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Feeding and caring for baby birds

Place in an incubator or cage with an electric heat pad secured to one side or a small heated pad or hot water bottle securely wrapped in a towel inside.
If you have nothing else, put some warm water in a small plastic screw cap bottle, wrap in a flannel and use inside to warm the chick.
If they are bald or only partly feathered make a nest for them using a shallow plastic dish or woven basket lined with paper towel and loo paper.
A small soft toy can be added as a surrogate mother for a single chick.
The first feed should not be given until the bird feels warm and looks reasonably alert and has been rehydrated if necessary.
Water birds will also need an incubator but with a towel covering a newspaper floor covering and a cotton mop-head to nestle in.
Ducks are self feeding, so once they are warm, they will need appropriate food and a small pot of pond water in their incubator at all times.
Coots, moorhen, pheasant etc. also self feed but need to be offered small amounts of insect food hourly to make sure they get enough.


Please remember:  Young pigeons are tube fed: - see pigeons information page

Non-gaping swifts are tube fed or will have to have their beaks opened for feeding: - see swifts information page


For birds that gape use a pair of fine tweezers and offer the food in tiny amounts.

If very small they may need feeding half-hourly, remember too little food is safer than too much.

When caring for these little creatures you must feed at regular intervals for the 10 daylight hours in summer. 

Darken the cage until you want to feed: that way you can have a later, artificial dawn at 7 or 8am and feed until later in the evening.

For birds that gape use a clean pair of tweezers, wash well afterwards and store overnight in a pot of sterilising solution.

Pick up only tiny pieces of food to pop into their open beaks each time, too much food will make them choke.

 chicks    dunnock & robin nestlings              robins        older robin chicks

Difficulty getting nestlings to gape

If the chick is warm, it may still be thirsty, so offer water a drop at a time on a tiny artist's paintbrush or the tip of your finger. Dab it on the edge of the beak about halfway along the length. 

The chick should take it up with its tongue. Keep offering fresh drops until it has had enough and doesn't lick any more. if you can give Critical Care solution that would be much better for the bird.  

If still not gaping, with long tweezers, very gently wipe half a freshly chopped maggot or wax moth larva along the side of the beak, from hinge to tip, so the juice can be tasted.

You may have to repeat it a few times, with more maggots, but the chick should eventually open its beak a little and take it in. 

If possible, dip the first maggot in 1 drop of Bach Rescue Remedy and/or a few drops of Critical Care solution to aid recovery.

Only open the beak manually as a last resort after trying the maggot technique for several minutes.

Remember -

Check that the birds produce a dropping each time they have a big feed. This will be presented to you as they turn around and needs to be removed with tweezers.

Close the cage front when you take a patient out as the temperature soon drops and bald chicks get cold quickly.

Be patient when feeding these helpless babies.

Concentrate on the job in hand; be sure they swallow each morsel before offering more food.

Do not over feed.

Handle them as little as possible and feed them inside the cage or incubator, rather than getting individual birds out.

If you can, weigh each bird daily when cleaning the cage. When they have fledged and begin to fly, it will be impossible to monitor them regularly.


Which food for which baby bird?

In an emergency, young birds can be given meaty cat food or soaked cat biscuits mashed up finely with a few drops of water.

This can be offered in tweezers or on a cocktail stick or plastic coffee stirrer. Most young fledglings will gape and take some moist food.

If possible, you need to make up a small amount of rehydration fluid ( Lectade or Critical Care are ideal) or use plain, cool, previously boiled water.

Dab it gently onto the side of the beak with a tiny artist’s paintbrush or cotton wool bud; the bird should take some sips.

If shocked and frightened, add 1 drop of Bach Rescue Remedy to the fluid.

Emergency rehydration fluid: 1 tablespoon tepid, previously boiled water, 1 small pinch of glucose or sugar, 5 grains of salt. (it should taste really weak)



Blue tits, Great tits, Long tailed tits

These are fed a variety of fresh food:- chopped maggots, mini mealworms and wax moth larvae - at regular intervals(every ˝ hour at first)  for 10 hours of the day, to mimic the long summer days.
Very young nestlings need feeding ˝ hourly with tiny amounts of fresh food.

As they grow larger& develop feathers you can change feeds to hourly and when eventually they begin feeding themselves, to 2-hourly intervals.

(First or last feed of the day should have a pinch of vitamin & mineral supplement)

In their cage, when ready to begin to feed themselves, tits should be given a small bowl of insectivorous food, (Sluis/Bogena or similar with a dusting of vitamin and mineral supplement), plus a steep sided dish  of

live maggots and /or small mealworms, a wire peanut feeder and a small bowl of water.

Tits will need to be hand fed with tweezers much longer than other garden birds.

Even when they are outside in an aviary and seem to be feeding themselves, they need to be hand fed with wax moth larvae and other live food at least 6 times a day.

They follow their parents around for 2-3 weeks being fed in the trees, so continue to offer food until they are all no longer interested. At this point the aviary door can me left open until they have 

all left and no longer beg for food.


Housemartins, swallows, wrens, robins, & other small-beaked birds

These are fed on a variety of live or fresh foods such as chopped maggots, small whole crickets, chopped larger crickets, wax moth larvae, flies and small mealworms (no heads). 

Feed half hourly until they start to feed themselves, then offer food at slightly longer intervals, according to demand, to mimic parental behaviour.

IMPORTANT: First feed of the day must have a pinch of vitamin & mineral supplement such as Daily Essentials added. This has essential vitamins, calcium and vitamin D3 to aid normal development.

