Feed baby barn swallow

For Baby Swallows, What You Eat Is As Important As How Much You Eat

Male Purple Martin by Andrew Dreelin.

Andrew Dreelin (’17) majored in Biological Sciences at Cornell University. This  story about his experience as an undergraduate science student was made possible by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Science Communication Fund, with support from Jay Branegan (Cornell ’72) and Stefania Pittaluga.

The male Purple Martin in my hand was gorgeous—glossy and purple-black, watching me with dark darting eyes. It felt powerful, like it was ready to burst out of my hand at any second. I worked quickly, attaching a postage-stamp-sized data logger to the bird’s back using a tiny harness, and let the bird go. Its scimitar-shaped wings flicked open, and the bird rocketed out over the shining dawn water.

That martin was one of 39 Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Purple Martins I captured that summer in the Finger Lakes region of New York as part of my senior thesis. The swallows quickly won my heart, but choosing them as a research topic was motivated by concern as much as fascination.

Swallows and other aerial insectivores—the term applies to birds like nightjars, swifts, and flycatchers, too—are one of the most steeply declining groups of birds in North America, according to the State of the Birds Report 2014. Four species—Common Nighthawk, Chuck-will’s-widow, Least Flycatcher, and Bank Swallow—have each lost more than half their global population since 1970 and are listed as Common Birds in Steep Decline by Partners in Flight. Six of North America’s eight swallow species are declining. The causes aren’t clear, but work by my undergraduate adviser, David Winkler of Cornell University, and his students is starting to connect the ecological dots, pointing to problems in the food chain.

Aerial insectivores divide up the airspace—Purple Martins, like this female, forage higher than many other species. Photo by Andrew Dreelin.

The common thread linking this disparate group of birds is their prey: flying insects. Each type of bird specializes in a different part of the airspace. Flycatchers and some nightjars catch insects near the treetops by “sallying” to and from a fixed perch. Swallows and swifts are aerialists; they “hawk” for insects, twisting and turning high in the air or low over meadows to nab their prey. And they’re incredibly good at it.

“Swallows are the most magical aerial creatures that we have,” says Winkler, who has studied them for more than 30 years. Once, he recalls, he watched a Tree Swallow sit on top of its nest box during a rainstorm, turning its head quickly from side to side. The bird was catching individual raindrops as they fell.

Swallows use these incredible reflexes every day to find flying insects. To make their task more complicated, any shift in temperature, air pressure, or wind speed can change how many insects are aloft and where they are. The aerial environment changes like the weather because that’s what it is.

Winkler and other ornithologists have decades of data on what swallows do in nest boxes, but there’s a lot less known about what they do in the air, beyond a few basics: warm temperatures bring more insects into the air; a run of cold, wet days can cause chicks to starve.

To learn more about their aerial ecology, I spent my summer putting data loggers on swallows and martins. The tags record the air pressure surrounding the bird once per minute, and that lets me calculate their altitude, helping me understand the aerial behavior of each species. Putting on the tags wasn’t hard—the main challenge was catching and recatching the birds to get the data.

A Barn Swallow is ready for release with its data logger backpack. Photo by Andrew Dreelin.

Tree Swallows and Purple Martins were easy—they nest inside boxes, so I mainly needed patience and a plastic flap to cover the nest entrance once a bird went inside. Barn Swallows were tougher: we had to array mist nets across barn entrances and wait for the birds to fly into them. The birds’ sharp eyes could pick out the fine weave of the net even in the morning light. Despite my mounting frustration each time they made 180-degree turns to dodge the net at the last second, it was hard not to be impressed.

The main pattern from my analysis suggests that swallows and martins divide up the aerial environment into distinct bands like layers on a layer cake. Barn Swallows fly lowest, Tree Swallows in the middle, and Purple Martins highest. Just as flycatchers, nightjars, and swallows claim different parts of the airspace, these swallows subdivide their portion of the sky. This may even mean they have different diets, since many insects are also distributed in altitudinal bands in the air.

  • The birds wore tiny data loggers to track how high they flew. Tree Swallow photo by Andrew Dreelin.
  • Later, the scientists recaptured the birds to remove the logger and download its data. Tree Swallow photo by Andrew Dreelin.

Different insects in a swallow’s diet could spell the difference between having hefty or scrawny chicks. Recent work has shown that what a swallow chick eats can be more important than how much it eats. Two of Winkler’s graduate students, Lily Twining and Ryan Shipley, explored this idea by focusing on omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to be “critical for nervous tissue development, cardiac function, immune function, hormonal regulation, and more,” according to Twining.

