How do baby birds get fed when they are only a day or two old?

How do baby birds get fed when they are only a day or two old?

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The eggs belonging to the robin on my porch hatched. The baby birds are very tiny, just lumps. They are not opening their mouth and cannot even seem to lift their heads. How do they get fed when they are so helpless?

The hatchling's neck muscles are stronger than you think, because hatching from the egg requires strong neck muscles. Newly hatched songbirds and others do indeed open their mouths after they have had sufficient rest following hatching, though you don't seem to have witnessed this. They have little neck control and their heads wobble initially, but feeding is so important that they are born with this ability.

Songbirds and most seabirds have altricial young, meaning that the newly hatched birds are blind, featherless, and helpless. Immediately after hatching, altricial birds can do little more than open their mouths to beg for food. They remain in the nest where the parents can feed and protect them while they continue to develop. For the first week of life, most altricial birds cannot control their own body temperature and must be constantly brooded (kept warm) by their parents.

This makes sense, as most altrical birds only spend about two to three weeks before flying off to start their own separate lives.

Newly hatched poultry chicks (precocial birds, which also include ducks and sea birds) can live for 48 hours on the last of the egg yolk that they take in just before the strenuous work of hatching out of the egg.

Incubation periods are longer for precocial birds than altricial birds, allowing for increased embryonic development in the egg, and therefore they have relatively advanced motor and sensory functions at hatching.

Feeding poultry is actually not necessary during that time. The chicks are strong enough to stand, drink, and peck for food soon after birth, but it's not necessary for life. What they cannot do is regulate their body temperatures well.

Nesting Cycle

How to Feed a Baby Bird

This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

There are 17 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Lost baby birds are a common sight in springtime, their pitiful chirps awakening a mothering instinct in even the most hard-hearted of souls. It's only natural that you want to take the chick in and nurse it to health. But before you do, you will need to take some time to assess the situation and make sure you are doing the best thing for the bird. Has it really been abandoned? Is there a local rehabilitation center that could do a better job of taking care of it? If you decide to nurse the baby bird yourself, it's important that you understand the commitment you are undertaking -- baby birds are very delicate and need to be fed almost constantly. If you think you're up for the job, this article will tell you all you need to know about feeding and caring for a baby bird.


NottsExMiner / Flickr / CC by-SA 2.0

A brood can mean either a set of related eggs that are laid and hatched together, or the act of incubating those eggs until they hatch. All siblings are part of the same brood. Mated pairs of birds may raise more than one brood in a season if climate, food, and health conditions are adequate. If more than one brood is raised by the same mated pair, they are considered separate broods even though the siblings hatched in different groups are a genetic match. The number of eggs laid in a brood can also vary considerably among different bird species.

Myths and Frequently Asked Questions about Nests

These are some common misconceptions and questions about birds and their nests.

What should I do if I find an “abandoned” baby bird?

At some point, nearly everyone who spends time outdoors finds a baby bird—one that is unable to fly well and seems lost or abandoned. Our first impulse is to adopt the helpless creature, but this often does more harm than good—and in most cases, the young bird doesn't need our help at all.

The first thing to do is to figure out if it's a nestling or a fledgling. If it's sparsely feathered and not capable of hopping, walking, flitting, or gripping tightly to your finger, it's a nestling. If so, the nest is almost certainly nearby. If you can find the nest (it may be well hidden), put the bird back as quickly as possible. Don't worry—parent birds do not recognize their young by smell!

If the bird is feathered and capable of hopping or flitting, and its toes can tightly grip your finger or a twig, it's a fledgling. Fledglings are generally adorable and fluffy, with a tiny stub of a tail. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that the bird has been abandoned and needs you. But fledglings need a special diet, and they need to learn about behavior and vocalizations from their parents--things we can't provide.

Fortunately, the vast majority of "abandoned" baby birds are perfectly healthy fledglings. Their parents are nearby and watching out for them. The parents may be attending to four or five young scattered in different directions, but they will most likely return to care for the one you have found shortly after you leave.

When fledglings leave their nest they rarely return, so even if you see the nest it's not a good idea to put the bird back in--it will hop right back out. Usually there is no reason to intervene at all beyond putting the bird on a nearby perch out of harm's way. Fledglings produce sounds that their parents recognize, and one of them will return and care for it after you leave.

If you have found both parents dead or are otherwise absolutely certain that the bird was orphaned, then your best course of action is to bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Birds live in their nests all year long

Some people think birds go to their nests to sleep at night just like we usually sleep in our beds, but birds usually only use their nests when they are raising babies in the spring.

How do birds incubate their eggs?

In some species, like the Rock Pigeon, the male and female will both sit on the nest and incubate the eggs, to keep them warm and protected while the chick inside the egg grows and develops. Usually the male pigeon sits on the nest during the day so the female can go look for food when its easier to find food. She spends more total time on the nest because she will sit there all night, as well as in the early morning and late evening.

The time for incubation varies widely from species to species. You can get this information for any of our focal species you're interested in by going to its page in our bird guide, or by visiting

Why do birds leave the nest before they can fly?

It's to some young birds' advantage to leave the nest as soon as they can. People tend to think of nests as safe, cozy little homes. But predators have a pretty easy time finding a nest full of loud baby birds, and nests can be hotbeds for parasites. So parent birds work from sunrise to sunset every day to get their young grown and out of the nest as quickly as possible. After fledging, the young birds are more spread out in the area, and the parents can lead them to different spots every night, enhancing each one's chances of survival. Some types of birds, like swallows, woodpeckers, and other cavity-nesters, nest where there are no nearby branches for young to awkwardly grab onto when they first leave the nest. Unless startled by a predator, young of these species tend to remain in the nest until they are strong fliers.

If I handle a baby bird, won’t its parents pick up my scent and abandon it?

