The Dos and Donts of Caring for Baby Birds by John Wiessinger

Relevant Web Resources

  • If the chick is sick, injured or weak, it is best to have an expert wildlife rehabilitator take care of it -- but until this happens, or if no one is available, please refer to the Sick Bird Care webpage for instructions.

Dos for caring for baby birds

  1. Baby birds without many/any feathers need to be kept warm (body should be warm to touch)
  2. Baby birds need lots of different foods for a healthy diet - variety is the watchword
  3. Most baby birds eat a wide-variety of rather soft-bodied insects - they need lots of protein for growth
  4. Baby birds eat about every 20 minutes or so during daylight (dawn to dusk)
  5. Baby birds should be encouraged to beg for food (open mouth with eager calling)
  6. Baby birds have a swallowing reflex that is triggered when food is placed in the back of the mouth
  7. Baby birds sleep at night and are not fed by their parents
  8. Food can be skewered on a toothpick and placed in the baby’s throat
  9. If enough food isn’t available, you can give dry cat food (see info below) as a temporary measure (NOT a steady diet)

Don't's for caring for baby birds

  1. Don’t give water directly to your baby bird (they get enough in their food)
  2. Don’t give sugar water to your baby bird
  3. Don’t give ANY bread to your baby bird
  4. Don’t give ANY birdseed to your baby bird
  5. Don’t give a steady diet of any single food to your baby bird
  6. Don’t gear your baby’s diet around worms
  7. Don’t give your baby bird a bath, it doesn’t need one

Appropriate invertebrates you can look for include - flies, horseflies (remove the wings), grasshoppers without wings and legs, crickets, soft caterpillars, grubs, mealworms in small amounts, spiders, and earthworms in limited amounts. Avoid beetles, bees, wasps, ants, hairy caterpillars, and any hard-bodied insects. If you can get an insect net and sweep your yard or nearby field, you’ll get lots and lots of good insects. You may need to be a bit selective so you don’t use any bees or wasps, but you’ll have many others to choose from.

Providing insects for your bird may become difficult at certain times so you may need to supplement its insect-diet with something else. Dry cat food can be moistened and made into small globs on a toothpick and offered. The cat food is higher in protein than dog food and will help sustain your bird until you can feed more appropriate foods. Do NOT provide a diet of just cat food or your bird will not be healthy and may not even live - this is only an interim measure.

If all goes well and your baby grows and develops, a time will come when you recognize that it needs to get ready to be on its own. In nature, when a baby leaves the nest, it’s called a fledgling and although it may not fly well, can flutter here and there and usually ends up on a low branch in a bush or low tree. At this point the parents are still feeding their young even though they may not be obvious to the casual observer. This is one of the times many people think a baby bird has been abandoned. As “your” baby grows and gets to the point where it can flutter a bit, it should be allowed greater freedom. Even with this freedom, your bird will continue to let you know when it is hungry and needs food from you. Once it is coming to you for food you’ve crossed a big hurdle and can now feed it when necessary but allow it to forage on its own too. Soon your baby will be coming to you less and less and eventually not at all - your baby has graduated and you’re a proud parent!

Species Research by Sibylle Johnson


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