Caring for baby birds requires around-the-clock work, especially when it comes to feeding. To recreate the way birds are fed in the wild — and to feed the nestlings safely — you’ll need a handful of specific tools and ingredients.
If you come across a baby bird in the wild who seems to be alone, they may not need rescuing. As tempting as it is, it’s actually illegal to handle wild birds in most places, so it’s usually best left to the professionals … which happen to be the mama birds, in this case. If no mother can be found, a professional wildlife rehabilitator is your best bet for giving a baby bird a chance to thrive. Unfortunately, many wild birds die in captivity because of improper care, but this can be avoided by staying educated and knowing whom to contact in these situations.
If you’re raising domestic birds or are professionally licensed to care for wild animals, you can move forward with your feeding plans. Although baby bird formula is available, there are plenty of DIY baby bird food recipes available for your browsing. Read on to learn what you can make that you can feed to your baby bird.
What do baby birds eat?
In the wild, baby birds eat whatever their mother gives them. Their mom will regurgitate her meal for her babies to eat since they’re not yet capable of digesting solid food. In emergency situations, a baby bird might have to be hand-fed by syringe instead.
If feeding is necessary, you’ll have to DIY a special formula for the nestling. Water or milk is not safe for baby birds to consume, and doing so can lead to accidental drowning. Instead, the mixture you make for them will be mostly water, so they’ll get all the hydration they need.
Baby birds cannot handle the diet of an adult bird, so worms are out of the question as well. Although birdseed is also made specifically for our feathered friends, infants should be fed only by their mother or by syringe until they’re around 15 days old. By then, they should start showing interest in eating on their own by picking up things around the nest. When this happens, you can slowly introduce solid foods an adult bird would eat.
Check out our guide on what do baby birds eat and drink for more.
DIY baby bird food
One easy recipe to feed your baby bird involves just two ingredients: pet food and water. Soaking dog biscuits or kibble in water will create a mushy consistency that’s easy to take and digest for young birds. This mimics the texture of the food given by mama birds in the wild and is also a high-protein option, which is extra important for nestlings. A classic biscuit treat like Milk-Bone is ideal for recipes like these. To forgo the mixing and mashing, a canned pet food like the Cesar brand is another great option. You still might want to stir in a tiny bit of water if your bird is particularly young, though.
A syringe is ideal when feeding a baby bird, but in emergency situations, a plastic spoon can be modified to work just as well. By dipping it in boiling water you can heat it enough to be malleable, at which point you can bend the sides up and in to create a funnel.
Keep in mind what species of bird you’re feeding, because their nutritional needs will all be different. One recipe suitable for infant pigeons and doves includes four ingredients: apple juice, soy infant formula (for humans), cornmeal, and ground birdseed. In this example, a birdkeeper blended the ingredients with a touch of apple juice to create a mixture with enough calories, protein, and nutrition (that’s where the baby formula comes in). Not everyone will have these ingredients lying around in urgent situations, though. Simpler recipes are often easier for birdkeepers since feeding takes place so often.
To rehydrate a baby bird who is cold (this is often a sign of dehydration and lack of nutrition in the wild) prepare a simple potion of 1 teaspoon salt to 3 teaspoons of Karo syrup. This should only be used temporarily, and in an emergency, as it doesn’t contain the kinds of nutrients needed to provide long-term benefits. Once the nestling is stabilized, a mixture of oatmeal and an avian nutritional powder such as Kaytee’s Exact Hand Feeding Formula can be used.
Please remember that all of these DIY recipes are for temporary use. While they may be helpful, they should only be used for a short time. Your local avian vet is a great resource when learning about baby bird care, though there are countless credible resources online as well. As challenging and time-consuming as it can be, caring for a baby bird can be incredibly rewarding as well.
Want to know more? Check out our guide on what can you give your baby bird to drink.
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