What to feed baby swallows

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.



What Do Swallows Eat? (Complete Guide)

What insects do swallows eat?

How do swallows catch insects?

Do swallows eat bird seed?

Do swallows eat mealworms?

Do swallows eat bees?

What berries do swallow eat?

What do baby swallows eat?

Do swallows eat baby birds or other birds’ eggs?

What do swallows not eat?

What else do swallows eat?

How do swallows drink?

What can I feed swallows?

Barn swallows are the most widespread of all the swallow species and this little bird also has the largest natural distribution of any of the world’s songbirds.

Loved for their acrobatic flying skills and with a distinctive forked tail and blue coat, barn swallows are a welcome visitor to many parts of the globe heralding the arrival of spring and the end of winter time.

Swallows have a varied diet but flying insects make up the bulk of it at 99% so they are known as insectivores. They catch on the wing and will spend hours darting about hoovering up insects particularly when they have young to feed in the nest. The insects that swallows eat depend on where they have migrated to. Swallows only feed during the day not at night.

Swallows are capable of the most remarkable aerobatic displays – they are nature’s acrobats and finding airborne food sources on the wing is pretty effortless for this species.

Dietary restriction for a swallow tends to be as the result of climatic conditions which alter or limit the available insect life.

Swallow with captured insect

What insects do swallows eat?

The diet of a swallow will vary depending on whether the bird is in the UK, North America or Europe. Here are some of the insects swallows eat:-

  • Wasps
  • Mosquitoes
  • Bees
  • Dragonflies
  • Flies
  • Hornets
  • Flying ants
  • Gnats
  • Horseflies
  • Butterflies
  • Houseflies

Swallows will also eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, snails and worms.

Swallow feeding juvenile

How do swallows catch insects?

Swallows have a broad, wide beak and mouth which is ideal for scooping insects as they fly. The insects are guided into the swallow’s open mouth with the help of short rictal bristles which border the beak.

The swallows’ amazing aerobatic skills mean this bird can use a range of flying patterns and manoeuvres to catch virtually any insect on the wing. Their flight behaviour will depend on the insects available which in turn is directly linked to weather conditions.

Swallows are often seen as nature’s natural cleanser of unwanted insects and eat on average 60 insects an hour. But swallows do also eat insects which are welcome visitors to gardens like bees and butterflies.

Different weather conditions will produce flying insects at varying levels so on humid days, swallows will tend to hunt lower down but are also capable of flying much higher into the atmosphere on clear sunny days to look for food competing with other birds like swifts.

Swallows are acrobatic in flight

Do swallows eat bird seed?

Swallows do eat bird seed but are not big fans of garden bird feeders as they prefer to look for food and eat on the wing rather than remain static when they feed.

Occasionally a swallow will come to rest on the ground to peck seed but they can be vulnerable to predators like birds of prey and domestic cats.

There is so much insect life available that swallows don’t tend to need to look beyond what they can catch on the wing and only resort to other food sources if insects are scarce.

Do swallows eat mealworms?

Mealworms are not a natural food source for swallows but if their usual diet is scarce then they may be persuaded to feed on them.

Juvenile Swallow with insect

Do swallows eat bees?

Swallows do eat bees and often prefer to catch larger insects as the nutritional return is greater from a large insect compared to the energy expenditure. However, swallows do prefer to avoid insects which sting and they tend only to predate on bees, wasps and hornets if their regular food source is under pressure.

What berries do swallow eat?

Swallows will eat strawberries occasionally and if blackberries are early and they have not migrated then they will also help themselves to a plump juicy berry or two.

What do baby swallows eat?

Baby swallows are fed relentlessly by their parents whilst they are in the nest which on average, is for around one month.

Baby Swallows generally are mostly fed insects. Both parents feed them and bring back a proportion of the food they catch meaning the adults have to work even harder with their feeding requirements when there is a clutch of chicks to feed. If the weather is cold and some early nests can struggle during cold springs, then the adult swallows will forage for berries or anything else they can find to feed their young.

Swallow chicks that do not receive enough nutrition due to climatic conditions can die.

Barn Swallow feeding baby swallows (chicks)

Do swallows eat baby birds or other birds’ eggs?