These are the same kinds of oils we get by eating fish like salmon and mackerel. Swallows get them from eating flying insects that, as larvae, live in the water—such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies. These stream-living species contain more fatty acids than terrestrial insects do.

To test whether omega-3s had any effect on chick development, Twining and Shipley raised several broods of Tree Swallow chicks in the lab and fed each brood one of four distinct diets:

  • Lots of food that was high in omega-3s
  • Lots of food that was low in omega-3s
  • Smaller amounts of food that was high in omega-3s
  • Smaller amounts of food that was low in omega-3s

For two weeks, they got up early and stayed up late to feed the growing chicks promptly every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Their hard work paid off, and the two researchers found that chicks fed on omega-3s developed faster than chicks without. Even the chicks that received less food overall still developed faster than chicks that got more food but lacked omega-3s.

The bottom line is that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that chicks receive from their parents is likely make or break for Tree Swallow reproductive success. Taking their research a step farther, Twining and Shipley repeated the experiment with Eastern Phoebes, another aerial insectivore, and found similar results.

A logical thread emerges: if aerial insectivores need to provide their chicks with lots of omega-3s for them to develop properly, they probably need to catch a lot of aquatic insects. In that case, declines in wetlands and stream health could reduce aquatic insect populations and thereby bring down the breeding success of aerial insectivores. In the search for answers to the widespread declines of these species, could this be a lead? It’ll take more studies to find out, but I’m happy to have played a small part in researching the lives of our “most magical aerial creatures.



Orphaned Barn Swallow Diets | Sciencing

Updated March 14, 2018

By Tonya Yirka

Finding a baby barn swallow on the walk or porch steps creates a conundrum. Leaving it alone makes it prey for local cats and dogs as well as hawks. Rearing it takes time and effort. Actually, orphaned barn swallow babies can be safely returned to their nests. If this is not feasible -- and as many states require a permit to have wild animals -- the best option is to take the young bird to a local licensed ornithologist who raises wild birds. The last resort is to rear this orphan, and a little knowledge regarding its diet will aid in its survival.

Hatchling Diet

Barn swallows are “atricial” which means that their hatchlings come from the egg naked, with their eyes closed and totally helpless. This stage of the bird’s life lasts from hatching to day 3. If the hatchling is found at this time, do not feed it if it is chilled or cold. Warm it first by putting on a soft cloth on top of a heating pad or under a heat lamp. Keep the temperature between 95 and 100 degrees F. Rehydrate before feeding. To rehydrate, use an eyedropper and Pedialite, Gatoraid or distilled water. A drop of water on the tip of a paintbrush will also suffice.

Continue fluid therapy up to 72 hours if needed. Wait for the bird to defecate before feeding it. As the bird becomes hydrated, offer it cricket bodies that have been soaked in the rehydration solution. Victoria Bowers, the director of the Songbird Hospital of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue in Sebastopol, Calif. advises not giving a hatchling any formula from the pet store because barn swallows require a 100 percent insect diet. For the first three days, feed it a puree of ground insects which consists of mealworms, fresh cricket bodies, frozen blood worms and rehydrated freeze-dried insects. This puree can be mixed in a blender to the consistency that can be drawn easily into a 1-cc syringe. Then administer the puree using a canula tip. If possible add an iota of adult barn swallow feces if possible. Also supplement this diet with a little yogurt, calcium and vitamins and pancrezyme. Purchase the vitamins and pancrezyme at a pet store and use an antacid for the calcium. Feed every 20 to 30 minutes for the first 12 to 14 hours, then let it sleep through the night. Start feeding at 7 a.m. and continue feeding every other hour until 9 p.m. with a total of eight feedings per day.

Nestling Diet

As the babies begin moving around the nest and gaping (holding their mouths open) for food, they are called “nestlings.” This period is from day 1 to day 5 for young nestlings. Feed the youngsters tiny mealworms and crickets. Since mini crickets are so small, it is not necessary to remove the wings or legs. If these foods are not well-digested, go back to feeding the birds the hatchling diet mentioned previously. Feed the little ones as long as they continue gaping.

If a hand-feeding method is used, kitten kibble and other formulas that have high bio-available protein are viable alternative to the passerine puree used for hatchlings. Some pet stores offer 100 percent insect-based formulas.

Older nestlings, those at five days or older, eat 100 percent live insects such as mealworms and crickets. Add vitamin and calcium supplements. Dip an occasional insect in water before offering it, for hydration.

