Bird feeding your baby

What to Feed a Baby Bird

How to provide the right nutrition when wildlife rescues aren't an option

Reviewed by

Kathleen Miller

Reviewed by Kathleen Miller

Kathleen Miller is a highly-regarded Master Gardener and Horticulturist who shares her knowledge of sustainable living, organic gardening, farming, and landscape design. She founded Gaia's Farm and Gardens, a working sustainable permaculture farm, and writes for Gaia Grows, a local newspaper column. She has over 30 years of experience in gardening and sustainable farming.

Learn more about The Spruce's Review Board

Fact checked by

Sarah Scott

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a fact-checker and researcher who has worked in the custom home building industry in sales, marketing, and design.

Learn more about The Spruce's Editorial Process

The Spruce / Catherine Song

Every backyard birder has seen the "starving baby" act by fledgling birds, when they flutter their wings and call piteously for attention from seemingly hard-hearted, indifferent parents. The desire to nurture those fluffy balls of feathers can be strong, but it is important to understand the special needs of a fledgling's diet and know what to feed a baby bird for the best nutrition.

Do I Need to Feed This Baby Bird?

Baby birds have very demanding dietary needs. Depending on their age and species, baby birds may eat off and on for 12 to 14 hours per day, consuming a diet rich in insects for sufficient protein to ensure healthy growth. No human other than a licensed bird rehabilitator has the proper equipment, food supplements, or endurance to keep up that frantic feeding schedule. If you find a baby bird that appears to need feeding, the best thing to do is not to feed it, but to get it to an appropriate bird rescue organization. In many cases, the begging birds are not abandoned and the parent birds are nearby and tending to their babies as needed, even if they aren't seen.

If you find a baby bird that seems to be unfed, watch the bird closely for a while to see if the parents return to feed it within the hour. Bear in mind that it may take just seconds for a parent bird to deliver a bite to its chick, and inattentive observers may miss several feeding cycles. As the chicks grow, feeding may also be less frequent, and one parent bird may be tending to several offspring in different locations, so parental visits may be uneven. If the baby is being fed, rest assured that the parent bird is able to keep up with its demands, and no intervention is necessary if the baby does not appear injured or ill in any other way.

If the baby bird is not being fed and appears to be growing weaker and more lethargic, the first step should be to find a licensed rehabilitator to provide it proper care. When contacting the rehabilitator, ask for their evaluation of the bird in question before attempting any emergency feeding. If it is recommended that you feed the baby bird, he or she might have specific suggestions in mind as an emergency measure, and those suggestions should be meticulously followed.

If Feeding Is Necessary

If you find a baby bird that needs to be fed but you are unable to contact a bird or wildlife rehabilitator, it is important to know what to feed a baby bird that will provide similar nutrition to its natural diet. While every wild bird has a different diet, several types of food can serve as emergency rations when necessary. At the same time, it is critical to understand that baby birds have very different nutritional needs than adult birds, and foods you would normally feed to your backyard birds are not appropriate for young fledglings.

Good Foods for Baby Birds

  • Moist dog food
  • Raw liver (no seasoning)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Dog biscuits (moistened)
  • Dog or cat kibble (moistened)

The Spruce / K. Dave

What Not to Feed Baby Birds

  • Water
  • Bread or bread products
  • Whole birdseed
  • Milk
  • Pet bird food
  • Worms
  • Kitchen scraps

The more mature a baby bird is, the more "adult" food it can consume without harm, and the longer it can go between feedings.

The Spruce / K. Dave

Tips for Feeding Baby Wild Birds

If it is necessary for you to feed a baby bird, remember:

  • Offer food that is spongy in texture, not dripping with water that could cause choking or drowning. All dry food should be softened before being offered to a baby bird.
  • Food should be offered at room temperature only, never warmed or heated, and also never refrigerated or chilled.
  • Keep bits of food small and in proportion to the bird's size; very small birds need very tiny bites. Cut or crush food appropriately to suit the bird's size.
  • While feeding the bird, handle it as little as possible to minimize the risk of additional stress or injury. Never force the bird's bill open to eat.

