How to Care for Baby Cardinals

Cardinals are beautiful songbirds that are found in the Americas. These birds mark their territories with their songs.

You may learn to recognize a cardinal’s song. Unfortunately, like all other birds, cardinal nests can be destroyed due to felling, storms, or attacks by predators. 

Wildlife rehabilitation facilities receive innumerable baby cardinals every year, especially during nesting season.

Often people are unable to identify baby cardinals and wrongfully assume that the baby needs help. People are also often unaware of how to take care of these babies properly. 

Baby cardinals are challenging to identify because they look nothing like adult cardinals. Identifying baby cardinals accurately is vital so that you can take proper care of them. 

How to Recognize a Baby Cardinal?

Adult cardinals are easy to recognize since they are incredibly bright.

Baby cardinals are devoid of feathers and are gray. They don’t have crested-chest like their parents.

You should know how to identify cardinal babies if you find a featherless gray baby near a tree. 

What Does the Nest Look Like?

Cardinal nests are found between forks of tree branches.

They build their nests in four layers made of twigs, leaves, the bark of grapevines, and grass and pine needles.

These nests are quite small and only four inches in diameter. 

What Do the Cardinal Eggs Look Like?

If you see any remnants of eggshells in the nest, you can observe them to identify if the babies are cardinal.

Cardinal eggs are smooth and glossy.

They are pale blue or greenish and are often speckled with brown, gray, or purple.

The eggs should be about an inch in length. 

The Feathers, the Beak, and the Mouth

The pin feathers of a baby cardinal will be rust-brown and will eventually mature into the bright color of the adults.

The beak of the cardinals will be conical in shape and wide because cardinals are seed eaters.

The beaks should be black, which turns orange-red as the cardinals mature. The insides of their mouth will be pink. 

How To Determine if the Baby Cardinal Needs Help

Not all cardinal babies that you see on the ground will require help.

Here is a quick guide to determine whether you should rescue the baby: 

Fledglings

Feathered babies are called fledglings. They are at a stage where they may be learning how to fly. A cue could be the presence of an adult cardinal nearby or in a nest.

Search thoroughly to see if you can spot a cardinal. Leave the baby alone if you find the parents watching closely nearby.

If you don’t find a parent, you may wait and see what happens. The parents will usually return in a while if they have gone to search for food. 

Fuzzy Baby Cardinal

If the baby is fuzzy and hasn’t developed feathers, you may try to return the baby to the nest.

Watch for a while to see if the mother accepts the baby. Cardinals aren’t known to reject their young, but it is still possible. 

If the Parents are Dead, Missing, or Rejected the Baby

If its parents have rejected the baby or if you see a pair of dead cardinals nearby, you may call a wildlife rescue center and keep the baby safe and warm meanwhile.

Shred some old newspapers and place them in a box. You can add some pieces of old cloth to generate some warmth for the baby.

You can add a heating pad on a low setting or a heating lamp a little farther away from the baby. 

Cardinals sit on their babies for a few days after they are born, and you will need to replicate their warmth. You should hand over the baby cardinal to wildlife rescue centers.

But if you don’t have a wildlife rescue center nearby or can’t seem to reach them, you may raise the baby on your own. 

How to Handle a Baby Cardinal

Baby cardinals are incredibly fragile. You can easily hurt them if you’re not careful. BE extremely gentle when handling babies.

Please don’t pick them up with their heads, legs, or wings.

Cup the babies in both of your hands and if the baby tries to squirm and escape, hold the lower neck of the baby down using your thumb and forefinger.

Be extremely gentle when handling baby birds because you can permanently injure them. 

Immediately place the cupped bird in a box but place something soft inside first. The baby’s legs can get injured if the box is hard. 

How to Feed a Baby Cardinal and Take Care of It

Extremely young babies will need to be a fed a blended diet with a dropper. As they grow, cardinal babies can be fed solid foods with tweezers.

Foods that you can feed baby cardinals include soft fruits such as grapes and berries, store-brought baby parrot food, mashed cat or dog food soaked in water overnight. 

You can ask a vet for guidance if you are unsure of what to feed the baby.

Don’t feed the baby water because its hydration needs will be fulfilled by the wet food you feed. 

The baby cardinals will need to be fed every 15 to 30 minutes or whenever they gape their beaks for food.

This isn’t easy because the baby needs constant attention, even through the night! You might wake up to a crying baby quite a few times throughout the night.

But taking care of a baby bird can be very satisfying. 

Changing the Bedding

Change the bedding of the carton in which you are keeping the cardinal regularly.

If bacteria or fungus develop in the bedding, the baby cardinal can quickly get sick.

Don’t use hay to line up the box because hay and straw can be breeding grounds for numerous microorganisms. 

When the baby starts to feather, move it to a bigger cage and place tree branches in it. You can place solid foods on the branches and in the enclosure.

Cardinals like to feed on insects, seeds, grains, and berries.

Cardinals will eat any seeds, and the choice of seeds is not limited, but you can try sunflower, safflower, weed seeds, or any other seeds commonly found in the wild in your area. 

Do not feed bread or milk to the baby cardinal. Buy mealworms from a local pet store to feed the baby cardinal.

Cardinals need fat and protein-rich diets, which mealworms readily provide. 

How to Make the Transition to the Wild Smooth

Make sure that you feed the bird a diet that can also be found in your area so that when you release the baby, it can easily find food based on what you’ve been feeding it.

If you feed the baby food usually not found in your area, the baby will not learn to recognize appropriate food and die of starvation when released. 

When the cardinal has grown feathers and is flying around in the cage, it is time for it to fly away. Cardinals belong in the wild and not in homes.

Once you are ready to release the baby and have said your goodbye, leave the door of the cage open in the outdoors so that the cardinal can explore the surroundings but still return for food and water when it is thirsty or hungry. 

Initially, the cardinal may return to the cage frequently to feed itself. Soon, you might not see the cardinal for a few days at a time.

This means that the baby has successfully transitioned to the wild. 

You will need to release the baby into the wild once it starts to feather. Keeping wild birds is illegal in America, and you could get in trouble for it.

You might get attached to your baby, but the cardinal should be released into the wild and find new friends and family. 

Final Words

Taking care of vulnerable creatures is indeed a noble act of kindness that can be rewarding in more ways than you may know.

It creates a sense of happiness and fulfillment when you watch these babies grow so quickly and fly away to build homes. It may also be a priceless teaching experience for your kids.

If you live in an area where songbirds are frequently heard and seen, you might happen to find a baby bird in need of care.

Keep an eye out during nesting season and pay attention to any desperate baby bird calls. 

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