What Do Baby Birds Eat?
Baby birds eat the same food their parents do – in the UK, for garden type birds this means insects, bugs, and seeds.
Different birds will feed their young in different ways but if we’re specifically talking about garden birds, also commonly called songbirds, they all utilise the same method.
Songbird chicks hatch completely helpless in their nests – they are unable to do anything except patiently wait to be fed by their parents. In some species, the mother and father will both feed their young, and in other species, it may be one parent.
As the goal is to keep chicks well-fed until they are old enough to fledge the nest and find their own food, bird parents have a busy old time in the spring as they must collect enough food to keep themselves going and feed their brood too. This is why you often see rather frazzled or thinner looking adult birds in the spring. Mating, nest building, egg-laying and raising chicks is a tough business!
Adult birds will collect food for their young by eating it, it is only partially digested and once the bird is ‘full’, it will return to its nest and regurgitate food for chicks. Sounds gross but it’s very effective!
As a bird must repeat this process multiple times a day, it’s easy to see why raising chicks can be so exhausting. As baby birds are completely unable to find food themselves, their parents’ survival is closely linked to their own – with no parents, chicks would simply starve.
What Do Baby Birds Eat?
As mentioned, baby birds will be fed on a diet of whatever it is their parents are eating. Naturally, this is insects and seeds/fruits. Each species will have its own particular favourite food source, for example, Blue Tits depend on caterpillars and each chick will eat up to 100 per day! This means for a nest full of ten chicks, the parent must find 1,000 caterpillars a day!
There is evidence to suggest that parent birds won’t usually take food provided by humans in bird feeders and on tables to feed their young. Instead, parents will eat this food themselves and reserve wild or natural finds for their young.
So even though baby birds won’t be visiting your garden until they are fully-fledged, it is still important to provide food at this time of year for busy, hungry parents.
Can Baby Birds eat Bird Food/Seed?
Once a chick’s feathers have grown in and it is strong enough to try and fly, the parents will encourage it to leave the nest (fledging).
This can be the most dangerous stage for baby birds as they need to learn to fly, find their own food and avoid predators – all in a very short space of time.
Some species of birds leave their young once they are fledged but some will stay together in family groups until fledglings have got the hang of being a bird! It is at this time you may notice family groups visiting your bird feeders or food tables.
Parents will bring their young to places they have previously used for food and know are safe. Once they are old enough, fledglings will then start to take bird food you provide. At the start though, it isn’t uncommon to observe fledglings sat right in a food dish ‘shouting’ for their parents to feed them! The parents will do this for a short time until the fledgling learns it must take its own food.
It is recommended you provide smaller food items as these are easier for fledglings to digest and reduce the risk of choking (whole peanuts, for example, are too big for many garden birds, let alone fledglings). Peanut granules however are ideal.
If you want to leave out a safe, healthy food for fledglings, sunflower heart chips for birds are ideal as they are provided without shell and are chipped into tiny, bitesize pieces. You can still feed peanuts to fledglings, so long as they are left out in a wire peanut feeder – this stops both fledglings and their parents from taking bites that are too large for them to handle. Although you may get a laugh watching fledglings trying to eat from a wire feeder – don’t worry though – they observe their parents and very quickly learn the ropes!
What Do Baby Birds Eat?
Baby birds generally eat whatever their parents are having for dinner because the parent must regurgitate its food into the mouths of its offspring. Birds, when they are born, are not capable of breaking down food so their parents must first partially digest food to make is safe for baby birds.
Because baby birds rely on their parents for not only food but also for guidance on how to be a bird, it is not safe for a baby bird to be without its parents. Therefore, if you find a baby bird try to restore it to its nest rather than caring for it yourself. If you cannot return the bird to its parents contact a rehabilitation center that can properly care for the young bird.
Different birds eat different things. In the wild, baby birds eat what their parents eat: worms, insects, seeds and so on. However, baby birds can eat different types of food if being cared for by someone other than their parents. Puppy food soaked in water until spongy works well. Finely chopped fruits and vegetables (such as corn or peas) can be used as well as small insects. Wet dog or cat food can be used in a jam if at room temperature.