Caring for Baby Birds

Remember that feeding a baby bird should be an emergency measure only. If a baby bird is abandoned and needs care, it should be taken to a bird rescue organization or experienced rehabilitator as soon as possible. Rehabilitators can not only feed it an appropriate diet for its species but can help it learn how to find its own food, evade predators, and learn other skills necessary for a successful life in the wild.

If there is no rescue organization or experienced rehab specialist available in your area, keep these tips in mind:

  • Identify if the bird is a nestling (few or no feathers) or a fledgling (a feathered bird approaching adulthood). Nestlings will require much attention for a longer period than fledglings, which may be nearly ready for independence quite soon. An older fledgling can sometimes be fine if you simply place it high on a branch where its parents can find it. Nestlings, on the other hand, may require several weeks of attention (assuming a bird rehab organization is not available) to give them a chance for survival.
  • Protect it from predators—including family pets. Normally, a simple cardboard box lined with a towel, placed high enough to be out of reach of pets, will suffice. If using a lidded container, make sure it is well-ventilated. Ordinary room temperature is normally fine, though a gentle heat lamp can be used if the room is very cold at night. But take care not to overheat the young bird—in most cases, no heat source is necessary.
  • Give it a "nest" by using a small towel or cloth diaper formed into a concave shape and placed in the bottom of the box. This will help support the bird's body until it grows stronger.
  • Small nestlings are best fed with moist, well-softened food from a syringe, offered very gently, in small drops. Even a kitchen baster may be too large to be useful. As a nestling grows older, you can offer it food by dangling it from tweezers in front of its beak.
  • Never try to feed water directly to a baby bird. Nestlings will get their water needs met through moisture in food. A fledgling can be offered water in a shallow dish—if it's ready to consume water this way, it will drink on its own.
  • When a fledgling bird has fully feathered out and is beginning to exercise its wings by flapping, it can be given time outdoors and encouraged to begin flying. Often, it is enough to simply set the bird's containment box outside in a safe location, open the lid and wait for nature to take its course.

But remember that raising a featherless nestling bird through the fledgling stage and into a mature adult bird is no easy matter. It's always better to leave this to professionals who are experienced in the practice.

Article Sources

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Picking up baby birds can do more harm than good. Oregon State University.

Hand-Feeding Baby Birds | VCA Animal Hospital


General Information 

Hand-feeding baby birds is only a substitute for parents raising birds, but it does have certain advantages. Hand-raised baby birds usually make better pets, as they have been completely socialized with humans. Hand-raised babies grow up with less fear of humans or other potential dangers such as cats, dogs and young children. Hand-feeding is a huge responsibility and requires time, patience, and commitment. Hand-fed baby birds are entirely reliant on you for everything. Hand-feeding is a job best left for the experienced bird breeder or aviculturist.  If you’re considering hand-feeding a baby bird, you should contact your local bird breeder or veterinarian for help. This handout is designed to provide some basic guidelines on how to hand-feed.

When do I start hand-feeding a baby bird?

A chick may be removed from its parents any time before weaning, but many suggest leaving the babies with the parents for up to 3 weeks. Older birds may prove to be more challenging in their acceptance of hand-feeding. 

Where do I keep a baby bird?

Precise temperature and humidity is essential for optimum growth of newly hatched birds. Initially, relative humidity greater than 50% is required. Hatchlings (without feathers) should be maintained at 95°-97°F (35°-36°C). As the chick gets older and develops feathers, it has a greater tolerance for temperature fluctuations. 

Generally, the temperature can be lowered by one degree every 2-3 days as feathering progresses. Chicks with new feathers (pinfeathers) should be fine at 75°-85°F (24°-30°C) depending on the development of the feathers. Fully feathered and weaned chicks can be maintained at room temperature. If you are raising a chick, always monitor your bird for signs of overheating or chilling. Wings extended or drooping, and panting indicate overheating. Shivering and cuddling of chicks together indicate that they’re cold.

