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Baby Bird Out of the Nest

If you find a baby bird out of the nest, every attempt must be made to return an uninjured baby to the nest. Or to create a “nest” for the bird off the ground and safe from cats. A small woven basket lined with soft cloth rigged near the old nest will do. Robins have been know to even accept a margarine tub duct taped to the tree!

Birds have no sense of smell and parents will continue to feed their young, even though they have been handled by a human. Many bird species are very sensitive to intrusion, so please observe from a distance that the parents are feeding their young.

Unfeathered infant birds should be placed in a small basket or ring of cloth. Do not try to build a nest with grass or shredded paper! Nests are nature's way of keeping the infant's legs and feet in the proper position - preventing dislocated hips and "sprawl" when the legs are still too weak to hold up the bird. Most birds will back up to the edge of the nest and defecate over the side to keep the nest clean. When housekeeping for infant birds, do not lift them by their backs or wings. Get your hand under their feet and body to lift them.

If you cannot assure the young bird's safety, if the baby is injured, or if the parent is clearly dead, then the baby should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

Please note: It is not legal to keep a wild bird, and you should consider these suggestions as transitional only, until you can get the injured bird to an emergency care or rehabilitation provider.

Feeding Baby Birds

If you are willing and able to handle overnight care, here are some tips:

  • The most important thing is to keep the baby warm and in a quiet place.  Babies without feathers cannot thermoregulate (control their body heat).  Even when they have feathers, they rely on their parents and siblings to stay warm.  The simplest thing is to place a heating pad under the box or critter carrier on “low” and put layers of cloth or other interim barrier between the heating pad and the box.  Do not put the bird directly on the heating pad.  You don't want to cook the bird! The quickest way to warm up a baby is to place it next to your own skin, under your shirt. Check frequently to see that the bird is not panting or too warm. 101 is the average bird's body temperature.
  • Do not feed immediately. All wild creatures are traumatized and stressed by being handled and transported. Wait at least a half hour until the bird is stable and shows signs of being hungry. Feeding before this may cause death, due to the shunting of blood away from the brain and other vital organs to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Feeding a baby bird water can be risky, and result in the death of the bird if the water goes down the airway. Instead, fluids may be provided as small bits of watermelon or berries or grape halves.  Water in this form also provides a little sugar.
  • Foods may be provided in the form of the following combination:
          • One cooked egg yolk - Hard boil an egg for at least 15 minutes (to remove any bacteria that may be in the yolk).
          • One-half a large jar of baby food green beans;
          • One-quarter a large jar of baby food veal;
          • Cream the yolk, beans and veal until it resembles a soft pudding.
          • For most birds - except the very young - add a tablespoon of Tyrell's Red Label Dog Food and mix well. Do not use other brands of dog foods as they contain poultry products.
          • Do not feed infant birds: milk, bread, or seeds. Infant birds need a high-protein diet to help them grow quickly.
          • Make this recipe fresh as often as possible. Do not feed cold food to infant birds, but serve lukewarm.
          • Use a flat toothpick, coffee stirrer or any other non-sharp object to feed the bird.
          • Their faces, nostrils and bodies should be kept clean of formula by using a soft bit of cloth. Pull the cloth towards the tip of the beak and away from the eyes.
          • If the bird feels cool or cold to the touch, warm them gently before feeding.
          • Most birds can accept chopped up earthworms, dipped in water, as long as they come from soil which hasn't been treated with herbicides or pesticides.
          • Feed hatchlings every 30-45 minutes from dawn to dusk (14-16 hours per day). Feed nestlings every hour and fledglings every 2 hours during the same time period.
          • Only a few drops of water should be fed to infant birds. Parent birds do not carry water to their infants; moisture is received through their food.

Adapted from I Found A Baby Bird, What Do I Do?, Basic Manual, Wildlife Rehabilitation, by Dale Carlson, 1997

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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.