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Purple Martin Pages

Purple Martin Emergencies

First Responder Treatment of Purple Martins


This section covers first responder care of Purple Martin Nestlings and Fledglings. Please keep in mind that this information is not meant to be used in lieu of taking the purple martin to a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator. It is designed to answer basic questions and prevent injury to the purple martins by any incorrect actions. It is also meant to buy time while a rehabber is located. As a federally protected bird, an injured purple martin should always be brought to a rehabber as quickly as possible to assure the best possible outcome.


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  1. If you find a purple martin nestling (under 26 days old) on the ground what should you do?

  2. If you find a purple martin fledgling (over 26 days old) on the ground what should you do?

  3. If a purple martin nestling (under 26 days old) is not being fed what should you do?

  4. If a purple martin fledgling (over 26 days old) is not being fed what should you do?

  5. If you find a purple martin nestling or fledgling and can not return it to the nest immediately or can not get it to a rehabber within a few hours-should you feed it?

  6. If you need to feed a purple martin -do you have to literally stuff the cricket down its throat, or will they take it from your hand and eat it?

  7. Can a purple Martin live 3-4 days without food?

  8. How long can a purple martin nestling go without food?

  9. How long can a purple martin fledgling go without food?

  10. How can you give a purple martin fluids?

  11. How can you give a purple martin food?

  12. What would you feed a purple martin?

  13. Will a purple martin survive in captivity? Can I keep as a pet?

  14. Why do the purple martins keep jumping out of their nest?

  15. What if there is an obvious injury or trauma?

  16. I want to find a rehabber

  17. How can you tell if a bird is dehydrated?

  18. If a purple martin gets released after its family has left the area, what will happen to it?

  19. How can I tell how old a purple martins is?

  20. Emergency Feeding of Purple Martins

  21. Hydration of Purple Martins

  22. What can be done when weather (wind, cold, rain) makes it difficult or impossible for adults to feed?

  23. I live where there are lots of tree swallows and/or blue birds, and I've been UNSUCCESSFUL AT ATTRACTING PURPLE MARTINS. What can I do?








If you find a purple martin nestling (under 26 days old) on the ground what should you do?

purple martin nestlings (ie: too young to fly) must be returned to the nest ASAP.You can return the nestling to the nest from which it came do so.
If that can not be determined, return it into a nest of purple martins that are closest in age. Purple martins can not count and will not notice an extra mouth to feed. Without the parental care, protection, and post fledge instruction from its parents, the outlook is bleak.
If the nestling is unable to be returned to its nest, keeping it warm and taking the bird to a rehabilitator offers it its best chance for survival. If a martin is unable to be returned to its nest and must be rehabilitated and it is unable to receive the post fledging care purple martins require, its chances of survival are slim. If the bird is rehabilitated it should be returned to a purple martin nest (either its own or a foster) so that it can fledge with other purple martins.
If you are unable to return the nestling to its nest or if the nestling continues to jump read the question -Why do the purple martins keep jumping out of their nest?- If that does not help or if the nestling is being thrown out then the nestling must be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.

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If you find a purple martin fledgling (over 26 days old) on the ground what should you do?

purple martin fledglings (ie: old enough to fly-but may not be able to fly) should be placed in a fall out shelter ASAP.
We do not generally recommend returning to the nest as other siblings may still be in the nest and lowering the housing may prompt other nestmates to also attempt to leave the nest prematurely. Though technically old enough to fledge the purple martin may not yet be ready but needs to be off the ground as parents will not usually feed young off the ground. The parents can recognize the fledglings call and will usually resume feedings once the youngster is off the ground. A fallout shelter is a semi covered temporary house that will serve as temporary protection from predators and the elements. I use an old gourd that has several large access port holes drilled in the sides. It is covered on top but more open than a gourd that the martins nest in. If the fledgling is not being fed after being placed in the fallout shelter it must be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.

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If a purple martin nestling (under 26 days old) is not being fed what should you do?

If the bird is young enough it should accept crickets (soaked in water, Gatorade or pedialyte but not dripping wet) readily. Sometimes a whistle or chirping noises from you will stimulate the bird to open its mouth. If it is an older nestling it may not be able to recognize what you have as food and should be taken to a rehabilitator ASAP.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to feeding frequency is as follows.
If the birds eyes are still closed it should be fed every 15 minutes.
If the eyes are open but the bird can not support its weight with its feet (ie: It sits on its hocks) it should be fed every 30 minutes.
If the bird can support its own weight with its feet (ie:able to perch or stand) it should be fed every 45 minutes.
They should be fed until they are satisfied. If the babies are not being fed due to the adults being unable to catch food then see this page on Emergency supplemental feeding of ADULT Purple Martins

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If a purple martin fledgling (over 26 days old) is not being fed what should you do?

