What Do Baby Birds Eat? - Feeding Chicks
It is an unfortunately common sight to see fledgling birds on the ground, especially during feeding season. Whether they have been orphaned, rejected or simply fall due to inclement weather, many don't survive. If we happen upon them in enough time, they might just have a chance. While finding somewhere warm and secure for protection is vital, so too is knowing what do baby birds eat?
AnimalWised looks into what to feed a baby bird if you find one abandoned or orphaned. While it is possible to care for orphaned baby birds, we advise taking them to a wildlife recovery center. They will have the expertise and resources to give chicks the best chance at life. Until you can get them there, this article might help increase these chances.
What do newborn birds eat?
If we find a motherless chick or chicks in our environment, it is essential we have the right information at hand. Due to their delicate nature, we need to be extra careful when picking them up. Birds are not mammals which generally have greater development when born (although this will depend on species). Many are born blind and without feathers. They are very small and vulnerable. They do not feed on milk as mammalian species do, but this does not mean they are able to eat on their own.
Most birds depend on a parent or both parents for survival. These parents provide food, often taking it in turns to leave the nest and search for feed. What food the baby birds require will depend on the species of bird. Some have diets based on insects, others seeds and fruit and others still larger animals such as other types of bird.
To feed their little ones, the birds will partly digest food and then regurgitate it so their young can feed directly from their mouth. In general, bird chicks will immediately know to demand food and instinctively recognize their parents. This means, when the parents come back with food, their known to fully open their beaks. The parents can then deposit food into their throat, essential for the young to be able to eat.
When we find a newborn bird, whether featherless or with the beginning of a plumage, the first thing we need to do is identify the species. Whether trying to feed a robin, mocking bird or blue jay, identifying the species will mean we can know what type of food the animal needs to survive.For example, sparrows do not have the same diet as blackbirds.
The shape of the bird's beak can help give us a clue to their diet. If the baby bird's beak is thin, elongated and straight, they are likely to be insectivores. Shorter and more conical beaks imply the bird will be a granivore (seed based diet). In any case, you can find suitable baby bird rescue food in certain areas. However, most of us will have to rely on a homemade version. One version could be cat food soaked in water with boiled egg and breadcrumbs mixed through it. It will then need to be mixed up into a paste like consistency.
Food is not the only important aspect of feeding baby birds. The actual feeding, i.e. how you will introduce the food to them, is vital. We need the bird to open their mouths when they see us. If they are unable to do this, they will not survive.
How to feed a baby bird
At the beginning of their life, these little birds will need us to feed them directly into their mouth. If we have any questions or want to confirm the species type, we should seek help form a local wildlife rescue service or bird rehabilitation center (where available). Biologists, ornithologists or even veterinary clinics may be able to provide some useful practical advice. When cared for properly, these chicks can grow and begin eating on their own in just a matter of days.
Birds go through different developmental stages. Between being a newborn and learning to fly, a bird will be a fledgling. Fledglings will have feathers, but they are not fully developed and will not necessarily have the same plumage as when they are adults. These birds will able to access food better than newborns, but you will still need to know the species of the fledgling to know what to feed them.
It is very important to know the difference between an orphaned or abandoned bird and one which is simply nesting. As we state above, the baby birds' parents will need to go looking for food. The same will happen with many fledglings. This could take some time. If the birds are in obvious distress or near death, then they may need intervention. Otherwise you should observe them and see if their parents return.
If we see a bird has fallen, but alive, we should look for a nest with other chicks in it. We can return them to their home and let their parents look after them. If we do have to pick them up and care for them, but they do not eat, contact a specialized animal welfare center.
How much does a bird eat?
Once we have worked out the bird species and what they eat, we will need to know how we can open their mouths to feed them. Some birds will sense our presence and open their beaks automatically. Some claim you can whistle and they will open, but this doesn't happen with every bird and it may not be the whistling itself which does the job. Just the presence of another might be enough.
If the birds do not open their beak, then we need to try to open it ourselves. We can stimulate a baby bird's beak for feeding by exerting slight pressure on the corner of their mouth. This should make the bird open their beak and allow you to introduce small amounts of paste withe tweezers or a syringe (not one with a needle). We should try to place the food deep into their mouth, something which needs to be carried out with great delicacy. The birds should try to reach up to the food themselves naturally.
Little by little, the newborn bird should gain our trust and start opening their beak when we approach. At the beginning we will need to offer them food frequently. Once they are satisfied, we will need to space out feedings. The bird will eat during the day, but not at night. When the birds are full, they will tell us themselves. After a few swallows, they will stop opening their mouths and close their eyes. This means they are full.
Once they learn to eat for themselves, the birds will need a feeder. They will peck at this during the day and self-regulate their food intake. You will also need to provide a water bowl with plenty of clean fresh water.
If the bird has been injured, then you will also need to find a way to treat the problem. Our article on healing a fractured bird leg might be helpful.
What to feed adult birds?
Not all bird feeding will take place when we find newborn birds. We humans can help supplement our local bird population's natural diet. This provides them with resources for survival and we get the pleasure of having some more beautiful fauna in our garden or balcony. As we have insisted, what food you provide will depend on the species of bird.
The most common option is to make or buy a bird feeder. We can then hang this in our home or garden. These are usually full of seeds, but they can be filled with the favorite of your local birds. Whatever you provide, it should have any human additives or ingredients which might be harmful. Birds will not need salt added to their food, nor do they need fats from oils, etc.
It is important to be responsible when feeding birds. We cannot allow them to rely on us heavily, otherwise they will not be as likely to find their own food. Also, although it is culturally common to feed bread to ducks, this is a habit when need to stop. Bread does not provide good nutrition for ducks, especially baby ducks.
If you want to read similar articles to What Do Baby Birds Eat? - Feeding Chicks, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.