Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I have a couple of dog kennels, the plastic kind with holes in the sides. I cut a tree branch and stick through the holes from one side to the other to make a perch. You can also buy wooden dowels from the home improvement stores. Put seed and water in containers that can't be turned over and put them in the floor of the kennel. Put the bird in and put him very close to the area where you are feeding other birds outside. Bring him inside at night. This way, he can watch the adults peck seeds.

DO NOT use a small bird cage to do this, for several reasons. First, cats can reach into the cages and can, and do, injure or kill birds left outside in this way. Second, the bird has no shade protection in a cage. The kennel (if big enough) provides protection from both dangers. I still try to put it in the shade for added protection.

After about a week or so, and after you have made sure the bird can fly (in a room in your house--no ceiling fans running!!!), you can begin to leave the kennel door open. It's best to do that when there are 4 or 5 days of clear weather in the forecast. It may take a few days for a dove to get the nerve to venture out. A sparrow may leave as soon as the kennel is opened. The dove will continue to come to you for a few days to a week or so and then it will turn wild. The sparrow probably won't

If you want to be able to recognize your bird at your feeder after release, you can put food coloring in a spray bottle and spritz him. It doesn't soak into the feathers very well, but it will some.

Keep feeding in the yard for at least the rest of that season until the bird has had a chance to learn to forage well on his own.

Please, please, please feed only fresh seed and in clean conditions. Sweep the area and pick up old seed hulls, etc. regularly. Offer clean water as often as you can. I also continued to feed the soaked cat food for a full season after the release (for the sparrow....and the adult doves eat it too). Keep seed away from rodents. There are so many horrible diseases that are unintentionally spread at feeders and water supplies.

We have a part of our yard that is protected from our dogs during the times of the day when the birds are feeding. We have an old house door set up on two sawhorses. We cover it with clean butcher paper (we have also used plastic that you can buy in rolls) and change the paper at least once daily. We offer water in a plastic sandwich storage container. We feed three times daily, changing the water each time.

Wild doves are protected species and it is not legal to own them. I would never encourage anyone to keep any bird in confinement for any length of time, unless it was disabled and not able to be returned to the outdoors. Birds were meant to fly, be with their own kind, and be free. I have always raised every wild bird with the intention of returning it to the wild. Please don't try to make pets of them.

Good luck to you and to any baby you try to help.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009



Since the time of year is upon us when baby birds will be on the ground, I want to help out by sharing what I have learned.

First, and foremost, DO NOT EVER pick up a baby without watching from a distance for 30 minutes or so to see if a parent comes to it. The only exception is if the baby is in the street or is otherwise in imminent danger. Then move it to safety as close by as possible.

Baby birds will be on the ground while they are learning to fly. If they have most of their feathers and can hop or flutter away from you, they probably do not need help.


If you feel intervention is necessary, the first thing is to make the baby comfortable, safe, and warm. The best way to do that is to make a nest.

I make a nest from rolling up a diaper or dishtowel and then meeting the ends of the roll. Next, I wrap the roll with paper towels to keep it in a circle. Then I tear lots of white, unscented facial tissues into shreds and stick them into the middle of the circle. As the baby poops, the little soiled shreds can be removed and replaced. The shreds also give the baby something to push against to exercise little legs. If babies are left on a flat surface without this makeshift nest, their legs will become deformed.

It helps if you have a small basket to put this in to keep the nest together. Under the basket, I put an electric heating pad that is the size made to wrap an arm or leg. On top of the heating pad, I place a sandwich-sized baggie that is filled with water as hot as I can get it. On top of that, I put the homemade nest. This way, the heating pad and the baggie with hot water are under the nesting materials but not touching the baby. Make sure the heating pad does not cover the entire bottom of the enclosure that you put the nest into so that the baby can find a cooler spot if needed. Depending on the breed of bird, the baby may not stay in the nest you have made. If not, he may wind up directly on the heating pad. For that reason, I cover it with a towel (and then paper towels, removing and replacing as they are soiled) before I put the baggie and nesting materials on top. I have found that some babies (doves especially) love to be placed in the nest and then have a little piece of soft flannel or tee shirt material put over them with only their heads sticking out.

Put the nest you have made into a secure enclosure—either a cage or a box. The room needs to be warm and away from drafts. I use my laundry room because it is not air conditioned. The temp should not get too high, so be careful when the room is closed and the dryer is going. I think very dry air is not good for the baby.


Some baby birds are covered with mites when you find them. There is a safe, easy way to deal with that, but it takes patience. Mites are attracted to anything white. If you have made the nest the way I suggest above, the mites will crawl off of the birds and onto the white tissue. Simply remove the tissue and replace it until all the mites are removed.

Caution: the mites will get on you too, but they won’t live on you or feed off of you. It is not very comfortable to have them crawling all over you, though. That won’t happen if you are careful to keep them washed off of your hands as they crawl onto them.