It's a myth that parent birds will abandon young that have been touched by humans--most birds have a poor sense of smell, and birds in general identify their young using the same cues we humans do--appearance and sound. It's perfectly safe to pick up a fallen nestling and put it back in the nest, or to carry a fledgling out of danger and place it in a tree or shrub. But please refer to the question on what to do if you find a baby bird, since it is still best if you don't handle a baby bird unless absolutely necessary.

What should I do if I find an “abandoned” baby Killdeer, duckling or gosling?

Baby Killdeer, like baby ducks, geese, and other fowl, are what we call "precocial chicks." These chicks hatch out of the egg covered with thick down, open their eyes quickly, and are perfectly capable of walking. Within minutes of hatching, they imprint on their parents and follow them tenaciously. Both parents show them food items, which they pick up and eat. The family unit stays together for several weeks.

Killdeer chicks grow rapidly, requiring huge amounts of food, but the chick you found has probably already imprinted on its parents and needs to be with them in order to recognize food and to eat.

The best thing to do is to bring the chick back and search for the adults. If you get anywhere near the rest of the family, one of the parents may give a broken-wing display, acting as if it's injured. You should set the chick down and leave as quickly as possible. It's sad to leave these adorable balls of fluff, but it's much sadder, for the bird as well as for you and/or your children, when it starves to death in your care.

If you don't know where a Killdeer chick was picked up, but do know where another Killdeer family is, with chicks close in size to the one you're dealing with, release it with that family. This also works in the case of ducklings and goslings.

For more information about helping baby ducks, geese, Killdeer, and other precocial chicks, try the Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory.

How fledglings and their parents negotiate the best time for young birds to leave the nest

Cavity-nesting birds, like this mountain chickadee about to feed its young, have safer nests that allow young to stay in nests longer and develop their wings for improved flight at leaving. Credit: T. E. Martin

A team of researchers at the University of Montana has found that fledglings and their parents must negotiate to find the right time for the young birds to leave their nest. In their paper published on the open access site Science Advances, the group describes their study of many types of birds and how they figured out when fledglings should leave the nest.

Many birds build nests to lay their eggs and to hold the young after they hatch until they grow old enough to fly on their own. But how do the baby birds and their parents know when it is time for them to leave? That question, the researchers point out, has not been studied very much. For that reason, they designed and carried out a study to find the answer.

The study consisted of videotaping 11 types of songbirds using a high-speed camera—that allowed them to gain a better understanding of the flying skills of birds. They also watched as the birds grew older and carefully noted the time points at which the young birds left the nest—and how they fared.

The researchers found that there were differences between species—some parents allowed their offspring to stay in the nest longer while others did not. There were also differences in mortality rates between species. Those that left the nest earlier found it tougher going than those that stayed in the nest longer—fewer of them survived because they had not yet developed strong flying skills. On the other hand, young birds that hung around in the nest longer were more likely to attract predators because they were noisier—increasing the likelihood of the whole brood being eaten. The researchers also found that under artificial conditions in which they forced some parents to keep their young in the nest for a few extra days, the mortality rate was lower—not only did the young birds have more time to develop, they were also protected from predators.

Gray-headed juncos fledge from the nest at a young age because their ground nests experience high risk of predation. This young age of fledging results in under-developed wings that do not allow sustained flight, even the day after they left the nest, as shown in this video. In contrast, white-breasted nuthatches nest in safe cavities with low predation risk, allowing young to stay in the nest longer and develop their wings more fully such that they can perform sustained level flight even 2 days before they fledge. Credit: B. Tobalske, N. Wright and T. Martin

The researchers suggest that their findings indicate that parent birds and their young must negotiate an optimal time for the young to leave, balancing the dangers of staying longer versus leaving earlier.

Parent gray-headed junco enticing young to leave the nest. Parents hold food away from nest and young come out to get it and this picture captures a young that was just fed out of the nest. Credit: T. E. Martin

Should they stay or should they leave? The age at which young transition between life stages, such as living in a nest versus leaving it, differs among species and the reasons why are unclear. We show that offspring of songbird species that leave the nest at a younger age have less developed wings that cause poorer flight performance and greater mortality after fledging. Experimentally delayed fledging verified that older age and better developed wings provide benefits of reduced juvenile mortality. Young are differentially constrained in the age that they can stay in the nest and enjoy these fitness benefits because of differences among species in opposing predation costs while in the nest. This tension between mortality in versus outside of the nest influences offspring traits and performance and creates an unrecognized conflict between parents and offspring that determines the optimal age to fledge.

Pet Health, Interesting Facts, and Trivia Printable Instructions For Hand-Feeding Baby Birds

The idea of a new baby bird in the family is an exciting proposition that brings a new dimension to your life. However, if you decide to hand-feed your new pet, you will need some knowlege, a lot of patience, and a good diet for a growing bird.

Veterinarians and naturalists have developed techniques for hand raising nesting birds, and there are now easy-to-use special baby bird formulas for feeding the ever-hungry little babies. Higgins Intune Baby Bird Hand Feeding Formula and Higgins Intune Hi Energy Baby Macaw Hand Feeding Formula are super foods that meet the extraordinary nutritional needs of these unusually fast growing babies. It is rice based (sourced from North America) and corn free. inTune® Natural Hand Feeding uses natural and healthy, high end sources for nutritional fat like coconut oil and macadamia nut meal. It is also the only commercial hand feeding formula on the market with natural banana & mango aroma. The need to cook the formula has also been eliminated. It can now be prepared with hot water!

Most baby birds arrive in the world wet, naked, blind, and too weak to support themselves. When fallen from their nest, survival is questionable. Now, with help, they are able to grow and develop normally. Wild birds can be raised and returned to nature. Pet birds learn to accept people as friends. The real benefactors, though, are people. Nature returns many-fold for kindness performed.

The most important considerations in the hand feeding process are the frequency and volume of feeding. Baby birds grow at an extraordinarily rapid rate and this growth requires a great deal of food to meet the nutritional needs of the bird. However, the crop of a young bird holds a limited amount of food, so it must be filled frequently. As the bird gets older, the capacity of the crop increases, and the number of daily feedings will be reduced. The volume to be fed is base upon a combination of observation and judgement.

