How to Raise a Baby Barn Swallow

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Barn swallow young usually gape if they are hungry.
Barn swallow young usually gape if they are hungry. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Barn swallows, with their deeply forked tails, are interesting birds that feed only while they are flying. The young of this species are termed altricial, because they hatch naked and helpless. Barn swallow infants typically gape to request food and do not always need to be handled excessively, but this is nevertheless a challenging species to rear.

Things You'll Need

  • Tissue paper
  • Ice cream tub
  • Electric heating pad
  • Commercial insectivore diet
  • Minced meat
  • Veterinary vitamin and mineral supplement
  • Two children’s paint brushes
  • Blunt-end tweezers (optional)
  • Small bowl

Ensure that the parents have abandoned the chick by observing it from a distance. In many cases, the parents will return and continue to feed the chick.

Place a number of layers of tissue paper onto the bottom of an ice cream tub and put the barn swallow into this artificial nest.

Place an electric heating pad onto the bottom of a cardboard box that is larger than the ice cream tub and place the ice cream tub onto the heating pad inside the box. Set the heating pad to between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Place half of the ice cream tub onto the heating pad, so that the swallow can shift away from the heat source if it chooses to. Decrease this temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week after the chick develops feathers.

Prepare a mixture of 1 tablespoon of commercial insectivore diet and 1 tablespoon of minced meat. Add a pinch of a veterinary vitamin and mineral supplement to this mixture.

Dip a clean child’s paintbrush into the mixture and hold the brush in front of the swallow's beak. Place the mixture in the swallow’s mouth as soon as it gapes, which is the natural feeding response for this species.

Feed the swallow at least eight times per day. Feeding every two hours typically works well. Do not leave the fledgling for longer periods than two hours though. Feed the swallow until its stops gaping, which is an indication that it has eaten a sufficient amount.

Use a pair of blunt-end tweezers as an alternative to the child’s paint brush.

Dip a child’s paint brush into a small bowl of water and offer it to the fledgling between feedings.

Use a wet child’s paintbrush to wipe uneaten food from the beak and face of the swallow. By using the brush, you minimize handling, which is typically stressful to these tiny birds.

Use tweezers to remove the swallow’s fecal sac after each feed. Take care not to rupture the sac, as they are very delicate.

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