; for example
leucogeranus - Siberian crane
chicks are particularly aggressive. (P96.1.w1)
- Sibling showed aggression to each other within the first hours after
hatching but soon started tolerating each other, then at 52 days of age
a serious fight led to the death of both chicks. (N1.V.8.w1)
Group-rearing young chicks
- Group rearing is possible with some cranes:
- Whooping cranes and Greater sandhill cranes have been found too
- Florida sandhill cranes have been reared in groups of four.
- Mississippi sandhill cranes have been reared as pairs and kept as
fours for two weeks.
- Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane
chicks can be run together from as young as 8-10 days of age. (N28.10.w1)
- Lower-ranking chicks may pace along the fence line trying to
escape more aggressive chicks; this may result in toe injuries,
even tearing out of the nail if it gets caught in the netting. (N28.10.w1)
- Reducing light in the indoor pen is beneficial.
- Infra-red bulbs can be used as the main light source. (P1.1980.w8)
- Placing a number of small visual barriers in the pen can help. (P1.1980.w8)
- Group-rearing generally is more successful in spring, in the cooler
- Chicks for group-rearing must be the same age - hatched within 24 hours of one another.
- If one chick in a group is too aggressive, moving it up to be with
older chicks may be effective. (B521.19.2.w19b)
- Aggression can be hunger-related, therefore group-housed chicks need
to be fed frequently, with more than one feeding station available.
- Use of live food may be advantageous.
- Usually, aggression decreases around fledging, but chicks which have
lived amicably together for weeks to months may suddenly fight;
aggressive individuals need to be moved to separate pens.
Use of poults
- For larger numbers of chicks, it has found been
possible to rear sandhill crane chicks in groups of at least six crane
chicks plus 6-10 turkey poults of a similar size to the crane chicks. (J55.84.w1)
- Turkey poults of 10-12 days old are appropriate for placing with
crane chicks which are two days old. (P1.1980.w8)
- Placing turkey poults in with crane chicks (whooping or sandhill)
reduces aggression directed at other crane chicks, because some of the
attacks are directed instead at the turkey poults. (P1.1980.w8,
- Bronze broad-breasted turkeys, and Cochin chickens (placid) can be
placed in with the chicks, with at least one poult per two chicks, or
preferably a 1:1 ratio. These act as aggression targets, help teach
the crane chicks to feed, and may stimulate exercise.
- With the turkey poults present, chasing continues but injuries are
reduced, while the chasing does provide exercise. (P1.1980.w8)
- Crane chicks must not be allowed to kill poults.
- Chicks may still be injured by other chicks or by poults.
- Very aggressive chicks may still need to be separated.
- Poults must be free of diseases or parasites which could be
transmitted to the crane chicks; they must be health-checked before
they are placed in with the crane chicks. (B115.5.w3)
- Note that pens become dirty sooner, due to the extra birds, and more
cleaning is required. (B115.5.w3)
Imprinting cues and socialisation models
The following methods can be used to minimise imprinting on humans and
maximise correct species recognition of hand-reared cranes so that they
respond appropriately to their own species and are wary of humans:
- Playing species-specific calls to chicks during hatching, while they
are still in the egg; (P76.1990.w2)
- Minimise contact with humans; (P76.1990.w2)
- Provide each chick with a stuffed crane model in a brooding posture,
with taped crane vocalisations coming from the model; (P76.1990.w2)
- Feed chicks using a crane head model; (P76.1990.w2)
- Maximise contact with other chicks of the same species; (P76.1990.w2)
