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Caring for Baby Birds

So You Found a Baby Bird on the Ground...
What Do You Do?
Here are some tips that have been complied from fact sheets by Project Wildlife in San Diego
and the late Hank Childs of PVAS.

If the Bird Appears Uninjured and Has Some Feathers
Put it up in the nearest tree or shrub
. If it can't perch and has fallen out of the nest, put it up in the tree in a berry basket or shoebox lined in shredded tissue. The parents have no sense of smell and will not know it's been touched. They WILL come feed it after you leave. It is important to never assume that a young bird is abandoned and needs your help. Often young birds spend some time on the ground before taking flight; and their parents are never far away.

If the Bird is Uninjured but Not Fully Feathered
Try to locate the nest and return the bird to it.
Again, the parents WILL accept it back even if you've handled it; and they have a better chance of caring for the bird than you or anyone else does.

If The Bird Runs Around, and Appears to be "Chick-like", (Covered With Short Fuzzy Down)
It may be a baby quail or a killdeer. These birds nest on the ground, and the parents fly off when people come near. Leave the area immediately and watch to see if a parent will come back. (You may have to wait up to an hour).

The Bird Needs Help and Should be Picked up ONLY If:

  • The parents are dead
  • The bird is newly hatched and its nest mates are out of reach
  • The bird fell from a tall palm tree
  • The bird has an injury
  • A cat or child has brought it from places unknown

If returning the bird to the nest is NOT possible, follow these general guidelines to temporarily care for the bird, while you try to find a wildlife rehabilitation facility or veterinarian.

If the bird is uninjured or has no feathers, it is most important to get it warm.
Wrap the bird in a warm cloth and place it in a cardboard box. Place an electric heating pad on LOW in one corner. Add shredded tissue for bedding. Then place the box in a quiet environment. Be sure to keep your bird WARM, but NOT HOT, if not fully feathered.

Hummingbirds, Pigeons, Doves, Hawks, Owls, Killdeer and Quail need special formulas or feeding techniques. Try to get these birds to a rehabilitation facility as soon as possible. Note: Hummingbirds babies fed sugar water or "hummingbird nectar" AND Hawks/Owls fed hamburger, or other meats, for more than 24 hours, may develop crippling deformities.

Note: Fractures need to be set within 48 hours or they heal incorrectly or get infected.

What kind of bird is it? The rehab person will ask you. HERE are a few baby pictures to help.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility Numbers are located at the bottom of this page with more on Links page.

How to Feed Your Bird Until You Can Get it to a Rehabilitation Facility or Veterinarian:

Temporary (24 - 48 Hours) Diet for Baby Songbirds

What to Feed:
  • Soaked dry cat food (Science Diet or Iams)
  • or soaked dry dog food
  • or hard boiled egg mashed with water
  • or baby mockingbird mix (or other) purchased from the pet store.
To Prepare Food:
  • Add 2 parts boiling water to one part dry dog food and soak for one hour.
  • Drain excess water.
  • Mash well with fork, ricer or blender.
  • Use canned foods as-is, or add water if necessary.

The food's consistency should be like thick applesauce.

How to Feed:
  • Use the end of a stick, a coffee stirrer, straw, or paintbrush to put a mouthful of moist food (served at room temperature) into the back of the bird's throat.
  • Feed until the bird stops gaping.
  • Feed your bird every 30 - 45 during the day, not at night.
  • Note: Birds that are COLD will not feed.
If It Won't Gape: Tap the side of the beak, and shake it's "nest" gently.

Make sure to keep the bird:

  • CLEAN (no food on its face or feathers)
  • QUIET (no children or pets in sight of the bird)
  • CONTAINED (in a box with screen on the top)
  • Give water without soaking it in bread or other food above or it runs into lungs.
  • Give the bird milk (causes diarrhea), or any liquid (the entrance to the lungs is on the top of the tongue, and they may drown).
  • Continue these diets as they lack enough calcium, vitamins, etc. for continued proper development.

  • One Final Note
    Raising an orphaned songbird takes from four to eight weeks and a lot of daytime commitment.
    They need feeding about every 20-45 minutes from first light to bed time for four to six weeks. No trips to the beach wile you're a bird mother! When they become self feeding (which may not be until six weeks old), they need to be exposed to their natural foods (grains, etc. for seed eaters, mealworms, fruit and berries for the insect and fruit eaters, mice and insects for meat eaters). After being completely self feeding for one week, they need two weeks in an outdoor aviary to fly and compete with others.

    Local Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities

    Wild Wings of California
    1837 Fernridge Drive
    San Dimas, CA 91773
    (909) 592-4900
    Wild Haven
    (909) 337-7389

    Pomona Valley Audubon Society
    Southern California