Call the nearest wildlife center. See if you can bring the baby to them. If not, you must do your best to find out what kind of bird you have. Fatal mistakes are easily made by errors in feeding.

If it is a dove, never place any food or drink into its mouth. It places its beak into its mother’s mouth and drinks from her throat.

If it is a bird that gapes (throws its mouth wide open and chirps for food), like a sparrow, never put liquid in the mouth—only the appropriate moist food.

I have only raised doves and sparrows. If you can’t take the baby to a wildlife center and need to feed it yourself, here’s what to feed.

Doves: You must learn to find and feel the crop. There are lots of pictures on the web that you can find if you Google. Before feeding, you need to see if the crop is empty. If there is food in the crop, feeding should be delayed until the crop is empty. Overfeeding can be very dangerous.

To feed, I use an oral syringe that is meant to give Children’s Motrin. I cut the tip off of it so that it makes an open tube. I fill it with the formula below and let the baby stick his beak into it, pushing the plunger gently to push the formula toward the end as the baby feeds. Some people have had luck by using a very small Dixie cup with a small whole, just big enough for the bird’s beak, punched into it. I have also cut the top neck off of plastic drink bottles, leaving the lids on, and just pushed the beak into that.

Here’s the formula: 1-1/2 teaspoonful Exact Baby Bird Formula, 1 teaspoonful Esbilac Puppy Formula, ¼ teaspoonful millet (parakeet seed) ground in the blender, 1 teaspoonful powdered goat’s milk. I also use strained baby chicken (1 teaspoonful) for extra protein. Put all of that together in a small glass container and add water that you have heated. Stir vigorously. Make sure the formula is cool to touch before offering it. Formula that is too hot will cause crop burns!

When the formula is cool, stick his beak into it. This will be awkward at first until the baby understands he’s being fed. If you simply cannot get him to accept it, he may not be warm enough. If he is constantly seeking to get under something or constantly wants to be inside your hands, the room or his nest is not keeping him warm enough. If nothing works, there’s a chance the baby may have a throat infection. If so, there’s nothing you can do on your own. A wildlife center can administer medicine for this infection if you can get the baby to one.

You can offer the food until the dove stops taking it or until the crop feels full. Don’t overfeed. Check the crop every hour. If empty, feed again. If not, check again in one-half hour.

After each feeding, offer water. Cut the neck off a plastic pint water bottle. Leave the lid on and make the lid the bottom of the container for water. You can use water out of the tap, but it may be more acceptable if it is tepid (room temperature). You may have to warm it and then be sure to let it cool to touch. Fill the bottle neck with water and stick the dove’s beak into it. NEVER put the water into the beak. Offer water every hour.

As the baby grows, he will stop wanting/needing food so often and you can probably lengthen the time between feedings. The safest way is to always check the crop.

As he grows, he will go through transitions. He may stop accepting the formula very well. This can be because he is cold or sick, but it can also be because he wants seed but doesn’t know how to get it for himself yet. They are not born with the ability to peck seed. They have to be taught! During the transition, you can sprinkle whole millet into the formula. If he accepts that readily, that is what he is wanting. At this point, try to teach him to peck by putting him on a table with some seed on it(Watch out for cats or dogs that live at your house! They should be outside or safely behind closed doors in another room.). Use your index finger as if it is a beak and tap at the seed with it. This simulates pecking and the baby will eventually learn to peck. It takes a while, so be patient. At first he will learn to pick the seed up, but you must make sure he is actually swallowing it before you can safely stop feeding. Meanwhile, keep offering the formula with progressively more whole seed sprinkled in.

Sparrows: Soak Science Diet Adult Feline food for one hour. I always tried to make sure the food was soaked in the fridge and then left at room temp for 10 or 15 minutes so that it was not ice cold. Sparrows may be more of a challenge because they don’t accept your help quite as readily sometimes.

To get the baby to gape, nearly any movement of the baby will work, like gently bumping the nest. Sometimes you can make a tweeting noise and that will get him to gape. Drop in one piece of soaked food. Do that every 30 minutes. As he gets older, he may accept more than one piece each feeding. That gets to be a real challenge, as they get older. As the beak changes, they will stop gaping but won’t know how to peck on their own yet. You will have to get the soaked food into your hands and place it up to the beak so that they can chew on it. Sparrows learn to feed themselves without having to be taught to peck. Keep trying to give the soaked food until you see him peck and swallow food on his on. Even after he begins feeding himself, make the soaked food available to him by placing it in a jar lid on the bottom of the cage. Watch out that you don't leave it there more than a couple of hours so that it doesn't grow bacteria.

When the baby has learned to perch, feed on its own, and fly, it will need to be acclimated to the outdoors.