Check the Fullness of the Crop
Nature designed a rather unique feature into the digestive system of birds-a widening of the oesophagus at the lower pan of the neck This widening acts as a compartment to hold a quantity of food, and is named the crop.

The crop can be easily visualized in young birds while feathering is incomplete. In older birds with a well developed covering of feathers, the fullness can be checked by gently feeling the crop with a thumb and index finger.

The crop should be examined before each feeding. Ideally, in the rapidly growing young bird, the crop should never be allowed to become completely empty. Checking the crop fullness will help determine the frequency and volume of feeding to be given. Normally the crop will empty in 4 hours. A crop that remains full or is not emptying properly indicates some type of problem.

Position Bird for Hand-Feeding.
Wild birds are best fed while in a nest box. They will open their beaks and gape, making feeding very easy. Avoid excessive handling of wild birds. Pet birds are removed from the nest box and placed on a towel. By cupping a hand gently around the baby during feeding , adequate support will be given to position him for eating.

Carefully Introduce Feeding Device into the Mouth.

The introduction of an eye dropper or syringe into the mouth is relatively easy, as the baby birds will be eager to be fed and will be gaping (opening the beak wide in order to receive the feeding). Occasionally, a bird may not gape, and gentle tapping of the beak with the feeding device will encourage the bird to open its beak. The device should be carefully passed into the left side toward the right side of the mouth.

Administration of the formula should be synchronized with swallowing. Birds swallow with an unusual rhythmic bobbing of the head up and down. While the bird is swallowing, the formula is delivered quickly. With practice, a "feet" for the procedure develops, and, done efficiently, the filling of the crop can be accomplished in a surprisingly short time.

Volume of formula to be Given
The volume of food given is of critical importance. overfilling of the crop could lead to backflow up the oesophagus, into the throat, and down the windpipe, which could cause death. Under-filling the crop might result in starvation.

As t he food material is being delivered, the crop will begin to fill and bulge in the region of the lower neck. Careful observation and experience are necessary in order to determine when the crop is adequately filled.

Frequently, the bird will stop gaping when the crop is filled however, some birds, will continue to gape even when filled. Watch closely when filling for any evidence of food material backing up into the mouth. If this occurs, immediately stop until the mouth is cleared.

When the bird appears to have had enough feeding material, determine the state of fullness of the crop to make sure a sufficient amount of feeding was delivered.

Any excess food material on the skin, beak or feathers should he removed with warm water when the feeding is complete. It can be followed with a few drops of warm water to aid in "cleaning the mouth." Feeding utensils should be cleaned immediately after use. Check the anus to be certain no fecal matter has accumulated. Ideally, monitor the bird's weight daily with an accurate scale. A healthy baby gains weight daily.

Preparation of Baby Bird Formula
Follow the manufacturer's directions when mixing the formula.

Important: "Use distilled or boiled water to eliminate bacteria growth from contaminated tap water." The water should be approximately 105-110 degrees. Add the water to the powder gradually while stirring. After thorough mixing to eliminate lumps, the formula should be the consistency of creamy pudding. This thickness will allow it to be drawn into an eye dropper or syringe or will roll off a spoon. For older birds the mixture may be made thicker.

Do not reuse mixed formula. Discard and mix fresh at each feeding.
If really necessary, sufficient amount of formula may be prepared at one time to last 3 days if covered and refrigerated after preparation. The amount needed for each feeding can be heated and fed but not reused. Caution: You might need to add water in the heating process. Diluting formula by increasing water will reduce the concentration of the diet.

Temperature to Feed Formula
The formula should be served warm- 104-106 F- but not hot, as excess heat may damage the digestive tract. It should feel Slightly warm to the touch. It is highly recommended to use a thermometer to measure the temperature.

In order to maintain the heat of the hand-feeding formula mixture, a double-boiler type arrangement can be set up with the container of prepared formula placed in a bowl or pan of warm water during the feeding process.

Feeding Area
Psittacine birds while being fed should be placed on a surface, such as a towel, where there will be insulative properties to prevent excess heat loss and a surface where they can grip with their feet, preventing slippage and possible injury.

Frequency of Feeding
Cockatiels and Small Parrots
Baby birds can be removed from their parents from between 8 to 21 days. Waiting until 2 1/2 to 3 weeks is safer for the beginner, as the bird is hardier due to the presence of some feathering.

Hatching to 1 week.
If the bird was removed from the nest shortly after hatching, for whatever reason, feeding requires special care. There should be no attempts to feed the bird for at least 12 hours after hatching. The crop is very small and will hold only a limited amount of food. After continued use, it will expand. The first feeding at 12 hours should be one drop of water. Approximately 1/2 to 1 hour later, another drop of water may be given. Feeding too frequently during this period may overload the crop and lead to aspiration and death.

After these initial feedings, if the baby appears normal and is excreting, a few drops of very thin formula can be given. In order that the baby bird receive enough food, the hand-feedings are repeated every two hours around the clock.

One to two weeks - Birds can be fed every 2-3 hours around the dock. If the birds are kept especially warm and comfortable, the night feedings after midnight can be eliminated. However, feedings must begin again at 6:00 AM.

Two to three weeks - This is a relatively safe age to remove the baby birds from the nest for hand-feeding. It is easier to check the crop and feed them. The birds of this age can be fed every three to four hours from 6:00 A.M. to midnight.

Three to four weeks - Feed the birds every 4 hours. As feeding frequency tapers off, the formula can be slightly thickened. At 4 weeks, the birds can be put in a cage with low perches. Water in a bowl may be placed inside.

Five to six weeks - Feed the birds twice daily. A pelleted bird food and other foods may be placed in the cage to encourage the bird to eat on its own.

Seven weeks - Birds should be placed in a large cage with pellets in cups and scattered on the floor. Introduce the birds to a variety of succulent foods, but these should not make up more than 20% of the diet. Vegetables such as peas and corn are well accepted.