Fledgling Diet

The young barn swallow is called a fledgling when it acquires flight feathers around day 20. In normal circumstances, it takes short trips out of the nest. At first it clings to a nearby branch of a tree while the parents feed it insects and bring it water. As the young bird gains strength it begins to fly out to meet the parent and receive sustenance from them in mid-flight. Orphaned fledglings need to be weaned slowly from any formula and onto a total insect diet of maggots, crickets, mealworms and other insects. They also require access to clean water.

Juvenile Diet

Once the fledgling has full flight feathers it becomes a juvenile and requires the same diet as an adult barn swallow. Live mealworms, freeze-dried flies, freeze-dried crickets and a dish of dirt for minerals helps to digest tough mealworm exoskeletons. Juveniles must have flighted insects in order to learn how to capture food in a natural setting. Fruit flies can be captured from compost buckets containing rotting fruit. Purchase domestic fly pupae at a pet store and allowed to hatch into flies in the aviary.

Other Diets

Some home-remedy diets and commercial hand-feeding diets either recommend or use wet dog kibble. This is not a good idea according to Victoria Bowers, because dog kibble usually contains high amounts of grain, sugar and soy and is not high in animal protein like good kitten chow. These poor diets can result in poor development, dehydration, poor feather condition, MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease caused by calcium deficiency), failure to thrive and death.

Some people have successfully raised nestlings and fledglings on diets containing ox heart and scrambled eggs, minced meat, dead mealworms, insectivorous mix with vitamin/mineral supplements and high quality kitten chow with vitamin and calcium supplements.

How to breed a swift at home

Who fed the swift, God kissed him (proverb)

The swift is a special bird, one of the fastest in the world, which can stay in the sky for months: feed, breed and sleep on air streams. Since all 4 fingers of the swift are facing forward, these birds cannot sit on the branches of trees and walk on the ground, therefore, if you notice a swift sitting on the ground, it means that it needs human help. Just like that, a swift cannot end up on earth, its future life depends only on you.

The first rule: under no circumstances should swifts be tossed or released from balconies or bridges! If he has an internal bruise, fracture, dislocation or some other internal injury, by throwing him up you will provoke him to fly and thereby worsen his condition. He will fly a few meters and still fall.

Second rule: swifts are strictly insectivorous birds, they are fed ONLY with house or banana crickets, Turkmen or marble cockroaches, locusts, ant eggs (pupae), zofobas . (This food can be purchased from us. If this food is not available in your city, we will be happy to deliver it by train, bus or post.) Before buying insects, but not more than a day, you can give the bird balls of low-fat homemade cheese (the so-called " cottage cheese"), so that digestion does not stop. Homemade cheese is the product that you can’t poison the swift and harm it.

The main reasons why swifts can end up on the ground are:

  1. injury
  2. unsuccessful flight of a young swift
  3. a small chick falling out of the nest.

In all cases, the bird should be carefully picked up and examined for injuries. If the bird appears to be intact and undamaged, it should be placed in a box large enough so that it will not get stuck if it opens its wings fully, and left alone. The box must be DARK. It is very important! The bottom of the box must be lined with toilet paper, which is changed as it gets dirty. It is impossible to plant a swift in a cage, as it can break, damage or shatter the plumage. You can not drink, because if the bird has a traumatic brain injury, then drinking will provoke cerebral edema and death. The swift is one of the few birds that will definitely not die of dehydration within a few days. And since it flies very fast, head injuries are quite common.



If the swift has an open fracture of the shoulder, wing, trauma to the eye, body, bruises or wounds, it is necessary to anesthetize with Meloxicam tablets (7.5 mg - whole tablet, 15 mg - 1/2 tablet) - dilute in 0.75 ml of water; then take 0.1 ml (2 drops) of this solution and add 12.5 ml of water to them. The resulting second solution should be given to the swift 0.05 ml (one drop!) 1-2 times a day for 2-14 days, depending on the condition. Mix a new solution every day.

IMPORTANT! IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ANESTHETATE (and also bandage, plaster) A BIRD WITH INJURY, even in case of an open fracture, if it does not die from pain shock right at that moment.
If you anesthetize a bird, it will no longer be able to fly, even if the injury was treatable.
Dark boxing (2 weeks), good nutrition and PAIN - 3 components of success. This forces the bird to sit still and take care of the damaged wing.
If anesthetized, the bird will feel able to fly. She will be restless, active. This will most likely prevent the damaged organ from recovering properly. The pain threshold in birds is very high.

If at first glance the bird is whole, you need to shine a flashlight into the eyes and find out if the pupils constrict at the same time, if not, then it has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). One of the clearest signs of TBI is developing swelling (eg, swelling of the eyes, swollen eyes). In this case, it is necessary to give a one-time hormonal preparation on the advice of a veterinarian and in the exact dosage and place it in a dark box for two weeks. Starting from the 4th day, you need to give:

  • Piracetam 1 - 1 drop per day, the drug is cumulative, so it is given for a long time,
  • Mexidol - 1 drop per day,
  • B1 - 1 drop 1 time per day.

