What to feed newly hatched baby birds
What to Feed a Baby Bird
How to provide the right nutrition when wildlife rescues aren't an option
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
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
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
- Bread or bread products
- Whole birdseed
- Pet bird food
- 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.
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.
Picking up baby birds can do more harm than good. Oregon State University.
This Is What To Feed Baby Birds — And How To Feed Them
If you’re wondering how to feed a baby bird, there are a few important things you need to know. Baby birds usually eat what their parents eat for dinner, since the parent has to burp its food into the mouth of its offspring. Birds cannot break down food at birth, so their parents must first partially digest the food to make it safe for chicks. Since baby birds are dependent on their parents not only for food but also for instructions on how to be a bird, it is essential that it stays with them. So, if you find a baby bird on the ground, try to bring it back to the nest rather than looking after it yourself. If you cannot return the bird to its nest, contact a rehabilitation center that can take care of it.
- Consult the experts if you think a baby bird isn’t being fed
- What to feed a baby bird
- What not to offer when feeding baby birds:
- DIY baby bird food
- How to feed a baby bird
What You Need
Dog or cat food, boiled eggs, or raw unseasoned liver
Small pieces of fruit or veggies
If you’re raising domestic birds or are licensed to take care of wild animals, however, then it’s important to know how and what to feed baby birds — and sometimes, even learn how to DIY baby bird food.Maslov Dmitry/Shutterstock.com
Consult the experts if you think a baby bird isn’t being fed
If you find a baby bird that does not seem to be fed, look for an hour or two to see if its parents provide food for it again. Note that the mother bird only needs a few seconds to feed its baby, so inattentive observers could miss several feeding cycles. However, if one parent bird has to look after several baby birds in different places, parental visits could be irregular. When the baby bird is fed, you can be sure that its parents have provided its needs, and there is no unnecessary intervention if the baby bird does not appear injured or sick.
Step 1: If the baby bird does not appear to be fed and becomes increasingly weak and lazy, the first step should be to find a licensed rehabilitator to provide, or guide you through, the appropriate care.
Step 2: If you have found a baby bird that needs to be fed but does not have contact with its parents or an animal rehabilitator, it is essential to know what a baby bird needs a portion of food similar to its natural diet. While each wild bird has its own diet, different types of food can serve as an emergency ration if necessary.
What to feed a baby bird
In nature, baby birds eat the same things that their parents eat: Worms, insects, and seeds. However, chicks can eat different types of food if they are taken care of by whoever found them. You could use puppy food soaked in water until it’s like a sponge. Moist dog or cat food can also be used in a jam when at room temperature. You can also use finely chopped fruits and vegetables (such as corn or peas) and even small insects.
It is equally essential to recognize that baby birds have very different nutritional needs than adult birds. What an adult bird eats can harm its young. As a baby bird grows, its diet can be adapted to more raw meat, giving them the protein that’s needed. As for water, a baby bird gets what it needs from the food it eats.
Food suitable for baby birds:
- Boiled eggs
- Moist dog food
- Wet cat food
- Raw liver (without seasoning)
What not to offer when feeding baby birds:
- Bread and bakery products
- Kitchen waste
Unlike mammals, birds do not drink milk and their digestive systems won’t tolerate milk. Unfortunately, it’s a common misconception that mixing together bread and milk makes for an ideal feed for baby birds. Milk can be toxic to birds, so avoid feeding it entirely.
When a baby bird is older, it can consume ”adult” bird foods without harming itself and the longer it can stay between strokes.Cathy Hargreaves/Shutterstock.com
DIY baby bird food
One easy recipe for feeding baby birds involves just two ingredients: pet food and water.
- Soaking dog biscuits or kibble in water will create a mushy consistency that’s easy to take and digest for young birds. This mimics the texture of the food given by mama birds in the wild and is also a high-protein option, which is extra important for nestlings.
- A classic biscuit treat like Milk-Bone is ideal for recipes like these. To forgo the mixing and mashing, a canned pet food like the Cesar brand is another great option. You still might want to stir in a tiny bit of water if your bird is particularly young, though.
How to feed a baby bird
Step 1: If you need to feed a wild baby bird, remember to offer foods that have a spongy consistency instead of dripping with water, which can suffocate or drown it. All dry food should be softened before offering it.
Step 2: Food should only be offered at room temperature, never heated or refrigerated.
Step 3: Keep food pieces small and proportional to the size of the bird — tiny birds need tiny bites. Cut or crush food properly to fit the size of the bird.
Step 4: When feeding the bird, be as careful as possible to minimize the risk of additional stress or injury. Never force a bird to eat its food.
Lastly, remember that feeding a baby bird should be only an emergency measure. If one is abandoned and needs care, it should be taken by a bird-rescue organization or an experienced rehabilitator as soon as possible. They can not only feed baby birds with a diet suitable for its type, but they also teach it to live independently, avoid predators, and master other skills to live in nature successfully.
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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.
Veterinary clinic Bambi.
You can ask an ornithologist on the forum.
