Anyone experienced with
birds can tell you that baby birds are delicate. Not only are they fragile to hold but require very specific care. You have the have the right conditions and the right food. You can’t just dig up some worms out of the yard and stuff them down their delicate throats. It also takes dedication. Like any infant, they have to be fed regularly and often. If you find a baby bird out of its nest and appears to be orphaned, you can always call up your local veterinarian or (if there is one) a nearby wildlife program. However, if these are not options or you are determined to do it on your own, there is some information that you are going to need.
Materials Needed to Feed a Baby Bird
To properly feed your baby bird, you are going to need the right tools. Some of the more common items are a couple of syringes, an eyedropper, formula, warm bedding, a heating pad or heat lamps, and a cage.
The best syringes to use are small ones, somewhere between 12cc and 24 cc. It depends on the size of the bird. Small babies such as swallows or finches will not need as much as say a baby parrot. The syringe should have a long tube on the end to make it easier for the bird to swallow the formula. If the syringe doesn’t have a long tube, you can attach a rubber feeding tube. Always check to feeding tube periodically to make sure it is secure. Baby birds could pull it off.
Never use a needle on the syringe.
Where to Keep Baby Birds
Baby birds need to be kept warm. They actually have a higher body temperature than humans. Baby birds can be kept in a cage or an aquarium, or a box of some kind so long as the baby, when it gets older, cannot crawl out.
The cage or container needs to be lined with soft towels for bedding. Don’t use anything the baby can chew up and choke on, such as wood chips or that cotton bedding for hamster and gerbils. You can even use paper towels. To keep the baby bird warm, place a heating pad underneath the bedding. This will allow the bird to stay warm without getting burned. The ideal temperature for young babies is between 88 degrees and 92 degrees F. Keep on eye on the temperature because you don’t want the container to get too hot. If the container is enclosed, such as an aquarium or box, make sure it can get plenty of air.
Some people who raise baby chicks and ducklings use heat lamps set at a low temperature to keep the chicks warm. This is a good alternative if you have a lot of baby birds in one cage. But if you are raising one bird, a heating pad would be better.
What to Feed Baby Birds
There are many brands of acceptable baby bird formula on the market. You can check with your local pet store and see what they recommend or ask your veterinarian. Some birds require different fat content so you need to be sure you are feeding them the right stuff.
Bird formula is mixed with heated water to make a thick, gravy-like substance. Pay attention to the thickness. If it is too watery it can give the baby diarrhea. If it is too thick, the baby can choke on it. Baby birds like their food hot but not too hot. If it is too hot or too cold, they won’t eat it. The right temperature is between 102 degrees and 108 degrees F. If you do not have a thermometer, the next best way to check is to get it warm enough that you can still touch it with your fingers without it being uncomfortable. If you get burned, so will the baby bird.
The water should be heated before you mix the formula together. Once it is mixed, you should feed it and dispose of the left-overs. Many formulas do not re-heat well. You can keep pre-mixed formula in the refrigerator and it will keep longer.
In emergency cases where you have discovered a baby bird and do not have any formula to feed it, you can do one of two things. If you have some bird pellets, you can grind them up and add hot water to them to make your own formula. Or, if you don’t have bird pellets, you can mix 4 teaspoons of water with 1 teaspoon of sugar. If you have white Karo syrup, you can mix 2 teaspoons of water with 1 teaspoon of the syrup. These mixtures are better than nothing and will give the baby bird a chance of surviving until you can get some proper formula.
Never try to feed a baby bird seeds or other solid foods than adult birds might eat.
How to Feed Baby Birds
Every species of bird is different and requires a slightly different feeding routine. However, in general terms, baby birds should be fed at least every two hours both day and night, at least until they are a week old. If you are unsure how old the bird is, then you will have to go on appearances. Most baby birds will not have any feathers of fuzz for at least the first four or five days. After the first week, they will start to develop their own fuzzy coat.
When the baby is past 5 days old, you can slow down and feed them every three hours. At between 9 days to two weeks, you can drop down to feeding them every 4 hours. After the baby is over 2 week sold, you can feed them four times a day.
When you feed the baby bird, try not to hold it unless necessary. If you have to hold it, always be gentle. If the bird is too young and has not learned to open its mouth to eat, take your fingernail and gently pry their mouth open. You can also use something like a toothpick. Keep their mouth open only long enough to feed them and give them a chance to swallow. Put the syringe or eye dropper at the back of the mouth and let a few drops fall down its throat. Never put the bird on its back while feeding it as this is a good way to choke it.
When you feed the baby bird, place the syringe or eye dropper on the left side of the bird’s mouth and go across its tongue. Why? Because a baby bird has three holes in its mouth. The one behind its tongue goes to its lungs. One in the roof of its mouth goes to its upper respiratory and sinuses. And the one on the bird’s left side is its throat and goes to the stomach. Watch carefully as the bird eats. He will pause regularly to take a breath (everyone needs to breath as they eat, even baby birds). If you continue to feed him as he breaths, he will choke.
So how much do you feed baby birds? When they are less than a week old, you should feed them three to four mouthfuls from an eye dropper or syringe. A good rule to follow is to feed a baby bird approximately 10% of its body weight. After each feeding, give the bird a few drops of water. Do not squirt the food or water down its throat. Let it slowly drop into its mouth. Make sure the bird’s crop (or throat) is empty before feeding it more. If the throat is still full, it can harm the bird.
As the bird gets older, it will learn to open its mouth to food, just like in the wild. At this point you can give it slightly thicker food. Place the food on the tip of a popsicle stick and let the bird eat it on its own. It will require more food but as it gets older, you will have to feed it less often each day.
After each feeding, clean the baby bird with a soft warm towel. Feeding baby birds can get just as messy as feeding a human baby and being clean is very important for a healthy baby bird. It cuts down on possible diseases and infections that can crop up all too easily.