Feeding animals

Mixed insects, partly frozen, © Anke Dornbach

For feeding and raising young birds, both live-caught and live or frozen insects from the trade are suitable.

Dried insects, on the other hand, are unsuitable.

You will soon reach your limits with catching insects if you plan to raise a young bird with them, because the amount needed is much larger than you think. Therefore, it is advisable to order food animals from online shops and freeze them for storage, for example, at Futter-Spatz or Faunatopics. Frozen insect feeders are also available from FrostFutter or MuchaTerra, for example.

Important: A mixture of about 5 different feed animals should always be given, never only one type of feed animal.

Not all feeders are suitable for raising young birds, and of course not all feeders are equally suitable for all bird species. Therefore, we would like to introduce you to some food animals that are suitable for raising young birds and, of course, which are suitable for not Suitable are.

Live purchased feed insects have only a low nutritional value because of the often long starvation period in the trade. Therefore, they must first be fed for a few days with, for example, carrot slices, dandelion leaves and oat flakes, before they can be frozen or used as live food.

The insects described below are very suitable for feeding very young nestlings and also older young birds:


Cricket, © Dagmar Offermann

Crickets are a type of cricket. They are available in different sizes: small, medium and large. The most common crickets to feed are the medium sized ones, which are about 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters long. The crickets should be subadult if possible, that is, they should not have a laying spine and also no wings.

Get crickets alive and freeze them after a few days of feeding with dandelion, cucumber etc. together with the box in which they were delivered or purchased. Smaller quantities of these feeders can be bought in pet stores, but they are much more expensive there than, for example, in a special mail order company.
To thaw the insects, put them in a small bowl, pour hot water over them and let them stand for about 3 minutes. Then pour the thawed crickets through a sieve. Thawed crickets should be fed immediately, as they spoil very quickly! If they have already turned black, they can no longer be used. So feed only light to medium brown crickets.

You can also buy already frozen crickets in online stores, which saves the time of feeding them. They are also placed per feeding ration in a frozen state in a small bowl and poured over with boiling water. Then tip them into a sieve, let them drain well and you can feed them immediately.

Before feeding, the hard hind legs of the killed crickets are removed.

Steppe crickets

Steppe crickets also belong to the crickets, as the name already suggests. They are somewhat larger than the largest crickets, i.e. about 2.5 to three centimeters long. For processing, storage and feeding of crickets the same rules apply as for crickets. Steppe crickets are particularly suitable as feeders for alpine and common swifts, see also our chapter species-appropriate food for swifts.

Steppe crickets, crickets and other crickets usually have very long antennae, © Sylvia Schneider

Countless steppe cricket larvae populate the breeding container, © Sylvia Schneider

Steppe crickets, © Sylvia Schneider

Another cricket species, the two-spotted cricket, is also well tolerated by most wild bird species, but not by swifts, which react with diarrhea to this cricket species.

Bee larvae (drone brood)

Bee larvae or drone brood, © Dagmar Offermann

If you have contact with a beekeeper, you can ask him for drone brood (bee larvae). However, drone brood should not be fed in too large quantities, as it contains a lot of fat. As the first suitable food after finding a young bird, drone brood is most suitable.

The combs are placed in the freezer overnight. The frozen, hard drones are then removed individually from the combs. Please take care to take only smaller pieces of honeycomb out of the freezer, so that the frozen portion does not thaw in the meantime, which happens quite quickly. In thawed condition the bee larvae are squishy, the wax cannot be removed completely, consequently they are useless as food!

Drying of blanched drone brood, © Anke Dornbach

The drones taken out of the combs are collected in a can in the freezer, so that they do not thaw out. Once a sufficient quantity has been harvested and frozen, blanch the frozen drones in boiling water for three minutes and then rinse them with ice-cold water in a sieve. In order to feed them individually later, it is important to dry them before freezing them again. To do this, spread them out on several layers of paper towels and wait until the water has been absorbed by the paper towels. Now they can be frozen well together and can be taken out later individually. In order to preserve blanched insects as long as possible, it is recommended to pack them in vacuum.
Drones are contained in the combs in different stages of development and thus also in different colors. Already fully developed bees, recognizable by their dark color and body structure, can also be fed without prior blanching. These are a welcome change, especially for swifts. On the other hand, the white, soft larvae are well suited for very young nestlings, best chopped up into pieces suitable for the beak.


Flies are good as food insects. If you have a barn nearby, you can go hunting there with a fly swatter, or you can attract flies with sweets on a plate. Colorful iridescent flies are not tolerated so well and should be avoided.

You can also grow flies yourself from fly maggots (angler’s store), but this takes about two weeks, see instructions. The cultivated flies are deep-frozen and thawed in portions for feeding. Or you can offer them alive in a bird house made of gauze, which allows insectivorous species in the branching phase to train themselves to get food independently.

