What to Feed Baby Birds: 5 Essential Tips for Success

what to feed baby birds, Feed baby birds a suitable formula, warm and fed with a syringe or spoon,The proper nutrition for baby birds is absolutely essential during early development. As helpless nestlings and fledglings, they rely completely on their parents or caregivers to provide the right foods to fuel growth and build strength for surviving outside the nest. This article will provide comprehensive guidance on the best diet for hand-feeding both young nestling and fledgling birds.

What To Do With A Baby Bird

If you find a baby bird out of its nest, it requires special care to survive. First, create a makeshift nest out of a small basket or ventilated box lined with soft fabric. Carefully place the chick in the nest and keep it in a warm, dark, and quiet space. Do not try to feed the bird water or food. Instead, promptly contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

Rehabilitation specialists have the proper training and resources to examine, feed, and care for the chick. Provide the baby bird with a safe artificial nest until you can get it to the rehabilitator. With quick action, orphaned chicks often fully recover and can be released back into the wild. Staying calm, avoiding direct handling, and allowing experts to take over gives lost baby birds the best chance at rejoining their flock.

Should I Look After This Baby Bird?

Though your instincts may be to help, it is best not to intervene when you find a baby bird out of its nest. Baby birds are extremely fragile creatures that require specialized care to survive outside the nest. Unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you likely do not have the training, permitting, or resources to properly assist. Instead, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center as soon as possible. Licensed rehabilitators can examine, safely contain, feed, and care for the chick.

They have specialized equipment, formulas, and housing designed specifically for developing nestlings. Though difficult, leaving the bird alone or placing it in a makeshift nest out of reach of pets until help arrives gives it the greatest chance of reuniting with its flock. Avoid direct handling, feeding, or relocating the bird so experts can properly assess its needs.

Types of Baby Birds

There are two main categories of baby birds with different dietary needs:


Nestlings are very young birds that have hatched from the egg but remain in the nest, unable to stand or hold up their heads. Feather growth is minimal. At this stage, the parents feed the babies by regurgitating food directly into their mouths.


Once feathers begin to grow around 2 weeks old, nestlings enter the fledgling phase where they prepare to leave the nest. Fledglings can sit upright, hold up their heads, walk/hop around the nest, and even make short flights. Parent birds continue to feed the fledglings until they can forage independently, up to a month after leaving the nest.

When to Start Feeding

When to Start Feeding

Most wild bird species should not be removed from the nest or interfered with. But sometimes emergencies happen, like a nest falling or parents dying, requiring human intervention to save abandoned babies. Here are the early developmental signs to determine when baby birds need hand-feeding:


Emergency hand-feeding is necessary for featherless or partially feathered nestlings. At this stage, they should be in the protection of a nest with parents caring for them. Any nestling found alone on the ground needs immediate warmth, shelter, and hand-feeding.


Fledglings out of the nest do not necessarily need rescuing if parents are nearby caring for them. Monitor for 2-4 hours to see if parents return before intervening. If parents do not come back or the bird is clearly injured/distressed, emergency care is needed.

Feeding Techniques

The physical process of hand-feeding baby birds can be challenging. Two main techniques can be used:

Syringe Feeding

Drawing liquid foods into a small syringe without a needle and slowly dispensing drop-by-drop into the mouth/throat is an effective hand-feeding method. In nature, parent birds regurgitate previously swallowed food, so syringe feeding mimics that process.

Tweezer Feeding

Use tweezers or small forceps to offer pieces of solid food, allowing the baby bird to grasp and swallow each morsel. This technique has a steeper learning curve to avoid harming delicate tissues in the mouth. Going too slowly can frustrate food-begging instincts.

Always handle young birds gently, provide warmth from heating pads/enclosures, and give food-appropriate digestion periods to avoid overfeeding. Consult wildlife rehabilitators for guidance.

Nestling Diet

Nestling Diet

Nestling songbirds are primarily insectivores, while other species may be seed-eaters or nectar-feeders based on the parent’s diet. Here are diet specifics:

Food TypeExamplesDetails
InsectsMealworms, grubsMain staple, high protein
FruitBanana, melon, berriesPuree consistency
VegetablesCarrots, sweet potatoCooked & pureed
SeedsFinely crushed additionsBoost nutrition
PelletsSOAKEDWildlife formula
WaterHydration!Essential for all birds

Specifically for insect-eating songbirds, studies show providing live insects is optimal. However, crushed freeze-dried mealworms, insect pellets, soaked dog/cat kibble, and raw eggs can provide protein when insects are unavailable. A nutritionally balanced powdered formula for nestling birds is also commercially available. Mix with water for syringe-feeding.

