How to feed a baby bird
Source: Getty images

Care and Feeding Tips for Wild Baby Birds

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Jun. 15 2021, Published 5:06 p.m. ET

If you come across a hungry baby bird and can’t find their nest, there are three options: feed them, try to put them back in their nest, or let them be. For most of us, the idea of leaving the poor creature to their own devices is unthinkable. Some birds don’t like when humans touch their young, so option two might be just as likely to result in the fledgling’s death.

But if you do choose to save and feed the little bugger, how exactly does one go about feeding a baby bird

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Egret chicks
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Should I feed a baby bird in the first place?

OK, we will level with you. Baby birds that you're raising yourself are one thing. Those birds are pets and we would hope that they came to you legally and are well-cared for. What we're talking about here are wild birds in need who you stumbled upon. The sad fact is, most experts do not recommend that you attempt to feed a baby bird if you know the parents are still around.

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According to Birdwatching Bliss, feeding a baby bird can do more harm than good, though they do recommend leaving the baby some water just in case. In most cases, the best course of action is to contact animal control so that they can come to rescue the bird. You could even take the injured bird to a local veterinarian's office to see if they can help.

Local wildlife rehabilitation centers will also do the trick, such as the Wild Bird Fund in New York City. Whatever you choose and whatever happens after, well, most people will understand that your heart was in the right place.

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Baby songbirds in nest
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What to feed a baby bird

If you do deem that feeding the baby bird in question is necessary, you'll find that when it comes to proper food, it all depends on the age and species of the specific bird. If you’ve committed to caring for this baby bird, we would advise reaching out to a veterinarian for advice about what your baby specifically needs. That said, there are a few tips regarding food that we can impart.

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According to The Spruce, there are many commercially available formulas out there for hand-feeding baby birds. They recommend choosing one at the start and sticking with that brand and composition until the baby is weaned off it. Baby birds are particularly susceptible to changes in diet, which can be stressful for the baby and their digestion. 

Baby birds can eat worms starting at 5 days of age, but those worms should be crushed and fed through an eyedropper at that age. It might sound like a grisly procedure, but it's necessary to keep the birds from being stressed. Once they reach about 5 weeks old, they can start to eat halved worms and will accept whole ones upon reaching adulthood. 

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Mother bird feeding babies
Source: Getty Images

How to feed a baby bird

When it comes to feeding baby birds, freshness is key. According to VCA Hospitals, food meant for baby birds must be prepared fresh before every feeding. The principles behind this thinking are similar to those used by parents with newborns. Milk and formula that has either sat out too long or been retained from a prior feeding is a hotbed for bacterial growth. The same is true for baby bird food.

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VCA Hospitals recommends heating baby bird food to a temperature of between 102 degrees and 106 degrees Fahrenheit, but no hotter. Cold food won’t really work either, unfortunately. For one, food that is too cold will slow digestion, and baby birds might simply reject it outright. Achieving the perfect amount of heat is also key to keeping harmful yeast and bacteria out of your baby food. If you’re microwaving the food, mix it thoroughly to ensure a consistent temperature throughout.

These directions are for use with conventional baby bird food mixes, which tend to get mixed with water like human baby formula. Note that younger chicks require a thinner mixture in order to properly digest. It’s difficult to tell the age of a bird, but go thinner if the bird seems tinier and thicken it more as the baby grows.

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It is possible to overfeed a baby bird, but they will generally let you know when they’ve had enough by shutting their bill. Never force a baby bird’s mouth open to give them more. Don’t worry, they’ll let you know when they are hungry.

If your foundling bird has aged up enough to eat something besides formula, make sure that any and all of it is small enough for the bird’s size. Any dry food should be softened and spongy before giving it to the baby. According to Pets on Mom, baby birds can be fed mealworms as a dietary supplement.

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