Poor growth or poor digestion (delayed crop emptying) may indicate poor health (including presence of gastrointestinal tract infections), improper consistency/mixing of hand feeding formula, improper temperature of formula, or improper environmental temperature and humidity. Good quality brooders are available that carefully regulate air circulation, temperature, and humidity. Paper towel, diapers, hand towels, or other soft, disposable products can be used to line the bottom of the brooder and provide secure, clean, dry footing for birds. The bottom liner must be changed frequently to keep birds clean. If the bottom texture is too smooth, chicks’ legs may splay out sideways, leading to permanent deformities.  The brooder should be carefully checked to ensure that it does not contain anything for birds to get their wings or legs stuck on or that might cause injury or deformities.

What should I feed my bird?

There are numerous commercially available hand-feeding formulas for baby birds. You should choose one formula and use it until the baby is weaned. Changes in diet may be stressful on the baby's digestion. Be sure to discuss dietary choices with your veterinarian, an experienced bird breeder, or an aviculturist. 

How do I feed my baby bird?

All food must be prepared fresh for every feeding. Food retained from one feeding to another is an ideal medium for the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast. Any food prepared or heated in a microwave oven must be mixed thoroughly to ensure that the food’s temperature is uniform and that there are no hot or cold spots. Food temperature should be at 102°-106°F (39°-41°C) throughout the mixture and should be measured with a thermometer.  Food that is too hot may cause severe burns to the crop.

Food that is too cold may be rejected by baby birds and may slow down digestion. Hand-feeding formulas have specific directions on the packaging and explain how they should be mixed.

In general, the younger the bird, the thinner the mixture should be. A day-old chick requires a more dilute mixture (90% water), as it is still utilizing the yolk sac as a source of nutrition. Chicks older than one or two days, should have food containing approximately 70-75% liquid.

"All food must be prepared fresh for every feeding."

Syringes are probably the preferred feeding tool, but some bird owners still prefer a spoon with the sides bent up and inward. Accurate feeding volumes can be recorded with the syringe. Charting daily feedings is important. The natural feeding response of a baby bird is to rapidly bob the head in an up and down motion. This action can be stimulated with gentle finger pressure at the corners of the mouth. During this head bobbing, the trachea is closed and large amounts of food can be given relatively quickly.

If the bird is not displaying a strong feeding response, do not attempt to feed as there is an increased chance of aspiration of food into the trachea and lungs which can lead to death. The best time to feed is when the crop is empty. When full, the crop, which is the sac that hangs over the front of the chest at the base of the neck, will be visibly distended. 


How often and how much do I feed? 

The amount and frequency of feeding depends on the age of the bird and the formula fed. The frequency of feeding for young birds is greater than that of older birds. The following are general guidelines. With newly hatched chicks, the yolk sac is the source of nutrients for the first 12-24 hours post-hatching. Chicks less than one week old should be fed 6-10 times per day (every 2-3 hours).

During the first week of life, some birds benefit from feeding during the night. Chicks that have not yet opened their eyes may take 5-6 feedings per day (every 3-4 hours). Once birds’ eyes open, they can have 3-5 feedings (one every 5 hours). As their feathers start to grow in, they may be fed 2-3 times per day (every 6 hours). Their crops should appear full when they’re done.

Feeding between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. is not necessary at that point when birds are sleeping. The best indication of a healthy, growing chick is a good, strong feeding response at every feeding, with the crop emptying between feedings, and the regular production of droppings (feces). Weight gain should be monitored and recorded at the same time each day using a scale that weighs in grams with 1-gram increments to detect subtle increases or decreases. Birds’ weights may fluctuate up and down daily but should trend upward over a period of days to weeks. Birds that are not gaining weight should be checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

When should birds be weaned off hand-feeding formula? 

