A guide to raising birds
To raise and release any native species requires you to have a license from D.E.R.M. If you are interested in becoming a carer, please read through this site, then contact this group or another to find out about joining.
This information is a guide only. Practices change and are updated constantly.
You must have a license to raise native birds.
COMING INTO CARE – To be or not to be
If you find a baby bird on the floor, there are some things you should do before you decide to pick the bird up. Take the time to look around and see if you can find the parents. If they are there, watch from a distance to see what they are doing. If they are attending the chick, feeding it, or encouraging it to fly, leave well alone. If the baby is too young to fly, place it in a box in a tree fork. You can add some ripped up newspaper for comfort in the base. If you use a plastic box, put drainage holes in first. Many birds will come down to their baby and feed it, even though it is not in the nest. A hanging flower basket makes an ideal substitute nest.
Birds learning to fly come into care the most. This is because flying is not easy, and it takes time to learn. People see the little birds down on the floor and their first reaction is to pick it up. Again, check out the surrounding area; look for the parents and for predators. Babies are best raised by their families, rather than by humans. They need time to learn to fly, so give them the chance. Place the young one on a branch. If they parents are in attendance, leave well alone.
Raising orphaned birds
Finding an orphaned baby bird can lead to a whole new world of experience. However, you will need to think carefully before you decide to take on the job of raising a chick. To raise any native animal, you must be a registered wildlife carer. If you feel that your lifestyle or commitment to raising and releasing an orphan may not be up to scratch, then contact your local vet or wildlife group who will help you to find a carer to take on the job.
If you are interested in raising an orphan yourself, ask yourself these questions first:
Do you have the resources and facilities – not just for the baby for whom you may need a heat blanket or hot water bottle or hot box, but for a fledgling who will need a cage, and a juvenile who will need an aviary? Remember - the bigger the bird, the bigger the aviary needed for flight.
You will need to feed the chick the correct diet – we have a mixture of insectivorous birds (insect and nectar), granivores (seed eaters), honey eaters (nectar) and carnivores (meat/insect eaters) fruitivore (fruit eating) or a water bird – can you do that?
Baby birds will bond to you – are you able to pull away and release the bird back into the wild? That doesn’t mean just letting it go – that means training it to fly and hunt if necessary, and be a self-sufficient animal upon release.
Are you able to raise more than one bird? Most species do better if raised with a partner – less chance of them focusing on you totally. Interaction with their own kind is necessary to ensure their successful release back into the wild. Unless they are a solitary species, being released with their own kind helps to ensure a higher survival rate.
Did you answer yes to all of the above? Then please, do the right thing, and join a wildlife group and become a licensed carer before you go any further.
So what have you got?
Precocial birds are born with downy feathers and look like little fluff balls. Altricial birds are born bare skin and eyes shut, and their downy feathers develop a little differently. With altricial birds as the feathers grow they look like little points of an echidna’s spine. In either case, it is important to keep the little one warm. Baby birds need to be placed on a heat pad or mat, or a hot water bottle. A hot box can also be used. A desk lamp on the outside of the cage or box will also supply heat but ensure the baby cannot touch it as they may get burnt. Precocial birds need a steady heat of around 28 degrees, while altricial birds need more, around 32 degrees, as they have no downy fluff to keep them even slightly warm. When first in to care, most birds will do well on a high protein supplement diet. This helps to build them up and give them strength. Most birds that come into care, regardless of age or species, need warmth. Most birds in care die from shock – warmth helps to prevent this.
When caring for birds it is sensible to have a variety of foods on hand on a constant basis – all will keep in airtight containers or the freezer (for meat mixtures).