Baby birds should not be given water to drink. Giving it water could suffocate it. Milk and bread are also dangerous for baby birds.
In addition to providing food for a baby bird it should be kept warm. By placing it on a towel over a heating pad, the bird can stay warm. Just make sure the heating pad is on its lowest setting.
What to feed a baby bird: A vet’s guide to caring for a fledgling
If you’ve found a young fledgling, it’s likely that your immediate reaction is to wonder what to feed a baby bird, followed by if and how you can care for the chick vs returning them back to its parents.
These are surprisingly common queries that many vets hear; baby birds are regular ‘wildlife rescues’ and knowing what to do if you’ve found a nestling, a fledgling, or an injured baby bird is important. Afterall, you can’t reach for the nearest premium bird feeder and satisfy their hunger the usual way!
This article will outline what you need to know about rescuing a baby bird, including answering questions around what do baby birds eat, whether you should attempt to care for a bird yourself and how to take care of an abandoned bird if the need arises.
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What to do with a baby bird
If you’ve found a baby bird on the floor, or one has been brought in by your cat, the first thing to do is get it to a safe place. Gently pick it up – you can use a tea towel if you’d rather not touch it – and put it into a box. Any sort of box with a lid that’s large enough will work – you don’t need to make it perfect, just get it contained and in the dark whilst you work out what to do next. Try to have a peek at it as you lift it. Is it injured? Is there any blood?
Now, you need to decide if you’ve rescued a nestling or a fledgling. By far the most common rescues are fledglings. These young birds are just learning to fly, so they spend a lot of time on the ground. This means you’re more likely to spot them, and they’re more at risk of being caught by the cat!
Fledglings have most or all of their feathers, but might not look as neat as an adult bird. If the baby bird is a fledgling, you can leave him where you found him if it’s safe, or place the box, open and on its side, under a bush, or hanging from a branch so he can hide until he’s ready to try flying again. His parents will be nearby, waiting to feed him. Keep pets inside if possible to give him a fair chance!
A nestling, on the other hand, will have no feathers. He’ll likely have fallen out of his nest, and you may find more than one baby bird, or even a whole nest on the ground. Have a look for the nest – if you can see it, pop him back in there and leave him – his parents will carry on feeding him. If the nest is on the ground, prop it up high or – even better – wire it into the bush or tree it fell from so that it’s safe from predators. If you can’t see it, or it’s damaged, try using a plant pot with some nest material, and wire it to a bush.
If you can’t return the baby bird to his parents, or you’ve tried but have seen no sign of them after continuous watching of two or more hours, you may have to consider hand-rearing the bird.
Should I look after this baby bird?
Hopefully you’ve tried to return the bird to his parents – hand rearing is hard work, and nowhere near as rewarding as they make it sound in books. Feeding needs to happen frequently – as often as every 20 minutes – during daylight hours, so this is a big responsibility. Most people don’t have the equipment and experience necessary, so taking in a bird should be a last resort.
Hand reared birds struggle to survive in the wild and are unlikely to ever live a normal life unless they’ve been reared by a professional. It’s also extremely common for baby birds to die from stress, incorrect diet, or undiagnosed injury or illness – so be prepared. Lastly, you’ll need to check your local law. In some areas, it’s illegal to keep wildlife captive unless you have a license, or it may be illegal to release the bird again once you’ve brought it into the house.
If you’re sure the bird has been abandoned, the best option is to see if there’s a nearby wildlife rescue or shelter that will take the bird, as this will give the bird the best chance of being safely released. If this isn’t possible, see if they can tell you what species of bird it is and give you any advice or equipment.
How do you take care of an abandoned baby bird?
If you can’t find anybody else to take the bird and you really want to give it a shot, it’s time to find out how to take care of an abandoned baby bird. Here’s all you need to know:
You’ll need to find somewhere suitable for the baby bird to live until it’s old enough to be released. For a fledgling, this is easy – they’re already out of the nest so you just need to provide a safe space in the garden that they can escape when they’re ready.
