As Told by Bev Paulan, Operation Migration "Chick Mama" and now pilot for the Wisconsin DNR
Teaching Chicks to Eat
Back to Video Clip

The chick is still in its incubator after hatching when it gets the first lessons in eating. We play "marsh music" (sounds of the marsh, with singing birds, etc.) in the background to make it sound like a chick's natural habitat.

We get a bowl of crumbled food, a bowl of water and of course, the vocalizer to play the brood call. We sit down in front of the incubator and open the door. Then we reach in for the crane puppet that the new chick broods (rests) with. Red tape on the tip of the puppet's beak helps the chick see it better. The bit of red helps the chick focus and follow as we move the puppet and show the chick what to do.

This is what you saw in the video clip: We dip the puppet beak in water, then into the crumbles. Then we hold the beak in front of the chick. We hope the chick is able to focus and will open his beak so we can stick the puppet beak in. And we hope that more crumbles end up in the chick' mouth than on the carpet in the incubator.

The next step is putting the puppet beak in the bowl and hoping that as the chick pecks at it, he gets some food. We do the same thing with the water. We first allow the chick to sip drops of water from the puppet's bill, then try to guide him to the bowl.

Not Easy!
At first, this is not as easy as it sounds. When the chick is less than 24 hours old, he usually can't hold his head up. Imagine how hard it is to aim the puppet beak so the chicks sees it, then guide it into the chick's open beak! It ends up being more like a game of trying to hit a spinning balloon with a dart. We are doing this in full costume with a darkened visor, while looking into a dark incubator. It gets easier when the chick can hold his head up and follow the puppet.

Messy Lessons
If the chick is still in his incubator when he is nearing 48 hours old, the little fellow REALLY wants more space to roam. He moves with a wandering stagger, but he still wants to roam! As we are trying to feed him, his travels may take him right into his food bowl, or for a swim in his water bowl, or even right out the door. If so, we gently scoop him up and place him back where he should be. Sometimes he's wet and covered in crumbles!

After the chick has been moved to its pen, getting him to eat is more like a game of chase! We try to get the chick to follow the puppet to the food bowl. Some chicks learn this quickly and can eat on their own within three days. But other chicks need teaching for as long as five days.

Eating Every Hour
Each young chick must be fed every hour until they are able to feed themselves. But we always know this: Every bird eventually does learn to eat — and every bird always grows up way too fast!