Lost chicks are a common sight in spring, their pitiful songs awakening a maternal instinct even in the coldest souls. It's natural to want to welcome the bird and take care of it. But first, you'll need time to assess the situation and make sure you're doing what's best for the bird. Was he really abandoned? Is there a local rehab center that would do a better job of taking care of him? If you decide to care for the bird yourself, it is important to understand the responsibility you are committing yourself to – baby birds are very delicate and need to be fed almost constantly. If you think you're up to the job, this article will tell you everything you need to know about feeding and caring for a bird.
Method 1 of 3: Assessing the Situation
Step 1. Identify if the chick is a precocious or altricial development bird
The first thing you need to do is identify whether the bird is altricial or precocious. Altricial development birds are born with their eyes closed, without feathers and are completely dependent on their parents for food and warmth. Most birds that sing are altricial, for example, the robin, the blue jay and the cardinal. Early development birds are more developed at birth, hatch with open eyes and have soft, velvety feathers. They are able to walk and immediately start following their mother while pecking food. Some examples include the double-collared plover, the duck and the goose.
- Precocious birds are much easier to care for than altricials, but they are less likely to need help. They usually nest at ground level so they cannot fall. If you find a lost precocious puppy, make an effort to find its mother and reunite them before deciding to house them.
- Newly hatched altricial birds are completely dependent and therefore need assistance. It is common to find altricial birds in suburban areas that have fallen or been thrown from the nest. In some cases you will be able to get the chick back to its nest, in other cases you will need to take care of it yourself. It is also acceptable to leave the puppy where he is and let nature take its course.
Step 2. Identify whether the puppy is dependent or independent
If you have encountered a singing puppy that you suspect has fallen or been abandoned, you must first identify whether it is dependent or independent. Dependents are those too immature to leave the nest, as they have not fully developed their feathers, and may not have opened their eyes yet. Independents are older and have already developed enough feathers and strength to fly. They can leave the nest and know how to land and cling.
- If the puppy you found is dependent, it shouldn't leave the nest, and then something is definitely wrong. He may have fallen from the nest or been pushed by stronger siblings. Such a puppy has almost no chance of surviving if left to its own devices.
- However, if you have found a chick that is ready to leave the nest, you should take a moment to assess the situation before choosing to pursue any heroic act. Even if it looks like the bird has fallen or been abandoned, flapping its wings and singing helplessly on the ground, it may just be learning to fly. If you watch the puppy long enough, you will likely see the parents returning to feed him regularly. If so, you really shouldn't intervene.
Step 3. If possible, put the chick back in the nest
If you're sure the chick you've found is dependent, and it's lying helplessly on the ground, it's possible to return it to the nest. First, see if you can locate the nest in a nearby tree or bush. It can be well hidden and hard to reach. Then pick up the baby bird, wrapping it with one hand and covering it with the other, until it warms up. Search him for any bruises, and then if he looks away, gently place him back in the nest.
- Don't worry about the parents rejecting the puppy due to the "human" smell. This is a myth. Birds actually have a very bad sense of smell and identify the chick by sight and sound. In most cases, they will accept the fallen chick back to the nest.
- Once you've put the chick back in the nest, move away quickly so you don't scare the parents. If you can, observe the nest from indoors with a pair of binoculars.
- Be aware that, in many cases, putting the chick back into the nest will not guarantee its survival. If he is the weakest chick in the nest, he is likely to be thrown out again by the stronger chicks as they compete for food and warmth.
- If you see any dead chicks inside the nest, then the nest has been abandoned and it's no use returning the chick. In that case, you'll need to take care of him and his siblings, if they're together, if you want to ensure their survival.
Step 4. Make a replacement nest if necessary
Sometimes, entire nests can collapse due to strong winds, people trimming the tree, or predators. If so, you may be able to save the nest (or make a new one) and replace the chicks. If the original nest is intact, you can place it in a fruit basket or butter pot (with drainage holes) and use some wire to hang the nest from a tree branch. Try to place the nest in the same place it was. If that is not possible, a nearby branch will do. Just make sure the place is sheltered, away from direct sunlight.
- Collect the fallen chicks and warm them with your hands before putting them back in the nest. Leave the place, but try to observe the nest from afar. At first the parents of the chicks may be suspicious of the new nest, but their instincts in caring for the chicks can help them to overcome this.
