Friday, December 16, 2011

What to do if You Find a Baby Bird

If you can find and reach the nest that the baby bird fell out of, try to put it back. It's a myth that birds won't take care of their babies once humans touch it. But watch the nest area to see if there are any other birds or if they had been tossed out of the nest, as mine were.  If they have feathers and can hop around, they are most likely getting "trained" to fly and leave the nest, so it's best to put it up in a tree or bush to keep it safe until the parents find it. But if you are concerned, stay around to make sure an animal doesn't get it.

If you can't find the nest, or if you see that they are being tossed out, here's what to do:
1. Wild animals are illegal to keep, but Starlings and Sparrows are considered "invasive", so they are not protected, therefore they are allowed in most states. Check your state to see whether it's legal or not.  If it is illegal, or if you do not want to take care of the bird, take it to the nearest rehab center or find someone who is willing. But be aware that a lot of rehabs will euthanize Starlings.  Check out my "Starlings as Pets" page to help make a decision.

2. DO NOT GIVE IT FLUIDS. Liquids can get inside the lungs and cause pneumonia. They get enough liquids from the food they eat. DO NOT GIVE IT EARTHWORMS. They can contain harmful parasites.

3. Because more than likely the bird is dehydrated, or getting close to it, you will need to soak some small pieces of bread in water and give it to the bird. Or you can use fruit such as strawberries.  This is only for immediate feeding. As soon as you can feed him his main meal (below), do so.

4. Starlings don't eat pellets or seeds--their main diet is insects, therefore they need lots of protein.  Baby Starlings eat every 15-30 minutes from sunrise to sunset.  When they get full feathers, they can go for 45 minutes between feedings. You will know when they have had enough to eat when they stop opening their mouth. 

Here is a recipe for the birds:
  • 1/2 cup soaked dogfood or catfood (not the canned kind, but the hard kind). It takes a few hours to soak, so I would soak it overnight to be ready for morning.  The dog/cat food needs to be around 31% protein and 12% fat. And make sure that the main ingredient is chicken. You can check the label on the package before you buy.
  • 1/4 cup fruit or vegetables, blended. I used strawberries one day, broccoli the next, carrots another day, greenbeans another, etc. If you use canned, make sure to rinse them to get the salt off.
  • 1 hardboiled egg
  • Avian vitamins (according to directions for dosage). I bought mine at Wal-Mart for less than $2 and my dosage is 1 drop to 2 ounces of water.
  • 750 mg calcium, ground up and dissolved in water. An egg shell contains from 2 to 5 grams of calcium, so I just put the whole egg with shell on it in the blender.
I put the egg in first, then the fruit/vegetable, then the dogfood, then the vitamins and water. Blend until it's about the consistency of oatmeal. On my vitamix, it's a few "pulses", then I mix it with a spatula, then pulse again. Any more than that will make it too liquidy and hard to feed. You may have to add a tiny bit of water to it so it's not too dry, but too much water will make the bird have runny, liquidy poop.  This mixture lasted a few days with 4 birds, so probably a week with just one bird. When the birds were three weeks of age, the mixture last 2 days.

I have found that tweezers work the best for feeding them. A portion about the size of a pea is just the right size when they are very young. As they get older, around flying age, the portions can be bigger--about double.  Don't use anything like toothpicks or q-tips because they could swallow them.  If the bird does not open it's mouth for you, try making a high-pitched noise like a bird and that should do the trick.  You have to put the food down the throat, not just in the mouth. They don't know how to get the food from their mouth to their throat yet. 

If the bird squawks before your 15-30 minute timer goes off, he is hungry. You may have to adjust your timer to fit the bird's feeding schedule. I started out setting the timer at 15 minutes and sometimes the birds weren't hungry, so I started setting it to 30 minutes. That was too long of a wait for them. They were squawking and acting like they were starving to death by the time the 30 minutes was up.