Birds should not be weaned before 7 weeks, usually about 8 weeks. Before weaning the bird off hand-feeding, keep close watch to see that the bird is actually eating adequate amounts of pellets on its own and not merely nibbling at the food. Handle the crop to determine the fullness and check the breastbone for degree of muscling. A weaning bird may lose as much as 10% of it's weight normally. Any more than that may be an indication of a problem. It is recommended that the bird be weighed regularly through this period.

When first weaning the bird, give them pellets, as these are a nutritionally complete and balanced diet for the bird. It is a good idea to keep an older bird in a cage next to the cage with the young weanling to teach them to eat through mimicry.

If the baby birds are not weaned, they will become "spoiled" and will not eat on their own, preferring to be hand fed. However, if they are weaned too early, they will not eat adequately, gradually lose weight, become weak and die. Therefore, if baby birds are begging to be fed, even after they are weaned, there may need to be a reversal back to hand-feeding as they may not be eating adequately.


Age in Weeks Number of Daily Feedings


Every 2 Hours (Around the Clock)
1 Every 2 Hours (Around the Clock*)
2 Every 3 Hours (6 a.m. to Midnight)

"Safest" Period To Begin Hand Feeding
Every 4 Hours (6 a.m. to Midnight)
4 Every 5 Hours (6 a.m. to Midnight)
5 to 7 Two Feedings Daily

*If bird is kept especially warm and comfortable, the 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. feedings can be eliminated.

Weaning Period - Important -
Make sure bird is eating adequately on its own before discontinuing hand-feeding. Check fullness of crop.

Housing and Heat
A small cardboard box approximately 12" x12"xl2" or a small fish aquarium with layers of paper towels over a one inch padding of cloth towelling on the bottom will serve as an incubator and holding area while the babies are young. A heating pad is placed under 1/2 of the box or aquarium. A towel is placed over the top. Either the heating pad setting or the amount of the top that is covered by the towel may be adjusted to provide a constant 85-90' for non-feathered birds. The temperature is gradually reduced as they become feathered and mature. It is recommended to observe the babies carefully to determine their comfort level. A cold baby will shiver and a baby that is too hot will not sleep well and will breathe heavily through an open mouth. A bottle or tin filled with water and holes punched in the lid to allow for evaporation will help to provide humidity.

Frequency of Feeding
The frequency and volume of feedings given to baby birds are largely determined by their age. Judging the age of wild birds is difficult if untrained, so the best way to determine feeding requirements is through the use of readily observable changes in the bird. For example, whether or not the eyes are open, and if the bird is standing up "off their hocks."

Before the eyes are open
If the baby birds appear strong and are peeping with their mouths gaping open, then they can eat as much as they want. Ideally, baby birds of this young age should be fed every 15-20 minutes until their eyes are open. They can go up to 30 minutes without a feeding with no ill effects however, more frequent feedings are preferred. They do not require around-the-dock feeding as in nature, they are fed only during daylight hours. In accordance with this, they are given feedings for a 12 hour period. Nonetheless, hand-feeding wild birds is quite a commitment, as it requires nearly 50 feedings per day.

When the eyes are open
As the bird becomes older, the frequency of hand-feeding can be reduced and the volume increased. Efforts can be initiated to get the bird to eat on its own. When a bird initially opens its eyes, it can be fed every half hour unless hungry or peeping.

When birds are "off their hocks"
When birds become stronger and begin to stand on their legs ("off their hocks'), then feedings can be given every 45 minutes. Time between feedings can steadily increased, and when the bird is out of the nest, feedings can be given at 2 hour intervals.


Age Number of Daily Feedings

Before Eyes Are Open:

Feed Bird Every 15 Minutes (12 Hour Period)
Eyes Are Open: Feed Bird Every 30 Minutes (12 Hour Period)
Off Their Hocks Feed Bird Every 45 Minutes (12 Hour Period)
Bird Out Of Nest:
(Standing On Their Own)
Feed Bird Every 2 Hours (12 Hour Period)

*Wean at 15 Days
IMPORTANT-Bird must be eating adequately on its own.

Wild birds should begin showing interest in their surroundings and start to eat on their own by 15 days. Provide live food (meal worms) and grass, twigs, etc. in the nest to stimulate interest in the environment. Spreading seed on the bottom of the nest will also encourage the bird to eat on its own.

During the weaning period, it is critical to keep a close watch on the bird in order that good nutrition is maintained. Many times, a bird may be pecking at seed, giving the impression that it is eating, when in actuality, it is not taking in enough for maintenance. Therefore, it is very important to observe if the bird is eating seed during this period and regularly check the crop for fullness.

If other young birds who are eating on their own are present, placing the baby bird in the same cage will hasten socialization, and the bird will learn to eat on its own through the imitation of others.

Housing For Wild Baby Birds
Following nature's design, a nest is constructed. The sides are formed from cloth rolled to a diameter of 1 1/2 inches and then forming a circular shape like a doughnut. The nest would have a diameter of 4-8 inches, depending upon the number and size of the babies. The 1 1/2' height makes the sides of the nest sufficiently high to keep the babies in the nest, but low enough to allow the baby bird to scoot backwards and pass his waste over the side of the nest.

Paper towels are placed in the bottom of the nest to a depth of 1/2 inch and then placed over the top of the entire nest. The towels are arranged to form a sloping surface which enables the bird to back up to the top of the nest to eliminate, and the paper towels can be easily replaced to maintain cleanliness.

Heat and Humidity
To provide heat in the nest box, a heating pad can be placed under half of the nest and dialed to a setting which will maintain temperature of 85-90 degrees for non feathered birds and gradually reduced as they become feathered. By placing heat under half the nest, the bird is able to select the area where the temperature is most comfortable. The box should be kept covered. A bottle or tin filled with water and holes punched in the lid to allow for evaporation will help to provide proper humidity.

