Raise Abandoned Wild Birds

As long as one parent is alive, baby birds will still receive care.

Raising what appears to be an abandoned wild bird may seem like the compassionate thing to do, but it should be avoided whenever possible. Not only is it extremely difficult to successfully raise a wild bird without the proper training, it’s also illegal to possess a wild bird without the proper permits. The only time you should care for a wild baby bird is if both parents have been killed, the baby is injured or the nest and parents cannot be found. In these circumstances, you should care for the bird only until a wildlife rehabilitator can take over.


Determining if the Bird Is a Nestling or a Fledgling

1. A fledgling bird may not be able to fly, but it’s not abandoned.

Determine if the baby is a nestling or a fledgling. What most people assume are abandoned birds are actually fledglings. Look at the bird’s feathers and movements. If it has few feathers and is unable to hop or walk, it’s probably a nestling. If it’s fully feathered and capable of hopping or walking, it’s probably a fledgling.

2. Put a straight twig under the bird to see if will grip it with its toes. You can also try to do this with your finger. If the bird can grip the twig, it’s definitely a fledgling. Fledglings have left the nest but are still being cared for by their parents.

3. Place the fledgling back where you found it or in a nearby sheltered location. The parents will locate it by sounds it makes and won’t be turned off by any “human smell,” as many mistakenly believe. Fledglings should never be considered abandoned unless both parents are confirmed dead.

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4. Don’t return a fledgling to its nest. In reality, nests are dangerous places for baby birds because they’re vulnerable to predators. A fledgling leaves the nest as soon as it can fly, but is still cared for by its parents, who find it by its distinctive sounds.

5. Check the area to determine where the baby came from if it’s a nestling. If the nest has fallen out of the tree, place the nest in a box or plastic container that can be attached to the tree. As long as one parent is still alive, the baby will continue to be cared for. Go to the “Emergency Care for Nestlings” section if the baby is a nestling and cannot be returned to its original nest.

Emergency Care for Nestlings

6. Keep the nestling warm (between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) while you’re making preparations. Placing the baby in a towel on top of a heating pad on low will work. You can also place the baby near a 60-watt light bulb. Create a simulated nest using a bowl-shaped structure such as a margarine container lined with straw, paper towels or tissue paper. Nestlings need this shape to help support their bodies.

7. Place the “nest” in a quiet location where it will remain between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing the nest near a lamp with a 40- to 60-watt bulb will provide enough heat. Don’t place the bird directly under the light bulb or it’ll get too hot. Use a tall cardboard box to shelter the nest from drafts.

8. Contact your local wildlife rehabilitator, humane society, veterinarian, or department of natural resources. If it’s late at night or a holiday, skip this “Step” for now and go onto the next one.

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9. Soak dry cat food in water until it’s soft. Break the food into small pieces. Place the moist pieces into the back of the bird’s mouth, behind its tongue, using a straw or popsicle stick. Cat food is a good emergency food option, but shouldn’t be used for long-term feeding. Don’t give the bird water separately.

Longer-Term Feeding

10. Determine if the bird species is insect-eating or seed-eating, if possible.

11. Mix high-protein dry baby cereal, wheat germ, cornmeal or oatmeal in a blender until it turns to powder.

12. Boil chicken or chicken egg yolks until they’re fully cooked or soak dry puppy food in water until it’s soft. You can also purchase strained-beef baby food. Blend the food until soft.

13. Measure out one part of the meat mixture (from “Step 3”) and either two parts (for insect-eating birds) or four parts (for seed-eating birds) of the grain mixture. Mix the two together with a little water to make a thin gruel. As the bird gets older, you’ll slowly make the food thicker. Mix only enough food for one day.

14. Fill an eye dropper with the food mixture so there are no air bubbles.

15. Place the dropper on the back of the nestling’s throat, behind its tongue. Slowly squeeze a small drop into its throat and then remove the dropper. Wait for the baby bird to swallow before offering it another drop.

16. Baby birds will open their mouths and make noise when they’re hungry.

Continue feeding the nestling as long as it asks for food. If it falls asleep, it’s done eating. Feed the bird every 20 to 30 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Baby birds do not need to be fed after it gets dark.

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