5. You need to make a nest for it to stay in. They like to be cozy and need to have little room so that they keep their legs under them. This is how their legs will develop properly. Also, they should not be on a slick surface such as a box or container because there is no tracking and the bird's legs will slide around too much.  You can use a small container such as a margarine container with something like toilet paper or rags for warmth and comfort, or do what I did. I had a bunch of rag t-shirts from my husband that I used. I cut them across at the armpits, rolled one up, putting it in a circle for the edge of the nest,  then put half of one (so about 10x10 inches) over the top and smushed it down for a nice little dip for the bird. Unfeathered birds need to be kept warm. I had the nest in a box, then a towel under it and a heating pad on the lowest setting at night. Any hotter or longer during the day and the bird would get too hot.  You know when the bird is too hot when it sleeps with its mouth open. After a few days, I just kept the heating pad off because it was warm enough. I kept the nest in a separate room and kept a tshirt over part of the box to keep warm. It stayed about 80 degrees in the room, while the rest of the house had air conditioning. Outside was in the 80's and 90's.

6. Here are some approximate time frames for Starlings:
First 2 days: no feathers, just fuzzy on head and spine. Eyes bulge but are closed.
Day 3, 4: arms are getting darker, wing feathers are about to "pop out"
Day 5: first wing quill beginning to show, skin looks to be getting darker where the feathers are getting ready to grow.
Day 6: second layer of wing quills showing, each day afterward the quills grow about 1/8 of an inch, or more--they seem to grow overnight! Because of the ever-growing feathers, the birds are constantly itchy, feather and skin pieces are flaking off.  Bedding needs changed every day, sometimes more often. Begin opening eyes barely (like a slit)
Day 9: Getting a lot more feathers everywhere
Day 11: Wing barbs are beginning to grow on the quills, each day afterwards the barbs grow like crazy!
Day 13: Wing feathers begin to have a brown outline on them.
Day 14: beak is noticeably narrower and less yellow.
18 days: first bath in a dinner plate or similar. May start jumping on box and flapping wings.
18-21 days: starts flying, getting more "spunky" with attitude.
4-7 weeks: begins eating from dish or ground (not just from your hand)
6-10 weeks: eats fully on own
8 weeks: begins molt
20 weeks: fully adult feathers
15-30 weeks: starts talking

7. If you find mites on the baby starling, use 5% Sevin Dust. Powder the bird carefully so the dust doesn't get in its face. 

8. When the bird starts hopping on the edge of the box, it's time to get a cage for it.  The bigger the better so he has room to fly. They will begin flying around 3 weeks old. If you decide to make your own cage, keep these points in mind:
  • Do not use Hardware Cloth - there are a lot of particles of zinc stuck to it, which is dangerous for birds since they can easily break off the toxic particles and eat them.
  • Do not use galvanized wires - they are coated with highly toxic zinc. If you purchase a cage and realize it is galvanized, you can remove the powder and soak with vinegar or sandblast it. You will then have to paint it with a non-toxic paint to keep it from rusting.
  • If you use galvanized after-weld wire which is a heavier wire and doesn't have the particles stuck to it, any wire exposed to the outdoors will rust faster than indoor cages. If the oxidation comes off on your finger, the bird will just as easily lick it off.  You will need to scrub their cages with vinegar and water twice or three times a year. However, it can't stop it completely.
  • The only safe mesh is a stainless steel mesh.
  • PVC coated wire has a thin layer of plastic coating which is very easily removed and chewed on by birds who like to chew.
  • Powder coated wire has a coating that is cooked on. It is more difficult for birds to remove. It's the most common commercially available bird cages.
  • Do not use treated wood  - Treated wood has dangerous pesticides.
  • Disinfect and clean the wire carefully. Check the cage for any sharp edges
  • With outdoor cages, you will need to keep wildlife out. A friend of mine had a bird in a cage with 1/2 inch wire spacing, and something still got it. The only way it could have got it was through the bars :(
  • The size of cage should be a minimum of 18 inches wide x 18 inches long x 18 inches high. Preferably 28 inches wide x 28 inches long x 32 inches high or larger.
  • Wire spacing should be 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch.
  • You can use acrylic plexiglass, too.
Some awesome handcrafted cages, made in the United States, are made by Cages By Design.