How to care for a baby bird
Many people will at some time come across a helpless baby bird in their yard, on trails, or at the park. It is important to know from the beginning that raising a baby bird takes quite a bit of work and attention.
You’ll need to provide the baby bird a proper diet, a safe habitat, and constant care. And even with adequate care, about 90% of hand-raised birds will die. That said, after you rescue the bird, it is much better to have a professional wildlife rehabilitator raise it, as they will have experience in the right kind of care.
Wait! Is The Bird Really Abandoned?
Most birds found abandoned outside are not actually in need of our help. If the bird is uninjured, look around for the nest before taking the bird—often birds will fall out of the nest or will leave it before they’re able to fly. If you see the nest, just put the bird back in it. Don’t worry about touching the bird; the parents will not smell the human scent and will continue to care for the baby. If you can’t find the nest, put the bird in a tree, shrub, or bush – just somewhere off the ground. Watch from a distance; chances are the parents are watching you and will come to care for the baby.
If the bird is injured or the parents don’t return after an hour or two, that’s another story. Take it to a local veterinarian or call a wildlife rehabilitator. Contact your area’s wildlife division or talk to a game warden to get the name of the nearest wildlife rehabilitator. See below for hints on how to handle the bird until you can get it to authorities.
What Do I Do First?
After you’ve decided that the bird is actually abandoned, the first thing you need to do is make sure the baby bird is warm. Simply holding the bird in your hands will provide enough warmth to ward off pneumonia. A heating pad set to low or a hot water bottle can also be used to warm up the bird; wrap it in tissue or cloth and set it on the heat source.
Even if you think the bird is extremely hungry or thirsty, don’t force anything into its beak.
If you haven’t already done so, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
How Should I House the Bird?
For the majority of baby birds found – those without feathers – warmth is most important. The baby needs a soft nest, made of facial tissues or paper towels inside a shoe box (with ventilation) or a plastic berry container. Don’t use cotton clothes, paper, or grass – they can injure the baby bird. The bird’s home needs to be kept between 80 and 90 degrees – use a heating pad and never put the bird in direct sunlight.
It’s not uncommon for an injured or abandoned feathered bird to fully recover after resting for a couple hours in a warm, quiet, dark nest. Place a “nest” in larger box, make sure to give the bird enough room to fly around, and place some sticks in the cage for the bird to use as perches.
How Do I Feed It?
If, after talking with a wildlife rehabilitator, you decide to hand raise the baby bird, an adequate diet is critical. You’ll have to hand-feed the bird at least every 30 to 60 minutes during the day. For the first couple days the bird is in your care, it might only eat sugar water-soaked bread. That is fine. But also try feeding it small pieces of dog or cat food soaked in hot water. You can mix these kibbles with egg yolk or even baby cereal.
When the bird moves around by itself, you can start phasing out the hand feeding. Just put bird seed and other small pieces of food in the cage -- you’ll still have to hand feed for a few days as the bird gets the hang of it. Make sure to starting giving your bird a natural diet, in the cage, to prepare it for release to the wild.
Keep a small dish of water in your bird’s cage. You may have to put drops of water into the birds beak, but don’t force it.
When Can I Release the Bird?
After a little while in your care, your bird will hopefully start flying well -- that’s a signal that it’s getting ready to be released to back into the wild. Remember, wild birds can only legally be kept until they’re ready to be released.
Give your bird a test fly indoors. If it can fly for a while without struggling, and if it can gain in altitude, it’s ready to be released. Release it in a familiar area, and make sure it’s protected from cats and dogs. You can leave the bird’s cage outdoors in the area you released in, and keep placing food in the area for a week or so.