Rescuing Orphaned Baby Bird Hatchlings
All you need to know to successfully rescue and handfeed orphaned baby bird hatchlings
Birds which nest in trees hatch babies that are born naked and with eyes closed. These hatchlings are altricial, meaning they are born in a helpless and very immature state, requiring care for some time.
A hatchling which has fallen, or been pushed, out of it's nest is usually in a sick or weakened condition. The hatchling may be suffering from hypothermia and/or dehydration.
Gather up the hatchling and place in a container such as a shoe box, or a clean, disinfected aquarium tank. Line the bottom of the container with clean paper toweling, or soft cloth, making sure there are no loose threads for little feet and nails to get caught on. This lining is to be changed after each excretion, certainly after two or three! Place the holding container half-way on a heating pad set on low. Be sure to check the temperature frequently, so as not to overheat the hatchling. If the hatchling begins to pant, (breathing with beak open) make necessary temperature adjustments. Skin temperature must also be checked for coolness. If it feels cool to the touch, he is too cool and needs to be warmed. Ideal temperature is around 95-100'. DO NOT feed a cold or chilled hatchling for they are unable to digest food in this state. As the hatchling fledges and becomes feathered, the temperature is reduced accordingly. When fully feathered, no heat is required.
Next, gently pinch the skin between your thumb and forefinger. If it stays together the hatchling is dehydrated. Using a bent, folded spoon, syringe, or eye dropper, administer Pedialite or Gatorade to rehydrate. For a home-made solution combine 1t. salt, 3T sugar in 1 quart hot water. The liquid should be at around 100', the body temperature of the hatchling. Administer fluids every 15-30 minutes, or until skin becomes pliable. After this is achieved the only source of water you will give will be mixed with food sources, eventually offered from a dish.
Commercial handfeeding formula is highly recommended, but not absolutely necessary. A good alternative is dry dog or cat food soaked in hot water. After becoming soft it should be cool enough to feed. Take a pair of tweezers and pinch off small pieces of food. By tapping the side of the beak a feeding response is triggered, making the beak open. Place food in mouth and the hatchling will automatically swallow. Feeding should be every hour except at nighttime, then resumed at daybreak.
Around the second week the hatchlings eyes will open and almost fully feathered. Though heat is no longer necessary, the baby bird must be free from drafts and not allowed to become chilled.
In addition to the soaked dog or cat food, live food should now be offered. Mealworms can be purchased, or earthworms dug up. You will find these at most bait shops. Before feeding the live bait, dip the worm, or portion of, in water continuing to supply a source of water.
At 3 weeks of age, the baby bird will be completely feathered. Activity will increase dramatically in the form of hopping and fluttering. It is at this point you put the baby bird in a roomy cage for it's own safety. The cage should allow the baby bird to fully stretch it's wings and practice flapping. Failing to do this could result in a broken wing.
Beginning the fourth week, start offering different foods in dishes, as well as water. Along with the pet foods and worms, offer spray millet, seed, bread crumbs and popcorn. A dark green leafy veggie is also good, as well as small slices of orange or apple. When the baby bird is eating well enough to sustain itself, it is time to free the bird. This process is achieved by keeping the cage outside, in a safe place, with the cage door open wide. Although the bird may leave the cage, continue to supply food and water. The bird has not been taught yet how to forage for food and may come back to eat. Even after leaving it's old home, you may notice it's presence around your yard and trees. When this happens, you know you have a life-long friend.