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Starling Talk
Care and Rehabilitation of Injured and
Orphaned Starlings

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Baby Starling & Sparrow Care

You have identified your wild baby bird as a Starling, or House Sparrow, and you realize it needs help.

Does this bird really need help? Baby birds that have all their feathers are fledglings and are ready to leave the nest. They need to be on the ground a day or two as they learn to fly, their parents are taking care of them. Unfeathered babies can be returned to the nest, for it is not true that if you touch a baby bird the parents will abandon it. If the nest has been destroyed, you can make a new one using something such as a parrot nest box and wire; nail it close to where the original one was. You should put fully feathered babies in a bush or on a tree limb, and they should be just fine. You might want to ask any cat owning neighbors to keep the cats in for a day or two to give the baby birds a chance to learn how to fly. The exception to this would be if there is an injury or the baby has been in a cat's or dog's mouth, even if you don't see any marks on it. Cats and dogs have a bacteria that can be fatal to baby birds if they are not treated with antibiotics. These birds need to be taken to a wildlife rehabber or veterinarian right away.

Now what? You need to learn baby starling care such as how to keep a nestling warm, what type of formula to feed it, how to handfeed it and how often to do so. This page will assist you in helping your baby starling thrive. Baby starlings and House Sparrows require the same care and food.

Our Message board will give you lots more information on sparrows and starlings as well as a chance to talk with other owners of starlings and sparrows. To join click: Message Board


If you find mites on the baby starling, a good, safe product to use is 5% Sevin Dust. Powder the bird carefully taking care not to get the dust into its face. The mites are species specific and will not infest your house or other birds.

Warmth & Bedding

If the baby is not completely feathered, it needs to be kept warm. You may use a heating pad on low heat, however cover the pad with a towel. (Some approximate temperature ranges are: unfeathered chicks -- 90 degrees; chicks with some pin feathers -- 85 degrees; fully feathered chicks -- 75 degrees.) Place the baby bird into a small container such as a margarine tub lined with crumpled towels. It cannot get any traction on a smooth surface, and the legs sliding out from under it will cause spraddle leg. Then put the container with the baby in a box and set it on the heating pad. If the baby bird has no feathers you will then need to cover the box with another towel to help hold the heat in.


Most of the wild baby birds that come into wildlife centers are dehydrated and suffering some degree of starvation. Babies who have been orphaned for a while will need to be hydrated before being given any food. To check hydration you can look inside the bird's mouth; it should look moist. A dehydrated bird will usually have reddish looking skin.Or you can pull the skin up on the back of their neck, and it should spring back as soon as you let it go. Gatorade or Lactated Ringers Solution are good hydration fluids. In a pinch you may make your own by boiling 1/4 cup Karo corn syrup (Starlings are sucrose intolerant so table sugar or molasses would not be good choices) to one cup water and adding a pinch of salt. Cool to lukewarm, dip your fingers into it and place drops on the top outside of the baby's beak. It will then be able to suck some in without the danger of aspiration. Or you can soak small pieces of bread in the sugar water, squeeze the liquid out so it isn't dripping, and feed it to the baby, or feed small slivers of fruit, without the skin, that has a high water content such as grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, plums, or cherries. Never put liquids directly into the mouth of a wild bird, this includes parrot hand-feeding formula. It is too easy for them to inhale the fluid, causing inhalation pneumonia or even drown.

