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Swifts

Swifts migrate to Britain in May and begin the return flight to central Africa in August/September.
Unlike martins and swallows they never perch but are on the wing constantly until they make a nest, lay their eggs and rear the chicks.

Sometimes adult birds fall to the ground through accidents, especially when they have had a difficult flight from Africa.
Their legs are strong but short and the wings very long, so they are unable to take off from the ground like other small birds and need to climb up several feet to take off.
If grounded for some time they will be weak and thin and need rehydration, rest and feeding before they can be successfully released.  

         
             Young swift                                      Adult swift
                Young swift                                                                                                            Adult swift

First Aid

Feather damage - if feathers are bent and damaged by being caught in string, they can be restored to normal by steaming- see Swift with feather damage

 More severe damage and broken flight feathers may need specialist treatment by grafting or 'imping' replacement feathers onto the shafts.

Exhaustion

Healthy adult birds exhausted after a long flight and stormy weather usually soon revive after one or two crop feeds of 1 ml of  Critical Care solution or tissue rehydration fluid and some rest in a darkened cage.
When they feel ready to go they become very active, climbing the sides of the cage and flapping their wings impatiently.
Take them to an open area such as a playing field and by slowly raising your arm upwards to shoulder height, then opening out your hand at the top, offer them a view

of freedom!  

Never THROW the birds up - most will take off from the hand, the height will provide extra lift if the weather is very still.  Some birds will sit on your hand and have a look around before they fly off.

Always try to have a catcher positioned where they can see the swift’s flight path, just in case they are over-ambitious and need to be rescued.

Some adults may be bruised from collisions or flying through storms and unable to use their wings properly without a day or so of rest.
Give them homoeopathic Arnica 30 once a day for 3-5 doses, either as a single tablet, crushed and mixed into a feed, or as 2 drops in the food.

While they are recovering, try them with 4 tube feeds a day, at approx 8am, noon, 4pm and 8pm of  2-3 ml of "Swift mix" or equivalent feeds of crickets or wax moth larvae.

(See London's Swifts website)

Housing

A single baby swift can be kept in a small pet carrier with ventilation holes, or even a large shoe box with several small air holes in the lid for a short time, provided it can be warmed from below on a low power heat pad.
Line the box with an old tea towel and cover this with sheets of kitchen roll.  Put a beanie hat or small folded- up towel in the base and cover with a soft cloth to make a shallow dish - shaped nest.

More pieces of kitchen roll or sheets of loo roll will help to keep the floor of the box clean and dry.
 A recent development are mesh plastic cages used for reptiles.  These are very good for swifts as they allow good ventilation in a secure environment and allow cloths to be hung inside the cage to provide climbing surfaces as well as restricting the light and copying the natural nesting conditions.
Juvenile and adult swifts can be housed in a cat carrier or larger box, but with small tea towels hanging vertically from 3 sides to allow them to climb. and a large towel must be hung over most of the cage to simulate the dark conditions in a swift nest.

swift cages      mesh cage    swiftlet  

Mesh cages used for swifts, swallows and martins

In very hot weather a hammock can be made by hanging another tea towel inside the cage and is appreciated as a roosting platform by well-feathered adolescent birds.

Very tiny chicks must be housed in a nest on the floor of the cage as they might fall from the hammock.
Most of the cage should be covered over with cloths to provide a restful environment. 


Some rescued birds are frantic to escape and will beat their wings against the bars of a cage, even if they are padded.  These must be housed in a large plastic or
cardboard box, big enough so the swift can extend its wings and covered over with a towel or lid with ventilation. Place a "nest" inside made from a beanie hat or folded 

up tea towel formed into a circle and covered with a soft cloth to make a shallow, dish shaped form. 

Syringe feeding equipment

You will need a 3 or 5ml syringe fitted with a soft clear plastic or silicone tube measuring 3mm outside diameter, 1.5mm internal diameter and 8 cm long.
In imperial measurement, 2/16th inch outside diameter, 1/16th inch internal diameter and 3 ¼ inches long.
This tubing is used in hospital and veterinary giving sets and urinary tubing and could be obtained from your vet, if they are willing to find the right type.
It needs to be fairly pliable and soft for the swift to swallow it willingly. The tube must be clear so you can check for air bubbles in the food.
Dip one end in boiling water and expand with blunt forceps or tweezers until it can be fitted securely on the syringe.