Important! Preparations for TBI should not be used in the first three days!

You can read detailed information about the treatment of the swift on the page dedicated to help, maintenance and feeding VKontakte.

Don't rely too much on the help of veterinarians or bird watchers, the swift is a wild bird, and bird watchers often give the wrong advice on feeding or treating the swift. Moreover, do not give the swift to zoos or bird shelters, often the swift is given as food to birds of prey, since the food of the swift is expensive and it is unlikely that anyone will want to deal with treatment there.

Unsuccessful flight of a young swift

It happens that adult birds fly to Africa, leaving the chick, and the chick flies out of the nest in search of food, but because it lacks strength - it has become thin or not fully feathered - it falls to the ground . In such a situation, it is necessary: ​​

  1. Find out the age of the swift according to this table
  2. Weigh the bird and start feeding according to this chart. If a relatively mature bird weighs less than 23-25g, the bird is emaciated and its stomach needs to be run according to this advice: https://www.mybirds.ru/forums/topic/128929-iz-opyta-vyhazhivaniya-strizhey/.

If the bird is relatively mature, more often it should be supplemented for a short time and released according to the advice below.

Swift in the sky

Little chick falling out of the nest

If you come across a very small swift that has fallen out of the nest, the main thing for him now is food.

Feed the little swift every 2 hours at least 10 times a day. The approximate amount of food according to age (by day) is provided at the end of the article in the tables.

Birds should gain 1–1.5 grams of weight every day! A chick in a nest can weigh up to 55 grams. But before it starts to fly, the chick begins to lose weight, refuses to eat. At this stage, you can feed him less, but so that the weight before the flight is not lower than 37 grams. It is important to feed the chick enough so that he has a reserve for losing weight! A hungry bird does not develop a feather well, and feathers are the whole life for a swift!

As noted at the beginning of the article, swifts are strictly insectivorous birds.

After purchasing crickets and cockroaches, they must be put in the freezer so as not to accidentally infect the bird with helminths (especially if you have to feed wild-caught insects before purchasing specially grown food). Then get the required amount, tear off the legs, mustache, ovipositor (since these hard surfaces can injure the swift’s esophagus; or you can buy ready-made “carcasses” without legs), throw them into warm water, when they are thawed, put them on a napkin and feed. It is not necessary to give a lot of water to the swift, as they get it from insects.

Ant eggs (pupae) can be bought or dug up from anthills. This is a very useful and favorite food of the swift. Ant eggs are also stored in the freezer; before feeding, they must be thawed and washed. Grasshoppers or grasshoppers can be caught in nature, but you need to freeze for at least 5 hours to destroy helminths. By the way, swifts do not gain weight too quickly on fillies, so they need more than other fodder insects.

Do NOT feed swifts meat, bread, eggs, maggots, potatoes, baby food, pet store bird food, vitamins, earthworms, bloodworms, or the like.

If the bird is fed incorrectly, then when it returns to the sky, when it begins to eat its usual food - celestial plankton (i.e. insects), its metabolic processes will fail, molting will begin and the bird will fall. And this is a very terrible death. By the way, from malnutrition, some birds begin to lose feathers even before departure. Liver disease is also common. Therefore, nothing but insects should be given to swifts! (Below we provide links to the pages of European organizations involved in feeding swifts, which clearly write that nothing but insects can be fed to the swift, and there are also photos of plumage after improper feeding. )

Feeding rules

It happens that the swift feeds on its own, grabbing food from the fingers, but if the chick has already grown up and refuses to eat from the hands, it is necessary to try to find the way the parents fed the chick - to lead the insects along the beak from different sides, provoking to grab food.

If the chick refuses to feed on its own, it must be force-fed. To do this, it is necessary to wrap the swift in a napkin in order not to damage or stain the plumage, and carefully, opening the beak from the side, put the insect into the mouth. The beak of swifts is very fragile, it cannot be opened by the tip, because it can break, it is necessary to open it only from the side, do not use sharp and hard objects! There are many videos on YouTube with examples of feeding swifts - you can watch and learn.

Departure time

Since adult birds do not teach swifts to fly and, leaving the nest, they immediately go to Africa, the chicks begin to train in the nest before the flight.

If you see that the swift has become restless, aggressive, his look has changed, he often trains, it means that the departure time is approaching.

