wikiHow to Make Emergency Baby Bird Food

Three Parts:Preparing Emergency Baby Bird FoodFeeding the Emergency Baby Bird FoodKnowing What to do If You Find a Baby Bird

Seeing a hungry baby bird can certainly pull at your heartstrings. Ideally, feeding a wild baby bird should be left up to his parents or to the experts at a wildlife rehabilitation center. However, you may need to feed a baby bird if his parents do not come back to feed him after several hours, and you are not able to immediately transport him to the rehabilitation center.[1]

Part 1
Preparing Emergency Baby Bird Food

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    Learn what types of food you can feed a baby bird. Because of the sheer number of bird species, it can be difficult for the average person to know the species-specific dietary needs for baby birds.[2] Fortunately, some foods are generally acceptable to be used as emergency baby bird food. For example, moistened dry cat or dog food can be fed to baby birds.[3][4]
    • Puppy chow is especially high in protein—an essential nutrient for baby birds. [5]
    • If you do not have dry cat or dog food, wet cat or dog food is also acceptable.[6][7]
    • Insects and mealworms are also acceptable as emergency baby bird food. They are both excellent sources of protein.[8]
    • Pre-made emergency baby bird food is also available at your local pet store. It is relatively low-volume and high in calories. It can be added to dry dog or cat food as a supplement.[9]
    • Seed formula is appropriate emergency baby bird food, but only for doves, pigeons, and parrots—these types of birds do not eat insects.[10]
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    Learn what you should not feed a baby bird. Milk should not be a part of the emergency baby bird food that you prepare.[11][12] Birds do not nurse, so milk is not a part of their natural diet.[13] Bread is another food to avoid giving to a baby bird, since it provides no nutritional value and could cause internal blockage.[14]
    • Pet bird food is also not recommended.[15] Pet bird food may not meet the nutritional requirements of a wild bird.
    • Baby birds obtain water from their food,[16] so it is not necessary to give them water separately.
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    Purchase mealworms and/or crickets. You can find mealworms at your local pet store or bait store.[17] Crush the mealworms’ heads before feeding them to the baby bird.[18]
    • Visit your local pet store to purchase live crickets.[19]
    • Before feeding them to the baby bird, you should seal them in a bag and freeze them for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, the crickets will be dead, but will still look and feel like the real thing and will not be too frozen.[20]
    • Crickets are a good source of water for baby birds.[21]
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    Prepare the dry dog or cat food. Baby birds must be fed very small amounts of food to prevent choking. Dog or cat kibble is much too large to be fed whole to a baby bird, so you must do some extra preparation. One option is to grind the kibble in a blender or food processor to break it into very small bits.[22] You should then moisten it with warm water until it is the consistency of yogurt or feels spongy.[23]
    • Another option is to moisten the kibble first, then break each kibble piece in half by hand.[24] This method could get tedious, so you may prefer to grind up the dry kibble.
    • To achieve the right moistened consistency, use one part food to two parts water. It could take up to an hour before the kibble is at the right consistency.[25]
    • Dry food that is too moist can drown or choke a baby bird, so it is very important to properly moisten the food.[26]

