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Feeding Baby Purple
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
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.
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
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
and foremost, try to return those young martins to the nest. It is
always better to let the parent martins care for the young.
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
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
2) Soak a few pellets in warm water until they become
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.
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,
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