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PURPLE MARTIN RESCUE: Written by Gary L. Bain
DISCLAIMER: I am not an official rehabber. I only did what I thought was right under the circumstances when I found the abandoned birds. I would not recommend that anyone attempt to rehab a purple martin without first contacting a rehab facility for proper guidelines and procedures. I will attempt to publish some links to those sites as soon as possible. I would also like to solicit any information that would make this a better site or to correct any misinformation.
The following information might assist you in returning an abandoned purple martin back to the wild or at least keep it alive until such time as it can be turned over to a proper facility.
A great site to visit about purple martins is : http://www.entrancesbysandy.com/
Video 1: PM flying to hand to feed :20seconds
Video 2: PM playing in water :28seconds
Video 3: PM eating dragonfly :15seconds ( no audio on this clip )
Video 4: PM preparing for first flight :31seconds
Video 5: Art Eckroat holding Purple Martins. Art is my wife's uncle and we thank him for providing the video camera to document these events.
HOW MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE PURPLE MARTIN GOT STARTED
My father-in-law, Leonard Bachle, has a PM colony that he has nurtured for over thirty years. It overlooks Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City, OK. Two years ago a tornado swept over Lake Hefner and hit their home. It took out all three of the PM houses and scattered babies all over the yard. This happened on a Saturday afternoon. The next morning, unaware of the PM's plight, I arrived with chainsaw in hand to help clear the area of debris. It was then that I started discovering the babies and found five of them still alive, varying in ages from one to an estimated three weeks. Prior to this encounter I had no experience with PM's and only knew of their existence and how beautiful and graceful they were. I picked up a piece of nest, put the five babies in a grocery sack and set them in the shade and continued to work. I got home about eight hours later with babies in tow. I didn't have a clue about how to take care of them or where to go to find out.
By the time I arrived home one of the youngest birds had perished. I put the live ones and the nest in a shoe box, cut a hole similar to the house openings, and started attempting to feed them. I would simply take the lid off and offer food. Two of the older birds accepted bugs very quickly which was encouraging. The two younger birds which didn't even have the first feather were force fed initially. I found out that by gently putting pressure on each side of their mouth that it would open enough to get food in. On Monday I started trying to get information on the nearest rehab facility and found out the closest one was over one hundred miles away. Information was scant and it was days before I got a response. I did find out from a local source that small cat food would work in an emergency so I used that, after soaking in a small amount of water, and was told as well that they should be fed every thirty minutes. I also caught grasshoppers, dragon flys and other bugs. I discovered a grocery bag works really good to keep bugs. I just made a couple of small rolls on the top of the bag and carried it like that so they couldn't escape. I would pull the two big legs off the grasshoppers before putting them in the bag which prevented their immediate escape. Also the bugs will live for a long time in the bag. And it's simply amazing how big a bug those little fellows could swallow!! After being fed for awhile they become selective about their diet of bugs. I have found out that in addition to pulling the big legs off, it helps to take the smaller ones off before feeding. If they don't like what they get, a quick head toss and the bug goes flying. The softer grasshoppers appear to be a delicacy while they don't particularly care for the big hard critters. They love dragonflies even though they are very difficult to catch. It's best to hunt them early in the morning when there's dampness on the ground. They seem to be lethargic then. When the birds have had their fill they will curl up and sleep. So every morning and evening I was out in the field catching bugs. I would take the shoe box to work with me and feed the babies all day long. The youngest bird died a few days later. I have since discovered that the really new babies get food that has been pulverized and perhaps even partially digested by the parents. I have yet to find out how the young get water but it is imperative that it is available. I discovered this the hard way. The two oldest birds kept jumping off the table and I could never figure out why until one happened to escape my notice until I saw it drinking out of my puppies water dish. I then filled a cookie pan with water and placed it on the table. You would have thought they had found heaven. They would splash and play and drink 'til their heart's content. I might add that we had the worst drought and heat wave in about fifty years. I also discovered you can give them water off the end of your finger if too young to drink themselves. When they've had enough they will simply shake the water off their bill. ( I always washed my hands first-just in case )
The two remaining birds remained in an apparently good state of health. They were very active and continued to learn. We commute forty miles to work and I would take the martin house off it's pole and put it in the back seat. About thirty minutes into the trip, out they would come, begging for food. At the shop I started whistling when I fed, attempting to imitate a martin. I then started making the birds come across the table to get their bugs. Then I graduated them to jumping on my hand from the table. I kept the birds in the back work area which has a really high ceiling. After a couple of weeks of this routine, when I walked in to feed them, one of them took off and flew around the room. This created a dilemma. If they got loose at home would they just simply disappear? In reading up on the habits of the martins I knew that when a young bird fledged it would likely go to a tree and wait for the parents to feed it. I didn't change my routine, when I got home, I took them to their house. This lasted a couple of more days during which the second one started flying. And then it happened. I was taking them to their house after work and they both took off. I figured that was the end of it but was proud beyond belief watching them wing their way around the area, soaring, gliding, and chirping. Then they disappeared. I was scampering around the yard whistling and my wife, Barbara, had just saddled her horse and rode around the corner to where I was. About that time both birds landed on the top of our house. She raised her arm up and whistled. Amazingly both martins flew to her and landed on her arm. She then rode them around to the martin house and placed them in it. I was overwhelmed and excited beyond belief. They then started flying to us for handouts. One of the birds disappeared during the next couple of days but the last one hung around about ten more days. I would go out on the porch in the mornings for coffee and see the little guy peeking his head out of the house. I would whistle and it would fly to the porch for his morning bug. When I got home in the evenings it would find me after a bit and most of the time land on my head. Then of course, the inevitable happened. They were gone, hopefully to Brazil and in good health. I was saddened and elated at the same time.
Rehabbing purple martins should be left to the experts!! It should be noted also that the Purple Martin is a federally protected species and I think we all know the ramifications of that. There are, however, times that emergencies happen and if proper procedures are not followed prior to finding a facility the bird might die. Every Purple Martin is precious to me and to the many, many bird lovers worldwide. So hopefully, this information might be helpful to someone finding a bird in distress. The first course of action of course would be to return the little one to the nest if possible.
Just remember that the young need water, they can be force fed, and please be gentle. Patience is a virtue also. The young birds do not readily pounce on every meal so sometimes just wait while they eyeball the situation and make their mind up about their next course of action.
Even though two of the birds made it to full flight and freedom there are some unknowns and possible pitfalls about what was accomplished. I don't know what diet necessities were omitted that might prevent them from making the perilous trip to Brazil. I have also envisioned one of them landing on somebody's head down in Florida or somewhere along their flight path and getting swatted. I don't know how they are accepted into other communities once being removed from their immediate family or what deleterious effect traveling in a car has. I know one thing for sure however, two Purple Martins survived that would not have had I not acted. Feel free to e-mail me with feedback, good, bad, or otherwise. Thanks. E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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