Birds typically hunt for insects and worms or catch small prey and then bring it back to the nest to feed their young.
Birds feed their young by placing food in their mouths, regurgitating partially digested food, dropping food on the ground, or producing a special nutrient-rich fluid called crop milk.
No matter how they feed their young, birds are incredibly dedicated parents. In this article, we will explore the different ways that birds feed their young.
Types of Bird Food Mother Bird Choose for Baby Birds
Different species of birds find suitable foods to meet the dietary preferences of baby birds. The advantage for baby birds is that their mother finds a variety of food with adequate amounts of protein.
- Insects: Most songbirds feed their chicks insects. Rich in protein to help the young grow fast.
- Nectar: Hummingbirds give their chicks tiny insects and spiders. When they grow, flower nectar becomes a significant part of their diet.
- Fish: Birds like kingfishers and penguins hunt fish for their chicks.
- Meat: Raptors, such as eagles and hawks, bring chunks of meat for their young.
- Seeds and Berries: Pigeons eat seeds and regurgitate a special “milk” for their chicks.
- Water: Every parent bird feeds their children a bit of water with their mouth.
Methods of Feeding a Baby Bird
Regurgitation: Birds regurgitate crop milk to feed their young. Insects are difficult for young birds to digest on their own. This is a typical feeding method for birds that consume insects.
Direct feeding: The parents pick up worms and insects in their beaks. Parent birds may use their beaks to break up larger food items into smaller ones. They place them directly into the baby’s mouth.
Birds that eat seeds or fruit usually feed their young directly because it’s easier for them to digest.
Ground dropping: Few birds drop food on the ground, teaching chicks to pick it up, and fostering early independence.
|Feeding Method||Food Type||Examples of Birds|
|Regurgitation||Insects||Pigeons, doves, hummingbirds|
|Direct feeding||Seeds, fruit, insects||Robins, sparrows, finches|
|Ground dropping||Fish, other animals||Gulls, pelicans, hawks|
How often do baby birds eat at different ages?
Baby birds eat very often, especially when they are very young. The exact frequency depends on the species of bird and the age of the chick.
As the chicks grow, adult birds feed them less often but give them larger meals.
|Chick Age||Feeding Frequency|
|Newly hatched||Every 15-20 minutes|
|Under 1 week old||Every 2-3 hours|
|1-2 weeks old||Every 3-4 hours|
|2-3 weeks old||Every 4-5 hours|
|3-4 weeks old||Every 5-6 hours|
|4-6 weeks old||Once every 6-8 hours|
How Birds Feed Their Baby
Birds have a beautiful process for feeding their young. While the specifics can vary between species, a generalized step-by-step process is as follows:
1. Preparing for Arrival: Nest Building and Food Gathering
Birds get ready for their chicks by constructing nests and collecting food ahead of time.
2. Recognizing Hunger Cues: Understanding Chirps and Movements
Parents identify hungry chicks through specific sounds (chirping, noises) and physical signals (open mouths, active movements).
3. Foraging Strategies: Hunting and Gathering for Various Species
Parents search for insects, fish, and mammals, or gather seeds, berries, and nectar based on the species (e.g., Sparrows, robins, eagles).
4. Safe Returns to the Nest: Landing with Precaution and Announcing Arrival
Before landing, parents ensure safety and may signal their return with specific calls.
5. Direct Feeding Techniques: Ensuring Chicks Receive Proper Nutrition
While most birds feed their chicks directly, some use regurgitation or drop food on the ground for chicks to pick up.
6. Equal Feeding Efforts: Ensuring Every Chick Receives Food
Parents strive to feed each chick, prioritizing healthy ones in challenging conditions. They monitor and provide extra care to weaker chicks.
7. Nest Maintenance: Fecal Sacs Removal and Comfortable Nesting Environment
Parent birds keep the nest clean by removing fecal sacs and adjusting nesting material for a comfortable environment.
8. Continuous Care: Repeating Feeding and Cleaning Processes
Parents consistently repeat the feeding and cleaning routine, especially when chicks are in their early stages of development.
Adaptations in Feeding
- Hearing Skills: Bird babies make different sounds when they’re very hungry or just a little hungry. Their parents understand these sounds. If a baby bird makes loud noises, it means it’s starving. This helps parents know when to feed them.
- Gape Coloration: Many chicks have bright-colored mouths. The color acts as a target and guides the parent on where to drop the food.