Swallows don’t tend to eat eggs from other species. Unmated male barn swallows will kill and eat other baby birds in order to split up the resident pair of adults in order to attract and mate with the female.

What do swallows not eat?

Swallows don’t tend to feed on insects associated with water or pond life like tadpoles.

What else do swallows eat?

Barn swallows will supplement their insect diet with a small amount of grit or eggshells to aid digestion.

In the UK, the food source for barn swallows dries up in the autumn so they migrate 6,000 miles to Africa in search of warmer climes and more insects.

How do swallows drink?

Swallows drink on the wing, finding a level in the atmosphere where there is water available. They will also catch raindrops whilst they perch or skim low over water sources like puddles, ponds and rivers.

Swallow drinking water from a lake

What can I feed swallows?

Seed and berries will attract swallows either on the ground or on open feeder platforms, but the bigger lure is foliage and flora which encourages a plentiful supply of their own natural food source which is insects.

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What swallows eat - What they eat on planet Earth

In nature, swallows mainly eat various flies, beetles, bees, wasps, butterflies, moths and other flying insects. They usually catch lonely flying insects.

In order to better digest food, like many other birds, they collect and eat various grains and small pebbles. This gives them calcium and makes it easier to digest food.

These birds feed almost exclusively in flight, which is why they fly quite low compared to other birds.

They like to fly almost above the surface of the water.

They can also be found near cattle herds, as there are always a lot of insects in such places.

Sometimes they may eat a dead insect from the ground, or from a tree or building walls.

Swallows feed from dawn to dusk. In the breeding season, they consume more food with calcium content.

In a day this bird can consume a hundred different insects, for this reason it is a welcome guest in agricultural fields and livestock areas.

What swallows eat at home

Swallows need insects as food. They catch them only when they are in a state of flight, so they need flying insects, in particular flies.

In addition to flies, crickets, bee larvae, moth larvae are suitable.

It is not necessary to use live insects, frozen ones are suitable.

Do not use mealworms as food, they will cause feather loss and stomach upset, probably due to the high amount of protein.

Vitamin and mineral mixtures must be added to the feed, especially when growing chicks.

How to feed a swallow chick at home

It is very difficult to train a swallow chick to live in nature, and this is possible only by an experienced specialist. For this reason, if you find a chick, look carefully, it may have fallen out of the nest. Return it back if possible. You can put a chick in the nest of another swallow of the same species, they are caring birds and will not be thrown out, but raised.

Swallow feeds chicks

If this is not possible and you had to take the chick away, then take it to the veterinarian, check for parasites and other diseases, as well as for injuries, then start raising it.

The easiest way to feed a chick at home is to buy crickets at a pet store.

Chicks can't kill live insects, so you have to do it, otherwise live larvae and insects can damage the chick's stomach. Do not feed the chick large crickets, they are difficult to digest, so take small insects or reduce their size.

Swallow chick

Swallow chick should be fed every quarter of an hour during the day. If he is full, then you can feed every two hours, it all depends on age. It is easy to understand whether the chicks are full or not, if they eagerly open their beak, then give them cricket after cricket. When they are full, they will stop opening their beak and calm down.

You can freeze the insects and feed the chick frozen insects and you don't have to kill the insects, they will fall asleep on their own. Before feeding, remove the required amount of food from the freezer and defrost. Do not take more than you need, the food spoils quickly.

It is advisable to add finely crushed eggshells to the feed, give no more than once a day. You can dip the cricket in this powder.

Chicks need to be given water, give water through a pipette, several times a day.

How to attract swallows

It is difficult to attract swallows to your site, it is practically impossible for them to create the main conditions for their life: the availability of food and water.

Swallows almost never visit bird feeders.

Swallows require the following conditions:

  • Flying food;
  • Permanent source of water, body of water;
  • Large and open spaces for hunting and flying.

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What to feed the swallows? — Questioner

Julia Vorobieva

After heavy rain, the nest with swallows fell down. Where the parents are is unknown, and 4 chicks decided to go out on their own. What can you feed them? I know that they are insectivorous, but I can’t constantly catch flies and mosquitoes, as well as buy dried ones - there is nowhere. Is it possible to give them dried fish worms? Can I have bread? I read about bread and what is possible and what is not.