The young of many bird species can be fed with flies, among other things, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

Fly maggots that have developed into flies are valuable food for swallows and other insectivores, © Nadja Koch

Also suitable are Fruit flies (Drosophila). You can buy them already fully developed or as breeding stock in feed stores for reptiles, also online. There are also flightless breeding forms of the fruit fly, which are well suited to learn how to prey on food animals.

Another species of flies that can be used for feeding wild birds is the Soldier fly (Hermetia), especially the larvae are suitable because of their soft consistency and high protein content. The developed flies can of course be fed as well.

Wax moth larvae/ wax caterpillars

Wax caterpillars, © Anke Dornbach

The larvae of the wax moth are also called wax caterpillars or wax worms. In the wild, they are very harmful to bee colonies, as they nibble at the honeycombs in the hives, among other things. However, they are very suitable as food for wild birds, as they have a soft shell and are very nutritious. However, they also contain a high percentage of fat, which is why they should only be given as supplementary food and in moderation, especially for weak or fussy birds. Just like drone brood, wax moth larvae should first be killed by deep freezing for a few hours, then blanched in boiling water for three minutes while frozen, dried well on spread kitchen paper, and then refrozen. As the breeding of these larvae is very complex, they are relatively expensive in comparison to other insect larvae for sale.

For very young nestlings, cut the thawed wax caterpillar, squeeze out the soft inside and feed small portions of it with tweezers. The tough outer shell is still too difficult to digest. Because of the high fat content please do not give too many of them. For older young birds, because of the size of the food animal, only small pieces suitable for the beak are fed, in whole waxworms are too large for most young birds.

The insects described below are suitable additionally to the insects mentioned above for feeding young birds from the time their eyes are open :

Buffalo worms

Buffalos, © Anke Dornbach

These insects, sometimes called buffalos, are the larvae of grain mold beetles. They look similar to mealworms, but are smaller and have a softer chitinous carapace, which makes them easier to digest. You can buy them live and frozen.
Buffalo worms should ideally be kept in a smooth-walled dish with a high rim, from which they cannot escape. They receive daily dandelion and vegetable pieces and oatmeal as food.

As a live food, buffalos are suitable for learning to catch prey in young birds.

Ant eggs

These little "protein bombs" make excellent rearing food. Attention, some ant species are protected in Germany and it is therefore forbidden to collect their eggs outside.


You can search for small caterpillars yourself, which are also excellent as rearing food. However, you should only choose smooth-skinned caterpillars without hairs and thorns and avoid yellow, red or orange colored animals, as these are usually poisonous or would cause severe irritation of the mucous membranes in the birds’ throats. In addition, it is very, very important to feed only those caterpillars that are on non-toxic plants. Otherwise, the young birds can be fatally poisoned because the poison of the plants that the caterpillars eat collects in the insects.

Attention: Some caterpillar species found in Germany are under strict protection, including for example the caterpillars of the Apollo butterfly. For more information on this subject, see Wisia.de

Hairless, green caterpillars like this one are good food for the young of many bird species, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

The black and yellow warning coloration signals the toxicity of the caterpillars of the scavenger beetle, they are not suitable bird food, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier


Aphids are one of the most unwelcome animal inhabitants in gardens, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

These little animals are quite small, but they are a suitable food for raising young birds of different species. Aphids are found in many places in nature in summer. You can also breed them yourself, for example by colonizing herb pots (basil is readily infested by green aphids) with some aphids from the wild. The herb pots should be maintained in windowsill culture, usually the aphids spread explosively on the plants and can be "harvested" without problems. However, they also do not stop at neighboring houseplants.

Black aphids are not eaten by birds and are avoided. Better are green specimens.

Fly maggots, frozen (Pinkies)

Fly maggots ("pinkies") must first be frozen for young bird rearing, then blanched in boiling water, dried on kitchen paper and then frozen again, © Anke Dornbach

In the insect trade one can buy already prepared maggots in the frozen condition.
Those who have live maggots must first kill them in a can by deep freezing and then briefly put them in boiling water. Drain them in a colander, let them dry on a cloth or paper towel, and refreeze them. The respective need is thawed in warm water and fed.

Fly maggots have a tough outer shell that is difficult or impossible for nestlings to digest, so the maggots are often excreted undigested with difficulty.

If frozen, blanched pinkies are to be fed to nestlings, for example to tide them over until more suitable insects can be obtained, they should be cut into very small pieces. In ground condition they can also be added to the insect mash described here.
Older young birds, which already take food independently, can be offered whole pinkies as well as other insects.

AttentionSometimes dead young mice are offered under the name "Pinkies" in the pet trade. These are not suitable to be fed to young songbirds!