Fledgling Diet

As they grow feathers for leaving the nest soon, fledgling nutritional needs change, developing the ability to digest more complex foods. Here are age-appropriate fledgling diet details:

Food TypeExamplesDetails
InsectsMealworms, waxwormsHigher protein
FruitDiced berries, melonMoist pieces
VegetablesShredded greensSofter options
SeedsFinely choppedBlack oil sunflower
PelletsSOAKEDWildlife formula
WaterHydration!Provide clean water

The ideal fledgling menu focuses on high protein from insects, includes soft fruits/veg, transitions to seeds & pellets, and always makes water available. The exact proportions to offer vary on the bird species and individual growth stage.

Food Preparation & Feeding Schedules

To optimize nutrition for developing birds, follow these food preparation guidelines:

  • Store dried insects in airtight containers in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage; soak in warm water before feeding.
  • Steam or boil fresh veggies until soft; puree or mash to appropriate textures.
  • Dice soft fruits into tiny pieces to avoid choking.
  • Crush commercial seed mixes and soften pellets in water before feeding.
  • Mix powdered formulas following package instructions.
  • Always wash hands and sterilize utensils before preparing baby bird foods.

In terms of schedules, baby birds need to eat very frequently to support fast growth:

  • New hatchlings – Every 15-20 minutes from sunrise to sunset
  • 2-7 days old – Approx every 30 minutes, 10-12 feedings per day
  • 1-3 weeks old – Every 45 minutes to 1 hour, 6-10 feedings per day
  • 3-6 weeks old – Approx every 1-3 hours as they start self-feeding

Watch for certain behaviors and signals when hand-feeding, including regurgitation, wing-flapping, and food-begging cries, indicating the baby bird is still hungry and needs more food.

Aim to match what parent birds would provide regarding nutrition and frequency. As the only food source, properly preparing and feeding is imperative for healthy development. Consult wildlife rehabilitators for additional support.

Transitioning Fledglings to Independence

A critical aspect of caring for baby birds is transitioning away from hand-feeding. This is an important process as the developing birds learn to become independent juveniles.

Fledglings typically spend 1-2 weeks in the nest before venturing out onto branches under their parents’ care. Birds that leave the nest prematurely require similar support. Strategies include:

  • Slowly reducing daily hand-feeding frequency over a week+
  • Introducing dishes of appropriate seeds, pellets & water near perching areas
  • Directly showing pinched food pieces in dishes to demonstrate self-feeding
  • Providing leafy branches for natural perching/exploring

Be extremely patient, creative & observant in this transitional phase, letting the baby bird set the pace. The goal is to keep them healthy & engaged with natural foods until fully weaned off hand-feeding assistance. Then, the young bird can successfully integrate into the wild or a sanctuary habitat.

Warning Signs

Here are a few red flags to watch for:

  • Puffed up feathers, shivering – Likely needs supplemental heat
  • Sitting still for prolonged periods – Could signal illness
  • Not interested in food – Stress, disease risk
  • Regurgitating unexpectedly – Potential overfeeding

If any concerning health issues emerge, reach out to wildlife rehabilitators or avian veterinarians for expert guidance on getting the baby bird back to thriving.


Caring for baby birds is deeply meaningful but also an immense responsibility. Their survival depends completely on the proper nutrition hand-feeders provide during critical developmental stages. Whether raising orphaned nestlings or supporting premature fledglings, understanding optimal diets and techniques makes all the difference. With attentive dedication, even the most fragile-seeming hatchling can transform into a strong, healthy juvenile ready to spread its wings into independence. Our role is simply nurturing that incredible natural process with compassion.

FAQs About Feeding Baby Birds

What should I feed baby birds if no commercial food is available?

Several household foods can be mixed into a balanced emergency diet:

  • Protein – Dry dog/cat kibble soaked until mushy. Cooked egg yolk or egg food mixes. Canned sardines or mackerel (mashed).
  • Fruit – Applesauce, melon, berries (all finely pureed).
  • Veggies – Well-cooked sweet potato, carrots, peas, greens (finely pureed).
  • Grains – Cooked rice, quinoa, oats (finely crushed).
  • Calcium – Ground eggshells, calcium supplements.

Combine ingredients into a suitable texture depending on the nestling/fledgling stage. Mixing just before feeding ensures freshness. Refrigerate unused portions immediately.

Is bread safe to feed baby birds?

