What to feed baby butcher birds

What to Feed a Baby Bird

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


Melissa Mayntz

Melissa Mayntz

Melissa Mayntz is a bird expert, certified Master Naturalist, writer, and author with over three decades of experience. She's published in several national magazines, including National Wildlife Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and WildBird Magazine. Melissa has studied hundreds of bird species around the world, traveling to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the central Pacific, the Middle East, and more on birding expeditions.

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Updated on 08/26/22

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.

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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.

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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.

Pied Butcherbird - Backyard Buddies

What do Pied Butcherbirds look like?

Pied Butcherbirds (Cracticus nigrogularis) are black and white birds with a black head, dark brown eyes and a long, hooked bill. They have a white collar around the neck and black throat. Males and females look the same but males are slightly bigger. Baby Pied Butcherbirds are a duller colour than their parents.

Where are Pied Butcherbirds found?

Found across most of Australia, except Tasmania and southern Victoria, there’s a good chance of finding a Pied Butcherbird in your backyard.

Fast facts:

  1. Pied butcherbirds mimic sounds like phones ringing, car alarms going off and dogs barking. They can also imitate other bird calls.
  2. Whenever you see the word ‘pie’ in a bird or animal’s name, it means that the creature has two or more colours – for instance, Pied currawongs and Pied butcherbirds are black and white, and a piebald horse is black or brown and white.

Pied Butcherbird

Found across most of Australia, except Tasmania and southern Victoria, there’۪s a good chance of finding a Pied Butcherbird in your backyard.

The Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) may sing like an angel, but its name and the distinct hook on its beak are subtle hints to their rather gruesome feeding habits. Butcherbirds are insect eaters, but they will also go after other small meaty prey such as lizards and birds.

When a butcherbird catches its prey, he can’t hold it down with his little feet like a hawk or crow would. Instead, he wedges the food into a forked branch or upon a thorn, stands back and tears it apart with his hooked beak. Hence the name ‘butcher bird’.

Butcherbirds play an important role in our natural environment by controlling the numbers of common birds like pigeons and also reducing the insects in our neighbourhoods.

These birds live in family groups of up to about six birds and live in the same territories year after year. They also defend their nests very aggressively against intruders.

Having a tight-knit family is a big help for the butcherbird because while the female constructs the nest and incubates the eggs alone, the male and other members of the group will make sure she is kept well fed. Her nest is a bowl of sticks and twigs that she lines with grasses and soft materials. She builds it in an upright tree fork up to 5m above the ground. The family is so close that it is not uncommon for more than one female to lay her eggs in the nest as all the babies will be raised equally.

When the chick leaves the nest it will remain with its mother until almost fully grown. Young Butcherbirds tend to trail behind their mother and squeak incessantly while she catches food. They will stay around for a year and even help the parents bring up the next season’s chicks.

You’re more likely to hear a Pied butcherbird than see one. Though they live across most of mainland Australia, they like to perch high in the trees where we can’t easily see them. However, their loud, flute-like notes carry over a long distance and are wonderful to hear.

Pied butcherbirds mimic sounds like phones ringing, car alarms going off and dogs barking. They can also imitate other bird calls.


Butcherbirds love to eat insects, lizards, mice, and a few seeds and fruits too. Mulch your garden to encourage lizards, and plant a few fruit bearing native species to encourage birds to your place.

Did you know?

Whenever you see the word ‘pie’ in a bird or animal’s name, it means that the creature has two or more colours – for instance, Pied currawongs and Pied butcherbirds are black and white, and a piebald horse is black or brown and white.

How to feed the found chick, how many times a day

If you find a chick, the first thing you need to do is determine its species. Feeding granivorous, insectivorous and predatory chicks have their own differences. But in the early stages of feeding, you can use the same feeding methods, and then, after finding out what kind of bird you found, transfer the chick to the appropriate feeding.

Here is one of the most common feeding options for granivorous and insectivorous chicks. This nutrient mixture is well used for feeding for chicks and fledglings from the passerine family. To prepare our mixture, we need the following products: Boiled egg, low-fat cottage cheese, raw carrots, meat (beef, chicken, turkey), greens (lettuce, dandelion leaves, wood lice), hamarus and daphnia, Calcium gluconate (shell from boiled eggs) glycerophosphate , children's dry dairy-free porridge or boiled millet (without salt and fat on the water).

Action one. Boil the egg, free from the shell. We free the shell from the shell film. Grind the egg as much as possible, you can use a grater with small holes.

Second step. Boiled meat, it is better to take the pulp from the breast of a turkey or chicken and also chop or divide into fibers. The mixture will require meat 40 (for granivorous) and 60 grams (for insectivorous).

Third step. Take washed carrots of a small size, grate them on a fine grater, then squeeze the juice and we will use the remaining pulp.