How to save a chick that has fallen out of the nest | Encyclopedia of Animals
With the advent of warm weather, our forests and gardens are filled with bird songs, and people, in turn, try to spend as much time as possible outdoors. During outdoor recreation, helpless chicks are often found. Naturally, there is a desire to save the life of a baby, but not everyone knows how to save a chick that has fallen out of the nest. Let's see how we can help him.
To save or not to save - that is the question
The first thought that arises when looking at a fledgling and flightless chick is “fell out of the nest”, “lost” and even “parents abandoned and forgot”. In fact, the chick is alone, no brothers, sisters, or adult birds are visible nearby, and it also screams loudly. How can you help here? But the fact of the matter is that help in 95% of cases in such situations is not needed.
The fact is that in many birds (primarily small passerines) chicks leave the nest as half-fledged fledglings. During this period of life, they still do not know how to fly, but they are already actively exploring the surrounding space - they climb branches, clumsily flit. It is these rather active chicks that fall into the field of human vision. It is easy to determine the fledgling in appearance: it is feathered or covered with rudiments of unopened feathers; the chick is quite large (about 50-70% of the size of a sparrow), it is often active, that is, it opens its mouth and asks for food. Parents did not abandon this chick, but simply flew away for food. Of course, while you are standing next to the chick, they will not make themselves felt. And if you stay too long, then there is a chance that the parents will leave him out of concern.
Even if the chick looks too small and helpless, don't rush to classify it as an orphan. Birds such as warblers, warblers, larks, wagtails nest on the ground, their chicks spend their entire childhood on the grass. Your presence in this situation is also undesirable because magpies and crows track human behavior. Smart birds can check after you leave what you saw there, find and kill the chick. Hence the conclusion: do not "save" everything that catches your eye. If the chick is dry, warm, active, well feathered, then he does not need help.
What if the situation causes concern? Perhaps the chick is too weak or obviously fell out of the nest from a great height and cannot be returned to its parents. In this case, you can try to save him, but keep in mind that the likelihood of success will be directly proportional to your diligence, and you will have to put in a lot of work.
What to do first
- Quickly and carefully inspect the place where you found the chick, remember how it looks. In some cases, this will help determine the type of bird.
- Pick up the chick (don't squeeze too hard!) and bring him home as soon as possible.
- On the way, inspect the chick for damage. If the bird has clearly visible fractures of the paws, wings, concussion (how to define it a little lower), then you can’t do without a veterinarian. It is highly desirable to seek help from a veterinarian who specializes specifically in the treatment of birds (unfortunately, such specialists are extremely rare). If there are no obvious signs of a fracture, and the general condition of the chick is satisfactory, then it is better not to torment him, but simply to provide good conditions - nature will do its job and he will recover.
- Providing a chick with food as soon as possible is even more important than furnishing a home for it.
Now a few words on how to define contusion. Usually, chicks get severe bruises either from hitting the ground or when they collide with cars. At the same time, the bird has no wounds on the outside, but a concussion is observed. True signs of this condition are bleeding from the nostrils, paralysis of both legs or paralysis of half of the body (paw and wing on one side), closure of one eye, or unequal degree of pupil dilation on the injured and healthy side of the body.
What to feed
You may think that feeding a chick is easy - crumble bread and crumble. But here you will find disappointment number 2. Chicks do not eat bread, crackers, porridge, cereals, seeds. They don't eat at all. Even the chicks of granivorous birds do not take dry food at first. And the reason is that the growing organism needs proteins, therefore, in nature, even granivorous birds feed their offspring with animal food and exceptionally soft food. You will have to do the same. Pigeons are the only exception. They feed the chicks with goiter secretions - bird's milk, and then with semi-digested grains. If you picked up a pigeon chick, then you can feed it with unsalted porridge, gradually reducing the degree of cooking. In other cases, the best food for the chick is mealworms, cockroaches, crickets, darkling larvae - zoophobus (all these foods are sold in pet stores), earthworms (you can dig up), caterpillars (you will have to collect), a boiled egg (only as an additional food, and not a substitute for anything and everything). Even if you have provided the chick with the listed food, it is recommended to periodically catch bugs, grasshoppers, butterflies, flies, mosquitoes and give these insects to him, because the more varied the diet, the healthier your ward will grow. Very weak chicks should be given glucose-sweetened water (not sugar syrup!), instead of solid food, for the first few hours.
What not to feed chicks
- dead insects - no matter what species they belong to and wherever you find them. In nature, insects almost never live to old age, rather someone will eat them. If you find a dead cockroach behind the stove or a dead locust in the garden, do not rush to rejoice. Most likely, this individual died from an insecticide, which means that the poison from the feed can enter the body of the chick and greatly harm its already poor health;
- Colorado potato beetles - adults, larvae and eggs are poisonous in this species. They are not eaten by any species of birds, so this easily accessible resource will have to be forgotten;
- ladybugs - they secrete a moderately toxic liquid, in nature a bird that has caught such a bug by mistake will spit it out. In captivity, especially in the case of force-feeding the chick, he does not have the opportunity to refuse harmful food, so he can get poisoned;
- hairy caterpillars - firstly, they can be poisonous, and secondly, the villi during feeding can clog the chick's goiter and it will die. Although cuckoos and orioles can eat in the temperate hairy strip, it is still better to play it safe and not use this food;
- brightly colored bugs - in nature, many birds willingly peck at such insects, but this mainly concerns nondescript turtle bugs. The back of the bug, decorated with bright spots or stripes, is of a warning nature - "do not eat me, it will be worse for you." For safety net, it is not necessary to catch such specimens for the chick.