While raising wild birds is rewarding, please, do not make a wild bird a pet. For more information contact your local Wildlife Agency, local Rehabilitation Center, Humane Society, State Fish and Game Agency or the Federal United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Weaning Pet Birds With Avi-Cakes Food
Your pet birds have received a good start in life through the nutritional benefits of Nutri- Start baby bird food. It is important to continue with high-quality nutrition during the weaning stage and beyond. Lafeber's Avi-Cakes are an excellent weaning food for your birds.

When birds reach the weaning stage, simply break Avi-Cakes into small pieces and spread them near the babies. They will first investigate the food then, pick it up and start self-feeding. (Supply fresh Avi-Cakes daily.) When the babies are eating the Avi-Cakes you will first want to eliminate the middle of the day hand-fed meal. As the birds continue eating on their own, discontinue the morning and finally the evening hand-fed meal.

Care of Baby Parrot


A newly arrived baby parrot should be kept in a warm and quiet place for the first few weeks. A young bird needs to rest during the day and a busy environment may exhaust it. This stress weakens the immune system which may result in disease(s).

Provide your bird with a cage big enough so it can fully expand its wings and perhaps jump between perches. Parrots like to climb around their cage and like its security when they rest. Place several toys in its cage, to avoid boredom and change these regularly.

When outside of its cage, you can put your bird on a T perch but this should not be its only territory, since it cannot move around much.


A sudden change of diet could lead to weight loss and digestive upset with subsequent problems, so, it is best to continue with the same diet.

If the baby bird is not weaned, follow the directions on the leaflet of the Tropican hand-feeding formula and provide three food bowls to the baby: one filled with dry Tropican granules, one with soft Tropican moisten with warm water, and a bowl of fresh water. Moist food spoils very fast so be sure to clean the bowl twice a day. Always use the same bowls for your baby birds unless bowls used by another bird has been thoroughly disinfected.


The bird should be allowed out of its cage to interact with people and to exercise each day. Play with the baby every day but do not spoil it too much initially or it will demand this attention later. Do not leave doors or windows open or go outside with an unclipped bird. You can clip the wing feathers but when doing this for the first time, ask someone who is familiar with clipping.

Medical Care

Captive bred birds are not used to the microorganisms carried by a wild caught exotic bird and you should avoid the contact between the two. Species susceptible to Pacheco and Pox diseases should be vaccinated against them if they will be in places with other birds at proximity such as in a pet shop, veterinary clinic, boarding facility or bird shows.

If your bird shows one or several of the following symptoms, it may be sick: sleeping during its usual peak activity, not eating or eating less than usual, diarrhea and feathers puffed up. In that situation, contact immediately your usual avian veterinarian. Isolate the bird. Keep it warm (30°C – 86°F) and try to give it some food.


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MYERS, S.A., MILLAM, J.R., ROUDYBUSH, T.E. and GRAU, C.R. (1988). Reproductive success of hand-reared vs. parent-reared cockatiels (Nymphicus Hollandicus). The Auk 105:536-542.

SHEPPARD, C. and TURNER, W. (1987). Handrearing Palm Cockatoos. AAZPA Annual Proceedings pp. 270-278.

SILVA, T. (1989). A monograph of endangered parrots. Hand-rearing. Silvio Mattacchione and Co., Pickering, Ontario, pp 23-26.

SMITH, G. A. (1985). Problems encountered in hand-rearing parrots. In: Cage and Aviary Bird Medicine Seminar, Australian Veterinary Poultry Association. pp 71-77.

SMITH, R.E. (1986). Psittacine beak and feather disease: a cluster of cases in a cockatoo breeding facility. Proceedings Association of Avian Veterinarians pp 17-20.

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TAKESHITA, D.L., GRAHAM, L. and SILVERMAN, S. (1986). Hypervitaminosis D in baby macaws. Proceedings Association of Avian Veterinarians pp 341-346.

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By Mark Hagen, M.Ag.
Director of Research

How Do Young Birds Know When To Leave The Nest?

Adult gray-headed junco (Junco hyemalis caniceps) enticing one of its youngsters to leave the nest. . [+] Parents hold food away from nest and tempt the young come out to get it. This picture captures a young bird that was just fed outside of the nest. (Credit: T. E. Martin, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aar1988)

Major life changes can be dangerous, even fatal. Probably the most dangerous life transition is when young animals, such as fledgling birds, begin to move about on their own and to make their own decisions. Predictably, when baby birds -- nestlings -- transition from dependency to their new life as fledglings living outside of the nest, their first few weeks of exploring the landscape and learning to fly are fraught with extraordinary dangers.

When nestlings leave the nest too early, they fly poorly, or not at all, because their wings are small and underdeveloped. Fledging too early is usually a fatal decision: it is in a nestling’s best interests to remain in its nest for as long as possible to allow its wings the time necessary to develop more fully.

But remaining in the nest for “too long” is tremendously dangerous for many bird species because predators are always searching their territories for something to eat, and upon discovering an occupied nest, a predator usually kills all the nestlings in one go. Since bird nests are stationary objects, it’s simply a matter of time -- sometimes just hours or even minutes -- before a nest filled with chicks on the verge of transitioning to fledglings is discovered and transformed into lunch. This is especially true for birds that build open-cup nests on or near the ground.

A young gray-headed junco (Junco hyemalis caniceps) is captured leaving the nest, with its sibling . [+] still in the nest in the background, illustrating the under-developed nature of wings when this species leaves the nest. (Credit: T. E. Martin, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aar1988)

Predictably, predation plays an important role in driving the evolution of optimal fledging times for birds. Songbirds that experience higher daily rates of predation -- species like towhees and juncos that build open-cup nests on the ground or in low bushes -- have evolved younger ages of fledging to deal with this pressure. In contrast, this pressure to fledge early is relaxed for birds that enjoy a relatively low risk of nest predation -- as seen in cavity-nesting birds, like chickadees and bluebirds.

