My Quest for the Ultimate Supplemental Food

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Doug Martin - PA
Posts: 1920
Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:47 am
Location: Pennsylvania/Fombell
Martin Colony History: First pair in 2009 after 28 years of trying. 3 pairs 2010, 17 pairs 2011 and 35-45 pairs since. Many additional colonies are now springing up around mine in an area once completely void of Martins. I offer 50 compartments at my site consisting of primarily Excluder II gourds on Gemini racks. Also a wooden T-14. I utilize electric fence type predator guards on the base of the poles. Supplemental feeding is crucial in maintaining my colony. I platform feed throughout the season as needed. My site tends to be a stop over point for additional birds as they migrate further north.

Years ago when I started my colony I was looking for the ultimate way to supplemental feed Martins. I took the time to research this topic because I also took on a few birds from outside colonies that had gone down to the ground during cold spells. Penny Halstead from Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center was an asset to us all in understanding what was needed in rehabbing these birds from a human standpoint. I also found a somewhat local bird rehabber that I also spent some time with discussing a Purple Martins nutritional needs.

The one thing I learned above all is that there is a big difference between rehabbing a bird and supplemental feeding them. You really need to keep them healthy and avoid the rehab process. Maintaining health is much easier than rehabbing it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once a Martin goes down and loses it's ability to fly it is very difficult to bring it back to health. I know first hand of this with the help of these experienced rehabbers. So my main goal now is to just keep them healthy and flying.

I have progressed through all the different foods in supplemental feeding. Live insects, scrambled eggs. cat food, beef heart, to name a few. Every year I must keep my colony alive at times. Some years are worse than others. It is both time consuming and expensive to feed fifty to a hundred birds (and sometimes young) for days and weeks and I have now progressed to bulk freeze dried mealworms and gut loaded crickets as a viable source of nutrition and protein to supplement them during bad weather. So far I have not seen any negative effects from it. But the verdict is still out.

Kathy Freeze brought up a few good points about nutritional levels of freeze dried mealworms in a prior post. She also bought back a few old forum strings from Penny Halstead to support them. This was helpful as I had forgotten about the use of Vionate that contains all the key vitamins and mineral animals and birds need. It also got my brain clicking again on this subject. Perhaps the rehydrating of mealworms with this product (or a similiar one) added may be an ideal supplement. Hmm. When you soak dried mealworms properly you can pick one up squeeze it and a drop or two of water comes out of it. So they will indeed fill and absorb the Vionate liquid. To me this would seem perfect.

I decided to take this all one step farther. (The internet can be a wonderful tool). I searched for "nutrition for insect eating birds". After some time I found a supplement named NEKTON TONIC-I formula. The "I" in this case is for "insect eating birds". So hmmm there is a vitamin and mineral supplement developed specifically for insect eating birds that are stressed or in need of supplementation. OK good.

I then put in a phone call to the company that develops these products for all animals. I eventually was able to talk to Dan Wake who was very familiar with bird nutrition and their specific needs. He spent quite a bit of time with me and was extremely knowledgeable. He also understood and knew what supplemental feeding a Purple Martin was all about. (I couldn't believe that) He answered many questions one of which Kathy referred to in Penny's post.

My question: Was about the nutritional value of a Freeze dried mealworm vs a live one. First off he asked me about growing my own mealworms. He felt this was the absolute best way to assure the most nutrition. You can control what you feed them. He explained that even buying live insects in bulk may not result in the most nutrition. At times they are starved prior to, or during shipping. I told him I was not interested in growing hundreds of thousands of mealworms however. He understood.

Next question: How much nutrition do you feel is lost in the freeze dried process of a mealworm. He answered rather quickly that chances are about 50% but there also was no telling how well they were fed prior to the freezing process either. So let's figure that indeed there is a substantial amount of nutrition lost. (Kathy and Penny seem to be correct here). However he still believed a freeze dried mealworm to be a worthy supplement for an uncaged bird as a diet that would eventually be replaced by live flying insects. You probably would not want to feed it exclusively to a fully domesticated caged insect eating pet however as an exclusive diet.

Our discussion continued and I told him how the parents would run whatever I fed them to their growing babies. (They did this just morning in the rain) Of course a growing baby Martin has even higher nutritional needs he added. This makes sense as well. Penny also cautioned on feeding eggs to young or sick birds. They do in fact have a hard time digesting the fat. This leads to loose stools and further dehydration.

So after a very lengthy discussion Mr Wake felt that for cost and ease of feeding that a freeze dried mealworm was indeed a reasonable supplement. They don't seem to cause digestive problems and are easy to prepare. However him and I also agreed that as a supplemental food for long periods that they may indeed be substantially inferior nutritionally to live food. He also felt that adding the necessary nutrient to the soaking process (or to the already soaked mealworms) would work well. The Purple Martins may be getting the best of both worlds. An easily digestible and highly nutritious meal even suitable for their young.

So in my quest to provide a complete supplement to my birds I have ordered some Nekton Tonic-I for my Martins. I will sprinkle a half a teaspoon or so on each batch I feed them. This will not only keep them alive but it will also provide all the necessary amino acids, vitamins and minerals they need as well.

My thanks to all those mentioned and I will report back on the results. There is always the chance that the taste may not be appealing to the Martins so I will let you all know. I will also make some of this available to landlords nearby that are feeding mealworms that want to try it.

I do not want to promote a certain product here and hope I am not breaking any forum rules. This was the only supplement I could readily find specific to insectivore birds. They were also quite helpful in answering all my nutrition questions for Purple Martins.

Doug
Supplemental feeding plays a major role in western Pennsylvania. Finally got my 1st pair in 2009 after 28 years of effort. 3 pairs in 2010. 17 pairs in 2011. 35 pairs and 150 young in 2012 & 2013. Plus a new 22 pair colony right down the road from me.
Doug Martin - PA
Posts: 1920
Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:47 am
Location: Pennsylvania/Fombell
Martin Colony History: First pair in 2009 after 28 years of trying. 3 pairs 2010, 17 pairs 2011 and 35-45 pairs since. Many additional colonies are now springing up around mine in an area once completely void of Martins. I offer 50 compartments at my site consisting of primarily Excluder II gourds on Gemini racks. Also a wooden T-14. I utilize electric fence type predator guards on the base of the poles. Supplemental feeding is crucial in maintaining my colony. I platform feed throughout the season as needed. My site tends to be a stop over point for additional birds as they migrate further north.

Supplemental feeding plays a major role in western Pennsylvania. Finally got my 1st pair in 2009 after 28 years of effort. 3 pairs in 2010. 17 pairs in 2011. 35 pairs and 150 young in 2012 & 2013. Plus a new 22 pair colony right down the road from me.
ToyinPA
Posts: 2126
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:07 pm
Location: PA/Avis
Martin Colony History: The 1972 St. Agnes flood wiped out all the Martins in my area. One day, in 1997-98, 5 or 6 Martins landed on the power wires crossing my back yard. I had no house for them. They kept coming back day after day. We got a martin house a few weeks later & they have been coming back every year since. I average 12-15 pair per year.

Doug:

Interesting. I'm assuming this would keep chicks healthy, during lack of natural food times, preventing dehydration, which is almost impossible to reverse. I lose chicks every year to dehydration caused by lack of food during bad weather times, even tho I supplement feed.

Is this in powder form? & if so would you sprinkle it on say crickets that had been frozen & thawed in water or make a liquid & soak them in it?

I did look into this some, but wasn't able to find detailed instructions. I did see the shelf life, once opened, is 3 months. That would mean you'd need to use the entire container in one season or toss it out.

I look forward to your report on how this product works.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
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