- If the original nest is completely destroyed, you can make a new one by lining a fruit basket with paper towels. Even if the original nest is made of grass, you should not line your nest with grass as it contains moisture that can cool the chicks.
Step 5. If you are sure the chick has been abandoned, call a bird rehabilitation center
It is important to make sure that it has actually been abandoned before taking it in. The most common situations in which a chick needs assistance are: when you find a dependent chick that has fallen but cannot find or reach the nest, when the chick is injured, weak, or dirty, or when you have been carefully observing a replacement nest for hours and the parents still haven't returned to feed their children.
- The best thing to do in these situations is to call a bird rehabilitation center that can house the chick. These centers are experienced in caring for puppies and will give them the best chance of survival.
- If you don't know where to find such a center, call a local veterinarian or gamekeeper who can provide the information you need. In some cases, there may not be a bird or wildlife center near you, but there may be a licensed individual rehabilitator somewhere nearby.
- If none of the above options are feasible, or if you are unable to transport the bird to the rehabilitation center, you may need to care for the bird. Be aware that this should be a last option as caring for and feeding a bird requires extreme attention and its chances of survival are low.
- Also, technically, it is against the law to keep or care for a bird in captivity unless you have the proper permits and licenses.
Method 2 of 3: Feeding a Baby Bird
Step 1. Feed the puppy every 15 to 20 minutes from dawn until dusk
Puppies have a very demanding feeding routine – parents literally make hundreds of trips every day to feed them. To replicate this routine, you should feed the puppy every 15 to 20 minutes from dawn until dusk.
- When the bird has opened its eyes and has sprouted some feathers, you can wait 30 to 45 minutes between meals. After that, you can gradually increase the amount of food per meal and reduce the number of meals accordingly.
- When the chick is strong enough to leave the nest and start jumping around the box, you can feed it every hour. You can gradually reduce this time to once every two to three hours, and start leaving some food in the box for the bird to pick up on its own.
Step 2. Know what to feed the puppy
There are many opinions on the exact type of food that should be given to a baby bird, but most experts agree that as long as the baby bird is getting the necessary nutrients, the exact type of food is not that important. Even though different species of adult birds follow very different diets – some eating insects, some eating seeds and fruits – most baby birds have similar requirements and need to be fed high-protein foods.
- An excellent diet for newborn altricial birds is a diet composed of 60% puppy or kitten chow, 20% hard-boiled eggs and 20% flour bugs (which can be purchased online).
- The feed should be moistened with water until it reaches a consistency similar to that of a sponge, but it must not be soaked as the bird can drown in excess fluid. Hard-boiled eggs and flour bugs should be chopped into pieces small enough for the chick to be able to swallow.
Step 3. Begin to vary the bird's diet as it grows
As the bird begins to mature and jump around, you can start to vary its diet a little and give it the kind of food it will eat as an adult.
- Insect-eating birds will eat worms, locusts, and crickets that have been chopped into small pieces, along with any insects you take out of the electric bug killer.
- Birds that eat fruit will eat water-soaked berries, grapes and raisins.
Step 4. Know which bird species require a special diet
Exceptions to this diet include birds such as doves and pigeons, parrots, hummingbirds, fish-eating birds, birds of prey, and any precocious offspring.
- Pigeons, doves and parrots often eat what is called “pigeon milk”, a substance regurgitated by the mother. To replicate this, you will need to feed these puppies formula made for parrots (found at pet supply stores) through a plastic syringe, with the needle removed.
- Even though you're less likely to find other species of chicks, they need the following: hummingbirds will need a formula that specializes in nectar, fish-eating birds will need chopped minnows (available at bait and fishing stores), birds of prey will eat insects, rodents and smaller chicks, and precocious bird chicks will enjoy turkey or nutritious foods.
Step 5. Do not give the puppy bread or milk
Many people make the mistake of giving baby birds milk or bread. Unlike mammals, milk is not a natural part of the birds' diet and they are intolerant of it. Bread is full of empty calories and will not provide the puppy with the nutrients he needs to survive. You should also ensure that any food you give your puppy is served at room temperature.
