Have you ever came across a wounded or abandoned baby bird and took it in your care? Then you must’ve asked yourself: “How am I supposed to take care of it? How often to feed it and with what?” No worries, this article will answer all the questions you might have.
The following is the general guideline.
Younger hatchlings should be fed more frequently until they grow up a bit. New hatchlings, old up to one week, should be fed at least 6-10 times a day (every 2-3 hours). As they grow, the frequency decreases to 3-5 times a day when they open their eyes, then to 2-3 times a day when they start growing feathers.
More detailed information will be provided below.
The very beginnings
Feeding baby birds by yourself should be the last step in case of the emergency unless you ’re a bird expert. It is viewed as a substitute for birds raised by parents. Hand feeding is an enormous responsibility for which you must have a lot of time, tools, patience and total commitment.
Nowadays there are a lot of baby bird nourishments available, so what you should do is pick one of them and stick with your choice until the hatchling is weaned. The reason is that even minor changes in diet may be stressful for hatchling’s digestion system.
Frequency and the number of meals depend on the species, age, growth rate and diet of the bird. The source of nutrients for the newly hatched specimens in the first 12-24 hours is the yolk sac. A week or so old specimens should be fed every 2-3 hours or 6-10 times a day, with the addition that feeding during the night could be very beneficial.
Specimens who haven’t opened their eyes yet should be fed every 3-4 hours (5-6 feedings a day). Once they open their eyes, it could be decreased to 3-5 feedings a day (every 5 hours). As the baby bird starts to grow feathers, it should be fed 2-3 times a day (every 6 hours).
After this initial period has passed, hatchling doesn’t have to be fed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
How will I know if I am doing it right?
The best way to check if the hatchling is growing healthy and how it’s responding to the diet is to monitor its response to every nourishing. It should give a strong response to every nourishing and have regular production of muck.
In order to determine the actual growth, you will need to measure the hatchling every day and keep a record of its advancement. By default it is supposed to gain weight every day until the day it’s ready to fly. If you notice it’s not the case, or that it gains weight very slowly, then there is a problem. That’s why It is important to have a record so that in case there are some problems, you can notice them on time and act.
How will I know if I’m doing it wrong?
The most common symptoms that could potentially mean there is a problem are:
- Rejection of food
- Bad response to feeding
- Abnormal or shortage of droppings
- Chirping most of the time
- No sleep
- Fussing all the time
- Slow and exhausted movement of wings or head
- Unnatural growth
- Deficient weight gain
If you notice any of these symptoms, the best thing you can do is contact your veterinarian.
What type of food am I allowed to feed to a baby bird?
Unless you’re professional, feeding hatchlings should just be used in urgent situations. If you come across the hatchling that needs to be fed or cared for, you should take it to the bird rescue organization or an experienced rehabber as soon as possible. They will most likely know what is the best-suited nourishment for its species and even be able to help it learn how to find its own food source.
But if the need arises and you have to feed the baby bird, then you have to remember the following:
- Meals shouldn’t be watery, to be sure it doesn’t come to choking or in some cases drowning. It should be spumous, while hard food is supposed to be softened before feeding it to the hatchling.
- Never nourish warmed or cool food. It should always be offered at room temperature.
- Very little hatchlings should be nourished with very small bites, so try to chip or crunch food so it is relatively fitting to hatchling’s size.
- Nourish the bird very carefully. Don’t force its beak open to eat.
While every species has a different kind of nourishment, there are several types of food that can be used in urgent situations.
Also, it is very important to understand that hatchlings have very different nutritional needs than grown specimens.
The food which can be used to feed hatchlings is:
- Dampened dog or cat food
- Raw liver, without flavoring
- Hard-boiled eggs
The food which shouldn’t be fed to hatchlings is:
- Full-sized birdseed
- Dairy products
- Pet bird food
- Kitchen leftovers
Keep in mind that the more grown hatchling is, the more adult food it can consume without any harm, with longer intervals between each feeding.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable with feeding a hatchling with this kind of food and prefer more specialized products, you can try something like Nekton-Baby-Bird hand feeding formula and related products.
Preparing the meals for baby birds
The most important thing you need to remember is that all food must be prepared fresh for every nourishing! If you prepare the meals in advance for several feedings, you can expose the hatchling to potential bacteria attacks, because that kind of environment is perfect for bacteria to grow.
All food should be nourished at the room temperature, meaning that if you use the microwave to prepare the meal, you should mix that food very thoroughly in order for it to be at the optimal temperature of 39-41⁰C (102-106⁰F).
A thermometer should be used to measure the temperature. Too warm food could cause scalds and too cold food usually causes digestion problems.
Generally speaking, the batch is supposed to be more diluted the younger the bird is. The day old hatchling requires a more attenuated batch (90% water), while specimens older than one or two days call for meals with 70-75% of liquid.
In order for you to feed a hatchling, first you will need to obtain several tools and second, you will need to have a lot of patience and show a lot of love for the hatchling.
There are several tools that could be used for feeding hatchlings, but the most preferred is a syringe, similar to the one dentists use. Some people prefer to use a baby spoon. Using a syringe provides more precise nurture intensity and makes the whole process easier for both you and the hatchling.
The hatchling’s natural nourishment response is to quickly swing the head up and down. To jog this action you can tenderly put and press your finger at the corners of the mouth. Throughout this process, the trachea stays closed, so a large amount of food can be inserted in a short span of time.
If the hatchling isn’t showing a good response on nourishment, don’t force feed it, as there could be a higher probability of aspiration of food into the trachea and lungs, which could lead to death.
The best time to feed is when the crop is empty. The crop, which is the sack that dangles over the front of the chest at the base of the neck will be visibly inflated if it is full.
Keeping the tools clean!
From the previous text you’ve probably noticed that hatchlings are very fragile. Their immune system is poorly built and is more susceptible to infections. Therefore, you need to be very organized and meticulous.
All utensils used for nourishment must be cleaned and stored in a disinfecting solution after every nourishing, while the brooder should be disinfected on regular basis. In order to elude contamination, disinfectant should be replaced every day. In addition, you should entirely wash your tools every time prior to the next nourishing. Apart from that, it is very recommended to use separate nourishing tools for every individual hatchling
Congratulations! Now you’ve read this article, you can start helping lost baby birds by yourself or join one of many organizations out there, who are fighting for the same cause. You will need a lot of time, patience, tools and, most importantly, love.
Don’t forget: “Hand-feeding a baby bird is an emergency measure!”
You should always try to contact an expert veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator before trying to feed the bird yourself because they will know what to do. They would be able to find a proper nourishment for its species and make the proper feeding schedule, so the bird doesn’t end up having any problems.