For a nestling, you’ll need a box lined with something non-slip easy to clean – birds are messy! Don’t forget that the box should be pet-proof! They’ll also need a ‘nest’, as this supports their weight and allows normal development of their bones. Place the box in a quiet place. It’s best not to use a heat lamp unless it’s very cold, as a nestling will be unable to move away if they’re too hot.
What do baby birds eat? How to feed a baby bird that fell out of its nest
If your bird is a nestling, you’ll need to feed from a syringe or pipette. These birds would be being fed regurgitated food from mum and dad, so they’ll need a soft food. A common option is a mix of cat/dog food, hardboiled eggs, and crushed mealworms, but your wildlife rehabber will be able to give you a more exact recipe designed for the age and species of the bird. You’ll need to find out how to make the baby bird food, how long it can stay in the fridge for, and how often to feed the baby bird.
If you’re wondering what to feed a fledgling baby bird, don’t worry – this is much easier! Fledglings will still be being fed by their parents, but they’re picking up many of the skills they need to feed themselves. First, try offering a bird food mix of seeds and mealworms, and see if the bird helps himself. If he does, great! If not, you’ll need to find out what sort of bird he is, and feed him his preferred food – often softened mealworms – from a pair of tweezers until he’s a little older.
Can you give baby birds water?
It’s very important that birds don’t get dehydrated, but it’s difficult to safely give water to a baby bird. Nestlings should not be given water – they won’t know what to do with it and might drown in it. Both nestlings and fledglings that are not yet feeding themselves will get their water from their diet – so they’ll need access to moist foods. Fledglings that can feed themselves can be given a shallow dish of water until they recover from their shock and fly away.
Knowing what to do with a baby bird that’s been abandoned is tough. Whilst our instinct is to rescue and look after them, it’s generally not in the bird’s best interests – they’re better off outside and rarely do well when hand reared.
If you do end up feeding a baby bird, take as much advice as possible from an experienced bird rehabilitation centre to maximise the chances of a successful release.
After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition – anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.
What Do Baby Birds Eat?
Sweet and too adorable to ignore, baby birds require special diets. There are over 11,000 species of birds and they each have their own unique traits.
Baby birds mainly eat insects, but they can snack on vegetables and fruits found by their mothers. Since baby birds grow fast, their bodies need protein. Hungry baby birds, though, rely on their mothers until they are old enough to fly and see.
Baby birds stay in their nest and rely on their parents for 2 to 10 weeks.
What do Baby Birds Eat?
Baby birds eat insects like worms, mosquitos, flies, crickets, and beetles. Sometimes, mother birds provide babies with nuts, fruits, and vegetables, but this is rare. Birds grow quickly since they leave their nests by about two weeks old.
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Mother birds feed baby birds by regurgitating the food they hunt. Anything a mother bird eats, the baby bird also eats.
What do Adult Birds Eat?
As soon as a baby bird is old and strong enough to fly from the nests, they do not have to rely on their parents anymore. All birds eat different foods, but most adult birds eat nuts, nectar, seeds, spiders, small mammals, and fish.
When the sun fully rises, you have the best luck of catching an adult bird feasting. Adult birds eat diets that vary during different seasons. During the Spring, adult birds compete for low food supplies, which results in lighter diets.
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What do Baby Ravens Eat?
The common raven is a massive bird with large wings and a wide beak. They look similar to crows but are larger and less common in public spaces. Instead, raven birds choose to live in open spaces surrounded by nature and a secure food supply.
Baby ravens, like other baby birds, rely on their parents for food until they are old enough to leave the nest. Adult ravens bring food scraps, trash, small mammals, nuts, lizards, fish, and raw meat.
Baby ravens leave their nests 4-5 weeks after hatching. They are born blind and featherless, but rapidly grow feathers and gain their eyesight as they eat a diet high in protein.
Young ravens eat raw meat, trash, and food scraps.
What do Baby Sparrows Eat?
Not all bird species eat the same foods. Sparrows are magnificent birds that grow between 4 to 8 inches. These birds are super small, but don’t let their size fool you as they have large appetites!
