North America serves as home for more than 20 species of finches. These small songbirds inhabit cities, woods, mountains and deserts. With such a large finch population throughout the country, you may have a nest of wild baby finches near your house or wild finch fledglings visiting your bird feeder. You can positively impact a wild baby finch's health by understanding her diet and providing nutritious food at your feeder.
Hatching and Nestling Diet
Much like a human baby, a wild baby finch requires a certain diet of foods and frequent feedings from his parents in order to stay healthy. The first week of a finch's life is the hatching stage, and it is followed by the nestling stage, which can last two weeks. During both stages, it is crucial that his mother keeps him warm and nourished by feeding him at 1 1/2- to 20-minute intervals, according to an article published in "The Condor." Finches generally feed their babies a variety of regurgitated seeds, such as the sunflower seeds and dandelion seeds that house finches mainly feed their young. Brambling and American goldfinch feed their babies small insects, including aphids and gnats; the diet of those finches consists mainly of insects.
Two to four weeks after hatching, the wild baby finch becomes a fledgling. During this stage, the finch's wing muscles have developed and her flight feathers have grown in. The wild baby finch ventures from the nest, though she is still dependent on her mother and father for care. She still relies on her parents to bring the seeds and insects she received in the nest. The fledgling period lasts one to two weeks.
After the fledgling period, the baby finch graduates to the juvenile stage and begins eating on his own. He gradually learns to eat an adult diet. Though his diet still contains seeds and insects, it also includes plants, such as thistles and nettles that adult goldfinches eat and wild berries and nectar that mature house finches eat. He will remain a juvenile until he becomes a fully fledged adult at 3 to 4 months old.
Bird Feeder Food
Even though a wild baby finch should not be directly handled or fed, you can help her diet by attracting finch parents and fledglings to your bird feeder. Because the parents and their babies eat seeds and insects, you can place wild bird seed containing whole sunflower seeds, sunflower kernels and millet as well as insects such as meal worms or wax worms in your bird feeder. Wild bird seed is available at pet stores, garden stores and most supermarkets, and pet stores sell insects. You also can offer unconventional food such as breads, most fruits and suet. Changing bird seed frequently ensures the food is fresh. Damp or old food may cause illness in birds.
If you find an orphaned wild baby finch, you should not care for or feed him, but you can help him. The first task to establish whether the finch is a fledgling or a nestling. "In order to determine whether the bird is a nestling or a fledgling allow the baby bird to perch on your finger. If it is able to grip your finger firmly than it is a fledgling," states the website Wild Bird Watching. If he is a fledgling, he should be left alone. His parents will continue to feed him as he learns to fly. A nestling, however, should be returned to his nest. If you cannot find the nest, your area's wildlife rehabilitator can properly care for the wild baby finch.
Some foods are dangerous to a baby and an adult finch's health. Among the foods to avoid are those containing caffeine, including coffee beans and chocolate. A finch cannot metabolize caffeine, resulting in dehydration and seizures. Also, vegetable oils can destroy feathers' insulating qualities needed for warmth. Lastly, stale and moldy food, which can cause respiratory infections, should be avoided.
- Wild Bird Watching: Baby Birds--Should I Help?
- "The Auk;" A Study of the House Finch; W.H. Bergtold, M.D.; January 1913
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment: American Goldfinch (Carduelis Tristis)
- RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: What Food To Provide--Bird Seed Mixtures
- "The Condor;" Observations On Nesting Behavior Of The House Finch; Fred G. Evenden; March-April 1957
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Victoria Marinucci has been writing since 2002. Her articles have appeared in Pennsylvania newspapers as the "Bucks County Courier Times," and "The Intelligencer." She has also had numerous articles published on the news site, phillyBurbs. Marinucci earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Penn State University.