House Sparrow Information
There are many resources available for people who find orphaned or injured House Sparrows. Here are some of the basics. Check the emergency page for links to reliable online websites and groups.
Orphaned Baby House Sparrows
Since House Sparrows nest in urban and suburban areas, when their babies fall out of the nest, they tend to be found by people walking on a sidewalk, or in a yard. Intact nests are often taken down during tree removal and from crevices in homes and buildings. Baby birds are vulnerable to cat and larger bird attacks. Some of the babies are found in perfect physical health while others are injured or have congenital defects. Baby birds should be examined carefully. In many cases, fractured legs and wings can be splinted using tape. If caught early enough, many minor fractures and other injuries can be treated successfully with splints, antibiotics, and antiinflammatory medications.
If baby birds are healthy, if possible, they should be returned to the nest. If they are feathered and parents are feeding them on the ground, cats and dogs should be kept in, and the fledgling birds should be kept safe while they learn to fly over a few day's time on the ground. A wildlife rehabilitator should be sought out to take care of any wild bird. See the Wildlife Rehabilitation section on this page.
If it isn't possible to return the baby to it's parents, and there is no wildlife rehab center available to take in a healthy baby, the finder will need to assess the situation and decide whether the baby will be raised for release or to keep. See the Release Criteria section on this page.
Aside from addressing injuries and congenital defects, feeding and caring for a tiny baby bird is tedious. New nestlings require hand feeding every 20-30 minutes during daylight hours. As the birds grow, the feeding interval can be increased to every hour. Featherless babies need to be kept warm in a heated nest of tissues. Droppings must be removed to keep the birds clean and dry. I use a coffee mug or small container to keep the babies snug and secure when they are tiny. When they are feathered and moving around, I move them to a larger container. Exam gloves filled with water can be microwaved and used as "hot water bottles" in the nest. Birds should not come in direct contact with a hot surface. The hot goves or heating pad should be placed underneath cloth and tissue bedding.
Feeding a high protein mix of kitten food, egg, fruit, and a good calcium source (crushed egg shells) is important. The store bought "baby bird forumulas" like Kaytee Exact are NOT appropriate for baby House Sparrows or most other song birds. Some are labeled "for all baby birds", which is an unfortunate misleading label. In fact, birds raised on these formulas will gobble it down but end up with all sorts of feather and other metabolic issues as a result of malnutrition. The Starling Talk website has a very nice description of handfeeding baby sparrows which includes an easy to follow Baby Bird Recipe. You will also find hand feeding instructions and basic baby bird care on the Starling Talk baby bird care page.
Once the baby reaches 2-3 weeks of age, it will start to wean from the baby formula. Offer millet spray for it to start pecking. Most of the babies will peck at the millet and eventually figure out that it is food. Then brocolli, apples, grapes, lettuce, and a variety of other vegetables and fruits can be offered in tiny bite sized pieces. Hand raised babies will slowly begin to eat on their own but will usually hang on to their hand feedings until 6-8 weeks of age. Offer plenty of fresh foods in addition to a high quality seed and dry pelleted food such as Harrison's Adult Lifetime Super Fine. They will start to drink water from a small dish at this time as well.
If the baby bird(s) will be released, follow release instructions to the right. But if the bird(s) will be kept as pets, they should be handled regularly so that they bond with their human flock. My birds all enjoy sleeping in my hand, being hand fed, and sitting on my shoulder. I spend alot of time with them from the beginning so they bond and are comfortable in many situations, with different texture and color clothing, and household noises such as vacuum cleaners. Sunny likes to sit on my shoulder when I use a hand vac in her room!
Set the babies up with a variety of toys and activities from the start. They are very open to new objects and noises when they are very young but as they approach 3 months of age, they develop more of a predator fear instinct and become more skittish and less flexible with new environmental changes. When Bobby met my son's red sweatshirt at 3 months of age, he literally flung himself into the back corner of his cage screaming like he was being attacked by a hawk. Needless to say, I never wore red around him and completely stopped buying red clothes.
