How to Feed Wild Baby Birds

Three Parts:Deciding If the Baby Bird Needs HelpKnowing When to Call for HelpIdentifying and Feeding the Bird

Most people forget that baby birds are actually wild animals. The best solution for a wild animal is almost always to leave it alone, especially since it is illegal to keep wild birds in your home.[1] However, if you must take it in or feed it, this article will provide you with the information you need to care for it.

Part 1
Deciding If the Baby Bird Needs Help

  1. 1
    Put on gloves. If you plan on touching the bird, use gloves. Gloves will protect you from the bird. Even young birds can use their beaks to peck you.[2]
  2. 2
    Check for feathers. If a baby bird has feathers, it's a fledgling. If it doesn't, it's a nestling.[3]
  3. 3
    Leave fledglings alone. Fledglings have good reason to be outside the nest. If a bird is fully feathered, it's likely learning to fly. They are supposed to be out of the nest. The parents will still feed it even on the ground.[4]
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    Return nestlings to the nest. Nestlings are more likely to need help. If you find a nestling, you can return it to its nest, which should be close by. If you can't find a nest, you may need to find it help.[5]
    • Try listening for the siblings. When the parents return with food, you should be able to find the nest fairly easily by following the sound of the nestlings begging to be fed.
    • To catch a nestling, approach the bird with one hand over the head and back and one hand under the belly and legs. Do not worry that the mother will reject the bird because you have handled her baby. She will readily accept it back into her nest.[6]
    • Warm the nestling by cradling it in your hands until the bird no longer feels cool to your touch.[7]
  5. 5
    Check the other baby birds. If you do find the nest and the other nestlings are dead, you can safely conclude that the nest has been abandoned, and you will have to take in the surviving nestling(s).
  6. 6
    Use the finger test if you're unsure. If you can't decide whether you have a fledgling or a nestling, try letting the bird sit on your finger. If the bird can grip adequately, it's likely a fledgling.[8]
  7. 7
    Keep an eye on the nest. If you worry about leaving the bird in the nest alone, you can check to see if a parent returns by watching it for the next couple of hours. However, make sure you keep a safe distance, as the parents may not return if you are too close.[9]
  8. 8
    Create a makeshift nest. The nest may have been destroyed by storms, a predator, or humans. If you can't find the nest, create your own. You can use a small plastic container. Line it with something soft, such as a washcloth or small towel or blanket.[10]
    • Place the nest in a shady spot near where you fond the bird. You can nail it to the tree. Set the bird in side, making sure to place its feet under its body.[11]
  9. 9
    Wash your hands. Always wash your hands after handling a bird. Birds can carry diseases, so it's best to thoroughly clean your hands when you're done.[12]

Part 2
Knowing When to Call for Help

  1. 1
    Check for the bird's parents. If the parents don't return to the nest within a couple of hours or if you're sure the parents are not alive anymore, you'll need to call for help for the bird.[13]
  2. 2
    Look for injuries. If the bird has trouble moving or flapping its wings, it's likely injured. Also, if the bird is shivering, it may be in trouble. An injured bird is also a reason to make a call.[14]
  3. 3
    Don't try to raise it yourself. It's actually illegal to keep and raise a wild bird. You must have special permits from both the local and federal governments to raise wild animals.[15]
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    Call a wildlife rehabilitator. Wildlife rehabilitators have the skills and training to care for baby birds. You can find one on your local government's wildlife websites, or you can try calling a local veterinarian or animal shelter, as they may know rehabilitators in the area.[16]
    • Ask for advice on how to feed and water the baby and how to keep it warm. Be patient with your questions, and ask for additional advice by saying, "Is there anything else that I should know (or be careful about)?"