Cavity-nesting birds, like this mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli), about to feed its young, have . [+] safer nests that allow young to stay in nests longer and develop their wings for improved flight at leaving. (Credit: T. E. Martin, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aar1988)

“Predation pressure has a huge influence on the capacity of birds to fly,” said Bret Tobalske, a professor who works at the intersection of biology and physics to study animal locomotion at the University of Montana, and Director of the Field Research Station at Fort Missoula. Professor Tobalske was a co-author of the recently published study. “Our study shows this for the developmental phase from nestling to fledgling.”

For example, some species of songbirds lose only 12% of their young, mostly to predators, in the first 3 weeks after they leave the nest, whereas other species lose as many as 70% (for example ref and ref). This is typical: similarly high or highly variable mortality rates due to predation in the first weeks of juvenile life are common across a wide variety of other animal species, too (ref).

A research team, headed by avian ecologist Thomas Martin, Assistant Unit Leader and Senior Scientist in the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Montana, investigated how predation influences the transition from nestling to fledgling in different species of songbirds. These songbirds included species that build open-cup nests either on the ground, low down in bushes or higher up in trees, as well as species that nest in cavities. Dr. Martin and his colleagues measured nest predation rates, wing growth rates, fledging ages and they used high-speed videography to record and examine flight performances of newly fledged birds of 11 songbird species to see if this may explain differences in their fledgling mortality rates.

As expected, Dr. Martin and his collaborators found that songbird species with higher nest predation rates produced fledglings that left their nests earlier, and they had smaller, more underdeveloped wings, and poorer flight abilities.

Dr. Martin and his collaborators tested the effect of older fledging age on survival -- what would happen if the researchers delayed fledging time? To do this, they built a small enclosure around the nests of gray-headed juncos, Junco hyemalis, a species that builds open-cup nests on or near the ground, to delay fledging for three days, whilst leaving other junco nests unprotected to serve as experimental controls. The enclosures were high enough to keep predators out, but had an open top to allow the parents access to feed their nestlings.

They found that all young juncos had nearly identical masses (Figure 6A) regardless of experimental treatment, but the wing lengths of the delayed fledging juncos were substantially longer (Figure 6A and B) than controls, as expected. Further -- and most important -- the scientists found that mortality decreased for individual junco fledglings as their wing lengths increased (Figure 6C and D).

Fig. 6. Wing length and mass with respect to fledgling mortality rates. (A) Mass and wing length as . [+] a proportion of adult size in control versus experimentally enclosed nests for gray-headed junco. Control nests fledged at normal age (11 to 12 days), whereas enclosed nests prevented young from leaving for 3 days after fledging naturally to create a delayed fledge age. (B) Photos of typical wings of junco young from control versus experimentally delayed nests on fledging day versus release day, respectively. (C) Daily mortality rate (±1 SE) decreased among fledglings with increasing wing length at fledging in juncos. (D) Mortality rate of junco fledglings for the first week after fledging in nests where fledge age was experimentally delayed had substantially lower mortality rate than fledglings from control (normal fledge age) nests and comparable to other species based on wing length. (E) Daily mortality rate of fledglings and nestlings when based on estimates per offspring versus per brood across eight species. The line represents equal fledgling and nestling mortality rates. (F) Nest predation influences evolution of fledging age and growth rates of offspring with consequences for relative development when young fledge, which thereby influences locomotor performance and fledgling mortality. Fledgling mortality, in turn, feeds back to further influence evolution of the age of fledging and traits that affect performance and mortality, but parents and offspring conflict on the optimal fledging age. (doi:10.1126/sciadv.aar1988)

It is predicted that natural selection should favor fledging at a time when mortality for remaining in the nest is the same as mortality for leaving the nest, but this is not what Dr. Martin and his collaborators found. Instead, they found that daily mortality is higher for junco fledglings (orange balls above the line for equal mortality rate in Figure 6E) than for junco nestlings. Whilst it is true that when nestling juncos leave later, the risk of nest predation increases, but delayed leaving allows greater wing development and thus, reduces overall individual fledgling mortality. This indicates that junco nestlings are leaving the nest sooner than they should.

“Songbird species differ in rates of mortality of young after leaving the nest due to differences in their relative stage of development caused by risk of predation in the nest,” Dr. Martin elaborated in email. “But the age of leaving is a compromise between offspring and parents, where parents want young to leave earlier than young want.”

“It fits into a broader pattern [that] predation pressure has been (and continues to be) a major driver of the evolution of flight,” Dr. Tobalske said in email.

Thomas E. Martin, Bret Tobalske, Margaret M. Riordan, Samuel B. Case, and Kenneth P. Dial (2018). Age and performance at fledging are a cause and consequence of juvenile mortality between life stages, Science Advances, 4(6):eaar1988, published online on 20 June 2018 ahead of print | doi:10.1126/sciadv.aar1988

Susan M. Smith (1967). Seasonal changes in the survival of the Black-capped Chickadee, The Condor, 69(4):344-359 | doi:10.2307/1366198

Kimberley A. Sullivan (1989). Predation and Starvation: Age-Specific Mortality in Juvenile Juncos (Junco phaenotus), Journal of Animal Ecology, 58(1):275-286 | doi:10.2307/5000

Feeding 6-Week-Old Bird

  1. Birds are notorious for pooping in their water and food. You can get creative with their feeders and water dishes by using butter dishes as feed containers and plastic bottles for covers to keep your bird from roosting on top of the water or food containers.
  2. Keep water and food dishes clean and free of any feces or urine.
  3. When washing water dishes, be sure to use a brush to remove the film that builds up after a few days. Fully rinse away any soap residue.
  4. Do as much research as possible about the species of dove you have. Learn about their habits, what they eat, their habitat, etc.
  5. Observe your baby.
  6. Observe droppings, and be sure there is always a white substance in the feces.

237 thoughts on &ldquo The fledgling problem &rdquo

I love your photography, and the way you describe things in such a way that I don’t have to be a biologist to understand your explanations. Thanks!

Thanks so much for reading!