No, bread should be avoided for baby birds. Bread has very minimal nutritional value and can expand in the stomach causing intestinal issues. Stick to high protein and vitamin-rich natural foods during development. Cooked eggs, soaked kibble, or dry dog food provides better nutrition and digestibility if bread is the only other option temporarily. Then transition to a proper diet.

When do baby birds start drinking water?

Nestlings are fed regurgitated liquid food by parent birds initially but should start being offered water after the first week for proper hydration as they grow. Use an eyedropper or syringe to give individual drops as they cannot fully drink independently yet. Fledglings transition to drinking freely from shallow dishes once out of the nest at 2-3 weeks old. Always provide fresh water as they start self-feeding.

How often should baby birds be fed?

The ideal feeding frequency depends on the baby birds’ exact age and stage:

  • New hatchlings – Every 15-20 minutes from sunrise to sunset
  • 2-7 days old – Approx every 30 minutes, around 10-12 feedings per day
  • 1-3 weeks old – Approximately every 45 minutes to 1 hour, aiming for at least 6-10 feedings per day
  • 3-6 weeks old – Every 1-3 hours typically as they build independence

Watch for food begging, wing-flapping, and regurgitation signals that indicate hunger and the need for another feeding. Mimic parent birds’ attentive care.

What temperature should baby birds be kept at?

Proper temperature regulation is vital for baby birds, who are unable to thermoregulate their body heat until fully feathered. Ideal temperatures are:

  • Nestlings without feathers – 90-94°F – Place heating pad UNDER enclosure
  • Mostly feathered nestlings – 85-90°F
  • Fully feathered fledglings – 80-85°F
  • Weaned birds – Can handle normal room-temp

Monitor closely for shivering, sluggishness, panting, etc. Make adjustments to prevent overheating/chilling the rapidly developing birds.

How do you know when a baby bird is hungry?

Baby birds communicate hunger and their desire for feeding by:

  • Loud cheeping/chirping noises
  • Aggressive pecking motions
  • Flapping wings rapidly
  • Opening mouth extremely wide
  • Regurgitating previously eaten food

Nestlings chirp for attention constantly, so observe the whole context. Fledglings beg more subtly but intently. Respond quickly whenever food cues escalate to prevent distress.

What are the signs baby birds are full?

After a successful feeding, baby birds demonstrate fullness by:

  • Closing eyes to rest
  • Soft, content chirping
  • Sitting calmly with minimal fussing
  • Turning head away from food rejections

Full stomachs mean satisfied birds. Allow proper digestion before next feeding and adjust amounts if overfed.

Can you overfeed baby birds?

Yes, overfeeding is extremely dangerous for rapidly developing birds. They have undeveloped digestive systems and overfilling can cause:

  • Crop swelling/bloating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Regurgitation

Always allow full digestion between feedings. Slow pace for species with smaller crops. Fledglings have higher capacity than nestlings. Stop any feeding session based on fullness signals the baby bird exhibits.

Do baby birds drink water or milk?

Baby birds should never be given milk, which they are unable to digest properly. After the first week post-hatch, start supplementing the regurgitated diet from parent birds with hydrating water. Use an eyedropper or syringe to give individual drops at first. Then fledglings drink freely from shallow dishes as they grow. Provide fresh, clean water always as chicks transition to independence.

What to feed baby birds when found?

If you find a baby bird, it’s important to provide it with a suitable diet. For most species, a commercial avian hand-feeding formula is recommended. This formula should be mixed with water according to the package instructions and fed to the bird using a syringe or spoon.

What to feed baby birds with no feathers?

Baby birds with no feathers, known as hatchlings, require a specialized diet. They should be fed a commercial avian hand-feeding formula that is specifically formulated for hatchlings. This formula should be warmed to the appropriate temperature and fed to the bird using a syringe or spoon.

What to feed baby birds that fell out of their nest?

If you find a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest, it’s important to provide it with the proper care. You can feed it a commercial avian hand-feeding formula that is suitable for its age. It’s also important to keep the bird warm and contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.

What to feed baby birds without mom?

If a baby bird is found without its mother, it will need to be hand-fed a suitable diet. A commercial avian hand-feeding formula is recommended for most species. It’s important to follow the package instructions for mixing the formula and feeding the bird using a syringe or spoon.

What to feed baby birds that fell from nests?

If a baby bird falls from its nest, it’s important to provide it with the proper care. You can feed it a commercial avian hand-feeding formula that is suitable for its age. It’s also important to keep the bird warm and contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.