Part 3
Identifying and Feeding the Bird

  1. 1
    Understand the risks. Remember that by keeping the bird, you are performing an illegal act. Also, you likely do not have the expertise to feed the bird properly, so it very well may die under your care. Also, caring for a baby bird is not easy, as it needs to be fed every 20 minutes or so. Finally, you are not equipped to teach the bird what its parents do, such as how to hunt for food or how to be on the lookout for predators.[17]
    • The bird also may become so accustomed to humans that it may come to harm because it doesn't know to fly from humans and may come to expect its food from humans at all times.[18]
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    Identify the type of bird. You may be able to match the species by looking at an online field guide such as The Cornell Lab of Ornithology [19] or the Audubon Society's Guide to North American Birds.[20]
    • Positive identification will be easier if you catch a glimpse of the parents. However, if the parents are still around, you should let them take care of the baby. They have strong instincts to care for their young and are well equipped to do so.
  3. 3
    Identify that bird's food source. What your baby bird will eat depends on what its parents eat. For instance, cardinals eat seeds,[21] while crows eat everything from nuts and berries to insects and small rodents.[22]
  4. 4
    Use cat or dog food for an omnivore. If your bird is an omnivore, you can try dog or cat food.[23] Many wild birds are omnivores, and when they are babies, they are primarily feed insects by their parents. That means that a diet rich in animal protein, such as dog or cat food, is appropriate for these birds.[24]
    • If you use dry food, soak it in water first. Leave it for an hour to soak. However, when you go to feed the baby, make sure it isn't dripping, as water can get in the bird's lungs, leading to death. The food should be spongy, not dripping.[25]
    • Make a small ball. Create a small ball of food, about the size of a pea. Drop the food in the baby's mouth. A Popsicle stick or a chopstick is handy for this process. You can also cut the end of a straw into a small scoop.[26] The baby should readily accept and eat the food. For dry cat or dog food, if the kibbles are too big, make sure to break them up. Essentially, you want all the food to be about a pea size.[27]
  5. 5
    Feed bird seed formula to herbivores. If your bird eats seeds alone, use seed formula, which you can find at a pet store. Pet stores often carry seed formula for baby parrots.[28]
    • Use a syringe to push the food past the glottis.[29] The glottis goes around the trachea. You'll see a small hole in the mouth or at the back of the throat where the trachea opens. You do not want to get food or water in the trachea. Therefore, make sure the tip of the syringe moves past the glottis.[30]
  6. 6
    Provide food until the baby seems full. That is, the baby will actively eat food when it is hungry. If it doesn't seem enthusiastic, it is probably full.[31]
  7. 7
    Do not provide water. If the food is sufficiently soaked, the baby bird should not need any more water, at least as long as it is a nestling. Providing water can do more damage than good, as you can cause the bird to aspirate and die.[32]
    • If the bird seems dehydrated when you first take it in, you can use Gatorade or Lactated Ringers Solution. Place a drop on the birds beak using your finger so that the bird can suck the liquid in. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth and reddish skin. Also, the skin on the back of the neck will not spring back immediately when pinched if the bird is dehydrated.[33]
  8. 8
    Provide food every 20 minutes. Your baby bird needs constant food to keep its energy up.[34] However, you do not need to wake up to feed it at night.[35]
  9. 9
    Handle the bird as little as possible. To be able to release the bird, you want to make sure the bird does not imprint on you or connect with you. Limit your interactions with the bird, and do not treat it like a pet.[36]
    • In fact, it's almost impossible to raise a single baby without having it imprint on you, especially if it is less than 2 weeks old.[37]
  10. 10
    Allow self-feeding at 4 weeks. At about 4 weeks old, the baby should be able to start learning to feed itself. However, it can take another month or so for that to happen. You should still hand feed during this time period, but leave a small bowl of food in the cage. At this point, you can provide a very shallow bowl of water, too.[38]
    • You will notice the baby become less interested in hand feeding over time.[39]
  11. 11
    Feed the nestling until it becomes a fledgling. You may have to wait weeks for the bird to develop its wings, becoming a fledgling. The bird cannot survive until it grows wings and starts flying on its own. Only then can you try to release it in the wild.[40]
    • If you keep the bird as it grows into adulthood, you will need to move to an adult diet for the bird, which will be different from its previous diet.[41]
    • Additionally, once the baby bird is jumping up the side of the box, you can move it to a cage rather than a box.[42]


  • Make sure you know also what foods the bird can't eat, as some foods are not good for certain types of birds. For instance, most birds can't tolerate milk.

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Categories: Feeding Birds