Wildlife Rescuer Ernie WilsonIf you find a chick in obvious distress you can contact a wildlife rehabilitation center in your area. However, first consider — does the chick need rescuing?

Ernie Wilson from Novato, CA (just north of The Golden Gate Bridge) reiterates his experience with a Pine Siskin Chick:

Ernie observed that a chick kept falling out of a nest. He took dried leaves and placed them on the ground around the nest to cushion the falling chick, and he also added some branches under nest to break its fall.

Ernie emphasizes that chicks do not get abandoned by their parents after their young have been handled by a human. It is fine to gently handle the chick and check on its condition. The parents readily come back to the nest once the human is out of sight.

He watched the chick closely and noticed that the parents weren’t feeding it sufficiently to sustain its life.  The chick was obviously hungry and the rescuer decided to supplement its feedings (instructions below).  After each feeding he would place the chick back into the nest.  However, after a while he noticed that the nest was falling apart and the parents only provided sporadic feedings, not enough to sustain the chick and, therefore, he decided to pull it permanently from the nest.

Pine Siskin


Setting the Chick Up:

Ernie made her a soft bed in a Stouffer’s lasagna dish, lined it with a cotton / T-shirt-like material and put the chick and  its soft bed into a cat’s carrier, with a heating pad under the carrier. (AvianWeb Note: Adding a piece of paper towel or tissue under the chick on top of the lining will facilitate clean-ups.). Ernie covered the cat carrier with a towel to keep in the warmth. He left the heating pad under the carrier 24/7.



Feeding Utensil and Technique:

Ernie used a syringe* to feed the chick with, inserting the syringe on its RIGHT side, where the crop is. Ernie fed the chick every two hours – although he noticed that the chick wouldn’t eat past 7:30 pm at night or before 7:30 am in the morning. (AvianWeb Note: Unfeathered chicks that are younger than one week require night feedings – not every 2 hours – but several times during the night).  

He observed that her crop stretches way out after a feeding, which is pretty normal.  It is important not to over-stretch the crop.  Feeding the chick slowly and watching it carefully should give you clues when the chick is full.  His experience was that during the feeding the crop wouldn’t fill up instantly, but slowly – even after taking in a lot of food. So he would recommend that people stop feeding before the crop is full, then wait for a minute and see how much larger the crop gets before giving more food (although the little girl usually stopped herself).

  • *Feeding syringes are available at your local pet store or your local drug store – in the baby section.  This being said,: I found the feeding syringes at the pet store to be quite inferior to the feeding syringes you can get in your local drug store in the baby section.

Basic Recipe for Baby Bird Food:

  • 1 can dog food (or 2 cups of dry dog food soaked and mashed can be used in place of the canned food.)
  • 1/2 cup poulty mash (the poultry mash is important as it provides calcium and other essential vitamins)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped hardboiled egg

Avianweb Note: Insect-eating chicks can be fed kitten chow soaked in warm water, then mashed and fed with a syringe (without a needle, of course); or insects, such as crickets or wax worms (available at pet stores).  It’s best to kill any biting insects though before feeding them (or else their bites may cause internal injury).  Below is a photo of a Woodpecker chick being fed insects:

Handraising a Downy Woodpecker Chick (Picoides pubescens)

Other Formulas / Food Items:

The chick is growing very fast and require a lot of nutrition. Fortunately, it eagerly accepted any food Ernie provided  He prepared the formula with the following ingredients:

  • array of greens
  • brown rice
  • quality cat food.
  • acidophilus (probiotics)
  • light vitamins, minerals

The optimum temperature for the food was 85 degrees. Ernie used a professional digital cooking thermometer that is extremely sensitive.

He soaked and then mashed the ingredients together making sure it didn’t drip any fluids.

Ernie pointed out the importance of using only all-natural, human-grade, organic ingredients – without preservatives, artificial coloring or flavoring.

  • AvianWeb Note: For those who are too busy to mix together a batch of food, I used Kaytee Baby Bird Formula available at the petstore. Although, if you have the time, fresh food is always better. Kaytee Baby Chick formula is simply more convenient and I have successfully raised wild birds with it; however, supplementing with fresh foods during the weaning process.

Ernie also bought some organic baby food to feed the chick with. The little siskin loved the Summer Vegetables and the Apple/Wild Blueberry formulas, to which he added peanut butter.

She also liked to eat Oatmeal with Apple and the Apple/Wild Blueberry formula, also with added peanut butter. Butternut squash, as well as Bartett Pears with Peanut Butter were other favorites of the little chick.

Ernie continued to add new food items to her diet, feeding her 3 to 5 mls of whipped hard-boiled eggs, which she very much enjoyed.

As weaning period approaches, a good quallity seed mix should be provided so that the chick can familarize itself with adult food. First, it will play with it — but eventually, you will see the chick starting to feed itself. Spray millet (available at pet stores – in the Bird section) also works great as a weaning food.


Growing up “Chick”:

After a few weeks, the fledging period began. The little siskin stood up regularly flapping its wings. The chick became really vocal at that time, trying to answer other finches that she heard. She was fascinated by everything, except for the Blue Jays, who scared her.

Ernie periodically took her outside regularly to ensure that she remained close to nature; and he remembers walking past the tree where her nest used to be and it became apparent that she remembered the nesting site.

Eventually, the practicing of the wings paid off. Her muscles had developed nicely and she started to fly short distances. At this point, she was ready for weaning food. Ernie provided her with a Finch seed (seed, fruit, and greens) – an appropriate diet for adult siskins

Chicks first Bath:

Ernie filled a 5″x5″ plastic dish with an inch of warm water and put it in her cage. She jumped up onto the rim and carefully inspected the water, then leaned down and stuck her beak into it and swiped it across a few times, then she jumped right into it and started fluffing her wings and wiggling her body, dipping her head under the water … just as if she had been taught to do it!! It was obvious that she really enjoyed the experience.

Gaining her Independence:

One day, she took off flying off into the distance. However, she came back the next morning looking for food. Ernie fed her 4 mils of food immediately. Afterwards, she spent about 30 minutes chirping as if telling Ernie a long story of her exciting adventure, and then she went to sleep.

The next day, she was getting antsy and flew off again.  When she was “out and about” she answered Ernie’s “chirps” and responded to his voice. She readily came over to be held and stroked by the rescuer. Sometimes she would land on his arms and Ernie would reward her with a nice feeding, which she would eagerly accept.

In the meantime, the little finch had learned to frequent local bird feeders and seemed to enjoy socializing with other birds. Watching the other birds survive in the wild was crucial in helping her develop the skills she needed to survive and thrive in the wild.



The little finch has been outdoors for the last month and is doing very well. Ernie is delighted that she will answer him when he calls her. He can tell her “voice” from all of the others in the area. She also visits frequently. In his words,

“this was an incredible experience”


Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for sharing this delightful story with the AvianWeb visitors!


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