Usually at this age the birds may not be able to recognize what you have as food and should be taken to a rehabilitator ASAP. You can try to offer crickets (soaked in water, Gatorade or pedialyte but not dripping wet) but be aware that you may not have success. A licensed wildlife rehabilitator will offer the bird its best chance at survival. If the babies are not being fed due to the adults being unable to catch food then see this page on Emergency supplemental feeding of ADULT Purple Martins

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If you find a purple martin nestling or fledgling and can not return it to the nest immediately or can not get it to a rehabber within a few hours-should you feed it?

Yes and No. Birds metabolisms are much faster than mammals and can not go without food for much time without suffering damage. As nestlings get all their fluids from their food, any nestling that has not been fed is usually suffering from some amount of dehydration. If a rehabilitator can not be located ASAP, the young bird will need some basic care to help it survive until you can bring the bird to a rehab center or wildlife hospital. Once one notices that a bird is not being fed the larger problem of dehydration is almost guaranteed. Only after the bird is rehydrated should feedings start. A dehydrated bird can go into organ failure if fed before being rehydrated.

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If you need to feed a purple martin -do you have to literally stuff the cricket down its throat, or will they take it from your hand and eat it?

If the purple martin is an adult or fledgling then No, they will usually not take it from your hand. Sometimes live crickets can be placed in a container with the bird and the movement from the crickets may entice the birds to eat them. But if the purple martin does not recognize these as food (because crickets are not the natural prey of a martin) then you may have to force feed the bird. This only applies to birds that are conscious and an unconscious or a bird that appears asleep should never be force fed. Remember that getting the bird to a rehabber is the ultimate goal. Hold the martin in one hand and using your fingernail to gently pry the mouth open and hold the mouth open with your thumb and index finger of the hand holding the martin. You will see they tongue which is a semi-hard pointy "thing" Sometimes you may see the tongue up against the roof of the mouth. You have to get the tongue to move down so that the throat is visible. Beware of the glottis (the entrance to the windpipe) If fluids or food enter this opening, the bird is doomed. With a pair of tweezers, forceps or hemostats gently place the cricket in the mouth towards the back right side of the throat but not down into the throat itself. If you don't put it down in the mouth far enough the bird will usually shake its head and it will fling out of its mouth. BUT if you get it far enough back and to the birds right side, they will gobble it down. For more on this see our section on how to administer Emergency Feedings.

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Can a Purple Martin live 3-4 days without food?

Sometimes adult purple martins may encounter severe weather that prevents feeding. An adult purple martin will start to stress after 1 day without food. After 2 days the birds will begin to loose condition. After 3 days the birds may be too weak to accept supplemental feedings. With nestlings and fledglings due to their growth they can not go for this amount of time without food. Even though it may appear as though the parents are not feeding young purple martins in the days prior to them leaving the nest, the parents ARE feeding them. They are not being starved during this time. A younger nestling purple martin must be fed much more frequently than a purple martin that is near fledging. As the purple martins mature and the growth rate slows, the parents will decrease the amount and frequency of feedings to match the adults. The purple martins as they approach the time to fledge will lose no more than 10 GRAMS of weight (the equivalent of about 4 pennies) due to this slight decrease in the frequency of feedings. A normal weight for a purple martin at 26 days old should be at least 46 grams. Around 52 grams being normal. Below 40 grams at 26 days old is severely debilitated and prognosis is very poor.
To learn how to supplemental feed adult purple martins due to poor weather then see this page on Emergency supplemental feeding of ADULT Purple Martins

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How long can a purple martin nestling go without food?

A complex question to answer, one must understand that Purple Martin nestlings eat a lot more than the adults do. Undergoing a massive amount of growth, the nestlings metabolism requires more food to support the growth of feathers, bone and other structures. A nestling can consume 4 times (or more) the amount of food as its parent.
Though the nestling may be able to technically survive without food for a day or two, the body will begin to draw energy by breaking down proteins in the body. In essence, the body will begin to consume itself. At some point, even though the bird is still alive, irreversible damage may very well have occurred to the nestlings internal organs and death will occur despite all efforts.
Without adequate nutrition the nestling can be permanently damaged and be unable to survive the rigors of life outside the nest.
If nestlings are orphaned and unable to be re-nested in another nest of like age purple martins, the bird(s) should be taken to a Wildlife Rehabilitator ASAP so that all the birds nutritional needs can be met before this damage occurs.