Deciding when to wean a bird off of formula is often a difficult decision for both the bird owner and the bird.  As a bird gets older and develops a full complement of feathers, it should be encouraged to wean off formula and to eat more on its own. Some babies start weaning themselves by refusing certain feedings.

 Birds should be offered a variety of foods including formulated pelleted diets as well as fresh fruits and vegetables to encourage exploration and experimentation. As food introduction continues, hand-feeding may be withheld at certain times, often starting with the mid-day feedings. As time goes on, the morning feeding may be withheld and ultimately the evening feeding. Some birds learn quicker to eat on their own by watching other birds or older babies eat.

Should I be concerned about disinfection? 

Baby birds have poorly developed immune systems and are more susceptible to developing infections. The brooder should be disinfected regularly. All feeding utensils must be cleaned, disinfected, and dried thoroughly between feedings. Using separate feeding utensils for every individual bird is recommended.

How do I know if something is wrong? 

If you suspect something is wrong with your bird, you should immediately contact your veterinarian. Signs to watch for include: 

  • Chirping or crying all the time
  • Fussing a lot and not sleeping
  • Listless, droopy wings or head
  • Not accepting food
  • Lack of feeding response
  • Slow or lack of crop emptying
  • Poor weight gain
  • Slow growth
  • Abnormal posturing or abnormal wing and/or leg positions
  • Abnormal or lack of droppings
  • Wetness or food on skin over the crop (indicating a possible burn)

Bird feeds babies - TV channel "My Planet"

Birds settled under the roof of a residential building in Greenville (South Carolina, USA).

The site may use materials from Facebook and Instagram Internet resources owned by Meta Platforms Inc., which is prohibited in the Russian Federation.

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Fat for tits, peas for sparrows: how to save urban birds from starvation | NGS24

Dragon pigeons


We are talking about the intricacies of the diet for wintering birds

Winter is coming, and our parks are traditionally overgrown with bird feeders. For those who are ready to go a little further than a handful of seeds scattered on the ground in the matter of saving city birds, we have prepared detailed instructions on how to feed the birds. Bonus - a step-by-step diagram of the simplest plastic bottle feeder. nine0005

Food will warm you better than feathers

Thick fluff and feathers of birds allow them to protect the body from energy loss, but they do not create heat by themselves. Birds can get energy only from food, and the more the cold rages, the more food the birds need to replenish energy costs. If by nightfall (when motor activity stops) the bird remains hungry, it will freeze to death.

If you decide to help city birds survive the winter, there are two basic rules to keep in mind. nine0005

The feeder should be filled once a day - not more often, but not less often. If the feeder is constantly full of food, the birds will stop getting food on their own, choosing only the most delicious treats offered to them, which will eventually lead to a depleted diet, an excess of fat in the body and a lack of vitamins.

“It is important to remember that the bird feeder should be only a bait for the bird, and not a complete diet. Man is not the only way to feed them. Birds eat berries, look for insects that hide under the bark of trees, eat stocks of seeds and acorns made in the fall. Feeding from people makes it possible for more birds to survive the winter, but if fed illiterately, this will not be beneficial, but will only create an illusion of self-importance and virtue in the feeding person. For birds, food offered by a person (especially harmful) can give a false sense of satiety, they will not fly to look for something more useful and varied, and as a result, they may die because of this, ”said Anna Postovalova, our expert, researcher at the Yekaterinburg Zoo . nine0005

If you decide to suddenly abandon the "poultry almshouse", its guests may not have time to find a new source of food and die.

“If we are too careful and try to provide the bird with 100% of the food it needs every day, then it will become dependent on us. If the feeder is empty, a lot of time and energy will have to be spent searching for new "feeding places". Therefore, it is better to give the birds a small but energy-intensive feeding, which will enable them to independently obtain the rest of the diet, ”says Anna Postovalova. nine0005


Pigeons and sparrows

These birds are real city couch potatoes. Even winter frosts cannot force them to leave their homes and habitable places and go to warmer climes in search of a more friendly life.

