Every summer, wildlife rehabilitation facilities take in hundreds of baby swallows that have fallen from the nest. Whenever possible, the rescuer should return the baby swallow to the nest: Yes, the parents will take back a baby bird touched by humans. In the wild, swallows eat mostly insects, with some fruit, seed and grains. Wildlife rehabilitators use a baby songbird diet, which satisfies the nutritional needs of baby swallows.
Dry Dog or Cat Food
Swallows require a diet rich in protein. Dry cat food or dog food soaked in water in the refrigerator overnight, then thawed or heated to room temperature or warmer, makes the base of the baby songbird diet used by most wildlife rehabilitators. While canned cat or dog food won't immediately kill a swallow, it does not contain as much protein as dry food and will not sustain the bird for the long term. Adding a chopped hard boiled or scrambled egg to the mixture adds extra calcium and protein. Three-fourths of the baby swallow's diet should consist of protein by way of dog food or cat food and insects.
Insects make up most of the swallow's diet in the wild, and a baby swallow must learn to eat insects as early on as possible. Most pet stores sell live or frozen mealworms, waxworms or crickets. As the day of the bird's release approaches, live insects may replace the cat food or dog food as the main protein source.
Fruits and Vegetables
The remaining fourth of the songbird's diet consists of fruit, vegetables, seeds and grains. Cut grapes, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, blueberries, red and green grapes and apples into suitable sized pieces. Swallows should not be fed melon, citrus or banana. Adding fruit that the swallow will naturally find in its habitat helps the bird recognise food once released. For vegetables, swallows accept small corn kernels or chopped peas.
Grains and Seeds
For hatchlings and small nestlings---fuzzy babies that stay in the nest---adding a grain-based hand-feeding formula such as those sold in pet stores for raising baby parrots ensures enough grains in the babies' diet. Larger nestlings and fledglings---feathered birds that venture from the nest---can eat the "birdseed'" found in most supermarkets.
How to Feed
Baby songbirds must be fed from morning until night every 15 to 30 minutes, according to the National Wildlife Rehabilitator's Association. Most rehabilitators process the food in a blender and use a syringe to feed very young babies, then use tweezers to feed bites of solid food for larger babies.
- "Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation"; NWRA; 2009