- Groups or four or more chicks raised with visual contact with
one another and exercised together tend to show reduced interest
in their human caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
- Provide visual contact with other chicks. (J23.14.w5)
- Provide visual contact with adults or subadults of the correct
- Ideally, provide visual contact with an adult or subadult in the
first few days of the chick's life. (B115.5.w3)
- For a single chick with no conspecific adults or other chicks
available, a mirror can be provided. (B115.5.w3)
- For a very young or sick chick, a taxidermic crane can be provided
as a brooder model. This is in a brooding position, carpals extended
and neck arched downwards, bill nearly touching the floor or dipping
into the food or water bowl. A taxidermic head dipping into the food
bowl can act as a feeding model. (B115.5.w3)
- Prerecorded brood calls can be played during feeding, or the
caretaker can purr in imitation of these, while the chick is
learning to feed. (B115.5.w3)
- Additionally, pelt fragments of the correct-colour feathers can
be left for the chick to cuddle up to. (B115.5.w3)
- A brooder models may be left in the pen until the chick loses
interest, but should be removed if a chick starts pecking at a
model or is unwilling to leave it for exercise. (B115.5.w3)
- A chick which responds strongly to these may show immediate
acceptance when offered a live conspecific as a socialisation
- The presence of a live conspecific crane close by in visual and
acoustic contact helps to reduce chick imprinting on humans. (B115.5.w3)
- Housing older chicks adjacent to adult or subadult conspecifics is
beneficial to let the chicks observe social behaviour. (B115.5.w3)
- Adults or subadults should be in pens in sight of the outdoor runs
housing the chicks, or individual adults/subadults may be in adjacent
- Socialisation models need to be chosen for their behaviour,
including their ability to adapt to the accommodation. (B115.5.w3)
- Cranes which are nervous or call constantly are not suitable;
loud calling may seriously frighten the chicks. (B115.5.w3)
- Hand-reared subadults, which are not frightened of humans, are
not aggressive to humans and are young and curious, may be most
- They are likely to adapt well to the accommodation,
particularly if they were reared in the same facilities.
- They may interact with the chicks, purring and tapping on
- Note: Interest may be curiosity or may be aggression;
always assume that the crane may be aggressive and that it
will kill the chick.
- Older hand-reared cranes may be less suitable as they are
likely to be aggressive towards humans.
- At Patuxent, males and female, and adults and subadult, Whooping
cranes have been found to be good imprinting models, showing an
interest, vocalising to chicks, interacting with them, protesting when
humans handle the chicks, and even feeding the chicks through the
fence. In contrast, interest shown by Sandhill cranes has been
aggressive and predatory. (B115.5.w3)
- At ICF, some Whooping, Siberian and Wattled cranes have been
interested in the chicks, others have not. (B115.5.w3)
- Chicks can be socialised by being taken out for exercise together,
under supervision; close supervision is needed to prevent fighting
between young chicks. (B115.5.w3)
Forming groups or cohorts
- Older chicks may be kept together. (P2.1986.w4)
- At 10-12 weeks chicks can be placed in groups of 2-10 birds
(depending on e.g. pen size), next to pens containing conspecific
- Older chicks can be formed into cohorts and kept together during the
- Monitor closely for aggression initially. (B115.5.w3)
- Separate the chicks into individual pens at night. (B115.5.w3)
- Provide two or three feeding and watering stations to ensure all
chicks get to eat and to minimise the risk of injuries.