Step 6. Use correct technique to feed them
Bird chicks need to be fed with care. The best instruments to use are: blunt tweezers or plastic tweezers. If you don't have access to either of these, a chopstick narrow enough to fit in the bird's mouth will do. To feed him, place a small amount of food between the tweezers or the tip of the chopstick, and let the food fall into the puppy's mouth.
- Don't worry about the food coming in the wrong way, as the bird's glottis will automatically close while eating.
- If the puppy's mouth is not opening, tap the beak lightly with the instrument you are using to feed it, or rub the food around the edge of the beak. This tells the bird that it is time to eat. If the bird still doesn't open its mouth, gently pry the beak open.
- Continue feeding until the bird is reluctant to open its beak or starts to reject food. It's important that you don't feed the puppies too much.
Step 7. Avoid giving water to the bird
Normally, baby birds should not drink water, as the liquid will likely fill their lungs and drown them. They should only drink water when they are old enough to jump across the box. At this point you can place shallow containers (like pot lids) in the box, and the bird will drink from them itself.
- You can put a rock or some balls into the water container so the puppy doesn't get into it.
- If you think the bird is dehydrated, you will need to take it to a veterinarian or a bird rehabilitator who can inject fluids into the bird.
Method 3 of 3: Taking Care of a Baby Bird
Step 1. Make a temporary nest for the chick
The best way to make a bird substitute nest is to get a sealed cardboard box, such as a shoebox, into which you will need to drill holes in the bottom. Place a small plastic or wooden bowl inside the box and line it with undyed paper towels. This will create a nice, comfortable nest for the bird.
- Never line the nest with fibrous or frayed fabrics, as these threads can wrap around the chick's wings or throat. You should also avoid using grass, leaves, moss or branches as these can be very wet and moldy easily.
- You should change the “bed” whenever it gets wet or dirty.
Step 2. Keep the puppy warm
If the birds feel wet or cold, you will need to warm them up as soon as you put them in the box. You can do this in a number of ways. If you have a heating pad, you can set it on low heat and then put the box on top. Alternatively, you can fill a ziplock bag with warm water and place it in the box, or hang a 40 watt light bulb on top of the box.
- It's very important to keep the bird's nest at a regular temperature, so it might be better to leave a thermometer inside the box. If the puppy is less than a week old (eyes closed and no feathers), the temperature should be kept around 35 °C. It can be reduced a little every week.
- It is also important that you keep the box in an area away from direct sunlight. This is because newborn baby birds are very sensitive and cool and warm easily, as they have a large body surface for their weight and have not yet developed insulating feathers.
Step 3. Create a low-stress environment for the puppy
Baby birds will not grow well if they are not in a calm, stress-free environment. When they are stressed, their heart rate goes up a lot, which is harmful to their health. Thus, the box must remain in a quiet environment, with no access to pets and children. You should also avoid exposing the puppy to the following:
- Improper or excessive handling, loud noises, incorrect temperatures, turmoil (if you have more than one puppy), messy meal routines or wrong food.
- You should also try to watch and hold the bird at eye level, as birds don't like to be watched from above. Holding them at eye level will make you look less like a predator.
Step 4. Make a chart of the bird's growth
You can monitor a puppy's progress by weighing him every day to see if he is gaining weight. For this you can use a diet or weight scale. The bird's weight should increase every day, and within 4 to 6 days it should have doubled its birth weight. The bird should continue to gain weight rapidly through its first two weeks.
- To find out if the puppy is growing normally according to its species, you will need to consult a growth chart.
- If the bird is gaining weight very slowly, or not gaining any weight at all, it is a sure indication that something is wrong.In this situation, you must take the bird to a veterinarian or rehabilitation center immediately, or it is likely to die.
Step 5. Let the bird learn to fly, then release it
Once your baby bird has become a fully developed bird, you will need to move it to a large cage or enclosed porch where it can spread its wings and learn to fly. Don't worry if he doesn't know how – a bird's ability to fly is instinctive, and after a few tries it should make it. This can take 5 to 15 days.
- Once he's able to fly easily and gain altitude, he's ready to be released. Take him to an area where you've seen other birds of the same species and have plenty of food, and let him fly.
- If you release the bird in the garden, you can leave the cage on the street with the door wide open. That way, the puppy can decide for himself when he is ready to leave.
- The shorter the time the bird is kept in captivity, the better its chance of survival in the wild, so don't delay its release for much longer than is really necessary.