Mealworm larvae/ mealworms

Mealworms are a good food for some birds in winter, they also like to take dried mealworms, © OakleyOriginals via Flickr

These animals are less suitable for rearing nestlings, as they also have a hard-to-digest shell, similar to pinkies, and are also relatively fatty. The nutritional content of mealworms is rather low. Feeding mealworms alone leads to deficiency symptoms, feather defects or digestive disorders, to name just a few consequences. It is best to use freshly skinned larvae for feeding, which can be recognized by their white color.

Older birds can be given mealworms as a supplementary feed to learn to prey on feeders independently.
You can boost the nutritional value of mealworms by feeding them oatmeal, fresh dandelion and thin slices of carrot for several days.

The following feeders are suitable for rearing young birds not or only to a limited extent:

Fly maggots, live

Attention, these insects are absolutely not suitable as food animals! Although they are sometimes recommended by veterinarians or pet shop employees as a healthy food for young birds, they pose a great danger: fly maggots are permanently hungry and resistant. In the body of a young bird they do not die very quickly and can eat through the intestinal wall on their way through the digestive tract. This will kill the young bird!


Earthworms are not suitable for raising most young birds, as they are extremely difficult to digest. Almost all songbird species get massive digestive problems from feeding earthworms and die from it in most cases.

Older thrushes, starlings and corvids, which are already learning to independently capture food animals, can also get earthworms, but earthworms are known as intermediate hosts for endoparasites of the bird, which is why, if possible, bred earthworms should be bought in specialized stores and not searched for in nature. They can easily be placed in a container with potting soil and caught out when needed.

Only a few bird species tolerate earthworms as food during rearing, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

Earthworms are easy to keep in a little potting soil, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

Ants, bees, wasps and bumblebees (Hymenoptera)

These insects are not suitable as adults for raising young birds! Their poison is problematic for most young birds.

Only species of woodpeckers, which feed mainly on ants in the wild (green, black and gray woodpeckers and wrynecks), can be given ants during rearing. They should be given the opportunity to catch live ants on their own during the branching phase.

Also isopods, bugs and beetles are not suitable for raising young birds.

Other food animals for food specialists are

Forage fish

Moderlieschen, © Gaby Schulemann-Maier

This means small freshwater fish (three to five centimeters long), which serve as food for kingfishers, grebes or gulls.

You can buy frozen smelts in the pet department of garden centers, or you can order them online and have them delivered to your home (source of supply: Aquaristic.net). Frozen smelts are also available in Italian delicatessens, in zoological institutions and at well-stocked weekly markets. Please make sure that you really sell smelts and not saltwater fish!

Depending on the bird species and size, the thawed food fish can be offered either cut up or whole. Some birds will only accept fish if they are served floating in a bowl of water. Kingfish in particular often refuse to eat dead fish.

Young grebes and other waterfowl also need live fish to learn how to catch fish. Suitable are for example small Moderlieschen (Leucaspius delineatus), bluegills (Pseudorasbora parva), brown trout (Salmo trutta fario) or also other freshwater fish. You can get them from a pond owner or a fish farmer (Yellow Pages). Live fish are best bought in small portions from a fish farmer, as keeping them in an aquarium is not without problems. Trout in particular are extremely sensitive and suffocate, as they require special water compositions. Fish that, unlike trout, live in stagnant water (z. B. Moderlieschen), can also be kept in an aquarium for a short time. About the correct keeping of fish in the aquarium please inquire in pet stores and also with fish breeders.

Small mammals and day-old chicks

Dead mice are important food for corvids, birds of prey and owls, © Bergische Greifvogelhilfe

For the breeding of birds of prey and owls you need considerably larger food animals than for the breeding of other songbirds. Owls and birds of prey need small mammals such as mice to grow up, temporarily you can also feed them day-old chicks. However, the latter are much less nutritious than, for example, mice, which is why they should be given preference as food for birds of prey and owls. Since feeding of these carnivorous birds is very difficult, it should be left to experts. In addition, this group of birds has very high requirements for adequate housing.

Also corvids get dead mice and day-old chicks during the rearing period. Young corvids are given smaller frozen baby mice, older ones need food animals with fur or feathers to form pellets and to accustom the digestion to animal food.

Raw meat

Raw meat of mammals is suitable for raising corvids, but not for other bird species. For example, pure beef tartare is good, so No minced meat!

Raw chicken hearts cut into small pieces, © Anke Dornbach

Raw chicken hearts cut into pieces are also suitable meat for raising corvids. Meat, however, should never be fed exclusively! It is best to freeze it in small portions, which can then be thawed and fed as needed. Of course, the meat should be fresh and unseasoned.

Did you know? Some people misspell the name for scraped meat – they write tartare. But since the same is meant, we wanted to mention it again here for safety’s sake.

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