How to Feed and Care for a Wild Baby Bird
Have You Found a Wild Baby Bird?
In spring and fall of each year, baby birds are found by well-meaning folks. Most of the time, the fledgling was simply learning to fly, and mom was nearby. But there are instances when a bird is either lost or abandoned, and people with extra big hearts feel the need to care for it. Below you will find in-depth instructions for housing and feeding a baby bird.
Note: The birds pictured in this article, as well as in the videos, are white-winged doves that were rescued from certain death and rehabilitated.
Important Things to Know Before Attempting to Raise a Baby Bird
- The professionals will tell you not to interfere with nature. If you do, then you need to contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center instead of attempting care yourself. Visit wildliferehabber.org to locate your local office.
- If you do attempt to raise it, you must have a good heart and a caring nature. Any experience with babies or baby animals is a plus (for you and the baby).
- In most states, it is illegal to have certain wild species of dove (dead or alive) in your possession without a license. However, several species that are deemed appropriate are sold in pet shops.
- If the baby has any feathers whatsoever, it will be very difficult to begin feeding because at this stage, it is already used to receiving its mother's milk from her crop.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's discuss what you will need and how you can assist Mother Nature in your little one's progress.
Items You Will Need
- Box (small to medium)
- Paper towels
- Heating pad (optional)
- Heat lamp (A regular light bulb will work, but not an energy-saver bulb.)
You can use any of the following:
- Kaytee Exact Formula
- A mixture of baby rice cereal, finch seed (it is a very small seed), and cornmeal
- Medicine dropper with the very tip trimmed off (measured in cc or ml)
- 2 plastic cups (small to medium)
- Good tap water or bottled water
- Notepad to track feedings
- Good observational skills
The baby rice cereal, cornmeal, and finch seed formula will work for any bird that is a seed eater. If you have one that is primarily an insect and/or worm eater, such as a mockingbird, you should add mushed-up worms to the formula. Kaytee Exact has formulas for all types of baby birds, and you can use it instead of the homemade formula.
How to House Your Baby Bird
1. Ensure That the Baby Will Have a Warm, Dry Place to Sleep
- Take a small to medium box, and pack it with waded paper towels. The top level of paper towels can be molded into a nest shape to keep your baby secure.
- This is also your baby's diaper and can be changed out as necessary (usually every day or so in the beginning).
- You will also use this "diaper" to observe the baby's urine and feces. Always be sure there is a white substance included in the poop. This is a sign that everything is okay.
2. Find a Good Location to Place the Baby's New Home
- It should preferably be in a quiet corner.
- Keep the baby's new home away from any drafts, such as windows, fans, or air conditioner vents.
- Kitchens do not make a good place for the baby. Also note that Teflon nonstick pans are hazardous because they give off a fume that is deathly toxic to a small animal's lungs.
3. Place a Heat Lamp Next to the Baby to Keep It Warm
- You can also place a heating pad under the box if you cannot get the lamp close enough to warm the baby.
- Use your hand to gauge the level of heat coming off of the lamp.
- Check on the baby a few times a day to see if it is hiding from the light; this indicates that it's too hot.
- You do not want the baby to get too hot or dehydrated, so adjust the light as necessary.
- Cover the box halfway with a thin blanket to provide a shaded area. This way, if the baby gets too hot, it will have a place to retreat to.
How to Feed Your Baby Bird
1. Decide on a Regular Place to Feed Your Baby
- You should use a table or desk where you can comfortably sit while you feed the baby.
- You will feed it on this table, and then place it back into its box.
- Babies can easily get cold, so please turn off any fans or air conditioners, and close any windows during feeding time.
- Right after feeding, you can gently hold the baby close to your chest to warm it.
2. Prepare the Formula (or Use Kaytee Exact Baby Bird Formula)
- The measurements for the formula are approximate, so you can adjust it. I mix approximately ¼ cup cornmeal, ¼ cup baby rice cereal, and less than a teaspoon of the finch seed into a plastic cup. (Keep some cornmeal and some finch seed in a resealable plastic bag for convenience).
- Turn your faucet on, and get it to a temperature that is warm but not hot (a little bit warmer than lukewarm). You want the temperature to imitate that of the mother's milk.
- Put a teaspoon of water at a time into the dry mix. Stir with the medicine dropper. Keep adding water until you are able to suck it up in the dropper and squirt it out. You want the consistency to be like pudding.
3. Place All Feeding Supplies on Your Table
You will need the cup of formula, the dropper, two paper towels, and a cup that is half full of water. Place one paper towel on the table for the baby to stand on and one nearby to dry your hand.
4. Carefully Remove the Baby From Its Nesting Box
- Speak to it gently to console and reassure it.
