Posts Tagged ‘rehabilitator’

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

Purple Martin Released

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I was torn between relief and despair when I found out on Aug 26 that the last remaining purple martin at the Busch Wildlife Center was released at some point.

I had forwarded some information to the folks at Busch Wildlife Center regarding some of the latest, cutting edge information on the releasing of rehabilitated fledgelings. It was on the post Update On Late Nest Martins at Rehabber. In short, the preliminary data highlighted the dismal survival rate of purple martins released without benefit of the post fledging instruction period given by the parent purple martins. The same info also pointed out a potential revolutionary approach to their release. Last year 3 martins were released AFTER being taught (in a flight cage) how to catch flying insects and 1 of the 3 returned to the natal colony this year. This information is groundbreaking and could give new hope to fledgling purple martins released after rehabilitation.
I am unsure if this martin that was released had the benefit of being “taught” the basic survival skill of feeding or even if it was released with other martins which is what is recommended by the PMCA.

I do know that if the bird was released without any other purple martins around that it is dead. Purple Martins, unlike some birds, seem to require a period of post fledgeing instruction

As of this time, I have not received any reply to my email to Busch Wildlife .

On another birding note, a large group of about 15+ nighthawks was moving south bound through the area. Tons of barn swallows feeding in the orange groves nearby also. Fall migration is in full swing.

One Nest To Go-But Where is Mom & Dad?

Friday, July 10th, 2009

The last remaining nest is on the numbered gourd rack. Gourd #6 has 5 nestlings that I have neglected terribly. I had watched the ASY male and SY female feeding vigorously  3days ago. Yesterday I saw no feeding but the racks have been covered with purple martins for the entire morning and well into the afternoon. I was sure that I just missed them. Today I saw two little heads poking out of the front of the Troyer horizontal gourd. I was sure that the nest had been hijacked by a lazy fledgling as the two heads looked so vastly different in ages. So I lowered the rack.

When I opened the gourd I noticed it was pretty dirty, but I had seen worse. I proceeded to take everyone out and put them in the 5 gallon bucket to do a nest change. When I looked at the nestling however, I noticed that 4 of the nestlings looked to be about 20+ days old and the one runt seemed to be lagging way behind. He had the feathering on his body and head of a 16 day old but his flight feathers were about the same length as his nest mates.

On further exam, I found all of them to be underweight. The runt, worse of all and another nestling not to much better. All had an easily palpable keel bone. What is a keel bone? It is the bone in the center of the birds chest that should be surrounded by breast meat. The runts keel bone stuck out like a razor, skin flaky and dry. He proceeded to poop on me but then I saw his large hard abdomen. And when I say hard, I mean hard like a rock. And unless something is made of bone (or cartilage) there is nothing on a living body-human or animal that should be that hard. I kept him out of the nest and replaced the others. A Bot fly? A partial blockage? A tumor? I do not know what his problem is but I am vigorously re-hydrating the poor fellow.

Observing the nest is difficult with 2 young boys getting into everything but I tried to watch for mom and dad martin to no avail. The entire time I was checking the nests, changing, etc, there were no concerned parents flying about. I am beginning to think that an Owl has attacked and flushed the parents out. The nestlings being to young stayed safe in the dark far reaches of the Troyer gourd but without mom and dads care, they will soon expire.

Since Folke Peterson Wildlife Center is closing soon I placed a call to Busch Wildlife Center in Jupiter, Florida. I spoke to the director and if the nestling is still alive in the morning I will take him there. I will try to observe the nest to make sure that the parent/s are feeding. If not, I will remove them all and take them to the rehabber. It can be a case of late nest syndrome (I just made that name up) but all that means is that in very late nests it is not uncommon for one (or both) of the parents to loose interest in the process and slack off.

My first purple martin pair was a ASY male and a SY female. She worked her tail off and he would come by a few times a week. He would sleep in the gourd on occasion but basically left the entire raising of the clutch to her. She successfully fledged her 2 nestlings-all alone- after all the martins were gone.

But as for this nest, I am concerned.