How Long Can a Baby Bird Go Without Food or Water?

Babies are cute, and baby birds are no exception.

But when it comes to taking care of a baby bird, you may have some questions about how to do it properly.

One important aspect of caring for a baby bird is to know ‘How long can a baby bird go without food or water’

How Long Can a Baby Bird Go Without Food or Water?

All baby birds are almost helpless without their parents, but most baby birds can survive as long as several hours to even a full 24-hour day on their own.

Most baby birds get the water they need from food.

A few kinds of birds, such as the female flamingo, the female pigeon, and the male Emperor penguin produce a milk-like substance called crop milk, which they regurgitate into the waiting mouths of their young.

Other species of baby songbirds and pet birds don’t need to drink water to stay hydrated.

They do, however, need food for its liquid content on a regular basis.

As a general rule:

  • Baby birds that have just been hatched can go as long as 3 hours without food.
  • Fledgling birds, which already have their feathers, but haven’t left the nest, can go as long as 6 hours without food.
  • And young birds that can fly but still live in the nest may be able to go as long as 24 hours.

If I Find a Baby Bird, Do I Have to Feed It Every Three Hours?

Adult birds will always do a better job of feeding their young than you.

The best thing to do if you find an abandoned baby bird in the wild is, first, to make sure it really has been abandoned.

The parents of baby birds may spend as little as 15 seconds feeding their young before they take off again to find more food.

Only if you don’t see an adult bird visit the nest for three or four hours should you assume that the hatchlings have been abandoned.

Then, if you are sure that a nest has been abandoned, call a wildlife rehabilitation specialist for help.

Most US states have a department of natural resources or parks and wildlife that can send out a rehabilitation specialist to take care of abandoned baby birds.

In Canada, Australia, and the UK, you can call the nearest wildlife sanctuary or humane society.

It is illegal in the US, UK, and Canada to take a wild bird into your home except to keep it alive long enough to get it to a licensed wildlife sanctuary.

However, it is entirely legal to take over the feeding of pet birds by hand to socialize them with human company.

Hand Feeding Baby Pet Birds

Hand-raised baby birds make better pets.

A bird that has been fed by hand from the time it is a chick is more comfortable around people and other pets. It interacts better with children.

It is less likely to fly away if it ever gets a chance.

The downside of hand-feeding a baby pet bird (never a wild bird) is that it requires a major commitment of time and patience.

It is always a good idea to get some advice from your vet before you start hand feeding pet birds for the first time.

When to Start Hand Feeding a Baby Bird

You can start hand-feeding a baby bird any time before its parents stop feeding it, usually in the first three weeks after it has hatched.

Older birds are less likely to accept feeding by hand.

Where to Keep a Baby Bird That You Are Hand Feeding

Baby birds need warmth and humidity. Baby birds that don’t yet have feathers need to be kept at 95°F to 97°F (35°C to 36°C).

If they can’t get warmth from body contact with their parents, the best solution is to put them in an incubator.

If an incubator is not available, you can place a heating pad with a thermostat underneath their nest.

Or you can fill a smooth sock with rice and microwave it, placing it in their nesting box and replacing it every 2 or 3 hours to provide continuous warmth.

Once birds get their pin feathers, they will be OK at temperatures of about 75° to 85°F (24° to 30°C).

Always be alert to signs that the baby bird is too hot or too cold.

If a hatchling bird is too hot, it will pant and/or stretch out its wings. If a baby bird is too cold, it will shiver or cuddle together with its siblings in its cage.

What to Feed a Baby Bird

There are a number of commercial products for feeding abandoned or hand-raised baby birds.

If you don’t know what to feed a baby pet bird, start with Kaytee Exact Handfeeding Baby Bird Food Instant Formula. Or try Nekton Baby-Bird Handfeeding Formula.

These and similar products are mixed with hot water (bring water to boiling and let it cool before mixing it with bird food powder) and given to baby birds with a syringe.