Fourth step. We take not sour and not fatty cottage cheese. Cottage cheese should have 0% fat content, anything above is considered fat for poultry. We need 90-110 grams of cottage cheese. Sour cottage cheese must be boiled twice changing the water and then it will be suitable.

Step five. You can use greens to add the mixture, but you can do without it for the chicks. And so you can take the greens listed above, chop and add 1.5 teaspoons to the mixture.

Action six. To the above ingredients, add 1. 5 -2 tsp. dairy-free porridge or boiled millet (well boiled, without salt and fat in the water).

Step seven. To the mixture we add the shell from the boiled egg, which must first be ground in a coffee grinder, plus one fourth of the crushed tablet of glycerophosphate. If it is not possible to find glycerophosphate, then you can purchase bone meal and add one fourth tsp. in powder form. At the very least, the shells are enough for now.

Step eight. We take chopped hamarus and daphnia and add about 1 tsp to the resulting mixture. Then we mix everything, it turns out a very thick, crumbly porridge, it should not stick to the fingers. If the mixture is sticky, you can add dairy-free porridge or powdered cereals.

From the resulting mixture we roll small balls no larger than a small pea, focus on the size of the chick's beak. You can feed 2-5 balls at a time and after each feeding drink plain water from an insulin syringe with a removable needle (without a needle) 4-6 drops. A week-old chick should be fed every 1-1.5 hours, older than two weeks of age every 2-4 hours, at three and four weeks of age you can feed 3-4 times a day. Do not forget that the chick is growing and, accordingly, one-time portions of food are growing. A very important point, do not forget to warm the chicks, because at their age they themselves cannot maintain normal body temperature. Warming up promotes better assimilation of feed. Don't forget to control your chick's weight. If possible, show the chick to a specialist. To control the work of the intestines, you can take the litter from the chick for a coprogram, this is an analysis of the digestibility of the feed.

Take care and love your feathered friends and they will love you back.

Veterinarian ornithologist
Chuguevsky VV

Veterinary clinic Bambi.

You can ask an ornithologist on the forum.

How to feed the chicks, which were picked up by children on the street

Very often children bring chicks from the street, allegedly fallen out of the nest, and begin to take care of them with tears. They arrange a nest in a box, lay it on cotton wool or rags and ask adults about what to feed the chicks that have fallen out of the nest?

Not every parent is able to force a baby to take a chick to where it came from, although they understand that it is he who will have to take care of the foundling.

Chick mode

Chicks need food often, once every 15-20 minutes. It will be possible to interrupt only for a night's sleep and resume feeding should be no later than the sun rises.

What to feed the chicks depends on the type of birds they belong to. It is possible to feed a swallow, songbird, sparrow, swift, crow or dove at home. Almost all chicks can be returned to where they were found, and their parents will certainly take care of them.

Only small swifts are not returned to their place. Swifts cannot help a chick that has fallen out of the nest, they cannot take off from the ground. You can distinguish a swift from a swallow by its paws - in swifts, all fingers look forward.

Menu for chicks

Children found a sparrow chick. What to feed the bird?

Despite the fact that adult birds peck grains with pleasure, the chicks are fed with protein food. Meal worms and live bloodworms are suitable for food, which can be purchased at pet stores, earthworms - you can dig them up yourself, flies - also caught with your own hands.

Feeding should ideally be done every 20 minutes - if not, at least once an hour. A piece of food must be pushed into the chick's beak, opening it by force. If you cannot get live food, then you need to mix pieces of egg yolk, cottage cheese and minced meat and make tiny balls. The chick itself does not know how to peck, but by 3-4 feeding it understands that it is required to open the "mouth".

What to feed a titmouse chick? Its diet is no different from that of a sparrow. The only thing is that the tit chick may need mineral supplements and vitamins, which will have to be introduced along with the food. Chicks of tits are found less often; these birds hide their nests from people. It often happens that parents, frightened by people, lose a chick, and when the children find it, it is quite weakened.

Swallows are not returned to the wild

Children often bring small swallows home. These birds nest on the last floors of human dwellings and under balconies. What to feed the chicks of these birds? Swallows always feed on protein food, and therefore feeding swallows is no different from nursing sparrow chicks. But it must be remembered: if birds of other species during maturation are gradually transferred to grain feed and can leave hospitable hosts, a swallow fed in captivity does not return to freedom. True, live food can be replaced with a surrogate as the bird grows older - transfer it to minced meat. It is enough to feed the swallow chick once an hour.

When it is clear what to feed the chicks, you need to clarify what to give them to drink and how? And most importantly, is it necessary? You can drip a couple of drops of water, introducing it further into the beak, from a pipette, but birds in the wild do not water their chicks - they have enough moisture from living food.

Learn more