Baby birds eat the same food their parents do – in the UK, for garden type birds this means insects, bugs, and seeds.

How Garden Birds Feed Their Young

Different birds will feed their young in different ways but if we’re specifically talking about garden birds, also commonly called songbirds, they all utilise the same method.

Songbird chicks hatch completely helpless in their nests – they are unable to do anything except patiently wait to be fed by their parents. In some species, the mother and father will both feed their young, and in other species, it may be one parent.

As the goal is to keep chicks well-fed until they are old enough to fledge the nest and find their own food, bird parents have a busy old time in the spring as they must collect enough food to keep themselves going and feed their brood too. This is why you often see rather frazzled or thinner looking adult birds in the spring. Mating, nest building, egg-laying and raising chicks is a tough business!

Adult birds will collect food for their young by eating it, it is only partially digested and once the bird is ‘full’, it will return to its nest and regurgitate food for chicks. Sounds gross but it’s very effective!

As a bird must repeat this process multiple times a day, it’s easy to see why raising chicks can be so exhausting. As baby birds are completely unable to find food themselves, their parents’ survival is closely linked to their own – with no parents, chicks would simply starve.

a blue tit feeding its chick

What Do Baby Birds Eat?

As mentioned, baby birds will be fed on a diet of whatever it is their parents are eating. Naturally, this is insects and seeds/fruits. Each species will have its own particular favourite food source, for example, Blue Tits depend on caterpillars and each chick will eat up to 100 per day! This means for a nest full of ten chicks, the parent must find 1,000 caterpillars a day!

There is evidence to suggest that parent birds won’t usually take food provided by humans in bird feeders and on tables to feed their young. Instead, parents will eat this food themselves and reserve wild or natural finds for their young.

So even though baby birds won’t be visiting your garden until they are fully-fledged, it is still important to provide food at this time of year for busy, hungry parents.

Can Baby Birds eat Bird Food/Seed?

Once a chick’s feathers have grown in and it is strong enough to try and fly, the parents will encourage it to leave the nest (fledging).

This can be the most dangerous stage for baby birds as they need to learn to fly, find their own food and avoid predators – all in a very short space of time.

Some species of birds leave their young once they are fledged but some will stay together in family groups until fledglings have got the hang of being a bird! It is at this time you may notice family groups visiting your bird feeders or food tables.

Parents will bring their young to places they have previously used for food and know are safe. Once they are old enough, fledglings will then start to take bird food you provide. At the start though, it isn’t uncommon to observe fledglings sat right in a food dish ‘shouting’ for their parents to feed them! The parents will do this for a short time until the fledgling learns it must take its own food.

It is recommended you provide smaller food items as these are easier for fledglings to digest and reduce the risk of choking (whole peanuts, for example, are too big for many garden birds, let alone fledglings). Peanut granules however are ideal.

If you want to leave out a safe, healthy food for fledglings, sunflower heart chips for birds are ideal as they are provided without shell and are chipped into tiny, bitesize pieces. You can still feed peanuts to fledglings, so long as they are left out in a wire peanut feeder – this stops both fledglings and their parents from taking bites that are too large for them to handle. Although you may get a laugh watching fledglings trying to eat from a wire feeder – don’t worry though – they observe their parents and very quickly learn the ropes!