Amazingly, these adorable songbirds live throughout the United States in wooded areas like forests and large fields. These birds are also very shy but open up to humans with a few actions. If you leave bird feeders with tasty seeds you might attract them.
Some stores offer products that have specific sparrow favorites that can attract these lovely birds. Baby sparrows need their parents to survive until they can hunt on their own away from the nest.
Parent birds feed their babies grains, plant seeds, insects, and bird seeds. Adult sparrows usually eat grains and seeds, but they occasionally will find raw meat from small mammals and invertebrates and vitamins from fresh fruits and berries.
What do Baby Ducks Eat?
Ducklings are adorable fuzzy aquatic birds. Ducks are waterfowls that can swim, fly, and walk. Ducklings and adult ducks cannot eat the same diet as both have unique needs. Ducklings are growing animals that require a lot of protein and nutrients to grow.
Unlike other types of baby birds, ducks follow their mom around and have more mobility. These swimming birds have water-proof feathers and rounded beaks.
Most baby ducks eat bugs like worms and caterpillars, algae, plant roots and vegetation, and bird seeds. If you are taking care of a baby duck, you can feed them fruit scraps. Ducklings can eat on their own, but struggle to hunt until they are a little larger.
There are dozens of different ducks, including mallard ducks. Muscovy ducks are massive, weighing up to 15 pounds. These ducks have yellow and white feathers and eat similar diets to mallards.
These silly birds are super friendly, which explains why they are common in crowded parks, lakes, and playgrounds. Ducks are also not afraid to sneak and take human food like bread, although bread is not good for them.
What do You Feed a Baby Bird You Find in the Wild?
Did you recently find a baby bird in the wild? As tempting as it is to grab this baby bird and save them, don’t immediately pick them up! Some mother bird species will abandon their baby birds and even eat them (talk about savage!) if their scent is different.
Also, parent birds fly frequently throughout the day to hunt for food. You cannot always tell when a baby bird is truly abandoned. If the mama bird does not come back and you feel scared for the baby bird, take them into your home.
Feeding a baby bird at home is like feeding other wild birds at home. Your best bet is to take a quick trip to a local pet store for bird seeds. Moist dog food and no-season raw liver are also super nutritious for baby birds to consume. High levels of salt or sodium can cause harm, though, so make sure all the food you provide the baby bird does not have additional seasonings.
What Not to Feed Baby Birds
Just like there’s a list of foods to feed baby birds, there is another list of foods you should avoid. Accidentally giving a baby bird food that is hard to digest can cause health issues and in worst-case scenarios, death!
Did you know that bread is not good food for birds? Baby and adult birds alike should have a heavy protein diet. Bread is mainly carbohydrates and causes baby birds to bloat.
As delicious as it is for us to enjoy a highly seasoned dish, this can harm baby birds! Never give a baby bird a seasoned snack like beef jerky as it can kill them.
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I have been a professional content writer for 6 years now, with a large focus on nature, gardening, food, and animals. I graduated from college with an A.A, but I am still pursuing a Bachelors of Marketing degree. When I am not writing, you can find me in front of my TV with a blanket, snacks, and my fur babies.
Tips for Feeding Baby Wild Birds
If it is necessary for you to feed a baby bird, remember:
- Offer food that is spongy in texture, not dripping with water that could cause choking or drowning. All dry food should be softened before being offered to a baby bird.
- Food should be offered at room temperature only, never warmed or heated, and also never refrigerated or chilled.
- Keep bits of food small and in proportion to the bird’s size; very small birds need very tiny bites. Cut or crush food appropriately to suit the bird’s size.
- While feeding the bird, handle it as little as possible to minimize the risk of additional stress or injury. Never force the bird’s bill open to eat.
Above all, remember that feeding a baby bird should be an emergency measure only. If a baby bird is abandoned and needs care, it should be taken to a bird rescue organization or experienced rehabber as soon as possible. Rehabbers can not only feed it an appropriate diet for its species but can help it learn how to find its own food, evade predators, and learn other skills necessary for a successful life in the wild.