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How long can a purple martin fledgling go without food?

Though the bird is now technically as large as an adult, the reason why a fledgling is not eating needs to be addressed. If the bird is unable to fly it may well already be dehydrated and malnourished which will make it less likely to be able to fly and hunt for insects successfully. Studies have shown that purple martins do remain with the parents and other martins in order to learn hunting skills needed to support its life. In the rehab setting an adult purple martin being force fed will be fed at least 3 times per day, till full.

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How can you give a purple martin fluids?

A bird that is NOT conscience should NEVER be given ANYTHING by mouth. This information is meant for otherwise healthy nestling purple martins that have not been fed by the parents due to jumping, being tossed out or abandonment by both parent birds. The bird should be given pedialyte, Gatorade or water, one drop at a time by placing the drop on the top tip of the beak and allowing the water drop to trickle down the side of the beak and into the birds mouth by gravity alone. Wait until the drop is swallowed before placing another drop on the beak. Be very careful that water never enters the nostrils.
A dropper full of body temp fluids should be given every 15 minutes for the first 24 hours. You can try to offer crickets (soaked in water, Gatorade or pedialyte but not dripping wet) only after several hours of rehydration. A dehydrated bird will most likely die if fed before being rehydrated. NEVER place a dropper of fluids in the purple martins mouth. A licensed wildlife rehabilitator should be located ASAP and will offer the bird its best chance at survival. A licensed rehabilitator will give the fluids by an injection, which is the fastest, safest, and most efficient way to rehydrate a bird. IF a rehabber can not be located and administering fluids is something that can be done safelysee our section on how to administer fluids.

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How can you give a purple martin food?

A bird that is NOT conscience should NEVER be given ANYTHING by mouth. This information is meant for otherwise healthy nestling purple martins that have not been fed by the parents due to jumping, being tossed out or abandonment by both parent birds.
Sometimes live crickets can be placed in a large storage container or clean empty wastebasket or other high sided receptacle, with the martin placed inside the receptacle. The moving crickets may entice the bird to eat them. But if the purple martin does not recognize these as food (because crickets are not the natural prey of a martin) then you may have to force feed the bird. It is important to note that nestlings will not appear hungry if they are cold. Hypothermia can lead to death, so all efforts to maintain the bird in a warm place should be attempted.
Remember that getting the bird to a rehabber is the goal and this info is not meant to replace the need for a rehabilitator.
Hold the martin in your left hand and using your fingernail on your righ hand, gently separate its beak open and hold the mouth open with your thumb and index finger of the hand holding the martin. You will see they tongue which is a stiff pointy "thing" Sometimes they keep the tongue up against the roof of the mouth. You have to make sure the tongue is down so that the throat is visible. Stick the cricket in the mouth towards the back but not down into the throat itself. If you don't put it down in the mouth far enough they usually fling it back out at you. The shake their beak and out it goes. BUT if you get it far enough in they will gobble it down.
IF a rehabber can not be located and feeding the martin is something that can be done safely see our section on how to administer Emergency Feedings.
or to learn how to feed free flying adults see this page on Emergency supplemental feeding of ADULT Purple Martins

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What would you feed a purple martin?

The Purple Martin Conservation Association recommends Crickets, Mealworms and scrambled eggs (no oil or butter to prepare) for supplemental feedings of adult purple martins in cases of adverse weather. Keeping in mind that this is offered in emergency situations to adults to prevent starvation and has saved many birds lives.
Like all aerial insectivores, purple martins have a varied diet of pray that we do not have access to and can never replicate. Long term use of scrambled eggs will cause loose stool/diarrhea due to the high fat content. You can consider sprinkling scrambled eggs with a product/supplement called Vionate. Though live insects (such as crickets and mealworms) can be bought at pet stores, they should only be used as a temporary option as the nutritional content of insects varies greatly. When it comes to nestlings, with their complex nutritional needs, wildlife rehabilitators feed a specially prepared diet created to meet the demands of a nestlings fast growth. Wildlife rehabilitators feed purple martins a preparation called a MAC diet specially formulated for insectivorous birds.
Keep in mind, MANY purple martin landlords will testify to feeding stranded fledglings and nestlings any number of food items (for example: Crickets and mealworms, scrambled eggs, cat food, hamburger meat, baby food) The information given here is not to prove anyone wrong or to dispute any persons success with these options, but only to make available the best diet for insectivorous passerines, and even more specifically Purple Martins ONLY, as recommended by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.

