Every year around early summer the referrals page on my hit counter tells me people found my essay, In Praise of Barn Swallows, in a search for "baby birds" or "feeding baby swallows" or something that hints at their finding a baby bird that fell out of its nest. I have no idea how to care for baby birds, so I wrote to the finest authorities in the land, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Both Anne Hobbs and her supervisor, Allison Wells, wrote. Ms. Wells' response is more general. If you have an orphan bird, I'm sorry. Some problems do not have easy solutions. Their replies are below. You can also read a success story about raising a barn swallow that fell out of its nest.
The best thing to do with a baby barn swallow that has fallen out of the nest is put it back into the nest. There really isn't a second best thing to do. People are seldom equipped to feed a baby bird and the younger the bird, the less well equipped they are to do so since the bird has to be fed frequently - for about 18 hours a day. When a teacher writes in, for instance, that a student has brought a baby bird to class and how should she help care for it, I encourage her to use the baby as a lesson in how Mother Nature works, and that dying is a part of the grand scheme. If you could let people know just how unlikely it is they'll have success with a baby, that would be a greater service than giving them information about what foods to try.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The best thing to do with a baby bird is to leave it alone. If they're out of the nest, it's most likely because they got themselves out of it, to fledge. The exception would be human interference or a storm that resulted in their displacement. If you knows for sure that that's how the bird ended up out of the nest, then putting it back is OK. Otherwise, you should leave it alone. Or better yet, close off the area so cats can't get it but leaving room for the bird to leave at will.
Director of Communications and Marketing,
Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Barn Swallows is one of my Miscellaneous Essays. There are others. And again, please read a success story about raising a barn swallow for a happier viewpoint.