- Take particular care when combining parent-reared and
hand-reared chicks. (B115.5.w3)
- Fledged chicks can be penned with one another for socialization. (B115.5.w3)
Chicks should be grouped together from three months of age. It can
help to tame parent-reared birds if they are grouped with hand-reared
- Socialisation of juveniles into flocks increases contact with birds
of the same species and facilitates normal social development. (P76.1990.w2)
- Socialisation is easiest in autumn, which is the time that wild
cranes normally socialise during migration, but can be carried out
earlier under careful supervision. (P76.1990.w2)
- Disadvantages of forming flocks include increased risks of losses
due to aggression between cranes, and increased risk of disease
- From six months of age the cranes may become aggressive,
particularly to individuals of the same sex. Ensure there are at least
two feeding and watering points, at opposite ends of the enclosure
(three points for large pens containing 10-15 cranes), so submissive
birds are able to eat and drink, and observe carefully - make sure
submissive individuals do eat and drink. Submissive individuals which
are regularly attacked by other birds need to be removed from the
- Keep subadults in groups of 2-16 birds until they are paired. if a
pair forms, they can be very aggressive and need to be removed to a
breeding pen (if the pairing is desirable), or if the pairing is not
wanted, one or both birds needs to be moved out to another enclosure
to stop the aggression. (B115.6.w8)
- Cranes reared together are less likely to form a proper pair and
reproduce with one another; they may behave as a pair, but generally
do not lay eggs. They usually re-pair with other birds quite easily. (P76.1990.w2)
- Avoid grouping potential mates together as cranes kept together act
as siblings and may refuse to form proper pairs with one another. (B115.6.w8)
- If there are several cranes of the same species being reared
together it is preferable to determine the sex of the birds early
and divide the chicks into same-sex groups to minimise the adverse
effects of sibling recognition. (P76.1990.w2)
- However, homosexual pairs may form; additionally, same-sex
groups can be aggressive. (B115.6.w8)
Dominance and submission
- Dominance patterns established during interactions of chicks tend to
be maintained throughout the life of the cranes. (P76.1990.w2)
- Chicks which are constantly dominated by others may develop patterns
of submission; this can interfere with pairing and reproduction. (P76.1990.w2)
- Introductions of young chicks to one another should be carried out
carefully, with constant human supervision. (P76.1990.w2)
- Juvenile flocks of 2-4 cranes can be formed, but if one individual
becomes very submissive it must be removed from the group immediately
and placed in an adjacent enclosure to allow its confidence to return;
often it is not possible to return it to the group. (P76.1990.w2)
- Aggression levels increase as sexual maturity develops in the spring
of the second year; it is preferable to separate the juveniles from
one another during the previous autumn, then introduce them to
potential mates by placing the two birds in adjacent pens. (P76.1990.w2)
- This can be used to provide birds for captive breeding or for
- Both visual and auditory interaction with humans is minimised. (B115.5.w3)
- Uncostumed caretakers work from behind a screen for feeding chicks.
- Caretakers may or may not talk in the chick-rearing facility, but do
not talk while weighing or medicating chicks.
- There is as much visual contact with imprinting models as possible.
- Chicks reared in this manner are imprinted on cranes, but are
tolerant of humans and tend to be good display birds which breed
readily and are tolerant of humans.
- For all interactions which are positive (e.g. feeding), the human
caretakers wear a loose mantle and hood concealing the human form.
- Methods of imprinting and socialisation are used (e.g. brooder
models, live social models).
- Uncostumed humans are seen only when the chick is undergoing
stressful procedures such as routine medical procedures.
- If the chicks do not need to have a strong bond with costumed
personnel after release, costumes may be worn during such
- Costume-reared chicks are suitable for captive breeding or for
release, but may need to be acclimatized to humans if they are to
remain in captivity. (B115.5.w3)
- Costume-rearing is labour-intensive.
- Facilities used for this type of rearing should be designed so that
chicks do not see uncostumed humans entering/leaving the facility, and
the chicks should be buffered from traffic noise and human voices
- Solid fencing, tennis wind netting and vegetation may be used to
provide the required isolation.
- Within the facility, opaque walls, tennis netting and portable
screens can prevent chicks from seing uncostumed caretakers.
- In the main door to each chick's pen is a one-way viewing window,
and a hole to allow a crane-head puppet through to feed the chick
- Feeding can be carried out also using a costumed caretaker.
- The aim of the costume is not to make the caretaker look like a
crane but to disguise the human shape.
- The costume can be specially made, or can be based on a modified
- The costume should be made from opaque, breathable material, should
be loose-fitting and covers at least head to knee, with the cover over
the head the same material as the body, while camouflage screen fabric
over the face hides facial features.
- If a more crane-like appearance is wanted, an extra piece of
material with scattered feathers sewn onto it may be attached to the
costume's wing sleeves using velcro or snap-fasteners (press-studs) to
allow it to be removed when the costume is washed. (B115.5.w3)
- For the last two days before the egg hatches, no human voices are
allowed in the incubator room.
- Recorded brood calls of cranes are played when eggs are checked.
