[Ed. Note: I have a page praising barn swallows. It isn't technical. I also have a page from two experts on what to do when baby birds fall from the nest. It is grim. Every year two or three people write to me about their success story. Every year I ask if I can post their story here. J. R. was the first person to respond, Katy the second. These are their success stories.]
Hi, I'm Katy M---- and I am 13.
I found the swallows when I was out working with my dad (my dad's a farrier).
We were in someone's yard when my dad said "Look - four baby birds."
I looked down and there they were, drenched in rain water. It turns out they had hatched late and the parents had flown off to Africa because it was that time of year. Unfortunately one of the baby birds didn't make it but all the other 3 were fine, so my dad said that we should take them home and nurse them back to health.
I took them to my local pet zoo / rescue centre, where they told me they were old enough to eat moth larvae and told me to feed them with tweezers. So I did, and they lasted through the night and for many days after that. I'm hoping eventually we will part and they will go and make a family of there own. I named them Baby Lue, Ribinna and Mozzarella. I know I should have let them die naturally but it was 3 of them; if it had been just one I would have understood. Now when I look at my magnificent birds I feel a sense of achievement.
[Ed Note: Katy is in the UK, which is why her swallows go to Africa instead of Argentina, and she spells it "centre" instead of "center".]
I understand baby birds should be left alone or put back into the nest if possible; however it wasn't possible for us to get this one back into the nest and so we took it home to at very least die in peace.
I am writing because it is not dying in peace, but rather it is thriving. It is not a small baby and that is probably why it had at least a chance with us. We bought a baby bird formula from the pet store and although it's actually for birds that are herbivores, he is doing well on it. After the first day and a half his appetite went into full swing, so we added very small amounts of canned kitten food. We will introduce some small flying insects in the next day or so. We have him with us everywhere we go and feed him often throughout the day and evening, although we haven't fed him for 18 hours a day.
At first we had to really work at feeding him and fed him very small amounts every hour. We cajoled him and put it on the outside "lips" of his beak and he took it in under duress. Then we were able to gently pry his beak apart and get more in and after that he was all about eating!
He's very social and does not like to be left alone and so he's generally in his box near us or on our shoulder or finger. Hopefully he'll readjust to the barn, but at very least he's not food for the barn cat and he has a chance. We're watching the other babies at the barn (there are many swallows there) to see when they start leaving the nests and we'll start working with him to see how well he flies. I think that most likely he'll leave us when he's ready.
Like I said, I understand that first choice is to get them right back into the nest, but my daughter and I have discovered that it is possible to raise them when that appears to be the only option aside from leaving them to die. At least it was possible in this instance.
[I asked for specifics. J. R. graciously added:]
We use an eye dropper to feed the bird formula. For the canned kitten food we warm it to body temp (it's been in the fridge) and feed small dabs just off our fingertips. He seems to be very ingenious about figuring out how to take what we offer. We got somewhere today and realized we didn't have the eyedropper with us for the formula so we offered it from the end of a spoon. We put it in front of him a couple of times and he just pecked at it, seeming to wonder what to do, but then he just dug right into it. The only problem with that method is that it got into his nostrils. He lets us clean off his beak gently with a wet paper towel, thankfully. After that I gave him dabs of it from the end of my finger like I do with the cat food. That worked better. Tonight is the first night we'll be trying to capture bugs to feed to him. We are going to just sit out with a jar to try to capture them. I plan to feed them to him with tweezers.
He was hungry about every hour yesterday, but today is hungry about every 1/2 hour and sometimes sooner. We give him pretty much what he asks for and stop when he wants to stop. He seems very happy. Hopefully he won't get too fat to fly! .
J. R. from the Oregon Coast
In Praise of Barn Swallows has links to other Barn Swallow stories. It is one of my Miscellaneous Essays. There are others.