MacDiet: recipe
˝ c. Science Diet Feline Maintenance Light dry food, soaked in just enough water to soften completely. Drain off excess.
2 hardboiled egg whites, sieved through a fine mesh strainer
3 tbsp canned Eukanuba Feline Growth Food, drained of liquid
2 tbsp freeze dried insects(soaked to soften)
1/2 tablespoon Knox Blox powder(prepared)
3 tablets of Calcium 600, crushed and powdered
50 mg vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
1 small pinch of powdered B-complex vitamins
0.3cc cod liver oil (supplies vitamins A and D)
0.08cc of vitamin E
1 slightly rounded tablespoon of plain yogurt (low- or non-fat)


No Substitutions are Allowed
Method:

Mix ingredients with a fork. This mixture can be refrigerated for a day but should not be frozen, as storage will affect the vitamins. The recipe can easily be halved, quartered, doubled, etc.
When mixed with a fork, the mixture resembles pate or canned cat food and can be fed by hand using forceps, tweezers or fingers.

DO NOT ADD TO DIET: as per the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
Calcium sources containing any phosphorus
Raw meat, particularly ground meat; it is a source of dangerous pathogenic bacteria
Soy protein powder, wheat germ or plant-based foods (grains, pablum, baby cereal, etc.)
Chicken, duck, gamebird or other ‘starters’ or foods meant for precocial or psittacine birds
Uncooked egg white
Artificial colors or flavors
Excess fat; for example, egg yolk adds considerable fat and should not be used.
“Odd” insects with which you are not familiar. Some are toxic.
Any ingredient whose complete composition and purpose you do not understand
Any substitutions

The purpose of having this diet is to demonstrate the high level of care in order to provide a proper diet for Purple Martins and to encourage landlords to take birds in need of feeding to a Wildlife Rehabilitator.
This diet is NOT intended for any other type of birds and giving this diet to raptors, seed eating or other wildbirds will cause fatal metabolic problems and permanent injury.
PurpleMartins-R-Us recommends mealworms (If Live meal worms are used-pinch the meal worms heads off prior to feeding) and crickets in the time before the birds can either be returned to their nest or taken to a rehabber.
If you have access to beef heart, that can also be used. But Beef only-never pork. We do not recommend the use of scrambled eggs due to their high fat content, for nestlings.

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Will a purple martin survive in captivity? Can I keep as a pet?

Other than being illegal to possess a federally protected migratory bird, the odds are against being able to keep a purple martin in captivity. As a strict aerial insectivore, purple martins have a varied diet of pray that we do not have access to. Though live insects (such as crickets and mealworms) can be bought at pet stores, theirs is a diet that is never fully able to be replicated. Humans can only come up with a fair approximation of the dietary needs of such birds, but eventually a deficiency of trace elements and a failure to thrive will set in which will ultimately cost the bird its life.
Even with birds that are unable to be rehabilitated due to injuries, one must ask if the bird is being kept alive for its own sake or for that of its human captor. We as purple martin landlords love our birds and nothing saddens us more than losing our birds but out of respect for these birds they should not be made into something that they are not.

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Why do the purple martins keep jumping out of their nest?

There are many reasons why purple martins, too young to fly, jump out of their nests. Every attempt should be made to discover the reason so that it can be correct. Otherwise the bird may again "jump".
Sometimes older nestlings (>22 days old) get spooked out of a nest and are just too young to fledge successfully. Other common reasons can be nest parasites, heat, late arriving subadult (SY) purple martins trying to obtain a nest spot of their own, or even European Starlings or English House Sparrows that will toss nestlings out.
It is essential to discover the main reason of why they are jumping. Any problems in the nest should be uncovered and solved. If parasites are present, a nest change is in order. If nest site competitors are present then changing entrances to SREH and or trapping is in order. If the competition is from native birds then some additional gourds should be hung or other nest sites should be made available.
The most important thing to note is if these jumpers are old enough to fledge. If they are old enough (greater than 26 days old) and just are not flying well, usually just placing them in a fallout shelter will solve the problem. Since one never knows when was the last time they were fed, or if they are being cared for, they should be closely watched to make sure that they are being fed as they may need additional care as described in the sections for rehydration and feeding.
If they are too young to fledge and are jumping as soon as you place them in the nest, these early jumpers will usually continue to jump many times out of fear. A small rag tied to a string can be used to insure the recently renested bird stays in the nest for just 3 or 4 minutes, then the string is pulled to remove the rag. This usually gives the bird time to calm down enough so that it remains in the nest. Anytime after 26 days of age a purple martin is technically old enough to fledge and may leave the nest.
If the bird is a young, unfeathered nestling, it could be that the parents are aware of a problem with the nestling and are refusing to care for it. Regardless, this proves the importance of regular nest checks so that problems can be eliminated early.
If you require a rehabilitator click HERE to find a state by state listing.

