Four days ago my friend Abbey found 2 Cape Swallow chicks in her garden, she could not leave them where they were as their puppy who discovered them considered them food / playthings. She brought them to me as I seem to have become the ‘bird lady’ since raising the Olive (Karoo) thrush Poopsie. Before advising how to care for and feed a Cape Swallow it is important to highlight the following.
- If you find any fledgling on the ground, the first rule is LEAVE IT, all fledglings spend some time on the ground before they can fly and the mother continues to feed and care for them. Only remove if they are in danger, in cases where a dog or cat can harm or kill them.
- You will not be able to successfully rear and release a wild bird, they need to be taught how to crack seeds, catch insects and feed themselves. This can only really be done at a rehabilitation centre. At a rehabilitation centre the fledglings are placed with other birds who teach them the necessary survival skills.
- Feeding a fledgling is HARD work, more demanding than a human baby, they need to be fed regularly and cannot be left for more than an hour.
- Fledglings are very fragile, they die easily and it’s heartbreaking when they do.
- Do not try to give water, the bird is likely to drown even when you do it very carefully from a spoon. Rather dilute the food with water to make a soft paste.
With that out of the way, I find it annoying that searching online for information how to feed and care for a fledgling yields almost no results. This is because rescue people seem to be almost aggressively precious about sharing information. The fact is you can’t always get the bird into the right hands immediately, and if you don’t know how to feed them they will die before you can get them to a qualified person.
If you have found a fledgeling first identify the bird and then find out what they eat.
A Cape Sparrow will eat scrambled egg (obviously no seasoning) or tinned dog or cat food diluted with water. I was advised to feed cat pellets soaked in water and mushed up. You can feed from a spoon, the best bet is to bend the spoon in a vice to make this easier. A syringe is first prize. Keep the syringe clean and wash frequently in boiling water.
Feed the bird at regular intervals (but not at night). Every time the Sparrow opened its mouth begging for food we fed it, sometimes at intervals of only 10 mins.
Sadly on day 2 one of the babies died, it lost energy and was not feeding, it also felt cold. I tried holding it to warm and in desperation tried to give sugar water from a spoon. I don’t know if it drowned as a result or if it was dying anyway. The remaining sibling continued to thrive.
On Saturday we took the remaining Cape Swallow fledgling to Wildlife in Crisis, outside Springs in Gauteng. This is where we took Poopsie to a few years ago. Judy and her husband Ken are wonderful people who do so much good work.