Extraordinary that “an extra week of parental care can halve the mortality rate.” That seems an easy choice for the parent–but I understand your point, that it depends on what they have to give up that week. Thanks for providing references to your other writing. (And for striking red background to robin fledgling!) Still don’t see why their eyebrows are so huge.

Yes, I’m not clear on the reason for the eyebrows either. They are stylish though…

Love these photos – and the descriptions of fledgling life.
I get very attached to the nesting bird families in my garden. I’m convinced the robins actually know that when they spot a lurking cat, if they raise a ruckus, I’ll come running out of the house and chase the cats away. The robins seem to perch in the tree above, cheering me on, then they swoop down just as the cat is running, as if they were chasing him themselves.

I once read that birds talk about humans just as humans watch and talk about birds. They will identify humans as friends or enemies just as they communicate those same qualities to cats and other predators. I once had a bird follow me around my backyard whenever I went out. If he wanted to be fed, he would fly up to my bedroom window and peck on the window! They’re awfully smart so don’t underestimate their levels of awareness.

Thank you so much for this post. I just had a little drama with a nest of juncos under the eaves of our house that I believe was disturbed by roof rats. I thought they were all lost, then noticed in the nearby garden one fledgling with a yellow gape and hardly anything but stubs for tail feathers. I thought for sure it was too young to be out of the nest but I can see from these photos that the bird is right on time. Plus the parents were nearby and not at all happy with me for snooping around. Whew. I’m wishing them well and leaving them be.

Oh dear – I’m glad at least one made it! Juncos can leave the nest quite young if they’re in danger. One of the nests at my field site got stepped on by cows, and two of the chicks, although very young, managed to flee and were raised just fine by their parents. The parents being near where you saw the chick and mad at you are an EXCELLENT sign!

i had to put a fledgling back in the nest to save it-there are so many stray cats here and one was sitting right in front of it -it was using it like a toy and the mother bird was going crazy screaming at the cat but couldnt help the baby -there was so safe place to put it where a cat or my neighbors dog coiuldnt get it since i think the dog already got one-i watched this mother bird take care of these babies and even today with the fledging watched her try to show it how to get up on the fence but the baby kept hopping and ended up by a stray cat-i dont know what to do to save it and feel bad that i dont think any of then will survive.

That sounds tough to watch, Teresa, I’m sorry. Cats are a real problem for fledglings. If you can find anywhere with enough brush that the fledgling can hide, that would be a good place to put it hiding is probably its best bet. If the fledgling can make it a few more days, either by hiding or by being defended by kind people like you, it will be able to fly and better at escaping. Best of luck in your fledgling-defense and I hope some of them do make it!

I discovered a nest outside my bedroom window and enjoyed watching from inside the house as the mother and father bird fed their young. I woke up one morning and discovered a cat with the dead mother bird in her mouth. I was really worried for the babies but was happy when I discovered the father bird was still feeding them. A few days after I woke up to lots of noisy, hungry baby birds screaming out. After watching the nest for a long time I realised that the father bird must have succumbed to the cat also. I decided I would have to take over with the feeding of them. I did some research on what to feed and soaked cat food and cooked and cooled it, I also gave them boiled egg and mealworms cut up, all from tweezers, which they readily took from me. I continued to feed them every 30 – 45 mins from sunrise to sunset and they continued to thrive. Well last night I noticed that they had hopped out of their nest and were sitting on the banister next to the nest. I thought to myself it wouldn’t be long until they would leave the nest. I was right, I woke up this morning and they were all gone. I looked everywhere for them but they were nowhere to be seen. Now I wish I had taken them inside and put them in a box because I don’t know how they could survive without me feeding them. I figured they would hang around the backyard and I could continue to feed them. I didn’t want to imprint them too much as I knew that it could make it harder for them to survive in the wild. I’m feeling really sad about the whole thing as they were healthy strong little birds and now I don’t even know where they are or if they are alright.

I’m sorry to agree with you that they probably don’t have much chance without parental care as fledglings, especially in such a cat-haunted area. Caring for baby birds is tricky. In the future I’d urge you to find out where your closest wildlife rehabilitator is and bring any orphaned or injured birds to them: they’re trained to raise birds without imprinting, and know how to care for them so that they can be released happy and healthy. Too, if you’re interested, look into becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator yourself, or volunteering with your local rehabber. I think we owe it to the animals to get them help that is as expert as possible, and in cases like these, the experts are wildlife rehabbers.

As for this nest, try to treasure the time you had with the chicks, and know that at least you gave them the gift of a little extra time.

just reading your post now deanna. that was so nice that u cared for the birds until they became fledglings. i don’t know anything about birds, but i think that even though they may have had a tough time hopping around on the ground & looking for food without their mom, there’s still a chance that the dad was alive (he may have been spooked after u fed them & stayed away). also – perhaps one of the fledglings made it on its own … they prob knew to try to pick around & find a worm or bug to eat )

Trapping the cats and surrendering them to the local animal control authorities is another option.

Hi My name is Wes Recently I had a little bird incident I Found A little bird baby bird I guess and It was left completely alone Without it’s parents I looked a couple of Website and found that I watching Nest for 2 hours No parents had come to give it food So I don’t know What to do.But I kept it safe for over a month The being it’s quote on quote mother bird After 1 day of not seeing it I need something that’s wrong because everyday It would come in check in with me at least twice a day sometimes it’s just get food for sometimes just perch on my shoulder But 1 day I found it dead On my neighbor’s lawn I was very heartbroken But I’m wondering if you might have an idea of what could have killed it

