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A Bird's Home

Feeding Baby Purple Martins

Just about the time summer hits and baby martins are fledging, I get a lot of emails about young that have bailed out of their nests because of either the heat or parasites, and the landlord wants to feed and care for the young birds until they are old enough to fly. I would like to say that although the intent is good, the probability of the young bird making it is often not good. And, although we all have good intentions, feeding and caring for any kind of wild, young bird or animal is very difficult. They have a lot of needs to survive that we just don't know about.

Unlike wild creatures, we humans put an emotional factor into life and it's these feelings we have for young cute things that makes us want to see them survive. Therefore, we try, with all good intentions I might add, to do our best to try and take care of them until they are old enough to make it on their own. What we don't realize is that the young often have to learn certain aspects of survival in order for them to make it through life, and these things are taught to the young by the parents.

This same thing applies to young birds. There are things that the parent birds have to teach them in order for them to survive on their own, mainly where and how to get food, or where to sleep, or who's friend and who's foe. These are some things that we just can't teach young birds.

Regardless, you have this young bird and you want to see it survive. The following is an excerpt from an article written by Kent Justus from Littlerock, Ark. He wrote this in answer to a question that was asked on how to feed young martins so they could survive to fledge. I reworded it a little so that it was generic in nature and not intended for one person. I hope that the information given will help a few folks that have young that are nearly ready to fledge and would like to see them make it.

I kept Kent's email address in the article in case you want to contact him in person. I hope this helps you raise your young bird to fly.

Feeding Baby Martins

Date: 6/4/98

First and foremost, try to return those young martins to the nest. It is always better to let the parent martins care for the young.
Heat isn't the only reason why young martins will bail out of the nest. Nest parasites are usually the bigger culprit which causes them to do so. Can you bring the martin house down? You might want to inspect the compartments for mites.

How old are the young? Fully feathered? If at all possible, the young should be returned to the martin house. Check the compartments and return the young to the nests where the remaining young are the same age. Also, it would be a good idea to replace the existing nests with pine needles or wheat straw. This will remove a majority of the nest parasites which may have contributed to the young bailing out.

If you still feel that you need to keep the young martins and feed them I highly recommend going to the vet and obtaining a sample size bag of Hill's Science Diet Feline Maintenance cat food. This is almost the perfect food for martins as it is extremely high in protein and low in fat. A hard-boiled egg is O.K. also. I wouldn't use just any kind of cat food as many have high contents of fillers that are not good to feed wild birds. Also, while at the vet get a bag of LRS (lactated ringer's solution) and a syringe or eye dropper. This is a liquid high in electrolytes and ideal to rehydrate the martins. Martins must be hydrated before receiving food or their bodies can't digest it.

After you get the Hill's Science Diet cat food:

1) FIRST (and most importantly) rehydrate the martin by squeezing a few drops of the LRS solution in FRONT of the martin's tongue. Do not squeeze the liquid directly down the bird's throat. Wait about 30 minutes and repeat this procedure before feeding solid food.
2) Soak a few pellets in warm water until they become soggy.
3) Take a blunt toothpick and cut these pellets in half at that point.
4) Hold the martin in your hand and using the same fingers from that hand gently squeeze the sides of the bill in order to make the mouth open.
5) Put half of the pellet of food on the end of a BLUNT toothpick and gently force down the martin's throat and then gently pinch the bill shut so the martin will swallow. Make sure the pellet is far enough down for the martin to have to swallow. You will see them gulping to swallow the piece when it is far enough down so that they can't spit it back out.
6) Only feed a half pellet first and then increase to one full pellet the next half hour and then a pellet and a half the next until reaching about 3 full pellets per feeding. Martin young need to be fed at least every half hour and preferably every 15 minutes. Look at the martin's droppings to ensure that they look normal (not too yellowish-green and runny).

As you can see, maintaining a strict feeding schedule would be a huge chore for you to accomplish, especially if you work.

If you feel that the young martins won't survive if you return them to the house then what I would recommend is that you call your local wildlife agency or department of Game and Fish and tell them that you are in need of a wildlife rehabilitator that would take the young Purple Martins from you to care for. They always have a list of local people that do this and are licensed to do so. I have one myself that lives close and I call her every year.

Another point to remember: if you keep and feed the young martins, do NOT keep them in the dark all day. Martins need sunlight in order to assimilate vitamins in their bodies that keep them healthy. If you have a bird cage this would be ideal to set them in a sunny corner for a couple of hours. And remember, the young martins need to be fed very frequently in order to maintain sufficient body weight. If the young are not fully feathered and almost ready to fly then you most certainly need to return them to the nest.

Kent Justus, Little Rock, AR

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