Raising two or more babies together is challenging. It's very nice that they have each other for company and warmth in the nest, but if they are to be "pets", then it's important that they bond with their people as well. Spending alot of time holding them, hand feeding them, and working with them individually and as a group pays off in the long run. My two "girlitas" were and are still a comical pair, especially when they started flying. Their first flight was a choatic frenzy of two baby birds going in opposite directions across the living room. One ended up in a book shelf, and the other behind the couch. We reigned them in and eventually they became much more syncrhonized!
For more sparrow-keeping info, go to the House Sparrow Home Care page.
Injured, Ill Adult House Sparrows
House Sparrows are active birds that live in close proximity to people. This opens them up to all sorts of dangers and injured birds are commonly found because they live near people so people find them.
Sparrows can fall prey to cats, dogs, grackles, hawks, and other wild animals. Even if there are no visible wounds, cat caught birds should be treated with antibiotics for at least 5 days.
Injured birds should receive a thorough exam which addresses each part of the bird starting at the head and moving back to the wings, legs, and overall body. Feathers, body condition, and energy level can all be assessed with a good exam.
Wounds should be cleaned with warm water, mild dish soap, and cotton. Antiseptic flush can be used for deeper infected wounds.
Minor fractures can be splinted with tape splints. Antibiotics can be administered by injection or by mouth. Fluids can be given subcutaneously by injection. Water should not be administered by mouth to birds by syringe as they can aspirate.
Head injuries and other neurologic conditions require a great deal of time, patience, and intensive support. Many birds make a very slow but significant recovery when given enough time to heal.
Bacterial, viral, and internal and external parasitic diseases present in a variety of ways. Most commonly birds are weak, thin, and easy to catch because they can't fly. Wounds can become infected. West Nile and pox viruses are seen in House Sparrows. Mites cause feather loss and rough looking feathering. Coccidia are common in House Sparrows. Coccidiosis causes loose watery droppings and can also cause neurologic signs. It is most effectively treated with ponazuril. Checking a fecal sample is simple and gives important information about potentially treatable diseases. In addition, strict quarantine practices should be carried out until it is known that the injured or ill bird will not infect other birds in the household.
Wildlife rehabilitation is done at wildlife centers as well as by individual licensed rehabbers. Since House Sparrows are not a protected native species, they are considered an invasive undesireable species by many. While some rehabilitators are willing to take in and care for injured and orphaned House Sparrows, some refuse them, and some will take them in and promptly euthanize them. So if you find a House Sparrow, it is important that you are aware of the policies of the rehabber you are working with.
Whether a bird is with a licensed rehabilitator or a good samaritan, there are important procedures that should be followed when preparing any bird for release. Keeping babies from imprinting and keeping stressed birds in a quiet calm darkened setting is important. There are strict criteria that should be considered when making the decision whether or not a bird is a good candidate for release (see release criteria below).
State departments of environmental protection list licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Many veterinarians work closely with wildlife rehabbers and can recommend local contacts to those that need help with injured and orphaned House Sparrows. Of course, the web is always a good source of information, but care should be used in choosing which information to follow. It's best to find a trusted source and stick with them.
Releasing wild birds is a very complicated process. Baby birds that are raised for release are best raised with other birds of the same species, with little handling by humans. They must be acclimated to the outside climate as well as potential foods and food sources they will find at the release site. They should not be imprinted on people because even though they may seem somewhat wild, imprinted birds will seek out humans as their mate when they reach sexual maturity. They don't see themselves as birds, which causes serious emotional issues for these birds. Single raised birds can be successfully released but it is much harder to keep them from imprinting on people if they are found at a very young age (less than 10 days old).
Baby birds must be able to feed themselves, fly, perch, have healthy feathers to keep them warm in colder weather, and have good sight and hearing. Some disabled birds are able to adapt to living in a protected home environment but should be very carefully evaluated if release is a consideration.
Adult house sparrows should be able to eat, fly, perch, and have a good coat of feathers before being released into the wild. They should be released as close to where they were found as possible. Climate is a consideration as birds must acclimate to colder weather as the seasons change from warm to cold. If a bird is taken in during cold winter months and adusts to indoor warmth while being treated, it is best kept inside until spring weather returns before release is attempted.
Deciding whether or not to release a baby house sparrow is complicated. Click on the link below for more information on raising for release vs. to keep on the Starling Talk website, starlingtalk.com.