Hand Rearing Birds

Injured sparrow being hand fed by a carerTwo baby owls in a rescue boxAn owl leaves an owl box set up by rescuers

Hand Rearing Nestlings & Fledglings


Please contact us for advice first

Please contact Hessilhead for advice before attempting to rear any young birds for the first time. Mistakes are easily made and can be difficult to rectify.

Always remember to wash your hands first

Dip food in water before feeding.

Allow chicks to swallow food properly before offering more

Don’t overfeed

Change bedding after each meal

In the case of nestlings, replace the lid/cover after each meal. This will help conserve energy and heat

Never offer food that is going stale

Monitor small chicks – are they getting enough food? are they getting crushed?

Aim to maintain a constant temperature.

On hot days chicks on a heat pad may need more bedding beneath them in order to reduce temperature.

On colder nights they may need covering with lightweight bedding

Chicks that can perch should be moved to a cage. The cage may need to be covered with a towel to prevent them from flapping against the bars. Offer food and water in shallow dishes but continue hand feeding. Gradually reduce the frequency of feeds.

Chicks that are reluctant or difficult to feed may need antibiotics or probiotics – seek veterinary advice.

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What Do Birds Eat

Always seek advice before trying to hand rear for the first time. We are here to help!

How To Hydrate & Feed


Be Careful How You Do This. Mistakes are hard to rectify.

Finches/sparrows (Cherry red inside mouth)
EMP (EMP is a commercial product sold for hand rearing canaries etc.), fed from fine artists paintbrushes, plus some mealworms and fresh vegetation.

Blackbirds, thrushes, robins, starlings (Yellow inside mouth)
Glop made from tinned cat food, insectivorous bird food, vitamin and mineral supplements.

Dunnocks (Orangey red inside mouth)
Glop, mealworms, mince.

Tits (Yellow inside mouth)
Mince with supplements, mealworms.

Swallows/House Martins (Yellow inside mouth-wide gape)
Mince, mealworms.

Crow family
Soaked cat or dog meal biscuits/kibble, or raw meat.

Raw meat, day-old chick with supplements.

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A carer hand feeds two young birdsA person cups a nesling bird in their handsTwo baby owls in a rescue box

Caring For Birds In Need


Find Information Below On The Different Types of Injuries

Feather care

When handling, transporting and housing birds, be aware that damaged feathers can cause additional problems. If flight feathers are broken, they will not be replaced till the bird moults, which may be in several months’ time. Never keep a bird in a budgie cage without covering three sides with a towel or similar. Aviaries should be similarly screened.


All birds capable of doing so should be allowed to perch. Ensure perches are high enough to keep tail feathers off the bottom of the cage. A variety of differently sized perches is best, and they should be wide enough to prevent hind claws from puncturing the ball of the foot. Birds will use the highest perch they can reach for roosting. Make sure food and water dishes are not under perches, and that lower perches are not directly under higher ones.


If your rescued bird is showing signs of injury, please contact Hessilhead immediately for support. We have volunteers and wildlife ambulences if you are unable to bring the bird to us. 

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From hands on care, to building enclosures. We need your help!
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Contact us or find directions to our centre. Or contact us for advice…
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Support Hessilhead

Offer A Release Site

As Hessilhead gets busier, we need to find more release sites for foxes, hedgehogs, and garden birds. Wherever possible, all rehabilitated animals are released where they were found. However, we are often looking for release sites for birds/animals that have been reared in captivity, and sometimes for adults that are being translocated. These animals are not pets. They are returning to the wild. You can help by offering your garden/ground/outbuildings as release sites, providing temporary shelter and food till they adapt to their new location. Please Contact Us if you can offer a release site.

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Did you know we have a shop for Hessilhead goodies? Shop with us and support our charity. We are fully independent and rely on your support so please take a look at how you can get involved and support us.

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Such an important place for wildlife rehabilitation. Support if you can. They work hard and always need newspapers etc. Took in an underweight juvenile hedgehog for me to bring up to weight. Got an update on him when I asked. They are very to the point and your rescue is in the best hands. Please help with funding or donations of newspaper etc if you can.

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Wildlife Emergency Support

PLEASE CALL 01505 502415

Please don't e-mail with regard to an injured bird or animal that requires a quick response. We are only open during certain hours and during busy periods, we may not check e-mails regularly.