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Abandoned Baby Birds: What to Do When You Find a Baby Bird out of the Nest

Yellow-faced Honeyeater nest

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by benjamint444

Hand-rearing a bird that seems abandoned is an extremely difficult process. If you’ve observed wild baby birds in their nests – calling continually for food and greedily gulping down whatever their parents bring, this may be hard to believe…seems most would be very easy to satisfy. However, there are a great many factors to consider, fine points that are not well-known and potential health problems that are all-too-common. As a lifelong zookeeper and licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I’ve raised many nestling birds representing a huge array of species – and none were easy! Today I’d like to highlight some important points one should consider before taking on the very tedious job of raising a young wild bird.


Note: The following information is general in nature, designed to provide an overview of what to expect. Please post below for detailed advice on hand-rearing specific types of birds.


Senegal parrot hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Immediate and Future failures – Be Prepared!

Those who take in orphaned wild animals of any type are generally kind-hearted souls who take losses personally. But death and failure cannot be avoided, and may be the rule rather than the exception. Baby birds that fall from the nest often have internal injuries, and are usually weakened by parasites, lack of food, and exposure to the elements. Turning the bird over to an experienced rehabilitator is usually the best option; please post below if you need help in locating a local rehabber or veterinarian.


If they survive, hand-raised wild birds often have difficulty with socialization, and may be rejected by others of their species. A Great Horned Owl I helped to rear tried to feed mice to its keepers when it entered breeding condition, but fled from other owls…a good educational animal, but not suitable for release. Captive-reared birds may lack survival skills, and their immune systems may not serve them well under natural conditions.


Attention to Detail is Critical

Until fully-feathered, young birds typically need to be kept at 85-90 F. Commercial rearing foods used for seed-eating hatchlings must be properly prepared and cooked, then served at the ideal temperature (generally 101-104 F) many times daily and, at least early on, 1-5 times each night.


While it appears that parent birds merely stuff food down their chicks’ throats, feeding is actually a very delicate procedure, and small mistakes can lead to death by asphyxiation or infection. As birds open their mouths for food, the glottis closes and the food winds up where it belongs. Weakened nestlings that do not beg are often “force-fed” by well-meaning rescuers. Food and liquid provided thus usually wind up in the lungs, resulting in a quick fatality.


The condition of the chick’s crop must be monitored carefully, even if the youngster is eating well and appears hungry. Due to the nature of artificial diets and other factors, crops may fail to empty or retain air. Infections inevitably follow.


Dehydration is common, especially at typical household humidity levels and for birds that are not feeding eagerly. The water content of your bird’s food must be carefully monitored and adjusted as the bird grows and different foods are offered.


Short-eared Owl

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerzy Strzelecki

Eager Feeders May Still Face Troubles

Wild nestlings are provided with dozens to hundreds of different food items by their parents. The diets of most, even those species that are confirmed seed-eaters as adults, are comprised largely of insects, spiders and other invertebrates. The nutrients they contain are impossible to duplicate artificially. As a consequence, birds that survive hand-rearing often exhibit growth and immune system abnormalities.


Transferring a youngster to the adult diet can be tricky, and can result in losses even when all else has gone well. Depending upon the species, an entirely new diet or additional food items will be needed. Some switch from insects to seeds and/or fruit, insect eaters and birds of prey begin taking whole animals, and so on…these drastic changes must be accommodated by the bird’s digestive system. Nestlings that have not been properly nourished may not be able to adapt.




Further Reading


Hand-Rearing the Black Palm Cockatoo


Assisting Abandoned Baby Birds



Weaning Canaries – Encouraging Fledglings to Accept the Adult Diet

Canary NestingWhether they are hand or parent-reared, young Canaries usually need some encouragement to switch from the nestling to adult diet.  This change-over period can be quite stressful, but there are a number of steps you can take to ease the transition.

The Transition Period

Pet Canaries feed their chicks largely upon sprouts, soaked seeds and Egg Food or hard boiled eggs.  Once the young fledge, which usually occurs at age 16-20 days, they will be fed by their parents for an additional 2 -3 weeks.  During this time, they will also begin to pick at food and eventually learn to eat on their own.  Fledglings benefit from watching their parents and siblings…chicks that are hand-reared are at a disadvantage in this respect, but will also respond to the ideas and foods mentioned below.

Hard seeds are a novel food for young Canaries, and acquiring the skill needed to open them takes practice.  A high protein diet remains important right through the first molt (which usually begins within 2 months of fledging), but eventually seeds should replace egg-based foods as their staple.  Read More »

During Hard Times, Eclectus Parrot Moms Kill Male Chicks and Raise Females

Eclectus pairThe Eclectus Parrot is well known for an unusual degree of sexual dimorphism (males are emerald green, females bright red) and a breeding strategy wherein several males mate with a single female.  But no one expected the results of a recent study: under certain circumstances, mothers will kill their male chicks and raise only females.  Other than humans, Eclectus Parrots are the only species known to kill offspring based solely upon gender.

Harsh Conditions and Drastic Adaptations

The study, published in the journal Current Biology (October, 2011), was conducted by researchers based at the Australian National University.  The study site was at Cape York, Queensland, in Australia’s tropical northeast (Eclectus Parrots are also found on New Guinea and many Indonesian islands).  Read More »

Myth-Busters – Do Hand-Reared or Parent-Reared Parrots Make Better Pets?

Baby Red-Lored parrotThis is the first in a new series of what I’ll call “Myth-Buster Articles”, which will focus on beliefs or practices that have aroused debate among bird keepers.  After reviewing the available research and my own and other’s experiences, I will attempt to sort fact from fiction.  Today I’ll compare the “pet value” of hand-reared, parent-reared and “co-parented” parrots.

General Considerations

“Hand-reared” refers to chicks that are pulled from the nest soon after hatching and fed by hand until fledged.  Such birds have long been considered to be the gold standard in parrot pet.  However, behavioral problems that are sometimes exhibited by hand-reared individuals have led some to question the value of this technique. Read More »

Bird Research – Parrot Parents Give Specific “Names” to their Chicks!

Green Rumped ParrotletsCornell University researchers have just revealed a most surprising bit of avian news that may show why Green-Rumped Parrotlets (Forpus passerinus) and their relatives are such good mimics.  Field research has shown that parrots actually label each chick with unique vocal signature –essentially a name.  The chicks and other parrots imitate these names, and use them when communicating with one another!

Why Mimic Speech?

Everything in nature has a purpose, and so ornithologists have long wondered why parrots have such extraordinary abilities to imitate speech, sounds and the calls of other birds…surely it cannot be just to entertain their owners!  We now have evidence that mimicry is likely vital to parrot social structure and survival. Read More »

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