What Do Baby Birds Eat? The Ultimate Guide to Bird Feeding

Yellow baby chick

What do baby birds eat? If you're a bird watcher or hang a bird feeder in your backyard, spring may make you wonder how to make sure baby birds are fed. The good thing about baby birds' diets is that their parents know exactly how to feed them.

What Do Baby Birds Eat?

Baby Bird inside a glass

Image via flickr

Baby birds need high protein, but the exact type of food is different depending on the bird. And, baby birds' diets are as varied as the number of bird species, of course! But for songbirds in your backyard, the answer is that they eat whatever their parents give them!

Some birds, like waterfowl, are born ready to go and find food as soon as they can. This is often within hours of hatching! But a lot of your common backyard birds are born featherless and vulnerable, requiring their parents to care for them. Adult birds will bring food to their chicks until the chicks are ready to leave the nest.

Baby bird diets in the wild

Baby Bird in the wild

Image via flickr

What do baby birds eat in the wild? Just like human babies, the most important thing is that baby birds have a ready supply of nutrients.

For many birds, this involves feeding their chicks protein in the form of insects, fish, and meat. This is true even for baby birds that will primarily eat seeds, nuts, or other plant parts later in their life. Parents will often gather insects to feed to their chicks even though they would not eat them themselves.

But even this varies by species. Certain birds feed their babies a substance known as crop milk, a protein-rich substance that the birds make and regurgitate into their babies' mouths. Crop milk is found in birds like the flamingo and emperor penguin, but it's also common closer to home. Pigeons and doves also use crop milk to feed their young.

There's not one easy answer to the question of what do baby birds eat. But for the most part, their diet is often protein-rich and usually very different from that of their parents.

At the Bird Feeder

Baby BIrd Feeder

Image via flickr

This raises the question: What do baby birds eat when they leave the nest? Do they still rely on the protein that they could get from insects, or do they switch to birdseed instead?

If you keep a bird feeder in your backyard, you may be looking for a way to help baby birds grow. Whether you'll be able to feed young birds or not depends on what age you target. Certain young birds will be able to eat the birdseed you provide, although you may want to change what you stock and where you put your feeder.

Can a baby bird eat birdseed?

Stocking the bird feeder for young bird

Caring for Baby Birds Yourself

Baby birds are relaxing at the tree branch

Image via flickr

If you've found a baby bird on the ground, you may have a different reason for asking, "What do baby birds eat?"

Caring for a baby bird doesn't have to be scary, but it also isn't always necessary. The baby bird you think is abandoned may just be at a natural stage in life where it is out of the nest but cannot fly. We'll help you identify these birds and know what to feed them if they do need it.

Knowing when a bird needs rescuing

Baby birds may seem helpless, but their parents aren't. Instinct is a powerful driver, and you should trust that adult birds know how to care for their babies without needing to look anything up!

Before you bring a baby bird inside to care for it, we have a few recommendations to make sure that any lost birds truly need your help.

Nestling birds

Fledgling birds

How to feed a baby bird you've rescued

In some scenarios, it's still necessary to care for a baby bird even after you've gone through all the steps above. In this case, you'll definitely be wondering, "What do baby birds eat?"

It's probably not easy to get a hold of insects on short notice, but there are a few protein-rich alternatives that you probably have on hand.

Moistened pet food is probably the first thing you'll be able to find. Wet dog food or moistened dry food is a good emergency go-to. Hard boiled eggs and raw liver have similar protein content and texture. Anything you feed a baby bird should be soft and wet, but not dripping, as this could drown the bird.

Under no circumstances should you feed the baby bird worms or bird seed.

Anything you feed it should be a temporary solution until you can get the baby bird to a rescue, where they will be able to care for it properly. Don't try to nurse the bird yourself. The best thing you can do is get it into professional care.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Birds

If your reason for asking what do baby birds eat is so you can take care of them yourself, please take away this:

Adult birds are far better at taking care of their babies than you will ever be, and chances are the birds you've found are not actually in danger. Whether they have fallen from the nest or are fledglings on the ground, the best thing you can do for a baby bird is to leave it where the parents can get to it. Only if you're positive it has been abandoned should you try to rescue it.

When being cared for by their parents, baby birds have diverse diets that are rich in protein. Even when we try to feed them with mealworms or suet, these lack the nutrients baby birds require for growth. Whether on their own diet of insects or from specialized crop milk, parent birds are the best equipped for caring for their young.

Just like we love observing adult birds in their natural habitat, we should trust the natural process. Observing baby birds is a rare treat, but trying to feed them could end up doing more harm than good.

Have you had the pleasure of having a nest of baby birds in your yard to observe? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Featured Image by Philipp Kleindienst from Pixabay


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