It is always best to start with a brand of bird food you can easily find and stick with it until the baby bird is ready to eat adult food.

Changing brands of food while you are hand-feeding baby birds can lead to digestive problems.

Baby birds need food that is served at body temperature, about 102° to 106°F (39° to 41°C). They reject food that is too hot or too cold.

Measure the temperature of the liquid you are feeding your baby birds with a thermometer.

Start with boiling water and let it cool down, so you can be sure it is warm enough for the baby bird’s digestive tract.

Day-old and two-day-old birds are still living off the yolk of their eggs. They need more fluid than food. Make their gruel about 90 percent water.

After the first two days and until the birds are ready to eat adult food, give them bird food mix that is about 75 percent water, that is 3 parts water to 1 part powdered bird food.

How Often and How Much to Hand Feed Baby Birds

Chicks less than a week old need to be 6 to 10 times a day, about every 2 or 3 hours, until they open their eyes.

Once the chicks’ eyes are open, feed them 3 to 5 times a day, every 5 hours.

After their feathers come in, start feeding your baby birds just 3 times a day, giving them their meals 6 hours apart.

Feeding baby birds with a syringe gives you a way to record how much they are eating.

You can also feed baby birds with a spoon with its sides bent up and inward.

When a chick is ready to eat, it will bob its head up and down rapidly. This motion closes its trachea so it does not choke on its food.

If a chick is not bobbing its head up and down, do not attempt to feed it. You don’t want it to aspirate food into its lungs.

A good sign that your chick is ready to eat again is an empty crop.

This organ that extends over the front of the bird’s chest at the base of the bird’s neck, will be visible when your bird is full.

Baby birds don’t have fully developed immune systems. It is important never to give them spoiled food, and to clean syringes and utensils between feedings.

Later on, it is important to clean their food and water bowls every day, even after they begin to develop immunity to disease.

When to Stop Hand Feeding a Pet Bird

Chances are that your bird will let you know when it is ready to feed itself, if you give it a selection of seeds, food pellets, fruit, and vegetables, depending on its species.

By the time the bird has all of its feathers, it is usually time to let it learn to eat on its own.

Some young birds learn how to feed by watching older birds in their cage or nearby.

How You Can Know Something Is Wrong

If you encounter any of these situations while hand-feeding a baby bird, consult your veterinarian for advice:

  • Your baby bird is crying or chirping all the time.
  • Your baby bird fusses all day and won’t go to sleep at night when you turn off the lights and put a cover over its cage.
  • Your baby bird droops its wings and spends a lot of time on the floor of its cage.
  • Your baby bird doesn’t make a lot of droppings.
  • It has food on its crop. (It may have regurgitated food that was scalding hot.)
  • Your baby bird does not seem to be growing normally.

Some Common Questions People Have about Baby Birds Food and Water

Q. What should I do if I find an egg on the ground?

A. Wrens and sparrows sometimes throw the eggs of other birds on the ground to reduce their competition. When an egg is broken, it will not hatch.

If you find an unbroken egg on the ground, the best thing to do is to put it back into the nest from which it came.

Incubating an egg just isn’t something you can do on your own.

They have to be kept at an exact temperature and turned every hour or so.

Then, if they did hatch, you would have to give the baby bird a specialized diet as often as every 15 minutes. (Pet bird species do not need to be fed this often.)

Adding to all these issues, it is illegal in the US and Canada to take a wild bird out of its habitat and into your home unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabber.

Q. I know I need to take an abandoned wild bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist. But what can I feed it until their office is open?

A. It is better to feed an abandoned nothing than to give it the wrong food. Cold birds cannot digest their food.

They need to be warmed up before they are given anything. Don’t give baby birds insects or worms.

They cannot digest them yet. Give baby birds bird food formula, and keep in mind that they cannot feed themselves. They need you to put the food in their mouth.

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