caring for rescued birds

The warm months of spring and summer bring a host of birds to us. Robins, blue jays and starlings line the branches of trees and entertain us with their foraging and flight. It is important to know what you are doing when caring for rescued birds.

It is very common to come across fledglings or orphaned birds during this time of year as well. These creatures are fragile and knowing how to care for a truly orphaned bird can very well save it’s life.

Taking the Rescued Bird to a Licensed Rehabilitator

The first thing you should be aware of is that you must try and reach a federally licensed bird rehabilitator to take the bird into their care.

Your state’s Fish and Wildlife department should have a listing of licensed rehabilitators near you. Keeping any wild animal or bird without proper permitting and licenses is against the law.

Identifying if the Bird Needs Rescuing

The second item when caring for rescued birds is determining whether or not the bird is truly an orphan. If you find a baby bird, it might have escaped from their home.

Fledglings leave the nest on their own to learn to fly. These young birds have feathers and look like a smaller version of their parents.

They will live on the ground near bushes or trees for cover for a week or two until they are strong enough to fly and feed themselves.

The parent(s) will watch over the youngster from a nearby tree and feed them every thirty minutes to an hour from dawn to dusk.

If you watch from a distance (not too close or the baby won’t get fed!) you will see the parent feeding their offspring.

Don’t take your eyes off the fledgling during this time or you will miss the feeding as it only takes a few seconds.

The main reason a song bird enters a rehabilitation setting is because they have been accidentally kidnapped by an unknowing person.

A bird nest can be a crowded place, sometimes, babies are pushed out of the nest too early by a sibling or fall out from a storm or high winds.

These birds are not fully feathered, sometimes they may still have their eyes closed and are obviously too small to be on their own.

If you find a bird that fits this description, look for the nest and try and return the baby. People cannot care for the bird as well as it’s parents.

It is a myth that the parents will “smell” human on the infant and abandon it. You may want to wear gloves when handling the bird to avoid contracting any disease it may be carrying.

Caring for Rescued Birds in Your Home

If you cannot replace the bird, take it into a warm and quiet spot in your home. This area should be free of drafts, noise, pets and family members. This is crucial in caring for rescued birds.

A small margarine tub or shallow bowl will work best as a nest for the baby.

The bowl will need to be shallow enough for the baby bird to lift his tail over the edge to use the bathroom. Line the “nest” with paper towels or cloths and place the bird in the center.

It should be just big enough and snug enough for it’s only resident.

If the bird is not feathered, you will need to help it stay warm. Since the baby cannot regulate their own temperature yet, a heating pad set on low or a heat lamp kept at a safe distance will be needed.

You must warm the bird before attempting to feed it anything. Feeding any bird when they are too cold can cause serious problems and even death.

A baby that is not kept warm can also develop pneumonia and other respiratory problems.

If you choose to take in the rescued bird as your own, you may want to clip their wings so they aren’t flying all over the place.

Caring for Rescued Birds with Food

Now that you are ready to feed the infant, you’ll need to identify it. (You can’t feed it a proper diet unless you know what it is).

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is a wonderful source to help determine what species of bird you are caring for.

Most song birds are either seed eaters or insect eaters. The beak of a seed eater has a point and is more narrow than an insect eater’s beak.

Knowing what to feed a bird is among the most important parts of caring for a rescued bird.

You will need to feed the bird every thirty minutes from sun-up to sun-down. The parents do not feed at night when it is dark, so don’t feed the baby at night.

Both seed and insect eaters can be fed a variety of items you may have in the kitchen.

Since you will only have the bird a short time until you can get it to a rehabber, stick with one diet.

Do not switch foods as it can be hard for the baby to digest. Here are the diets:


  • dry baby cereal (oatmeal or rice)
  • wheat germ
  • corn or oat meal that has ground in a blender


  • can of dog food
  • dry puppy food (soaked in water until soft and mashed up)
  • strained beef baby food
  • hard boiled chicken egg yolk
  • insects flies and mealworms

For an insect eater, mix two parts of grain to one part meat. Make sure the proportions are equal.

For a seed eater, mix one part meat to four parts grain. Add water to your mixture to make a mush from it. It should be the consistency of oatmeal.

An eyedropper or your fingers are best to use. You may have to gently pry the birds beak open at the edge the first few times.

But once they realize you are the food source, they will open on their own. They will stop opening when full.

Make sure to mix small amounts of food as it will sour quickly. Do not put too much food into the baby’s mouth at once, it can get stuck in their crop or throat.

Since there is water in the baby food, you should not ever try to feed the bird water and there is no need to offer a dish of water at this age either. This is not necessary until the bird begins to self feed.

Hopefully, your new knowledge in caring for rescued birds will assist you and the bird until a wildlife rehabilitator can be reached.