If you enjoy feeding your backyard birds during the breeding season, you’re probably wondering what do baby birds eat?
Baby birds eat the same diet as their parents, with the nutrients and textures adjusted. As a general rule, most hatchlings live on a diet high in insects. This high protein diet helps them to grow quickly. The rest of their diet will be supplemented with seeds and grains until they can forage for themselves.
The last thing you want to be doing is putting the wrong type of food in your feeders. In fact, the wrong food may be harmful to baby birds.
Learning how to feed baby birds is essential to keeping your backyard bird happy and healthy.
This guide will discuss what you feed baby birds in the wild, as well as how to feed them and a few questions you have.
Let’s get started.
What do baby birds eat?
Baby birds will eat whatever adult birds eat.
That’s because adult birds need to find the food and bring it to their babies. The easiest way to do that is by bringing them food they already eat.
There are two main differences between a baby bird and an adult and diet.
Baby birds need lots of protein, so parent birds will feed them insects mixed with seeds or fruit.
Even birds species that are predominantly seed-eaters will eat insects during the breeding season.
Parent birds will eat the food first and then spit it back up for the chicks. We call this behavior regurgitation.
Regurgitated food helps the chicks to swallow and digest the food. Very young baby birds are too immature to handle the textures that adult birds eat.
Do baby birds eat the same as adult birds?
As a general rule baby birds eat the same as adult birds.
We’ve already discussed how adult birds adjust the nutrients and textures of the food for baby birds.
As the baby bird grows its diet will start to resemble that of the adult bird.
This is because parents are teaching the baby birds how to survive for themselves as adult birds.
It’s essential that baby birds eat the right diet for them to be strong and healthy birds.
Take the goldfinch. As adult birds, their diet is mainly vegetarian. This means a goldfinch chick has to adapt to a vegetarian diet as they grow.
Birds often need a variety in their diet. When they focus too on one food type they usually become sick from lack of nutrients.
Should you feed baby birds?
You should never attempt to feed baby birds by placing food into a nest.
The best way to help feed a chick is to offer food to the parents in your garden. They will then take the food back to their chicks.
Baby birds will have specific diets and their parents are best suited to know what they need.
There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t feed birds during the breeding season. Having plenty of food can make birds’ nests a bigger target for nest predators like squirrels.
Found a baby bird out the nest?
If you find a chick out of a nest, check if it has feathers.
If it doesn’t then it’s a nestling or a hatchling. Place the bird back in its nest or alert a bird sanctuary that can care for the bird appropriately.
If they do have feathers it’s a fledgling. They may be practicing flying. Put them in a safe place away from predators and leave them alone.
Do not try to feed a bird you find out the nest.
Even if your intentions are good, overhanding a fledgling is much more likely to kill them after a few days.
What do you feed a baby bird?
I see you’ve ignored the advice not to feed the baby bird so it’s time to pull out the big guns.
It’s illegal to handle wild birds. Don’t believe me? Then cast your eyes on the Migrant Bird Treaty Act.
I understand you want to help. The best way for you to do this is by contacting a bird or wildlife sanctuary in your area.
If you know that it will be over 24 hours until you can get help for a baby bird, it’s likely you’ll choose to feed it.
In that case, you need to be very careful about what you do. You need to think like a mama bird.
Adult birds will always provide baby birds with a high protein diet. Any food you offer should have a moist, soft, spongy texture.
Good examples of this are:
- Moist puppy food
- Hardboiled egg
- Moist kitten chow (mashed up)
Cut, crush or mash the food to the appropriate size. Younger chicks will need extremely smooth textures whereas fledglings will be able to handle some lumps.
Remember this should be an emergency measure only. You need to contact a bird sanctuary as soon as possible for them the care for the bird appropriately.
What not to feed baby birds
You know you should feed a baby bird, but what if you have none of that on hand?
Remember baby birds have very specific diets and there are things which you should absolutely not feed them including:
- Hamburger meat
- Bread/bakery products
- Kitchen scraps
These are just a few common examples of what you might think a baby bird can eat. Once you know what they can’t eat, you’ll see how specialized baby birds’ diet needs to be.
Unless you’re ready to start blending up insect smoothies, then call the bird or wildlife sanctuary!
How often do baby birds eat?
Baby birds eat a lot. That means the parents are having to constantly provide food for serval chicks and themselves throughout the day.
The timing of feeds will depend on the age and species of the bird:
- Hatchlings will feed roughly every 15-20 minutes
- Nestlings will feed every 30-45 minutes
- Fledglings will feed every 1-3 hours
Baby birds will eat over a 12-14 hours period every day. They then fast for the rest of the day when their parent is at rest.
You can help parents feed their baby birds by ensuring access to high-quality food in your garden feeders at least once or twice a day.
When do you Feed baby birds?
You’ll have success helping the adult birds feed their baby birds in the springtime.
Spring is the prime breeding season for birds as there are lots of natural sources of food and water for them.
Baby Bird Feeding FAQ
Let’s look at some of the most popular questions we get asked about feeding baby birds.
Do baby birds eat at night?
This usually depends on whether the bird is diurnal (active during the day) or nocturnal (active during the night.
Birds that are active at night will have chicks that will feed through the night.
Some Diurnal fledglings may also feed during the night if they have become disorientated from their sleep cycles.
What do baby birds drink?
Baby birds don’t drink fluids. They will get their water from any food they eat.
Apart from being high in protein, insects are used to feed chicks as they contain a lot of water.
Some birds can survive purely on the water that their bodies make from digesting any food they eat.
Do baby birds eat dried mealworms?
Baby birds can eat dried mealworms. But if you offer them at your feeder during the breeding season make sure you hydrate the mealworms first.
This is important to do if birds are bringing fledglings to your feeders.
You can read more about how to do that here in our guide to what birds eat mealworms.
Don’t offer too many mealworms at a feeder during breeding season as it can cause issues with calcium absorption.
If in doubt about how much is too much, shake some calcium powder on top of your mealworms to offset any risk of nutrient deficiency.
What kind of Seed do baby birds eat?
Baby birds will eat birdseed if it’s the main part of their parent’s diet.
Baby birds the east birdseed will at a regurgitated version from their parents until they are old enough to fly themselves.
Once a baby bird can fly, their parents will likely bring them to your feeders so they can eat what is on offer.
Can baby birds eat bread?
You should not offer adult birds bread to feed their baby birds.
Baby birds will become nutrient and water-deficient with a diet heavy in bread and this will lead to illness.
Dry chunks of bread can also cause a baby bird to choke.
To round it up, the next time you ask yourself ‘what do baby birds eat’ you’ll know the answer.
Baby Birds eat a modified version of an adult bird diet mixed in with a lot of protein.
If you want to help adult birds feed their young, the best time to do it is in spring. But remember this may make them more of a target for nest predators.
The biggest takeaway from this guide should be that you shouldn’t be feeding baby birds that are out of the nest.
Seriously don’t. It’s illegal and at worst deadly for the birds. Leave it to the expert and call a sanctuary to help.
Leave a comment to let me read your thoughts or experiences with feeding baby birds.