Swift Mix - new recipe (May 2008) for tube feeding

Since reading some very worrying information on London's swifts website I have been working on a new recipe for tube feeding young swifts. 
The recommended diet is one of fresh wax moth larvae, crickets and flies, mashed up into small pellets and given in 5-8 feeds daily. However, in a busy year, home swift carers have had 20 or more swifts to care for and so tube feeding was an invaluable method for providing timely meals.

The original mixture used was based on high protein kitten biscuits and insectivore food, blended and sieved, with fresh mealworm juices and avian supplements. Now, however, after reading reports on the long term danger of an incorrect diet, I advise Swift carers to consult the London's Swifts site for their "food pellet" feeding regimen, while offering an alternative diet for tube feeding - see below.

Improved Swift Mix - frozen and/or fresh ingredients

1 measure (roughly 1 tea cup) vacuum packed crickets from Livefood UK Ltd   http//www.livefoods.co.uk (Can be used fresh for up to 6 days or frozen on arrival and stored for up to 3 months)
Spread out on a large dish and check for freshness. Discard any pulpy crickets and loose legs and rinse in a spastic sieve to remove any food and small detritus. Drain off excess water and place in liquidiser or grinder cup with about 1 tablespoon of cool, boiled water.  Pulse and if the mixture is too dry, add small amounts of water, just enough to let the blades chop up the crickets into a smooth, fine paste.
You may need to add a tiny bit more water, or scrape the crickets from the lid and sides down into the bowl a couple of times, before it is smooth and slightly fluffy in texture.

Using a small spatula, put the mix in a nylon sieve over a clean bowl, and press through, using the back of a steel spoon.  You are aiming at a thick, creamy mixture. If it is runny, add a very tiny pinch pinch of psyllium husks or carrageen, stir and leave for 5 mins to absorb excess water. This helps hold the mixture together in the syringe and remain colloidal.  Transfer the cricket pate to a small, clean glass or plastic container with a lid and store in fridge. NEVER re-freeze defrosted crickets.

Before feeding, remove the measured amount for a feed from the container and place into a smaller pot. Into this stir a finely chopped mixture of fresh foods, comprising (per bird) the insides of 5-6 large mealworms or 1-2 Morio, 1-2 waxworms and a few flies and greenfly. To the first and last dish of food of each day, add a pinch each of Insect Essentials, Nutrobal  and Avipro Avian and stir in well. Avipro can be added to other feeds when the swifts are new to the diet, to help them adjust to the food.

Improved Swift Mix- dry ingredients for emergencies
2 tablespoons of beophar dried crickets 
Add about half a tablespoon of boiled, hot water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. You may need to add a little more but do not add so much that they are swimming in liquid.
Liquidise for 2 to 3 minutes in a coffee bean grinder or other small blender attachment, adding a little more boiled water if it is too thick.
Pour into a fine mesh nylon sieve over a clean bowl and scrape out all the mixture sticking to the container.
Use the back of a rounded spoon to press the mix through the sieve. Re-grind if there is a lot of food too coarse to pass through the mesh.
Remove a small amount if feeding immediately, otherwise cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until next needed. 
It will last for 4 -6 days if kept chilled. Some can be frozen in an ice cube tray for use later or in emergencies.
It should keep for 2 months or more in a good freezer although it will become a little dehydrated.


Before feeding, stir in a sieved mixture of fresh foods, comprising (per bird) - the insides of 5-6 large mealworms or 1 Morio and 1-2 wax moth larvae, flies and greenfly.  To the first and last dish of food of each day, add a pinch each of Insect Essentials, Nutrobal  and Avipro and stir in well. Avipro can be added to other feeds when the swifts are new to the diet, to help them adjust.
                   
