Feeding Purple Martins

Purple Martin Diet

The Purple Martin is distinctive in its eating habits, as it is an aerial forager, meaning that it captures all of its food in flight.  The Purple Martin drinks mid-air too, by skimming water off ponds or lakes with its beak.  Purple Martins eat primarily insects.  They are infamous for their ability to control the pest population consuming insects like: house flies, mosquitoes, ants, wasps, beetles and dragonflies. For years, it was incorrectly reported that Purple Martins were voracious consumers of mosquitoes, alleging eating thousands a day.  However, this has recently been proven as nothing more than a wives' tale, as mosquitoes fly at a much lower elevation than Purple Martins hunt and the two rarely cross paths.

purple martin eating
Purple Martin Eating

When to feed Purple Martins

Though Purple Martins can generally fend for themselves when it comes to food, there are a number of situations in which they may be dependent upon human assistance to survive.  Since Purple Martins feed almost solely on insects, their diet is heavily influenced by extreme weather patterns that make insect flight scarce.  When the weather dips below 50 degrees, it can cause insect flight to cease.  Purple Martins have nothing to eat during this period and if the cold snap continues for 4-5 days, they could possibly starve.  Other inclement weather conditions that hamper the diet of a Purple Martin are rainy weather or extreme fog.

How to feed Purple Martins

In these situations it may be advisable to hand feed your Purple Martins to keep them alive.   There are two main strategies for hand feeding: active feeding and stationary feeding. 

Active Feeding

In active feeding, you will need to toss food up in the air in order to mimic a flying insect.  You can use either your hands or a slingshot for this process.  It may take Purple Martins a while to catch on, so be patient.  You can use your hands, a slingshot or a blow gun for this process.  Try to toss the food close to the Purple Martin house and in a wide arc that floats slightly above the house.

Stationary Feeding

purple martin feeding
Purple Martin Feeding

It is recommended that you try sustaining Purple Martins through active feeding before attempting stationary feeding, as it will help them adjust to being fed by humans.  In stationary feeding, you can use a platform bird feeder to feed the birds.  You may also want to combine this with active feeding, hoping that eventually the Purple Martins will discover that there is a healthy supply of food sitting nearby.

Food for Purple Martins

Crickets are a great food for Purple Martins, especially for active feeding, however it's important to make sure the crickets are dead, otherwise they may escape.  Mealworms are widely available and good for stationary feeding.  Another option is cooked eggs, which can be introduced once the birds have accepted insects.

Ready to purchase a Purple Martin House?  Then browse our large online inventory of Purple Martin houses. Want to learn more about the Purple Martin?  Check out some of the additional articles below.

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