Hello, there – I am hoping that perhaps you could answer a question for me. We were intently observing a family of mockingbirds (mom, dad and two babies) who took up residence in a bush at the front of our house. We did our best not to disturb them and kept our distance so mom and dad could do their exhaustive work of feeding and guarding their babies without having to worry about us humans stressing them out. We took particular care to keep our two cats in the house, especially while they were nesting and when the two babies left the nest. The cats seemed pretty intimidated by these mockery but we were to taking any chances. We noticed that in the two days after the babies left the nest, we could still hear them in bushes behind our house and also across the street. It appeared one baby wound up across the street with dad and the other hung back for a day but wound up in our back yard with mom. We could see that mom and dad were still feeding their babies while they hid in the bushes and they were still keeping a watchful eye on them. I found it reassuring to hear the sounds of the babies calling out to their parents in the two days after they left their nest because it meant they were still alive. I marveled at the parents constant work and patience and wondered how long thy could keep it up because these babies were still so very helpless and vulnerable to other predators, including larger birds. Around three days after the first baby left the nest, I no longer heard the sound of them and I no longer saw any sign of the babies OR the parents. It’s like the whole family just disappeared altogether. The yard seems eerily quiet and kind of lonely now, especially after all the constant chatter and activity that had been taking place while they were nesting. I understand that the babies will practice their flying skills for several days after they leave the nest but is it normal for the babies AND parents to disappear altogether somewhere around day three of this process? I’m hoping that it’s possible they found a more interesting place to hang out but deep down I’m afraid something may have happened to the babies or worse, the entire family. I’ve seen no sign of “foul play” anywhere in the yard but I’m still not reassured that all is well for this beautiful family of mockers. Any input you could share about what may have come of them would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

Hi Chrissie,
It’s impossible to know for sure what happened. It may be, as you fear, that both chicks got eaten. However, it’s also very possible that the parents simply moved the family somewhere else. Depending on how old the chicks were when they fledged, day 3 may have been the day that they were able to fly well enough to be moved far away. Or maybe the parents had a close call with a cat, crow, hawk, etc. and decided it would be better to go somewhere else. If your backyard isn’t the only good habitat around, then I think it’s definitely possible that they moved out.
Also, regarding your fear that something may have happened to the whole family: you can be pretty confident that the parents are okay, I think. If both chicks died, the parents would either leave or behave unobtrusively again your not seeing them doesn’t mean they’ve died.
I do think there’s a good chance that everyone is okay. I completely sympathize with your frustration over not knowing!

My question is regarding the time when fledglings first leave the nest. Some finches just hatched outside my bedroom window on the third floor of an apt building. Other than the rail the nest is on, there are no branches or other perching areas and it is a straight drop down to a concrete area. Will the baby birds be able to safely get down from the nest as they transition from nestling to fledgling? Baby birds are awesome, I would love it if they get a fair chance at a birds life.

I found a baby mocking bird in texas about 10 days ago. Eyes closed, bald! He is now perching on his hanging basket and jumping into the large box he’s in. When should I trybto releade him. I live in the country…..lots of predators!

Oops that should say….when should I try to release him?

Thanks so much for the information on fledgings! I helped some young fledgings, mother was solid blue, get through a severe thunderstorm by placing them in a warm, dry, protected place. The mother fed them the entire time. One was able to fly, but the other wasn’t as advanced. One morning they were all gone. We had them for 2 nights. I am wondering HOW LONG before a fledging can fly? Is is a matter of hours? days? weeks? I got attached to them and I’m worried. Thanks.

How far do fledgling robins travel from their original nest? I found an uninjured fledgling on the road in a residential area and there was little to no groubd vegetation, but high tree cover. I had to move the bird approx 75 yards away to find shrubs and trees. Will the parents find it?

Thanks for the article, and everyone’s comments. That said, not mentioning cats in the article, in your list of predators is to me bordering on “criminal”. Cats are one of the greatest dangers to baby birds (and adults as well), killing approximately 2 billion birds in the US every year, so they belong on that list (and people need to be aware of it… including irresponsible cat owners). What we really need IMO are more predators to keep the marauding “pet” and feral cats under control… On a lighter note, you were wondering and commenting on the tendency of Robins and some other fledglings to become still like statues, since they have no other defense. It’s definitely a survival strategy, but I also think it’s due to being TERRIFIED!! As in the saying, “petrified with fear”. And that is one of the basic survival techniques of living beings-fight, flight, or freeze (and hope you’re not noticed, or don’t attract attention. Even a cat that freezes is less likely to be chased by a dog than one who runs away! And of course, being a strategy for surviving, and being “petrified” (ie, turned to stone) are not mutually exclusive.

Thanks for the article! I am lucky enough to have wrens nest in some of my nesting boxes every year. They keep coming back so must think it’s safe! The male when he is searching for a mate is so full of beautiful song. I cannot get over how loud they are for such a tiny bird! They are fierce protective little devils, and woe betide me when setting up my cushions on my deck swing for a nice sit with my first coffee of the day. They give new meaning to the phrase – parting your hair! They do! Literally – if I dare to even venture near their end of the deck. I am lucky enough not to have any cats (been there, done that phase) and now have dogs. Two medium sized Blue Heelers, and an 11lb Chihuahua. The activity has been quite wearing. How the Wren parents cope, I haven’t a clue. Between feeding all 4 (I think) little gaping mouths and picking up and flying off with little white poop packets, they must be worn out. They are a joy to watch. I have missed fledging every year as Ma and Pa are very clever and wait until my menagerie and I are safely indoors before initiating their brood to the joys of flying. Luckily I have a very large stand of Lilacs right next to my deck, so after negotiating from nesting box to deck rail….the Lilac is right there. They hide in there for several days, while their parents chide me for daring to step out onto my own deck. Then go about the business of feeding their fluttering little brood and no doubt explaining the meaning of life!. No cats in our area due to the nasty Fisher-cats that hang out in the local forest that decimate the cat population. The amount of cats that go missing in our area is notorious. I really feel for the pet owners, but new residents don’t do their homework, otherwise there would be a lot of indoor kitties! My dogs, luckily are only interested in Squirrels and Chipmunks, so if a yellow-billed little fledger were to hop around on the deck, and they made a move….I would be on them in a hurry!! It is a joy and a privilege that they come back every year….despite me, my swing and my rather noisy dogs.

I certainly do envy your daily activities with these beautiful creatures. Animals and birds around me all day would dwelve me into mother nature’s essence. Thank you for sharing.

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