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Our Free Newsletter: The Birder Alert!
Found a Baby Bird? Here's What To Do
If you found a wild baby bird and it has grown most of it's feathers, can hop around and
maybe can even fly a little, it has probably already fledged (a fledgling). At
this stage in its development, it is supposed to be
out of the nest and hopping around on the ground, trying to scramble up into
small trees. The baby bird will be able to fly in a few more days and has
probably reached full body weight by this time and only needs its tail
or wing feathers to grow a bit longer.
Best for the bird if you leave it where you found it and keep your dogs and cats in the house for a few days.
If absolutely necessary (near dogs, cats, small boys or in the road), put the young bird in
the shrubs or small tree
(though it probably will not stay there) or put it in you neighbors
yard if you have animals but they do not. The baby bird will attract the attention
of it's parents, and they will continue to feed it even after it can fly.
In most cases you may think the baby bird has been abandoned, but if you
leave the bird alone and just wait and watch, one of the adults will probably come and feed the
within a few minutes.
From Nestling to Fledgling
Believe it or not, baby birds grow so quickly that they don't spend many days
in the nest. After hatching, common birds like the Northern Mockingbird,
American Robin or
Northern Cardinal only spend 11 or 12 days in the nest before fledging. If
you disturb the nest after about day 8 or 9, they may jump out then, because
they think you are a predator going to eat them. Most cavity nesting birds take a few
more days to fledge, but almost all altricial passerine birds will fledge by
about 20 days. The largest passerine, the Common Raven takes up to 48 days
70% of post fledging mortality occurs during the first 5 days out of the
nest. Mostly because the young birds are on the ground and they are noisy
because they beg for food. Most mortality is due to predation by natural
predators (birds of prey, snakes, foxes etc) as well as from dogs, cats and
being hit or "run over" by cars or run into windows. It is surprising how
many natural predators still inhabit our urban areas, and recent studies show
that densities of some predators (such as raccoons) may actually be higher in
urban areas than in more natural habitats.
If the Baby Bird does not have Feathers
A wild baby bird is not supposed to be out of the nest if it doesn't have
feathers. It is still a nestling. If you found a baby bird and know where the nest is, put it back. If the entire
nest has been blown from a tree or bush, put all the chicks back in the nest and
put the nest back in the tree and tie or wire it to the tree if you have to. You can even use a
small basket or cup with dry
grass to replace the nest. Don't worry that the adults will smell you and
abandon the nest. The adults have such a powerful instinct to return to
the nest and feed the young, that in most cases, they will feed the young in the
makeshift nest. They may have a hard time brooding them to keep the chicks
warm at night in the artificial nest if it is not the right size or shape, but they will continue to feed them.
What to Do if You Found a Baby Bird
What to Feed a Baby Bird?
Do not attempt to feed a bird because you
could do more harm then good. It is okay if you want to fill a shallow container
of water and place it next to the bird so it can drink, but do not force it.
It requires State and
Federal permits to legally
"rescue" or "rehabilitate" or care for "Abandoned" protected birds. Birds
are protected by the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and it is against the law to handle wild
should know that it is even illegal to possess a bird feather. Only State
rehabilitation permits are required for most mammal species. You could
also find a local wildlife or bird rehabilitation center at the
Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory.
What Not to Feed to Baby Birds
Many birds eat a variety of seeds and hummingbirds even drink nectar, but
that doesn't mean that is all they eat. This is especially true for baby birds
still growing in size and/or still growing feathers and so need to be fed mostly
protein (even hummingbirds).
Do not feed tofu or wet bread or dry bird seed or milk* to baby birds.
Believe it or not, these items have actually been fed to baby birds by adult
humans and Yes... You know these stories all had sad endings.
* Pigeons and doves do feed what is known as crop sac milk to their young.
This high protein "milk" is produced in the crops (in their throat) by the adults
and the young get the milk when they put their heads inside the adults mouth to
More What Not to Feed to Baby Birds
Hamburger meat has protein, but it has also too much fat which the birds are
not able to digest. I even knew
of a situation where a
woman found a baby Great-horned Owl and kept it for about 5 years and fed it
nothing but hotdogs (the wiener without the bun). The owl actually
seemed to be in perfect health, but that is not the recommended diet for owls.
I Understand It's Illegal, But What Should I Feed a Baby Bird?
If you are still considering feeding the baby bird you found, ignoring all the advice about leaving them alone
and are going to attempt to feed them no matter what anyone says, then at least
take some time and effort to learn more about what and how to feed them.
However, we still say don't do it.
If you are going to feed the baby bird anyway, at least be smart about it
- and I believe you will since you are taking the time and effort to learn more
about what and how to feed them.
Well, it would help to know what species of bird you have and what the adults
would be feeding it.
Here are some easy to find high protein choices for feeding baby birds
depending upon the species:
Earth worms or nightcrawlers
Mealworms or waxworms
Canned or Soaked dry cat food
Kaytee, ZuPreem - Commercial Parrot and Finch formulas
Keep in mind, the professional rehabilitators usually tube feed baby birds
with a blended mixture of their own making. They have years of experience caring
for injured or abandoned birds and sometimes they even have losses. It is not as
simple or straightforward as you may think.
As example of the depths you need to be prepared to plunge to take on your
bird feeding endeavor; I have fed juvenile raptors (had all the proper
permits) with a mush of blended mice that is fed to them from a "baggie".
A corner is cut out of the baggie and the mixture is slowly squeezed out like
icing from a piping bag. I suggest having a special blender for this purpose and
do not use the one from your kitchen. Otherwise, mamma's gonna whup your
If you are still interested in taking on the responsibility of feeding baby
birds, at least work with an experienced wildlife rehabilitator.
What to feed Baby Pigeons and Doves
Many years ago, I kept a few homing pigeons. A pair of birds produced a
late (October) brood of chicks, but an early freeze caused the adults to stop
feeding the chicks. By the time I noticed, one chick had already died.
I successfully hand fed the remaining chick until it fledged.
The only problem, the pigeon preferred to stay with me than with the other
pigeons because it had become imprinted. It would even fly and walk with
we when I walked the dogs and would chase my car down the road for miles and
land on the car at when I stopped. Since it was a homer, it always found
it's way back home. Wish I had a picture.
Imprinting is another reason not to had feed wild birds. If they become
imprinted on humans, they have no chance of living a natural life in the wild.
Baby Pigeon formula
No doubt there are many formulas to feed baby pigeons, but here is my
50% ground bird seed (mainly millet and milo)
Soybean milk for human infants (like Similac or Enfamil)
Make a thick slurry from the cornmeal and ground bird seed (ground using
coffee grinder) by adding the soybean milk. Add a touch of apple juice).
My theory was the cornmeal, bird seed and apple juice provided the needed
calories and vitamins and the Soybean milk provided the protein and more
vitamins. The bird was fed with a large eye-droppers and syringes as was
fed as much as possible at each feeding and as many times as was possible each
day (what a chore!).
Tube feeding the bird would have probably been safer for the bird and faster
for me, but I did
not know how at the time.
In conclusion, if you found a baby bird the best thing you can do is call you
local wildlife agency who will determine whether or not the bird requires
additional assistance or rehabilitation by a licensed caretaker. Here is also
general guidelines what to do if you
found an injured
bird, not necessarily a baby.