  • swallow


Varvara Varya Sargsyan

do not grow, this is a very laborious task, bread is not allowed, only fresh worms, flies, etc. in vain would you parents return ...


Dmitry **********

Feed frequently, every 3-4 hours. At night, from 12 to 5-6 you can take a break. Caring for a chick is not difficult - however, feeding takes a lot of time. You can feed the so-called nightingale mixture. Its basis is boiled eggs, carrots, crackers. A hard-boiled chicken egg must be grated on a fine grater, add grated fresh carrots (it is better to grate on such graters, after which not a puree-like mass comes out, but thin long pieces). For one egg, you need about half a medium carrot. To this mixture, you need to add grated white bread crackers in such a proportion that the finished mixture is moist, soft, but not sticky to your hands. Periodically, instead of an egg, you can add low-fat, non-acidic cottage cheese (if the cottage cheese is sour, then it must be scalded with boiling water. After that, squeeze and grate); fish food - daphnia, gammarus; crushed sunflower seeds, sprinkle them unpeeled on a newspaper and forcefully roll a glass bottle over them. It is better to give meat separately in the form of thin strips - beef, heart, chicken. The feeding process is simple: roll a ball out of the feed and put it in the open "mouth". True, it’s inconvenient to do it just with your hands - the chick’s mouth is small, the fingers are big. It is recommended to use tweezers, but it did not seem very convenient to me either. I cut a stick out of a linden branch, cut it lengthwise, removed the core, split one end, and sharpened the other slightly. It turned out a wonderful spoon-feeder, tested on thrush and wagtail chicks. You can drink from a pipette, syringe, spoon.
After each feeding, you will need to remove the droppings, which are enclosed in a special capsule for small chicks.

Read more at http://zooclub.ru/consult/show.php?id=2074


Alexey Kulyusov

How to feed a chick if there is no way to buy insects?
Unfortunately, forage insects are not available in all cities, and it is simply unrealistic to catch enough insects to feed the shearling. In addition, very often found shearlings are on the verge of starvation, and delay is unacceptable. In such cases, you can feed the chicks with a mixture based on low-fat, pre-treated cottage cheese. Once again I want to emphasize: no eggs, in any form! if you really want to release the swift in time.

Mix recipe: Boil low-fat fresh cottage cheese for a couple of minutes in water, let the whey settle and lay it on a thick cotton cloth. Hang to drain, periodically squeezing. The result is a plastic, non-acidic base into which dry components are mixed. It is assumed that these are dry insects, i.e. the same crickets, silkworm pupae, ant eggs, grasshoppers, locusts, etc. All this luxury can be bought in Moscow or ordered, again in Moscow. But this will take a lot of time.

Dry daphnia can be used instead of dry insects. This is an inexpensive food for aquarium fish, which is sold everywhere. There is only one quality requirement: daphnia should be light, that is, not burnt, and there should be no foreign impurities in the feed. As a rule, such daphnia has a not too strong smell, mixes very easily with the curd base and practically does not smell in the finished version. In addition to daphnia, you can also use another food for aquarium fish - dried gammarus. Quality requirements are the same as for daphnia.

Now we make up the mixture for feeding the chick. The main rule: in the mixture of all components should be the same in volume, that is, a teaspoon of dry ingredients is added to a teaspoon of cottage cheese. If you get a too crumbly mixture that cannot be rolled into balls, then you can add fresh minced veal, no more than 1/3 of the volume of cottage cheese. The meat in this case will simply stick the mixture together to make it more convenient to feed.

The prepared mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Processed cottage cheese in a clean container is normally stored for two to three days, but then it dries up and turns sour. It is very important to feed the chicks only fresh food to avoid poisoning troubles. Wash your hands before each feeding, especially if you have to force feed. One meal is enough volume with a coffee spoon. You need to feed the chicks quite often, after 2 hours. If your chick is very small, he is not yet 4 weeks old, then he needs to be fed from 7 am to 12 am every two hours. Older chicks can be fed after three hours.


Tamerlan Egiev

Fresh flies. Earthworms. They will not eat dry food.

Vitya Lobenkov

they eat insects they catch them in flight so don’t listen to the lady in the red hat the swallow you can’t tame the bird with such a diet, it’s like the ditchers should have taken them parents would have flown in and now they won’t accept them

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