Some foods to keep on hand:
Farex (people baby food – makes up to a wet porridge) (for granivores and nectar eaters)
Granivore mix (for seed eating species)
Insectivore mix ( for insect eaters and carnivores)
Wild bird seed
Dry lorikeet mix
Egg and biscuit mix
Roudybush –this is a formula used for granivores
Wet mix – can be used as a hand rearing mix for lorikeets and parrots
Note: nectarivores can be fed honey and water in an emergency but not on a daily basis
Some equipment to have on hand:
Old towels and rags
Box of disposable gloves (you can buy these from the supermarket)
A net (these can be made or bought from a pet store)
Heat pad or hot box
Hot water bottle
Variety of cages
Shoe boxes (these make nice nests for little birds)
Insectivores: most common in care - friar birds, swallows, noisy minors, peewees or magpie larks
These are insect eaters, but some, like the noisy minors, will also take a dry lorikeet mix or a wet Farex mix. They can also be supplement fed on a mince mixture (check the recipes section). They will happily eat mealworms and other insects supplied, once they are hunting on their own.
Granivores: most common in care - crested pigeons, bronze wings, galahs
Granivores are seed eaters. As babies they put their beak down their parent’s throat to the crop and take the food from there. By placing your hand over the birds head, spreading your first two fingers apart over the beak, and holding the small spoon to the beak you will be able to encourage these little birds to take food. Some carers’ crop feed, but unless you are experienced, do not attempt it. These birds will sometimes take food from a teat with a hole in the side. There are some good granivore powders for raising young birds on the market. These are usually mixed with very warm to hot water, and are most easily fed from a small spoon. Lorikeets and galahs are very precocious and will quite quickly understand the feeding routine. Pigeons prefer to be fed using the beak between the fingers method. The end of a lipstick tube is also suitable.
Carnivores: most common in care – kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, butcherbirds, magpies, crows
These birds are definitely meat eaters, and need to be taught to hunt or scavenge their own food. They can be raised on a meat mixture (check recipes) but live food must be offered when teaching to hunt. Mealworms, crickets, earth worms and baby mice are good substitute foods. You will need a bowl from which live food like earth worms and meal worms cannot escape. The base of a large plant pot is suitable. Once the bird is watching and hunting food from the bowl, you add leaf litter to make the job more difficult.
Nectarivores: most common in care – rainbow lorikeets, wattlebirds, honeyeaters, scaly breasted lorikeets, little lorikeets.
Nectarivores are the flower/nectar eaters. They have a specialized brush on the end of their tongue which they use to ‘lap’ the nectar from the flowers. They do sometimes eat seed, but it is imperative that they are fed the right foods to avoid damage to the brush. Once they are independent they raise well on a wet Farex mix and a dry lorikeet mix, in two separate bowls. Some nectarivores like insects as well, so some mealworms in a bowl are suitable to add. They will also enjoy some chopped fruit.
Fruitivores: most common in care – fig birds, channel billed cuckoos, orioles
These birds are raised in the wild on a diet of fruit and sometimes insects. Minor amounts of meat can be added to their diet, but they need a constant supply of fresh fruit. You will need to cut it into small enough pieces to fit their beaks.
Water birds: most common in care – ducks, native hens, coots
Just because these are water birds, do not supply a water bowl big enough to climb into when they are little. Ducklings look cute swimming around a small bowl, but they suffer from hypothermia very quickly when they are little, and must be able to get warm when they are wet. It is best to allow them a swim, but then remove the water so they only have a small water bowl, not large enough to walk in and get wet. Ducklings need to be dry or they will die. They raise well on chicken starter, guinea pig food, chopped lettuce, mixed seed and insects like mealworms. When older, they will also enjoy chasing and catching small fish.
Large water birds, like pelicans, and birds of prey, like hawks, need specialized care, and should be handed to a specially licensed carer for these species.
Nocturnal or diurnal?
Is your bird nocturnal (a night hunter/feeder) or diurnal (a day hunter/feeder) or crepuscular (morning and late evening)?
Never squirt water down a bird’s beak. By doing so, you could be putting water into the bird’s lungs, and it will get pneumonia. Tawny Frogmouths in particular are not water drinkers. Dribble water from an eyedropper into the beak, and allow the bird time to swallow.