In their cage, when ready to feed themselves, give a small bowl of  small legless (vacuum packed) crickets, waxmoth larvae, mini mealworms, flies killed by freezing and a few live maggots.

You must still continue to offer fresh food every half hour/hour, depending on their needs, until they are flying well and can feed independently.  Some martins and swallows never completely learn to feed themselves so supplementary feeds are always needed.

A small, heavy pot of fresh water is also needed in the cage.



    NOTE:  Please see the London's Swifts website for a really excellent account of : Swift feeding


             Following advice from experts at the London's Swifts organisation, I have revised the swift feeding guidelines. 
            Pet foods, whether dried or tinned, have always been problematic as a basis for wildlife feeds, even when enriched with fresh ingredients and I recommend that the
  guidelines found on their site be used instead of any method using mince, pet food or any type of mammal meat.  I have now devised a recipe for an insect mix to be tube fed to swifts that are too poorly or too adult to gape, so that their beaks are less at risk from carelessly being opened many times a day. This can be found in the section on Swift feeding guidlines.

Sparrows and other finches

 Very young chicks are fed on a mixture of freshly chopped maggots, wax moth larvae and mealworms; these can be mixed into a mush with a few drops of water if more rehydration is necessary for the chicks.

Offer in plastic tweezers or on the top of a coffee stirrer at ˝ hourly intervals. Once they are fully feathered, add kaytee exact mix into the mixture, plus a few whole millet seeds. They should now have a small pot of mixed small seeds (millets, Nyger etc.)  in the cage, plus a tiny pot of water with a pinch of dissolved Avipro powder. If you put a few mini mealworms in the seed pot the birds will be attracted to it and be more inclined to peck and eat the seeds. 


Blackbirds, thrushes, starlings

Very young chicks are fed on a mixture of freshly chopped maggots, wax moth larvae, crickets and mealworms, with a few drops of water if necessary.

Offer in tweezers or on the top of a coffee stirrer at ˝ hourly intervals until they are fully feathered and beginning to feed themselves.

IMPORTANT: First feed of the day must have a pinch of vitamin & mineral supplement such as Daily Essentials added. This has vitamins and calcium to aid normal development.

In their cage when ready to feed themselves give a small dish of sluis/bogena insectivore food and live larvae, plus a ceramic dish of water with a pinch of dissolved Avipro.

They will show interest in the wiggly grubs and it encourages them to develop the pecking habit.


If young enough they will gape and can be fed freshly chopped maggots, mealworms,waxmoth larvae, crickets etc. (lightly dusted with vitamin supplements) in tweezers or on a coffee stirrer.

If they are older and refuse to eat they should be tube fed a liquidised mix of fresh insect larvae and crickets to keep their digestive system hydrated and active, until they begin to pick up food.

Add supplements of avian minerals and vitamins to the first feed each day.

In the cage put small dishes of egg food, insectivorous food with live maggots, larvae or mealworms on top, a securely fixed peanut feeder and a fat ball (without plastic mesh),
plus a small heavy bowl of water with a pinch of Avipro.  Green woodpeckers like ants so if you can find some, or dried ants eggs, they would be appreciated!

They can then choose what they want and are more likely to thrive.

Pigeons and doves

Very young pigeons and doves with yellow feathers are fed Kaytee Exact or a parrot rearing food through a soft tube attached to a 5ml syringe.

Measure the tube against the bird's beak and neck to get an idea of the length needed and take great care not to force the tube down too far.

They need to be fed 2 hourly if very young. Make up the mix fresh each time, following directions on the packets.

Always check their crops before each feed. If the crop is not empty when the next feed is due, allow more time to digest their meal.

They must have warmth, quiet and food regularly supplied, whether by hand or placed in the cage for them to help themselves.


Crows, Jays, Jackdaws and Magpies

Chicks are fed freshly chopped mealworms, maggots and crickets rolled into small balls and shreds of finely cut up up dead day old chicks (including
bones and feathers). Food is offered in plastic tweezers or on a plastic coffee-stirrer every 1-2 hours depending on age. 

(First feed of the day should have a pinch of vitamin & mineral supplement added)
In their cage, when ready to feed themselves, give small heavy bowls of finely chopped chick (including bones and feathers) live insects and water.


Do not give the crow family low flat dishes as they stand in them and get foot problems. Dishes must be placed to the side of the cage, for the same reason.



Kestrel, Sparrow hawk, Owl

If fluffy feathers are still present, feed tiny pieces of chopped chick using tweezers. Avoid feeding beak, legs or egg sac until older.

Add a vitamin and calcium supplement with vitamin D3 daily; ACE vitamins and SA50 are suitable.

Feed 2-3 hourly to begin with and adjust accordingly as the bird gets older and more self-sufficient.

Leave a small dish of finely chopped chick or a small mouse in the cage last thing at night to encourage self-feeding.



Coot, Lapwing and Moorhen

Hand feed chopped maggots and mealworms, also tiny pieces of chopped pond weed with a dusting of SA50.

Provide a small bowl of sluis with a few live maggots/mealworms and a small, heavy bowl of pond water in the cage.

Cygnets, Ducklings and Goslings

These eat chick crumbs soaked in pond water with some duck weed if possible. Place this in bowls that are too small for them to sit in.

If they get wet at this early, fluffy stage they get cold and lethargic and are unable to feed.

They do not become waterproof until the adult feathers develop so need on their mother to provide warmth and stop them getting waterlogged.

They will need a towel over a layer of newspaper in their cage, a mop-head “Mummy” to cuddle up to and an overhead heat source.


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