Feeding and caring for a Cape Sparrow fledgeling until taking to a rehabilitation centre

Cape Swallow fledgeling front Cape Swallow fledgling Cape Swallow, white chest Cape Swallow

Four days ago my friend Abbey found 2 Cape Sparrow chicks in her garden, she could not leave them where they were as their puppy who discovered them considered them food / playthings.  She brought them to me as I seem to have become the ‘bird lady’ since raising the Olive (Karoo) thrush Poopsie.  Before advising how to care for and feed a Cape Sparrow it is important to highlight the following.

  • If you find any fledgling on the ground, the first rule is LEAVE IT, all fledglings spend some time on the ground before they can fly and the mother continues to feed and care for them.  Only remove if they are in danger, in cases where a dog or cat can harm or kill them.
  • You will not be able to successfully rear and release a wild bird, they need to be taught how to crack seeds, catch insects and feed themselves.  This can only really be done at a rehabilitation centre.  At a rehabilitation centre the fledglings are placed with other birds who teach them the necessary survival skills.
  • Feeding a fledgling is HARD work, more demanding than a human baby, they need to be fed regularly and cannot be left for more than an hour.
  • Fledglings are very fragile, they die easily and it’s heartbreaking when they do.
  • Do not try to give water, the bird is likely to drown even when you do it very carefully from a spoon.  Rather dilute the food with water to make a soft paste.

With that out of the way, I find it annoying that searching online for information how to feed and care for a fledgling yields almost no results.  This is because rescue people seem to be almost aggressively precious about sharing information.  The fact is you can’t always get the bird into the right hands immediately, and if you don’t know how to feed them they will die before you can get them to a qualified person.

If you have found a fledgeling first identify the bird and then find out what they eat.

spoon bent to feed bird
spoon bent to feed bird

A Cape Sparrow will eat scrambled egg (obviously no seasoning) or tinned dog or cat food diluted with water.  I was advised to feed cat pellets soaked in water and mushed up.  You can feed from a spoon, the best bet is to bend the spoon in a vice to make this easier.  A syringe is first prize.  Keep the syringe clean and wash frequently in boiling water.

Feed the bird at regular intervals (but not at night).  Every time the Sparrow opened its mouth begging for food we fed it, sometimes at intervals of only 10 mins.

Sadly on day 2 one of the babies died, it lost energy and was not feeding, it also felt cold.  I tried holding it to warm and in desperation tried to give sugar water from a spoon.  I don’t know if it drowned as a result or if it was dying anyway.  The remaining sibling continued to thrive.

On Saturday we took the remaining Cape Sparrow fledgling to Wildlife in Crisis, outside Springs in Gauteng.  This is where we took Poopsie to a few years ago.  Judy is a wonderful woman who does so much good work.


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  1. Hi there please just update – this is not a Cape Swallow, think might have been typing error should read Sparrow.

  2. Do NOT feed sparrows carry or dog food. They need to be fed meal world which have been cut up into small pieces, which are fed to the babies with a tweezer.
    Cat and dog food had lots of rubbish in it. Baby sparrows are fed an exclusively protien diet in the wild.

  3. thank you for the help ,my wife has just rescued one tiny little thing and is struggling to keep it alive . we would appreciate if she could call you for any tips . her whatsapp no is 078 092 1932 . thanks

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