                      Swift Feeding Video - Please watch and learn!
                     Some feeding techniques can be seen at the link below, where swift chicks are fed with food pellets, wax moth larvae and swift mix from a small
syringe without a tube.  I prefer to use a tube as it is a clean, quick and accurate way to give a feed to a swift.
                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAxRLgWhRc0 


syringe and tube          

                      Swiftlet, syringe and tube


Feeding regime  - Feed during daylight hours - ideally between 6am and 8pm to mimic parental feeding times

                            The first and final feeds should have added vitamin and mineral supplements:
                     Amounts per swiftlet:   tiny pinch each of Insect Essentials or Feather up, 1-2 drops Zolcal D or Calcivet,  Nutrobal and Avipro Avian.

Young swifts
 
Newly hatched, featherless, or barely feathered, up to 15g in weight, need  as many tiny hourly meals as possible; try 1ml mix to start and increase amounts gradually 

  as the chick develops.
  Partly feathered, eyes only just open, up to 20g in weight,  1- 1½ mls every 2-3 hours
  Half grown, feathered but fluffy, with short wings; up to 25g;  1
½mls  to 2½ mls every 3 hours.   

  Tiny babies should have 8 - 10 small feeds a day between 6am and 9pm (approx. 6am, 9am, 12pm,  3pm,  6pm, 9pm) for 2-3 days to get used to tube feeds. If they are gaping, they can have small whole fresh crickets (minus all spiky bits), pieces of larger crickets and waxworms directly into the beak for some of the feeds.

 Wax moth larvae, small crickets or food pellets offered in tweezers can be given to replace one or more feeds if you have the time to do so. If not, add fresh insects to  every syringe meal if possible, to provide the best possible nutritional value to the food. Mealworms MUST be drowned in a solution of zolcal D and Critical Care before feeding whole. They can be decapitated and their insides squeezed out into the mix and fresh flies need to be chopped with scissors or ground up in a mortar and pestle before being added, or they will not pass through the sieve.


Adult swifts
  2
to 3 ml  in   3 - 5 feeds a day  depending on health.

Put 1flat teaspoon of mix into a small container.  The 15ml plastic cups that come with cough medicines are ideal.
Stand it in a small bowl of  hot water and stir to warm it up.
The mixture congeals when cold and becomes more liquid when warm. 
It needs to be the consistency of double cream to be easily taken into the syringe, so add a drop or two of warm water to thin it down if necessary.

Vitamin/mineral/fresh Supplements:  
Calcivet, Insect Essentials, Daily essentials and other bird care products are available from www.birdcareco.com/

 Avipro Plus, Critical Care and Nutrobal are available from many online pet supply stockists       
Maggots are available from angling shops and can be used as they are or left to pupate and produce flies.
Fresh, live wax moth larvae, mealworms and vacuum packed crickets can be bought from pet shops or online at http//www.livefoods.co.uk


Filling the syringe
Suck up aboutslightly more than is needed of the mix into the syringe. 
If it keeps clogging and sticking, you will need to liquidise and sieve the mixture again. 
To get rid of air bubbles, hold the syringe with the tube pointing up and tap the base repeatedly on a flat surface until the air has all risen to the base of the tube.. 
The mix will slide down to the bottom and you can press in the plunger to expel the air. 
Suck up more mix if necessary and expel any further bubbles.
Finally, rinse the tube in the hot water the food pot is standing in, to clean any food particles from the outside surface.
It’s useful to keep this water nearby.
 If the swift is agitated and the feeding tube comes out halfway through a feed, you will need to rinse it again to make it easy to swallow.

Feeding Method

You must hold the bird gently but firmly but without restricting the head and neck too much. 
If the chick flaps too excitedly, wrap it gently in a strip of soft kitchen roll or loo roll to confine movement, but make sure that it can extend the neck fully.

Some people hold the chick on a table, others hold them against their body - either position is fine, as long as you and the bird are comfortable with it..


Drinking water
Before and after feeding, offer the swift clean, cold water on the tip of a tiny artist's paintbrush. With new patients, add a tiny amount of Critical Care - it will
encourage them to take liquid and help restore tissue salt balance.
Touch this to the side of the beak - if the swift wants to drink it will lick up the drop. Offer more drops until it refuses to lick any more. Tube fed swifts rarely take 

much water as their food is very moist.