New birds into care should not be put directly with other birds. They may be carrying disease or lice, neither of which you need in an aviary. A quick squirt of lice powder on the back and under the wings is usually sufficient to alleviate the problem of lice. Pet birds should not have any association with wild birds. They need separate cages and aviaries to prevent spread of disease and parasites.
AVIARIES AND CAGES;
Aviaries should be a reasonable size for the bird to be able to take off and land safely from the floor. Birds need to be able to stretch their wings without touching any part of the cage or aviary it is being housed in. Natural perches i.e. branches from trees, are more suitable than bought perches. Branches offer a variety of thicknesses which help to exercise the bird’s feet, they can be discarded when the bird leaves, and more are always available cheap! Water should always be on offer in a clean bowl. If you have an issue with ants when raising carnivores or insectivores, place a line of ant powder around the OUTSIDE of the aviary. This will deter the ants from crossing and invading the food bowls.
Natural bases on the floor of the aviary are best. A layer of dirt over wire, with mulch or sugarcane on top is easily cleaned. Dirt can be dug over, and mulch removed to place in a garden bed, so nothing is wasted.
Ground birds like cover, so supply some hollow logs or similar items for them to hide beside or in. Aviaries should face north if possible to get morning sun, but not hot afternoon sun. Part of the aviary should be covered in to protect from the weather, and also give the bird the opportunity to hide if a predator is outside the aviary – this is a good learning curve for the bird. Do not raise your bird with domestic pets – if they become used to your pets, the neighbours animals will not seem a threat until it is too late.
This is a good recipe for raising carnivores and can also be fed to insectivores:
500 gram mince
1 level tablespoon of insectivore mix
1 level teaspoon of calcium
½ cup of wheat germ
1 teaspoon of bird vitamin and mineral powder
Mix everything until it is well combined. Take a heaped tablespoon size amount of mixture, place in a freezer bag, and squash flat. Do this with the entire mixture. Freeze in a container. These ‘patties’ can be defrosted more quickly than a lump of meat. Store the patty you are using in the fridge between feeds, but warm in your hands before feeding to the bird.
NECTAR SUBSTITUE RECIPES
250 g sugar
2 raw eggs
A multivitamin capsule
1 litre of water
Blend together. Use only the amount needed on a daily basis, and freeze the rest in containers. You can thicken this mixture with an egg and biscuit mix or Farex.
Use any of the following to make up a mixture. This can be changed to give the birds some variety.
Use: Farex, crushed plain biscuits (like arrowroot), semolina, rolled oats, or wheat germ. Using 500 grams of dry ingredients add ½ a crushed multivitamin tablet. Before feeding, add honey until the mixture is crumbly.
For baby birds, use warm water to dilute to make it more digestible.
Get yourself a large plastic container like a storage box for toys. If it has a lid, you will need to put holes in the lid for air flow, or else just use a large piece of cardboard on the top.
Empty a couple of packets of processed bran into the bottom, and add some mealworms, enough for breeding purposes. Leave them to it!
The mealworms eventually turn into larvae, which turns into beetles, which lay the eggs. Throw in handful of potato peelings once a week, and occasionally clean the container out as they can get an ammonia smell. Use a sieve to clean out with – it will catch the mealworms but allow the bran to fall through. Add new bran to the box and off you go again. It may take a couple of months for the meal worm farm to start producing, but once it is going, just keep feeding the potato peelings, and ensure you never take out all of the mealworms, as you need to leave some for breeding purposes.
Grit is important for most species of birds. Whilst not being essential, it can increase the efficiency of the gizzard in digesting food. Shell grit is fine for smaller species, but larger species may prefer stone grit.
This is information is written from our own experience with raising birds. We have collected and collated the information over several years, gained from sharing information with other carers. This publication is designed to provide an overview of the subject matter covered, and whilst due care was taken in writing the materials, no liability is accepted for any error, omission or reliance upon information or advice.
BClarke and T ©
Dweeble - Noisy Minor - B. Clarke
Tawny Frogmouths - L. D'Arcy
Crested Pigeon- B. Clarke