Wild birds and chickens are all birds, and other than the different foods they eat and the way the process it, basically a bird is a bird is a bird. See the rest of my chicken site for more info that isn't covered here.  The belief that a mother bird will reject a baby bird that you have handled because ‘she can smell the scent of humans’ is a MYTH.  Baby birds and unbroken eggs can be returned to their nest with no danger of  their parents rejecting them.

Keep the baby bird in a cage, protected from drafts, with a small heating pad set on 'low', with a fabric cover or a thin towel between baby and pad--delicate baby bird skin burns easily. Like baby chicks, around 100 degrees is good. Keep the heating pad on 24/7 until the baby feathers out. Give him something soft to snuggle in--shredded paper towel or a soft cloth, etc. In a 12 hour period, feed the baby every:

15 minutes if eyes are not open.

30 minutes if the eyes ARE open.

45 minutes if they off their hocks and standing on their own.

2 hours if they are old enough to be out of the nest. The bird MUST be eating adequately on it's own before you wean it off the baby bird food.

You MUST feed a baby bird what that particular species naturally eats! Trying to feed a sparrow hummingbird food or vice versa isn't going to work, you will kill it. Know what kind of bird you have before attempting to feed it! Baby birds will peep when hungry and after they catch on that your fingers mean food, may flap their wings, fluff up their head feathers and 'gape' for you (open their mouths).

For baby birds such as sparrows, finches, pigeons and doves, if you can get some baby bird food/handrearing formula (powdered) at the pet store that's great. In the meantime or if you can't, go to the grocery store and get 1 jar each of the stage 1 baby food (strained, no chunks) of chicken (or turkey or beef), carrot (or other orange veg) and peas (or other green veg). NOT the 'dinners' food, you want the plain, straight stuff. Also get a box of Gerber mixed cereal for babies, and a bottle of unflavored Pedialyte. Mix the cereal with the Pedialyte to paste consistency, then add a bit (about 1/2 tsp. each) of the meat & veg baby foods. Heavy on the meat is good. Mix thoroughly in a small dish to a pudding consistency and heat it a bit, you want it JUST a bit warmer than your skin--humans run at 98.6 degrees, bird food should be at around 100 degrees. If you use a microwave to heat the food, STIR IT THOROUGHLY, hot spots in the food can literally burn a whole through the baby's tender crop skin (it's like tissue paper) and kill it. Stick your finger in it to test it, the food should feel slightly warmer than your finger, make sure the dish isn't hot.

Wild Birds

Handfeeding Baby Birds

Handfeeding Baby Birds

Velvet Sparrow

On this page I’ll offer info on how to care for wild birds–NOT chickens.  If you decide to care for a wild bird, know what kind it is BEFORE you feed it–different species have radically different nutritional needs, and feeding a baby bird the wrong kind of food can kill it.  Your absolute best choice is to find a qualified wildlife rehabilitation professional.

Some native species are illegal to possess unless you are licensed to do so.  Birds of prey, even young ones, can SERIOUSLY INJURE YOU and should not be touched at all–call a professional raptor specialist!

Now--FOOD AND BIRD MUST BOTH BE WARM IN ORDER FOR THE BIRD TO EAT. If EITHER is cold, baby will refuse to eat! Get a handfeeding syringe, either from your pet store or from your local pharmacy--they call them irrigation syringes. It's just a syringe with a pointed plastic end instead of a needle--curved or straight doesn't matter, no prescription needed. Suck up some of the warm, prepared food in the syringe, also get a small piece of paper towel dampened with a bit of warm water to clean off the baby's beak after feeding--food left on the baby will harden up like concrete and can cause sores--and a bit of warm water in a small dish. If you can't get a syringe, use a Qtip stick with all of the cotton removed, a wooden match stick (not the end that you light) or a stick pen cap that has a pocket clip. Or heck, a plain old non-sharp stick from the yard works, too! I like to fill my feeding syringe and place it under the heating pad between feedings, it keeps the food at nearly the perfect temp and ready to go. I don't worry about bacteria since I only put a few hours worth of feedings in the syringe at a time--say half a day's worth. Clean the syringe thoroughly before refilling, any extra prepared food left in the small dish goes in the frig.