How to feed
The main thing you should know from the very beginning is that birds have a very high metabolism, and small chicks have a huge metabolic rate. Any food eaten by the chicks is digested very quickly and they need to be fed again and again. In nature, parents jointly feed the brood 100-500 times a day! This means that every 10-15 minutes the chick needs to be fed. And don't expect to overtrain him! A chick deprived of food instantly weakens, a couple of hours of hunger is enough for it to die. You will have to provide the baby with constant supervision, feed him at first every 15 minutes, and when he grows up a little, after 20-30. But you need to take a break at night, but start the first feeding no later than 6 o'clock in the morning! Evening feeding is completed around sunset, that is, around 22. 00.
It is more convenient to bring food with tweezers. In general, tactile contact should be kept to a minimum, frequent touching is stressful for the tiny creature, and it worsens the condition of down and feathers. If the chick is very small and naked, then it is not necessary to give it a whole large insects. In this case, it is better to cut them with tweezers and feed them in pieces. It is also recommended to remove hard elytra from large beetles, long legs from grasshoppers and locusts. Often the chicks refuse to take any food. This happens because they do not recognize you as their mother, or they are so weak that they have lost their appetite. In this case, you will have to force-feed the ward. To do this, you need to crush the food and fill it with a syringe without a needle (you can add a couple of drops of water to dilute the mixture). Take the bird in your left hand and gently spread its beak with your fingers, insert a syringe into its mouth with your right hand and squeeze out about 1 cm³ of slurry. Do not overdo it! In tiny chicks, the beak is easily broken, and this is already a fatal injury. For greater convenience, a flexible tube can be put on the end of the syringe.
Where to house
If the first difficulties do not dampen your enthusiasm, then you should provide a shelter in your home for the chick. First of all, you need to make a nest.
Take a deep bowl or cardboard box with a rim about 10 cm high. Fill this container with sawdust, dry clean sand, hay, straw, scraps of cloth, make a recess in the middle that imitates the nest tray. Do not fill the container with fresh grass, raw material can cause hypothermia of the chick, because there is no one to warm it in an artificial house. By the way, if you are seriously engaged in rescue, you can purchase a small thermal mat at the pet store, it will to some extent replace the mother's warmth for your pupil. Also, cotton wool, yarn, fabrics with a rare weave of threads can be considered dangerous fillers. The paws of a chick are easily tangled in such material, and a tightened thread can even amputate the fingers of a feathered baby. Lay a paper napkin in the tray in 2-3 layers. Chicks defecate as often as they eat; in nature, their parents monitor their hygiene and take the litter out of the nest. You just need to change the napkin after each feeding. So, the nest is ready.
Now we need to think about security. In the house of the savior, stupid children, blind-sighted grandmothers, dogs, cats can live, and there are also curious neighbors who have dropped in for a minute. All these creatures threaten the life of a little chick: children can grab it and squeeze it in a fist (certain death), dogs and cats can arrange a hunt (you won’t even find feathers), a blind grandmother will sit by chance on a box (well, don’t execute the old woman for this), and noisy neighbors can accidentally knock it over (“Tanya, I’ll come to you for a second for salt, oh, it seems that something has fallen here!”). To prevent trouble, it is better to place the nest in a cage or an aquarium covered with gauze. In the cage, do not try to put the chick on the perch, do not place it in closed containers (jars, etc.). Don't nest on high ground. The fact is that a weak chick can get stronger and, unexpectedly for you, will go to explore the surrounding space. He is guaranteed to fall out of his shelter and, unlike the forest and the meadow, it will not be soft grass waiting for him at the bottom, but the floor. You should not put the box with the chick in the sun, so you will not warm it, and the helpless bird is guaranteed to get sunstroke and may die. Drafts are very dangerous.
Do chicks need water?
In nature, chicks of passerines do not need water, as they get enough moisture with food. After all, adult birds do not bring them water in their beaks. At home, you can do without watering the chick if you follow the diet, that is, you give a variety of, and most importantly, “wet” food - earthworms, fatty juicy caterpillars. Flies, cockroaches, crickets (they are most often bought in a store) can be conditionally classified as “dry” food. They do not give the chick enough moisture. In this case, he can instill a few drops of liquid from a pipette, but do this not at every feeding, but a little less often. Please note that shell-shocked chicks should not be given water.
What to do next?
Fortunately, the chicks grow quickly and the period of trouble soon passes, in a week or two your ward may be completely stronger. In order for the feeding process to be completed successfully, do not forget to gradually accustom the chick to adult food. For granivorous birds, this can be porridge cooked without salt, small grains (millet, rice chaff). Chicks of insectivorous species will have to be supplemented with insects. No matter how hard you try, your chick will be weaker than its wild counterparts and completely unsuitable for independent living. There is nothing you can do to help him, so you have to take responsibility for his life.