- Carry it close to your chest to keep it warm and secure.
- Place it on the paper towel.
5. Use a Feeding Chart
Below is a chart that will tell you how much your baby needs to eat based on its age. Find the age and note how many cubic centimeters you will need to feed it. This is important because the baby doesn't know when to stop eating. Note: 1cc = 1ml.
6. Learn to Feed
These first few times of feeding are a learning experience, not only for you but the baby too.
- To begin feeding, place one hand slightly over and around the baby, with two fingers around its head. Fingers should be touching the beak; this causes the baby to naturally open its beak and "chug." Chugging is when a baby bird opens wide and bobbles its head up and down to quickly take in food. When a baby is in chugging mode, its airway is closed properly, and there is little chance of aspiration.
- At this time, you can squirt the formula into its mouth a little at a time using the dropper. Dispose of all leftover food.
- Do not force open the beak and force-feed the baby as it could aspirate.
- Do not overfeed it either. When a baby's crop is full, you will still be able to see its neck. The crop should not bulge out above the shoulder area. Feel the crop area gently; it should feel a bit like a balloon.
7. Feeding Time Can Get a Bit Messy
Maintaining the baby's hygiene is very important.
- Use the half cup of water to clean your hand(s) and to get your fingers a bit wet so you can clean off the baby's beak and crop.
- Don't rub it hard. Be gentle.
- Pat it dry with a paper towel, and then place it in the palm of your hand to warm it up before you place it back into its box home.
8. Have Patience
The first feeding may not go as planned, and the baby may not take in much food. If this is the case, wait an hour and try again.
Feeding Schedule and Food Quantity
Amount of Food
2-3 weeks old
4 times a day
3-4 weeks old
4 times a day
4-6 weeks old
4-3 times a day. It should be 3 times a day as you get closer to the 6-week mark.
6-9 weeks old
2.5 times a day
Giving Treats and Cleaning
- You can also give your little friend treats like millet spray (found at pet shops) or fruits and vegetables (finely diced).
- Frozen vegetables work great.
- Peeled peas, carrots, spinach, and pealed fresh grapes are also good choices.
- Remove and/or replace all uneaten food within three hours to prevent bacteria or mold growth.
- Clean and replace water and seed feed every other day.
- Remove soiled paper towels every three or four days, and replace with fresh ones.
Feeding 3-Week-Old Bird
How to Wean a Baby Bird
At around six weeks, you are ready to begin weaning. Again, follow the feeding instructions in the chart above. By now, the baby should be moved into a cage.
- To make weaning easy, slowly stop feeding it with the chugging process and medicine dropper.
- Instead, squirt the formula into your cupped hand. This way, it will learn to take food by itself.
- Doves are ground feeders, so remove the bottom of the cage so they can walk on the floor of the cage.
- Line the floor with paper towels rather than newspapers, which can make their feet dry.
- Supply a deep dish that is at least two inches deep (doesn't have to be wide), and fill it with water.
- Put finch seed in a shallow tray or dish, and show/offer it to your bird once in a while.
- Once your baby bird is completely weaned, you will notice some differences in its feces. Texture and color change may occur.
Feeding 6-Week-Old Bird
Tips for Caring for Your Baby Bird
1. Birds are notorious for pooping in their water and food. You can get creative with their feeders and water dishes by using butter dishes as feed containers and plastic bottles for covers to keep your bird from roosting on top of the water or food containers.
2. Keep water and food dishes clean and free of any feces or urine.
3. When washing water dishes, be sure to use a brush to remove the film that builds up after a few days. Fully rinse away any soap residue.
5. Do as much research as possible about the species of dove you have. Learn about their habits, what they eat, their habitat, etc.
6. Observe your baby.
7. Observe droppings, and be sure there is always a white substance in the feces.
Things to Be Aware of When Raising Birds
1. Never force-feed your baby.
2. Teflon nonstick pans are hazardous to any bird's health as they give off a fume that is deathly toxic to the bird's lungs.
3. Do not use your self-cleaning oven. Ovens also have Teflon and will give off toxic fumes.
4. Strong perfume or cologne should not be worn around birds. They have small lungs, so what is strong to us is overpowering to them.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
How can you tell the age of a bird?
By the growth of its feathers. When they are first born they do not have feathers - they look like tiny plucked chickens. Little spears appear, and feathers start growing out of them. Also, their first few days their head is very wobbly. Within a week+ they will be fully feathered, and they have much better control of their head. At two weeks they look like a mini dove and are fully in control of their movements, but still a bit crazy with fluttering their wings about when time to eat! I hope this helps. I'm not an expert and am only reporting from memory!Helpful 4