Hand Raising Baby Birds - Part II - [19 April 2005 17:59]





In last month’s issue we dealt with the thorny question of when to rescue a baby bird. Having decided the baby needs rescuing, you need to determine what kind of bird it is in order to establish what diet is needed. Telephone your local rehabilitation centre immediately to get proper advice as to what kind of bird it is, and what to feed it.

The following advice is incomplete and of a general nature only, and should not be used without getting proper additional advice from your local rehabilitation centre. A good rehabilitation centre will take your call and give you advice.


Warmth: Baby birds cannot regulate their own body temperatures. They need an outside source of heat, without which they cannot live and digest their food. A baby bird, which is allowed repeatedly to get chilled, is a dead baby bird! Try to maintain a constant temperature of 28°C to 30°C. Use your common sense. The baby should be warm to the touch, but should not be panting. Take care that the heat source cannot burn it.


Cleanliness: baby birds are VERY susceptible to illness caused by dirt. Their cage, box or basket MUST be kept clean. All food and feeding utensils must be washed and disinfected after every feeding. All food must be fresh.

How to feed: A warm healthy and hungry baby bird will beg every time it feels or sees a movement. Ideally it should not be necessary to force feed a baby, but if it fails to beg you can gently open its beak using a matchstick or fingernail. If nothing is wrong it will soon learn to beg. Place the food well back in the gape, and wait for it to swallow. Most babies will stop begging when they have had enough. Feeding frequency will vary from every fifteen minutes to every two hours depending on species and age. Feed from 06h00 until your bedtime. All food should be lukewarm. Never feed hot or cold food.


Weak or Sick Birds: Especially after poisoning, the bird should be put on a fluid diet. Many a raptor have been pulled through at Wings in Need on a diet of Ensure plus egg yolk: Mix 1 egg yolk into each 100ml of Ensure that has been mixed with water according to the instructions on container.


Drinking water: ideally the baby should get sufficient moisture from its food. A few drops of lukewarm water dribbled into its beak after every feeding can’t do any harm, and will preferably do a lot of good.


Diets: The following diets are not absolutely ideal. Should you intend to raise the bird yourself you will need help on perfect diets, and you should phone Wings in Need for advice. These diets will prove adequate for a day or two, until you can get the bird to a proper rehabilitation centre:


  • Seedeaters (excluding doves): Sparrow, Weavers and similar species. These birds feed their babies on insects and should receive the same diet as for insectivorous birds.
  • Doves: If you cannot obtain a commercially prepared, balanced food like Aviplus, use Pro-Nutro, mixed with water and with added egg yolk and/or cottage cheese for extra protein and calcium. Or make a soft clay mixture, using only Pro-Nutro and egg yolk (no water) and form  small, pea-sized balls (the bird will still need plenty of water, as this food will be quite concentrated.) WARNING:  A bird that does not beg or cooperate, may have to be force-fed after rehydration. Take care in opening the beak, using a fingernail or matchstick, not to bend the beak - especially the tender beak of a baby (see Recovery Gallery, under 'It's painful to be beautiful department'). A good idea is to make the food mixture very sloppy and, as we said with rehydration, to release it (using a syringe) drop by drop on the closed beak, until the bird gets the message. This works especially well with tiny baby Doves or even insect eaters like baby Plovers. WARNING: The food is intended for the bird's stomach, not its feathers and eyes. Let common sense prevail!
  • Insectivores: Cape Robin, Swallow, Shrike and similar species. A mixture of Avi-Plus (available at Pet shops, Veterinary clinics or other suppliers, in an emergency, Pronuto can be used as a substitute for no longer than 1 day), scrambled egg and lean mince.
  • Frugivores: Bullbul, Barbet, White-eye, Lourie and similar species. As for Insectivores, but add 50 percent Purity baby food or fruit.
  • Carnivores: Raptors, Coucal and similar species. Lean meat, preferably including internal organs and mixed with roughage such as sterilized feathers. Raptors are mostly fed on (dead, euthanased by gas) day old chicks, obtained from a hatchery. Contact the South African National Bird of Prey Centre at 083 585 9540. 
  • All Birds: A lack of calcium leads to irreparable bone deformities in baby birds. Add calcium, mineral and vitamin supplements.

By Gordon M Duncan and Wings in Need

Animaltalk October 1999 

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