Food for Baby Starlings and Sparrows

Starlings are omnivores but are close to being insectivores, and they require high amounts of animal protein. Baby starlings in the wild are fed almost a total insect diet (solid food) by their parents, and therefore are unable to cope with liquids. Adult sparrows eat mostly grain but as babies are fed insects by their parents, so they require the same nutrition as starlings. Parrot hand-feeding formula or softbill pellets are not appropriate foods for baby starlings and sparrows. Parrots and most captive softbills have different nutritional needs than that of starlings and sparrows who are more insectivorous as babies. This is believed to be what adult starlings need in the way of protein and fat; 33.1% protein and 12.1% fat. Protein/Fat ratios were estimated by calculating the average value of insects, seeds/grains, and wild fruits then multiplying the bird's intake ratios (as a percentage of total diet) of each food group and averaging the totals. A baby starling has even higher protein needs. Kaytee softbill pellets have 18% protein and 6% fat, the main ingredient is corn. Exact handfeeding formula has protein of 22.0% and fat of 9.0%, and the main ingredient is corn. A good brand of cat food such as Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul brand - Senior Light Cat Kibble (32% protein and 9% fat) will work for feeding young birds. Always read the label of the product to make sure not only the protein/fat ratio is right but that the first ingredient listed is chicken. For more information about why dog or cat food is commonly fed to wild songbirds by wildlife rehabbers, please read my webpage entitled, What? Feed Dog Food To A Starling?

There are many recipes for feeding ominovores, but most are based on a dog/cat food mixture, such as the recipe below. Use dry, soaked, cat food, and be sure that chicken is the first ingredient on the label. Check the vitamin package for the right amount of avian vitamins to use since different vitamins have different recommendations.

Recipe for Handfeeding Forumula

1 cup soaked cat food
1/4 cup of applesauce
1 hard boiled egg
Avian vitamins (follow dosage on package)
Around 750 mg calcium (I use Tums Smooth Dissolve tablet) ground to powder and dissolved in a little water.

Mix all ingredients together, and add enough water to make it the consistency of cooked oatmeal as seen in the photo at right.
Proper consistency of handfeeding formula for a baby starling.
Proper consistency of handfeeding formula.

The above formula can be divided into portions and frozen. This formula works well for baby House Sparrows and some other omnivore passerines. Only leave this food at room temperatures for an hour or so, as it can spoil.



When feeding small babies, use something flat such as McDonald's coffee stirrers, chop sticks, popsickle sticks, or a straw with the end cut off to make a scoop. The handle of a plastic spoon works well for older birds. Caution: Do not use small items such as toothpicks or Q-Tips, as it is very easy for a baby to swallow them. I like to occasionally add small amounts of different foods to the formula, to acquaint them with how different foods taste, such as some mashed sweet potatoes or carrots. You may use any of the jars of baby foods such as peas or beans, and the jars of strained chicken, etc. are also appropriate. The food should be fed at room temperature.

A baby without feathers will need to be fed every 20 to 30 minutes over a period of at least 12 hours a day. A healthy baby should start begging for food after you have fed him a few times. To help get a feeding response try tapping on the container he is in, or tapping lightly on the top of his beak. Older babies will take longer to start gaping, and may need to be force fed a few times before they come to accept you as a source for food. I feed from the time I wake up until I go to bed.

Babies starting to feather need to be fed every 45 minutes or so, and a fully feathered baby can go an hour or two without feeding. Feed as much as the baby wants. You will not overfeed him, as he will stop begging for food when he is full.

Baby starling being handfed.
Baby starling being handfed.

Never give a baby bird earthworms or fishing worms! Such worms can carry parasites that are harmful to baby birds. For more information click here. Gapeworms


When the baby starling is about four weeks old you may begin leaving some food in a small bowl in the cage, and start handfeeding him some food from there. This is also a good time to add a shallow bowl or jar lid of water to the cage. The baby bird will start playing with the food in its cage at about four weeks old. Even when the he begins eating on his own, you will still need to handfeed until he is fully weaned at around six to eight weeks old and sometimes longer. You will know when he is weaned, for he will prefer to feed himself and will no longer eat much from the feeding stick.

Weaning baby House Sparrows will start picking up and eating small seeds as well as the dog food mix at this time.