Grasp the WARM baby in your hand and gently touch the gape flanges (the rubbery yellow areas at the corners of the beak) with the syringe tip. This should prompt it to open it's beak and allow you to GENTLY squirt a tiny amount of WARM food into it's beak. If it won't open it's beak, you'll have to gently pry it open and put the syringe tip in. It's REALLY easy to drown a baby in food using a syringe, so be very careful.

I just put a tiny amount in the baby's mouth and allow THEM to swallow it rather than risk them aspirating the food. Give them a moment between bites to swallow and breathe. First morning feedings take the longest, the baby is going to be lethargic (and possibly resistant to taking food from you at first)--you may have to give them a small amount and come back with a proper feeding about 5-10 minutes later after they've perked up. As they eat you should be able to see their crop fill up with food and bulge outward. Babies new to human handfeeding and older babies that are more resistant to human interaction are harder to feed--be patient and just accept that it is going to take a while to get a sufficient quantity of food down them. You can always take a break and come back a few minutes later if you start to get frustrated or the baby too stressed. Success is measured in precious drops. As the baby learns how to eat from you after a few feedings and loses his fear of you, it gets easier, he'll open up his beak and 'gape' for food. Clean any food off the beak and skin with the bit of warm, damp paper towel immediately after feeding is done, and give the baby a few drops of warm water in his beak to rinse any unswallowed food down. Be careful not to soak baby or give him a chill. Baby will start to refuse food when he is full. By the way, mama birds sleep through the night and so can you. No need to feed baby in the wee hours, just tank him up before you go to bed and resume feeding the next morning.

If food starts to back up inside his mouth and he's still gaping, stop feeding him, he's full!

When they get old enough to begin eating on their own, scatter some seed or their other adult food of choice in the bottom of their cage where they can get to it freely and also in a dish, and add a small water dish (one they can reach easily and not drown in) or water bottle to their cage. In between feedings they should naturally get curious and begin to pick at the adult food on their own, and start eating. It only takes about a week for them to lose interest in baby food, refuse handfeeding and start eating full-time on their own. Make sure NOT to introduce adult food too soon, young babies cannot digest it and may choke on it. See the guide at the top of this page for the correct age to introduce adult foods.

HUMMINGBIRDS–  Get some standard commercial hummingbird food at the grocery store–Perky Pet makes one that has needed protein in it.  Adult hummingbirds eat tiny insects in addition to nectar, baby hummers need protein, too.  As before, make sure baby is warm.  Get a feeding syringe as mentioned above–no needle–and fill it with room temperature hummingbird food.  Offer the syringe to baby, if he gapes touch a TINY drip to the end of his beak and allow him to swallow.  He’ll catch on quick and soon learn to eat from the syringe when it is offered.

Injuries To Downed Baby Birds

Many times there is a reason baby birds are out of the nest too soon--a predator or bullying sibling forced them out, the nest became infested with pests, the nest was destroyed or a just plain over-enthusiastic baby falls out. Whatever the reason, MAMA IS ALWAYS BEST. If there is any way, return the baby to the nest and let mama care for it. If you cannot, watch the baby for a bit and see if mama is around--many times what you think is a downed baby is actually a fledgling that has parents nearby and is learning to fly. If there is no danger from bad weather or predators, the baby is old enough to fledge and parent birds are nearby, leave it alone! Babies old enough to fledge are a royal headache to try and handfeed, and some will resist to the point of death. Your heart may be in the right place but do what is best for the bird at all times.