- At ICF, calls are played for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at a time;
at Patuxent they are played for 15 minutes at a time, four times a
- If calls are played excessively there is a risk the chick will
be overstimulated, hatch too quickly and have problems such as an
incompletely absorbed yolk sac. (B115.5.w3)
- Costumes are worn from the time the egg pips, so the hatching chick
will not see an uncostumed person.
- If assistance is required during hatching, the chick's head is
covered or personnel carrying out the procedure wear costumes.
- Note: the welfare of the chick takes priority over its
not seeing an uncostumed human.
- Once dry and ready to leave the hatcher, a costumed caretaker
transfers the chick to a closed opaque box for transfer to the
chick-rearing facility. (B115.5.w3)
Strict isolation rearing
- Note: This method has evolved to give costume-rearing and
- Chicks were reared in isolation from human contact but also from
contact with most other live stimuli; they could see other chicks, but
not touch them, and no live adults were present to act as imprinting
- The chicks were fed through the pen door using a crane puppet head.
- For pen cleaning, a person covered in a sheet captured the chicks
and placed them in boxes.
- At about fledging time, chicks were abruptly introduced to humans
when people entered the pens to give physical examinations and move
them to larger pens.
- Results of this type of rearing varied:
- Some sandhill cranes were initially hesitant then curious about
people and followed them, acting like hand-reared chicks.
- Other sandhill cranes, and red-crowned cranes, were nervous and
flightly, actinh like wild-caught individuals. (B115.5.w3)
- Two Blue cranes isolation reared but with a pair of adult common
cranes in an adjacent pen were generally quieter than hand-reared
birds. When exposed to people (when fully feathered), both chicks
shunned humans and the older chick was very nervous, pacing if not
able to get out of visual contact. Both chicks struggled more when
handled than did hand-reared chicks, with the younger bird hissing
and trying to attack using her bill, while the older chick did
from stress during laparoscopy. (P87.3.w3)
Human avoidance conditioning
- This is carried out to provide deliberate negative exposure of
chicks to humans. (B115.5.w3)
- It is used particularly for those chicks which appear too tame for
- Basic handling can be used for human avoidance conditioning: while
all positive, parental-type interactions (e.g. feeding) are carried
out by humans, slightly stressful procedures are carried out by
costumed caretakers with the chick hooded, and extremely negative
procedures, such as taking blood from larger chicks, are carried out
by non-costumed humans. (B115.5.w3)
- If the chick does not appear upset, then on release the human(s)
chase it, yelling and clapping their hands. (B115.5.w3)
- Mock attacks on chicks can be carried out.
- Non-target chicks are isolated away from the activity if
possible (e.g. locked into the inside pens while the activity
- The attacks take place in the presence of the live imprinting
models so that alarm calls from those birds can verify the
"danger"; if there is concern the older birds may not
react sufficiently, or they are not available, recorded alarm
calls are played at the appropriate time.
- One or two uncostumed humans burst into view and race through
the chick-holding area, making loud noises, perhaps banging on
pots and pans, to frighten the chicks. Any chick which does not
show an appropriate fear response - fleeing, freezing in an erect
position, or squatting to hide in the grass - is briefly
grabbed roughly then released. the humans then leave abruptly.
- Costumed chick-parents may or may not be present. If they are,
the costumed "parent" flees from the humans, or turns
and chases them away, "protecting" the chicks.
- These training sessions may occur once or twice per month, with
a total of one to five sessions.
- These sessions probably are not required for birds which are
already wary of humans, but may be useful for individuals which
are calmer and tamer.
- Note: Chicks and adult imprinting models may injure
themselves fleeing into fences; the activity should take a minimum
time and be discontinued if any birds appear likely to injure
Detailed records should be kept for each chick including:
- Developmental milestones (e.g. eating and drinking unaided);
- Weight gain;
- Medical problems;
- Veterinary treatments;
- Dietary changes and supplementation;
- Exercise type and amount;
- Socialization with other crane chicks;
- Exposure to crane imprinting models;
- Changes in behaviour.