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What if there is an injury or trauma?

If there is an obvious injury the bird will most likely be in shock. Place the purple martin in a shoebox sized ventilated box with an old clean towel on the bottom and keep in a warm and quiet spot, out of the reach of children or pets, while you call and make arrangements to take the bird to a Wildlife Rehabilitation center ASAP that can care for and treat the birds injuries. Time is of the essence and we have links that can help you locate a rehabber near you.
If you are unable to find a rehabber try calling your local state fish and game commission to locate a wildlife rehabber. You can also try calling your local animal care and control or even a local veterinarian. Though a local veterinarian may very well incur some costs, many times they may take care of the bird pro bono or at a decreased rate if you explain your situation.

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I want to find a rehabber.

U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts by State

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How can you tell if a bird is dehydrated?

Birds are masters of hiding illness and usually don't exhibit many symptoms until they are very ill. Any rehabber will tell you that all birds are assumed to be dehydration in all birds they receive.
Clinical signs of dehydration in birds:

5-10% dehydrated-Skin appears tight (especially over the breast bone, Skin will form a temporary tent if pulled up or gently pinched (decreased skin turgor), Eyes may appear dull, inside of the mouth is dry-not moist and shiny.

10-15% Dehydrated- Mouth is very dry, feet may feel cold, Skin will remain tented when pulled up or gently pinched, acts depressed and listless.Once a bird is this dehydrated it is probably too late for it to recover.
Rehabilitators can quickly rehydrate a bird by administering injections of fluid under the skin. That is the quickest and most effective way to hydrate a bird and again, this shows how the birds should be taken to a rehabber whenever possible.

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If a purple martin gets released after its family has left the area, what will happen to it?

Unfortunately, its chances are slim. Of course, there is always the chance that it will locate other purple martins. Though you may not see any purple martins in your area, the migration of purple martins is very drawn out. Purple martins from further north will continue to pass through your area and just as they can hear another martins Dawnsong for miles, they very well may hear other martins and go to that area. As landlords we can only help and every bird that is released has a better chance to live than if it was left to die.
Also remember that a purple martins instincts are strong and it is not fully understood what drives these birds to migrate.

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How can I tell how old a purple martins is?

The Purple Martin Conservation Association has a webpage that shows the growth of purple martin nestlings. See it HERE
If you do not keep written records of your nests, and are not sure how old they are you can also look at the photos on that PMCA page to help you. One way to tell if a martin is over 24 days old is if you can see the tufts of white feathers on their flanks. If these feathers are not visible-if they are covered by their wings, you can be relatively sure that the bird is at least 24 days old.

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These webpages are always a work in progress and if you think of a question that would help others, please let us know.
This information is placed here to assist purple martin landlords who do not have the luxury of having a rehabilitator in proximity. It is not meant to use instead of taking the bird to a licensed and trained rehabilitator. But more as a last resort.
Remember that many rehabbers will give you valuable info over the phone if they know that you are simply unable to bring the bird in to them.


Many thanks to Wildlife Care Manager and Rehabilitator Vered Nograd CVT, of Folke Peterson Wildlife Center and Wildlife Rehabilitator Faith, for their knowledge, time, understanding and help in bringing these to pages you.


References

MacLeod, Astrid and Perlman, Janine; 2000, Adventures in Avian Nutrition: Dietary Considerations for the Hatchling/Nestling Passerine
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association; Third Edition, Quick Reference
Rule, Marcy; Songbirds Diet Index
Stocker, Les; 2005, Practical wildlife care
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Displaying 1 to 4 (of 4 articles) Result Pages:  1 
Below is a list of articles with the most recent ones listed first.
Tree Swallow/Blue Bird/Purple Martin INTERFERENCE
PMCA Emergency Feeding of ADULTS
Emergency Feeding of Purple Martins
Hydration of Purple Martins
Displaying 1 to 4 (of 4 articles) Result Pages:  1