- Featherless Heads: Vultures have featherless heads. This helps them stay clean when feeding on carcasses and later feeding their young.
- Largemouth: Baby birds have wide mouths relative to their body size. This allows them to consume large amounts of food quickly.
- Fast metabolisms: Baby birds have fast metabolisms, which means that they need to eat frequently. This is because they are growing rapidly and need a lot of energy.
- Begging behavior: Baby birds have evolved begging behaviors to signal to their parents that they are hungry. Example: chirping, fluttering their wings, opening their mouths wide.
Challenges and Dangers
Not Enough Food: When there’s not much food, parents may feed the strong chicks first. This can leave the weaker ones with less or no food. Sometimes, other animals like foxes, raccoons, or snakes also want the same food.
Predators: When parents go to find food, the chicks can be in danger. Some big birds like crows or ravens can steal their nests. Other animals like squirrels or chipmunks can get into tree nests. Even climbing animals like snakes can reach nests high up.
Bad Weather: Sometimes, it can be very cold or rainy. This can make it hard for parent birds to find food for their chicks. Different bird species have different ways of dealing with these conditions.
Unique behaviors of some birds to feed baby birds
The honeycreeper: The honeycreeper has a long, curved beak that it uses to probe the flowers of nectar-rich plants.
It regurgitates the nectar into their mouths. The chicks have special brushes on their tongues that help them to collect the nectar.
The hornbill: The hornbill has a large, casque-shaped bill that it uses to break open fruit and nuts.
Hornbill regurgitates the food into their mouths. The chicks have special pads on their beaks that protect them from the sharp edges of the food.
The weaverbird: Weaverbirds are known for their elaborate nests. Some species of weaverbirds also have unique feeding behaviors.
For example, the baya weaverbird builds a nest with a long entrance tube. When the weaverbird feeds its chicks, it enters the nest through the tube and regurgitates food into its mouth.
The ostrich: Ostriches are the largest birds in the world. Ostriches feed their chicks a variety of plants and insects.
When the chicks are very young, the ostriches will regurgitate food for them. As the chicks get older, they will start to eat food on their own.
Woodpeckers: Woodpeckers use their strong beaks to peck holes in trees. They do this to find tasty insects hiding inside the wood. Woodpeckers have a long, sticky tongue that helps them catch these insects from deep inside the tree holes.
Hummingbirds: These tiny birds have a sweet tooth for nectar from flowers. They use their long, slender bills to reach deep into the flowers and lap up the sugary liquid. Hummingbirds are incredibly agile and can hover in mid-air, making it easier for them to access nectar from various types of blooms.
Owls: Owls mainly hunt small mammals like mice and rats. They use their sharp beaks and talons to catch and eat them.
Penguins: Penguins are unique because they are flightless birds that are excellent swimmers. They spend much time in the water hunting for fish to feed their chicks. Penguins catch fish and then bring them back to the nest to regurgitate (or spit up) the food into the mouths of their hungry chicks.
Do wild baby birds feed at night?
Wild baby birds usually don’t eat at night. This is because their parents are diurnal. They are active during the day and sleep at night. As a result, baby birds have also evolved to sleep at night.
Nocturnal birds like owls and nightjars feed their chicks at night. The common swift may feed at night if its parents are unable to find enough food during the day.
If you find a baby bird feeding at night, it is likely orphaned or injured. In this case, it is best to contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.
The ways of birds feeding highlight the incredible adaptations and strategies these creatures have developed.
From the protein-packed diet of songbirds to the nectar-loving hummingbirds, every species has its unique parenting style tailored to its environment and needs.
How long do birds feed their young?
It varies depending on the species. For example, Robins and sparrows feed their young for about two weeks. Eagles and hawks feed their young for several months.
Do father birds feed their babies?
Yes, father birds also feed their babies. In many species of birds, both the mother and father birds feed their young.
What do baby birds eat from humans?
Baby birds should not be fed table scraps or other human foods.
Do mother birds produce milk?
No, mother birds do not produce milk. Pigeons and doves produce a special fluid called crop milk. Crop milk is not the same as mammalian milk.
Can baby birds eat rice?
No, baby birds should not eat rice. Rice is a difficult food for birds to digest.
What do baby birds drink?
Baby birds drink water. Be sure to clean the water dish or bird bath regularly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
I am a writer and blogger who is passionate about birds. I write to inspire and educate others about the beauty and importance of avian species in our ecosystem. I love to watch birds flying and taking their photographs to capture those memories.