Part 2
Feeding the Emergency Baby Bird Food

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    Warm the baby bird. A baby bird must be warm before it eats.[27] To warm the baby bird, fill up a jar with warm water and place a nest of tissues against the jar.[28] Place the baby bird in the nest and allow him to warm up.
    • Given the baby bird’s small size, a few minutes may be all that’s needed before the bird is warmed up and ready to eat.
    • If the baby bird has few feathers, or no feathers at all, use a small plastic container (e.g., empty margarine tub) as a nest. Fill the container with paper towels or toilet paper.[29] You could also place this against the jar of warm water to help the baby bird warm up.
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    Encourage the baby bird to gape. The baby bird may gape (open its beak) on his own once he is feeling warm. If not, he may need some encouragement from you. Softly whistling or gently nudging on his chest are good ways to stimulate him to gape.[30]
    • You may need to gently pry the baby bird’s beak open with your thumb.[31][32]
    • Keep in mind that you may injure the baby bird when handling him,[33] so you should be very careful if you nudge his chest or pry his beak open.
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    Feed the baby bird. Use something very small to feed the baby bird—tweezers, cocktail sticks, plastic coffee stirrers, and baby medicine syringes are all suitable feeding utensils.[34][35] After putting a small amount of food on the feeding utensil, aim the utensil towards the right side (your left) of his throat.[36]
    • The left side of the baby bird’s throat contains the trachea.[37] Just like with people, food should not go down the trachea.
    • Hold the utensil at a height where the baby bird will easily be able to take the food from the utensil.
    • Make sure the food is at room temperature.[38]
    • You may need to cut the crickets or mealworms into smaller pieces before feeding them to the baby bird.
    • Feed the baby bird until his crop is full.[39]
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    Feed the baby bird on a schedule. This is probably the most challenging aspect of feeding a baby bird. In the wild, a baby bird gets fed every 10 to 20 minutes during daylight for 12 to 14 hours a day.[40][41] Maintaining this feeding schedule is not very practical for the average person.
    • Contact your wildlife rehabilitation center to transfer the baby bird over to the center’s care as soon as possible.
    • The emergency baby bird food should be fed only as long as it will take for you to coordinate the transfer of care.
    • Discard any remaining soaked food after 12 hours. After this time point, the food will start to spoil.[42]

Part 3
Knowing What to do If You Find a Baby Bird

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    Determine if the baby bird is a fledgling or nestling. A fledgling is a partially or fully-feathered baby bird. A fledgling has likely outgrown his nest and is walking around on the ground or low branches before he can fly. He still needs to be fed by his parents, but is not completely helpless.[43]
    • You should leave a fledgling where he is so that his parents can find him and feed him. You should only move him if he is injured and needs to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center.[44]
    • A nestling has either no feathers or the beginnings of feathers. If you see a nestling out of his nest, put him back in his nest. If the nest has fallen out of tree, put the nest back in the tree, then put the nestling in it.[45]
    • If you cannot find the nestling's nest, make one by placing shredded paper towels in the bottom of a margarine tub. With a nail or wire, fasten the tub to a tree near where you found the bird, then put him in it.[46]
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    Determine if the baby bird needs expert care. If the baby bird's parents have not come back in one to two hours, or if you know that the mother is dead, the baby bird will need to be transported to a wildlife rehabilitation center. He will also need expert care he is injured or appears sick.[47]
    • Do not delay in calling a wildlife rehabilitation center. The sooner you can transport the baby bird, the better his chances for recovery.[48]
    • If someone from the wildlife center will be coming to pick the baby bird, keep him warm in the meantime by placing him in a nest of tissue against a jar of warm water.
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    Do not assume you need to feed the baby bird. Although you mean well, you may be doing more harm than good by feeding a wild baby bird. In fact, many wildlife centers recommend that you not try to feed a wild baby bird.[49] It is best to either leave him alone or transport him as soon as possible to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
    • It is likely the baby bird's parents are nearby and will return to him within a few hours to feed him.[50]
    • If you mistakenly take the baby bird out of the wild to feed him, you may deprive him of the care that he needs from his parents.[51]


  • If you have to handle the baby bird, handle him with gloved hands to prevent disease transmission to you or your other pets.[52]
  • It is a myth that handling a baby bird will cause it be rejected by its parents. Birds have a poor sense of smell, so the parents will probably not be able to detect your human scent on their baby.[53]


  • Feeding a baby bird the wrong types of foods, or improperly preparing the food, could cause the bird to choke or drown.
  • It is illegal to hold a wild bird captive, unless you have the proper state and federal licenses.[54][55]
  • Forcing a baby bird to eat can cause it to inhale, rather than swallow, its food. This can lead to pneumonia or asphyxiation.[56]
  • A baby bird can be injured by human handling. If you end up feeding the baby bird before taking him to a wildlife rescue or bird care center, handle him as little as possible to minimize the risk of injury.[57]

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Categories: Feeding Birds