After the baby starling has been eating on its own for three weeks, it should be put on an adult starling diet. This diet is based on a dog food mixture same as the handfeeding formula, and it also incorporates some additional foods into the diet. Click the following link to go the Diet page which details a proper diet for adult starlings: Diet Page

Normal Nestling Droppings

The photos below show what the normal droppings of a nestling starling in the wild should look like. Until the nestling is about 10 days old, its droppings are encased in a coating that makes it easy for the parents to pick up and remove from the nest. A baby that is getting too much fluid in its food will have loose, runny droppings. A fledgling's droppings are no longer encapsulated in a coating.

Normal nestling droppings.

Normal nestling droppings.
  Normal nestling droppings.

Time for a Cage

When the bird is starting to hop up on the side of the box to be fed, it is time for a cage, the larger the better. For details about building your own cage or purchasing one, click on this link: Cages For Pet Starlings.

Young starlings enjoy toys such as small plastic whiffle balls or things they can throw around, especially shiny things. They should have some natural sunlight each day or a Vita light. This is a good link with information on lighting for birds: Birds and Lighting

Timetable for Indoor Starlings

These are the average ages for first activities of indoor starlings:

18 days: first drink, bath (in dinner plate)
21 days: starts flying
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

Raising for Release

When raising a clutch of baby starlings or sparrows for release, the diet and feeding is the same as for baby starlings which will be kept as pets. However, the difference in raising for release is that you must not handle them except only if absolutely necessary! Do not allow any pets such as dogs and cats in sight of the baby birds. Do not interact with the baby birds as you would with a pet bird. It is very easy for a baby starling to imprint on its caretaker, and a tame bird would have its chances of surviving in the wild greatly decreased. If you have a single baby under two weeks of age, (imprinting takes place between 7 and 14 days of age), it needs to be given to a rehabber or someone who will raise it as a pet, for a single bird cannot be raised without imprinting on its caretaker. Baby birds do not need to be taught how to fly, but after they are flying it is important to give them a large area to practice in and lots of free flight time so that they can build up the muscles needed for a successful release into the wild. If you plan to release your babies, they do need to be exposed to the song of their species. Please click here to learn how baby birds learn their song. Learning to sing

Some additional thoughts on releasing a baby bird can be found here:
Should I keep it or let it go?

These are good check lists to consult before releasing your baby.
Release Criteria



Imprinting is a special learning process through which an animal develops a sense of species identification. Imprinting is a normal process which occurs early in life, during a restricted period of time called a critical period. Thereafter, all species-directed behavior, including courtship and mating, is directed toward the class of subjects that the animal was imprinted on. Imprinting is believed to be irreversible.

Taming is the process by which an animal becomes socialized to humans through prolonged exposure of association with food or other comforts. Many species are easily tamed during infancy. Tame animals do not usually direct species-specific behavior, such as courtship, toward humans if conspecifics are available. Taming is reversible, although this may sometimes require prodigious dedication on the part of the rehabilitator. Taming is known to occur in a wide range of species, with variation in the ease and degree to which it can occur.

If an animal acts tame, it may be judged as human-inspired and thus permanently unfit for release. Since tameness is reversible, a potentially releasable animal may be kept captive. If an animal does not appear tame, it may be considered non-imprinted and thus releasable, but human-imprinted animals, especially juvenile and adult males, may act fearful or aggressive toward humans. Remember, a human-imprinted animal acts toward humans as it would act toward conspecifics. Truly human-imprinted animals may end up being released if the care taker equates tameness with imprinting.

In any case, the mere absence of tameness is no basis upon which to judge the behavioral fitness of an animal for release. A better criterion includes the presence of behaviors necessary for survival.. With imprinting, the issue is not just for the rehabilitor to avoid human contact with animals. To survive, an animal must have a normal imprinting experience. As long as the animal in question is exposed to conspecifics during the critical period, some human contact will probably not be deleterious, but should be avoided if at all possible. (Taken from an article by Dr. Paul Beaver, Bird Research Institute, 1984)

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