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How to feed a newborn bird

Updated July 20, 2017

If you find a baby bird outdoors, try not to kill it with misplaced good intentions. According to wildlife experts, most "abandoned" baby birds are not abandoned at all. They may be fledglings that cannot fly well yet or perhaps younger birds that were blown out of a nest. In most cases, their parents are not far away and may just be waiting for you to leave so they can retrieve their offspring. When you truly have an abandoned or orphaned bird on your hands, though, you can become a key player in a rescue operation.

Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It is against the law to keep and raise wild birds, not to mention difficult and time-consuming. A wildlife rehabber can suggest the best way to get your rescued infant bird into professional, life-saving care. There are, though, some steps you can take to care for it temporarily.

Keep the bird warm. Baby birds should feel warm when you hold them in your hands as their body temperature is higher than that of humans. If the bird needs warmth, place a hot-water bottle or any other flat plastic bottle, under a towel and allow the baby bird to rest there. Do not put a nestling in direct sunlight to warm it, as this can cause dehydration.

Identify the bird family. This is important because different birds require different nutrients. Do not feed infant birds milk or bread--these foods can harm them, sometimes fatally. A tiny amount of dry dog or cat food, soaked in water until soft, or canned wet pet food, can be fed to some baby birds until you can get them to an expert wildlife caretaker. Other breeds, such as doves, are seed eaters and need different nutrients.

Set aside a lot of time for feedings. Adults robins can make 400 trips per day to feed their nestlings. Humans should be prepared to feed a featherless newborn bird every 20-30 minutes from sunrise to sunset, or every hour at the least for fledglings. Unless it is unavoidable, you should not hold the bird while feeding it. If you have no choice but to hold it, remember that it is not a human infant and should not lie on its back during feedings. Hold the bird upright and, using the end of a toothpick, drop tiny bits of food into its mouth in the same way its feathered parents would.

Transport the bird. When you have found the correct place to care for your rescued newborn bird, it is time to send it on. Line a box with towels and, perhaps, a little tissue paper as a cushion and stabiliser, place the bird inside and cover the box with a paper towel or newspaper. The darkness of the box will help calm the bird as you transfer it to expert care.

Tip

If you see a nest, it is OK to pick the baby bird up and return it to the nest. It is a myth that birds will abandon their babies if they smell humans on them.

Warning

If your transport or other box has a lid, make sure there are air holes so the bird can breathe. Some baby birds will bite when you attempt to pick them up. Wear gloves if necessary.

Things You'll Need

  • Small box
  • Soft, clean towels or rags
  • Hot water bottle, or flat plastic bottle
  • Toothpicks
  • Dog or cat food
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About the Author

Nanette Kelley has been a professional Web writer/editor/publisher and designer since 1998, when she founded an award-winning international webzine, Human Beams, which ran for 10 years. She is now pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English and writing a book.