What to and Not to Feed a Baby Bird?

If you ever have to feed a baby bird, I want to let you know that relying on the diet of the adult birds of that species is an inadvisable idea. Feeding a baby bird is a delicate task, one that has certain rules.

What is at stake is the bird’s life. If you feed it incorrectly, the baby bird may die. But since neither of us wants to see that happen, I have written a comprehensive article dedicated to this question: what should you feed (or not feed) a baby bird?

A Few Facts about Baby Birds:

First, let’s define baby bird terminology you need to know:

  • Nestling bird – 10 to 14 days old
  • Fledgling bird – 2 to 5 weeks old

Nestlings are almost hairless. Fledglings, however, will have grown most of their feathers – but the tail and wing feathers are shorter than the rest.

What Do Baby Birds Eat?

Adult birds have varying diets, but baby birds are, more or less, similar in their feeding habits. For instance, perching birds rely on high-protein insects for sustenance, and this is what they feed their offspring.

On the other hand, perching birds that depend on fruit, seeds, and berries will also feed their offspring with insects – until they leave the nest, that is. The reason for this is the protein deficiency of berries and fruits.

Protein is critical for baby birds – to sustain the rapid growth. And that’s why the fruit and seed eating birds feed insects to their young.

Doves, pigeons, and parrots, however, do not do this. Their diet consists of partially digested seeds mixed with high-protein secretions from their crops. Other exceptions include fish eating birds and birds that feed on small animals. Hummingbirds are also exceptional in this regard.

What to Feed a Baby Bird

If you have a baby perching bird in your hands (which is not part of the exceptions I have listed), feed it the following diet:

  • Approximately 60% soaked Purina kitten chow
  • 20% diced hardboiled egg
  • 20% mealworms

This is a protein-rich diet that will fuel the enormous growth required of baby birds if they are to develop into healthy, strong adult birds.

The point is: even if the baby bird’s parents feed on seeds or fruits, move away from that diet. Do not feed them seeds or fruits. Feed them instead on foods high in protein content because that’s what they need. In the wild, their parents feed them insects rather than fruits or seeds.

A fruit and seed diet, even though that is what their parents consume, is just not appropriate for baby birds and will not enable them to thrive and grow.

Protein-low diets (below 28%) will cause stunted growth, poor plumage, delayed development, swollen bellies, and high susceptibility to disease. But the inverse – too much protein – is bad as well: causing kidney damage and gout.

Why 60% Kitten Chow?

It contains: 34% protein, 12.5% fat, and no more than 4% fiber, and 1% calcium, plus vitamins. These are all nutrients, especially the protein, which the baby bird’s growing body needs.

The reason why I said kitten chow is because chows marketed as being best for puppies and kittens tend to have a higher content of protein, calcium, and vitamins than those manufactured for adult pets.

Why 20% Egg?

You can use eggs of any size, and with shells of any color. You should hard boil your eggs until it’s possible to easily peel their shells.

A whole egg minus the shell contains approximately: 26% protein, 9% fat, 1% carbohydrate, 0.5% calcium, and 180 ppm iron.

Why 20% Mealworms?

You can actually order mealworm larva online – live ones as well as dried ones. The best option is to purchase the fresh, live ones rather than the dead, dried ones.

If you are feeding baby birds, you should cut up the mealworms. They contain 20.3% proteome. 12.7% fat, 1.7% fiber, but not much calcium.

What Not to Feed Baby Birds

Since earthworms contain whatever pathogens are in the soil they burrow through, it is not prudent o feed earthworms to baby birds. The risk of the earthworm having a parasite known as Syngamus trachea is high. It ingests the parasite when it burrows through the droppings of previously infected birds.

The best worms to feed to baby birds are ones you have grown in your organic garden. Protein and gross energy content, however, are not as high as in mealworms.

Water and watery fluids are something else to keep away from baby birds that haven’t started to walk or perch. The water could cause the baby bird to choke or drown.

Other foods you should not feed baby birds include:

  • Whole birdseed
  • Bread or bread products
  • Milk

Baby birds do not have the capacity to handle lactose (sugar) in milk. That’s why you should not feed your baby bird any dairy products.

How to Feed Baby Birds

At best, the food you give the baby bird should be spongy in texture. Never feed it food dripping with water. Soften dry food before offering it to the baby bird.

Ensure the bits of food are small – that is, proportionate to the birds size. Tiny bites for small birds. Cut it or crush as is appropriate for the bird’s size.

Food must be at room temperature. Don’t warm it or heat it. Don’t refrigerate it or chill it.

Don’t force its bill open when you want to feed it. Avoid handling it, as much as you can, when you are feeding so as to avoid causing it stress or injury.

If a baby bird has no feathers and its eyes are closed, you should feed it every 15 to 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset. After their eyes open and their feathers begin to sprout, drop that to 30 to 45 minutes.

Gradually increase the amount of food you feed it at a feeding as the bird grows – also increase the interval between feedings.

When it starts hopping out of the laptop, you can reduce the feeding schedule to every hour. And afterward, as it builds confidence in being out of the nest, bring it down to every 2 to 3 hours.

Final Verdict

The key point of this article is that baby birds need protein more than any other nutrient in order to facilitate its growth and development. Another key point is to avoid giving it water and milk, and to feed it at a consistent and frequent pace.

Hopefully, the baby bird you are feeding will grow bigger and flourish. By following the instructions outlined in this article, you can make that happen.

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