Two house martin chicks which were abandoned by their parents have been successfully reared by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staff at St Cyrus national nature reserve.
The two chicks were left behind by their exhausted parents at the end of September. They were handed into the reserve office by walkers who found them on the ground, underneath their nest in the eaves of the office roof.
Therese Alampo, St Cyrus reserve manager said, “The two little chicks must have been so desperate and hungry when their parents didn’t return that, even though they couldn’t fly yet, they leapt out of the nest. To get them fully feathered and flying as quickly as possible, we fattened them up with any creepy crawlies we could find and bought meal worms and crickets from the internet, feeding them every hour from dawn until 11pm to ensure they put weight on.”
The reserve staff’s efforts were successful: the chicks flew away on the 9 October having reached a hefty 20grams. The average weight for a house martin is 18.3 grams.
Dave Arthur, a local bird ringer, tagged the birds for their long journey from St Cyrus across the Sahara desert to Africa and back again. This will allow SNH staff to see if they return to St Cyrus next spring.
House martins are small birds with blue-black upper parts and pure white under-parts. They spend much of their time on the wing collecting insect prey. They are migrants to much of the UK in the summer, spending their winters in Africa.
It’s uncertain why the parents of the chicks left the two behind, but the parents were on their third brood and were likely exhausted. The rest of the martins had all reared their last chicks and the parents will have wanted to start the migration as a part of this large group, making sure that their first two broods had the best chance of survival. Another possibility is that one of the parents could have been killed and its partner therefore had to travel with the large group.