Opening the beak

Adult swifts do not usually gape so you need to gently open the beak from the side only.  NEVER open the beak at the tip, you could break it.
I find that cutting the feeding tube as a very slight angle gives a lip of soft plastic that can be used to gently open the beak
halfway between the hinge and the tip, so that it is ready to feed into the swift’s mouth once there is a gap.
Other feeders use a fingernail near the hinge of the beak; you will need to do what is easiest for you and the swift.
 
Do not just push the tube down the throat; rotate it slightly and insert with a gentle wiggling motion to induce swallowing.
Hold the bird fairly still and support the swift’s head between your thumb and fingers. 

DO NOT force the tube into the bird's throat.
Allow it to swallow the tube under your control until only about ½  inch (12mm) is left outside the beak.  See picture below.

Feeding

You can then start depressing the plunger to push the feed into the crop.
Do this fairly slowly at first, taking about 10 -15 seconds to empty the syringe. 
As you and the swift become more familiar with the process, it will be possible to give a feed safely in about 5-8 seconds.

Withdraw the tube slowly and smoothly. 

DO NOT RUSH THE FEEDS.  It is part of the process of establishing a bond of trust with the bird.
You will need to make sure the tube stays down but still allow the bird to move and make swallowing movements. 
Gently keep the swift in position so it can’t twist around too much and lose the tube before it has had a full meal.

                     hold securely to feed
                       Hold securely but gently to feed  


When you are new to this, or have a new patient to feed, keep an especially close eye on the swift’s mouth. 


If you see any food welling up you must stop
- slowly and gently take out the tube and let the food subside. 
Wipe the beak and face gently with damp tissue and give the bird a few minutes to swallow and settle down.

If it has taken about 1ml of the feed that's fine; just wipe around the face, talk soothingly and put him back in the cage.
Swifts are not fed so regularly in the wild so having an occasional small feed is not a problem.
Give a slightly smaller amount for the next few feeds, until it swallows the tube easily and can manage the full amount.
This will help build confidence about feeding in the bird (and yourself) and it will soon be able to take a full feed.

Wash and brush up
If any regurgitated food reaches the mouth, the swift will shake its head and send a few drops flying about. 
Wipe the beak and under the chin with a small piece of damp tissue to make sure no flecks of food stick to the feathers.
Swift mix sets hard and is difficult to soak off so prevention is a lot better than the cure!


Rehydration
Healthy swifts produce saliva that helps lubricate the tube as it is swallowed. 
Unwell birds have rather dry, pale mouths and benefit from a few drops of water with Critical Care and Avipro or a good
rehydration fluid before and after every feed for 1-2 days. 
When feeding a new patient who needs extra fluids, you can cut down on the stress of extra handling and force-feeding
by drawing up 0.5ml of rehydrating fluid into the syringe right after the food. 
The liquid will mix slightly with the food, but will enter the crop first and be quickly assimilated.
If giving extra fluids in this way, add the food supplements to the liquid, it will ensure that they are absorbed first.

Never  re-heat  surplus  mix  left  after  a  feed. 
With experience, you will be able to judge the right amount needed and cut down on wasted food. 
It’s surprising how small 3 mls looks in a spoon or measuring cup.


       swifts suck fingers                          Clean after a feed
 Young swifts will suck your fingers                                                                                   Clean their feathers after a feed

After feeding, use a piece of damp tissue to clean around the beak. 
Young swifts enjoy having their necks and throats gently stroked with a soft cloth or finger tip after a feed.

Drinking water
Don't forget, after feeding, offer the swift clean water on the tip of a tiny artist's paintbrush.
Touch this to the side of the beak - if the swift wants to drink it will lick up the drop. Offer more drops until it refuses to lick any more.


Equipment
Wash the feeding equipment in warm water with a drop of ecover washing up liquid. You can leave the tube on the syringe, just take the plunger out to flush
out the barrel and tube under running water until clean. 
Rinse in sterilising solution, then thoroughly in water and leave to drain dry. 
Never leave the tube in sterilising solution as it will become hard very quickly.
Renew the tube if it becomes less pliable.

Assessment

Weigh the swifts at least twice a week and keep track of their progress.  
This young swift, eyes closed, fully feathered weighed 19g
Fully fledged adult swifts weigh from 36g to 50g

Please read the excellent articles on the London's Swifts website about feeding insect pellets from this link:   Rearing Swifts by Christiane Haupt  

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