Many baby birds have a natural fear of huge things like humans and figure that the ONLY reason you are approaching is to eat them--and will defend themselves as best they can. This can mean pecking, hissing, running away and striking at you with a wing flip. Birds are very susceptible to heart attacks and can suddenly just plain drop dead from fear, so if you decide to swoop in and pick up a downed baby bird, do so quickly, calmly and efficiently--don't chase it all over creation if you can avoid it. Also, if mama is nearby expect a LOT of vocal displeasure and possibly an attack of winged fury from above. You never know!

Injuries to a baby that has fallen from a high nest to a hard surface below may not always be apparent. Internal injuries especially. If you do rescue a baby, observe it to see how it is acting--get it warm and quiet to guard against shock right away. If it is perky and moving about normally, great. Otherwise you may have to deal with a broken leg or wing which can be splinted in place--there are plenty of sites online providing 'how-to's' for splinting a broken bird leg/wing that you can find. Internal injuries are tougher, and there isn't much you can do about those. Check the babies' poops for signs of blood or anything else unusual. Sometimes all you can do is provide a warm, safe place for the baby to pass on.

Another thing to be aware of is parasites, usually external, in the form of mites. Mites can drive a baby from the nest early and look like tiny, crawling specks, usually reddish in color. Look at your hands closely after handling the baby to see if there are any on your skin. You can also place baby on a white paper towel for about 20 minutes, then lift baby away and look at the towel--mites are attracted to the color white and show up well. If there are mites, gently dust the baby with Ortho Sevin powder or use–sparingly and carefully–the Adams Flea & Tick Mist spray.

IMPORTANT-- Any time you handle a wild baby bird, wash your hands VERY well afterwards with hot water & soap! Baby birds can carry any number of diseases that you do not want to be exposed to, especially if you have other birds in the house.

The best thing (and you DO want to do the best thing for the baby, don't you?) is to find a qualified wild bird rehabilitator near you and turn the baby over to them. They not only have special training in how to care for wild birds, they are LEGALLY allowed to have the bird in their possession--it is illegal to own or have in your possession many types of wild birds that are protected, especially birds of prey. Birds of prey also take very special food and you need to know how to approach and handle them--special training that is not available to the general public without strenuous government oversight. They also have VERY seriously sharp beaks and talons made to rip open flesh--yours, if necessary. Don't mess with birds of prey. Check online, in the phone book or with your vet for who to contact. Non-native species, such as House Sparrows, are usually not protected and you can safely own them. Check with your state laws to see what type of wild bird you can legally own.

Speaking of the government, they are exceptionally humorless when it comes to any unlicensed & untrained Tom, Dick or Harry messing about with native, protected birds–as they should be.  You can earn yourself some hefty fines and serious legal problems by keeping certain species without being a licensed rehabber, so don’t risk it.

Jake, my House Sparrow, on the day I found him in my driveway.  He had fallen from his nest and had an injured leg.

Jake giving a fine example of gaping, the instinctive, universal baby bird ‘Feed me!’ signal.  You can see the yellow gape flanges at the corners of his beak.  As the baby gets older, these fade.

Jake 7 days later, a little more feathered and his gape flanges beginning to fade.  You can see that his crop is full in this photo, he’d just been fed.

Jake grew to be a fine, beautiful male House Sparrow other than his gimpy leg, and lived with us for many years until he passed of natural causes at age 7.

Although he never did approve of me being on the computer when I could be paying attention to him, and would fly over and bite my fingers.

My husband found this injured pigeon fledgling one freezing night.  He had an injured leg and could not stand.  Even though he was older, we were successfully able to handfeed him for the small amount of time he needed it and his leg healed up perfectly.

My daughter named him Pidge, and he grew up to be quite a pretty boy and a surprisingly fun, active, sweet, friendly and endearing pet.  He and my daughter are inseparable.

Pidge does have a thing for newspaper and loves to play in it.  Here he has thrust his head and body through a tear in the paper and is wearing it, obviously in his dreams he is a peacock.

Pidge frequently plays with crumpled newspaper, making himself a little tunnel in it and cooing away, perfectly happy.

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

Jack’s Henhouse

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