Check before departure:

  1. The swift's wings must be at least 3.5 cm longer than the tail.
  2. Weight within 37–42 gr.
  3. All feather tubes should come off.
  4. The base of the pen, where the tubes were, should darken.

The bird should be released in a wasteland with low grass, where there are no wires, houses, trees, cars, so that in case of a fall it can be easily found. The weather for the next few days should be sunny, warm and windless.

You need to release it by raising your hand with the bird up. Do not toss, swing or throw. The bird will decide for itself whether to fly or not. It happens that swifts feel the presence of a predator and do not take off from the hand, in which case you can try to release the next day.


  • Do not let fly at home, around the apartment.
  • Do not teach to fly.
  • Do not take outside.
  • Treat the plumage very carefully and carefully.

So, feeding a chick in the first days is not so easy, but then, when it rises from your palm into the sky and lives happily there for more than 10 years, believe me, you will never forget the time you spent with this bird, because this a fantastic bird will live forever in your soul. Add to our group in contact, we will always give advice in time and help in this good deed! Good luck!

Swift in flight

Useful links

  • Determining the age of the swift with photographs
  • Food selection
  • The right amount of food
  • Site "Give the sky to the bird"
  • VKontakte group

All articles


  1. You can’t give our (Russian), only the original drug is given - Nootropil (piracetam) ampoule, made in Belgium [↩]

how to describe the swallow according to the plan?

The name of the bird is a swallow.

But there are varieties of swallows, there are several of them.

Barn swallows (or barn swallows), also called chimney swallows, are species of birds belonging to the order Passeriformes (passerines) and to the family hirundinidae.

Lives on almost all continents of the globe, judging by the annual migrations.

In our country, and more broadly in Europe, the bird is known to "herald spring" as it arrives in our territories at the end of winter to nest there. No wonder they say: the swallows flew in, they brought spring on their wings. Swallows are the last migratory birds to arrive when the steady heat sets in.

Features Barn Swallow


17 to 21 cm


Wingspan 32 to 35 cm with outstretched wings.

Body weight:

From 16 to 24 g depending on the region of habitat

Tail length:

From 3 to 6 cm

Body characteristics:

Slender and light figure, long narrow wings, short beak, short legs , long forked tail.

Flight characteristics:

Graceful, fast and agile flight; its flight is powerful during annual migrations

Plumage Colour:

Dark blue to black plumage on upper body, white underparts, dark red face and throat, dark head, black beak, black eyes, black tail

The color of the plumage depends on the region of the world in which the bird lives.


Chirp song; like tsvi-tsvi-tsvi.

Barn swallows can make multiple alarm calls when threatened.

Where do Swallows live and what do they eat?

Place of life:

The swallow lives in open areas with sparse vegetation, wet meadows, farmlands, groves, swamps, parks and gardens.

She appreciates the pools to drink there and chase the insects (in flight) that are there.

During the nesting period, swallows approach agricultural and suburban areas where they can find a suitable place to build their nests (sheds, stables, barns, etc.).



Type of food:

Barn swallow feeds exclusively on insects.

The variety of prey varies by season and region of the world.

Social life:

Swallow is a migratory bird. At the end of winter, birds migrate from hot countries to temperate zones to reproduce and raise their young, and at the end of summer they fly to hot countries.

Diurnal and gregarious birds, usually seen in groups of several individuals. On the other hand, during the nesting season, couples isolate themselves to raise their young. During this period, males and females become very aggressive and vigorously defend their nests.

From September, swallows gather in Europe for the next big migration to warmer countries. Then we can easily see them sitting on electrical wires or on rooftops. This great journey is a dangerous journey for these birds; many of them miss their destination due to starvation or exhaustion en route.

Hunting technique:

Barn swallows hunt in flight. Their great agility allows them to perform several acrobatics to catch insects in flight.

In wet weather they hunt their prey over rivers or ponds, flying close to the surface of the water. Hence the sign that if the swallows fly low, it will soon rain.


Its main predators are domestic cats, stone martens and some birds of prey (peregrine falcon, owl).

Nesting period:

Spring (April to June)

Place of laying nest:

Nest usually under a roof in an open building (garage, stable, barn, shed).

The nest is built from wet mud mixed with various plants (twigs, roots, grass, straw), and sometimes with small pieces of cloth, feathers and down.

A nest in the form of a half cup is made on the ceiling of a building, most often resting on a beam or on a rafter.

Number of broods per year:

1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Number of eggs per clutch:

4 to 5 white eggs with specks.

Incubation / incubation time:

13 to 18 days; eggs are mostly incubated by the female


Two parents feed the young chicks thanks to the many insects they bring.

Learn more