Posts Tagged ‘feeding purple martins’

Drought and Heat Takes a Heavy Toll

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Time after time, this season, I have received calls from landlords concerning dead purple martin nestlings. I myself have found several jumpers this season. Jumpers are nestlings that are far too young to fledge but jump out of their nests for whatever reason. Usually extreme heat, hunger or parasites are the culprits that lead a martin nestling to such a desperate act. I liken it to people trapped in a high rise that is ablaze. The victims jump to their death to escape the fire.

purple martin feederThis year South Florida is suffering from record drought conditions. In droughts flying bugs are significantly decreased leading to catastrophic food shortages. Nothing but rain can re-establish the equilibrium of the food chain. Since our weather is usually fair, our population of purple martins is not familiar with supplemental feedings. In some emergency situations like extreme cold, purple martins can be trained to accept food from an elevated tray or Bed & Breakfast type feeder. Unfortunately, when the weather is fair enough to fly and catch some bugs, the birds will just forage longer and farther from the nest. So training them to accept feedings is extremely difficult. To see a video of supplemental feeding of purple martins click here.

In the usual activity of a purple martin nest you will see some of the nestlings at the entrance waiting to be fed while others are sitting in the back of the nest resting. As the ones in front are continuously fed and get full they turn around and retreat to the back of the nest to sleep, digest and grow. The nestlings that were resting and digesting then get hungry again and come back to the front of the nest to take their place at the entrance to wait for a mouthful of bugs. The nestlings are in a continual carousel of being fed, keeping the parents busy feeding a nest full of an average of 5. But when the nestlings are not getting enough food then they all cluster at the front. So these “jumpers” can actually be accidentally pushed out by the jostling of the babies at the entrance for food.

Martin nestlings that jump due to starvation are usually doomed as the accompanying dehydration is far more deadly than the martin keelhunger. Since all purple martin nestlings water intake comes from the insects that the parents bring, in cases like this the jumpers are all very dehydrated. Not wanting to sound like a pessimist, there is not much that can be done. Feeding a dehydrated and malnourished nestling can cause it to just die faster. Looking at the jumper you can often see clues as to how well fed they are or are not. A pronounced keel (breast bone) shows lack of muscle development from chronic malnourishment. Dry, flaky skin is a sign of dehydration. A  wildlife rehabilitator would also look for signs such as skin turgor or “tenting” of the skin as a sign. Emergency injections under the skin would then be given BEFORE any feedings would be attempted. Water or other liquids can aspirate and kill birds quickly if given by mouth. This article on Hydration of Purple Martins can answer some questions and prevent more harm from being done while a rehabilitator is contacted. If their are other nestlings in the nest sometimes the weaker nestlings “jumping” can increase the survival rate of the nestlings left in the nest. If the jumpers can be hydrated then fed by a rehabilitator, they can often be reintroduced into the nest when the are approaching 21 days old before they fledge. Nest checks become increasingly important to know the age of the nestlings. As lowering housing may sometimes cause fledglings to prematurely fledge out of fright.

Though we provide housing for these wonderful birds, one can’t feel responsible for acts of nature such as drought. We help as best we can and give them a chance to survive. Next year they will return and hopefully with better weather conditions. We learn from our experiences and the next season will bring another chance at life.

Look out for our next entry on some of the other causes of “jumpers”.

(c) 2011 PurpleMartins-R-Us.com

Extended Cold Spells TROUBLE for Purple Martins

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Though it may make a cute picture, the mix of purple martins and extended adverse weather spells almost certain death for our feathered friends. And by extended weather, we are only talking about 2 days or more. Knowing what you can do will help your colony survive these early spring cold snaps.

Adverse weather, to a purple martin, is 2 or more days of steady rain and/or wind and/or cold temperatures below 40F. Only one of these conditions will make it virtually impossible for a purple martin to find enough food to sustain itself.

Being strict aerial insectivores,  purple martins have no recourse when it comes to extended weather issues. They can’t forage for food on the ground and when temperatures dip,  flying insects are no where to be found. With our crazy weather patterns we have been having and severe snow storms that have it snowing as far south as Florida, it is important to know what you can do.

So what should you do? ACT FAST! Don’t wait for your birds to be too weak to fly before offering supplemental feeding. Purple martins have to be trained to accept our help as they do not recognize food left out for them. If you wait too long your entire ASY purple martin population can die from starvation in just a few short days.

Supplemental Feeding of Purple Martins 101

Q: What do you feed a purple martins?

A: Crickets are the first choice for beginners.  Mealworms or Scrambled Eggs are good once they learn to accept what you offer. But these items must be prepared. Mealworms and crickets (if live) should be frozen -till dead, then thawed thoroughly. They can be soaked in water and drained before feeding. Eggs should be cooked using NO oil or butter of any type.

Q: How do you feed a purple martin?

A: Martins that have never accepted supplemental feedings have to be taught or conditioned to eat food we offer them. After a day or 2 of adverse weather, approach the colony slowly. Use a large plastic spoon and fling a cricket up in the air in the general direction of the martins, up over them…remember you aren’t trying to hit the martins with the food. You want them to see the food flying past them. Continue this for 10 to 15 minutes. Most folks report that by the end of that time one or two birds will try to catch what they see flying by and once one starts, others will follow.

Once they accept food from you, the crickets (mealworms or scrambled eggs) can be placed on an elevated platform feeder and they will eat it off of the platform.

Visit this link on Supplemental Feeding of Adult Purple Martins for more information.

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