In severe frosts, it does not hurt to feed them with fat-rich food (sunflower seeds, flax, hemp, rapeseed, animal products). Most often, these birds fall grain (corn, oats, millet, buckwheat and wheat) and bread crumbs. But black bread should not be given to pigeons and sparrows: "Borodinsky" and its analogues cause fermentation, expanding the bird's goiter due to excess gas formation and thereby blocking the respiratory tract. nine0005

“Increased gas formation is unpleasant for any bird - the feeling of a bloated belly interferes with a comfortable existence, only creating a feeling of satiety. Feeding the birds, we wish them the best, we want to help. But often people, without knowing it, do a disservice to birds and add problems to their lives when they feed them with inappropriate food,” says Anna Postovalova.

To diversify the winter diet of birds with vitamins and minerals, you can stock up for them with fresh or dried berries and legumes (boiled peas and lentils). It should be remembered that, for example, fiber is poorly absorbed by pigeons, so it should not be more than 5% in the diet. nine0005

The inquiries of pigeons and sparrows, often looking for food in the garbage heaps, are unassuming. But ideally, the menu of these winged ones should not contain old rancid millet, raw potatoes, canned food, fried and salty foods, mushrooms. Food for them can be scattered on any flat surface, away from the place where cars can pass, or you can make a wooden feeder.

Magpies and Crows

These birds, somewhat similar in appearance, are also omnivores. But due to their impressive size, their beak is not suitable for picking up small crumbs. Therefore, if you want to feed them, offer them large pieces of food, preferably without heat treatment. These can be berries, fruits, offal (chicken hearts, stomachs, necks, heads), boiled eggs, buckwheat, dryers, white bread crackers, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and cottage cheese. nine0005

Please note that magpies and especially crows are unusually intelligent and cautious birds. If you scatter the food prepared for them on the ground and stay close, these birds, if they are not yet used to you, will never touch your treat.


Did you know that only one out of ten titmouse survives by the end of winter? In summer, they have enough food (insects and larvae) in their native forest, and in winter, in search of at least some kind of food, they move closer to people. But, unfortunately, the bread crumbs that people offer to them and other birds as a treat, these chirps simply do not eat. They cannot, unlike urban birds, get their own food in the garbage. nine0005

In the cold season, bright shy beauties spend their days looking for sleeping insects in the bark of trees, eat seeds of pine, spruce, cedar, sometimes diluting the diet with berries left over from autumn.

You can ease the harsh life of titmouses by feeding them food rich in proteins and fats from your table. Tits are happy to eat small seeds, lard, butter and even margarine, lightly salted cheese, buttered bread crumbs, cottage cheese and sour cream, boiled eggs, as well as meat in any form and sometimes fish. nine0005

“Pieces of apples, pears, mountain ash, etc. are suitable as vegetable food. But tits are insectivorous, so it is important and difficult for them to find protein supplements in winter - these can be insects that they get from under the bark, or maybe a piece of fat carefully hung by a person. Various grains and nuts give the birds a lot of energy and strength to go further in search of food,” says Anna Postovalova.

Alas, titmouses (and not only them) cannot eat fried and salted seeds: an unusual diet leads to serious diseases of the bird's liver. If you are seriously puzzled by the help of nimble birds, it is better to give them unroasted and unsalted sunflower seeds. nine0005

Another point worth mentioning. If you set out to feed the tits specifically, you should not scatter food on the ground. Tits are very shy, and their population is much smaller than, for example, that of pigeons and sparrows - regulars in city courtyards and streets, which, most likely, will completely absorb the treat generously scattered by you. It is better to build a simple feeder from a plastic bottle or a cardboard box for milk and sour-milk drinks with a slot for birds and hang it on a tree. nine0005


These most beautiful red-breasted birds are nomads, they constantly move from place to place in search of food, so you will not be able to “feed” them. However, you can help them survive the winter, bullfinches will be happy with any food: crumbs, cereals, seeds, apple cores, peelings from cabbage, carrots or cucumbers, flax seeds.

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