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Feeding Purple Martins

Caring for purple martins has become a fascinating hobby for millions, and landlords rejoice at their successful broods. Martins naturally feed on flying insects, although supplemental feeding can be a boon for your colony in times of inclement weather. Offering mealworms and crickets to your martins either actively or in a feeder can help your birds survive when the weather makes them unable to feed. To do so, train your martins to accept food and create a special feeder for them, to help your colony thrive.

When temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more days, when it rains or drizzles steadily for a few days, or when it is foggy or excessively windy for more than a day, flying insects, the martins' primary food source, become inactive. This prevents the martins from feeding, which can weaken them substantially in a matter of days. Martins can survive for 2 to 3 days without food, while nestlings may only survive one day without sustenance. In such climates, it may be a good idea to offer crickets or mealworms to your birds, keeping them healthy.

As martins dine on live, flying insects, they will likely not recognize food at first, if just placed in a feeder. They often need trained on accepting food from a stationary location. To train them, it is usually suggested to begin tossing food at first, to mimic flying. Beginning with crickets, which are similar in shape to grasshoppers, a martin's natural food, use a blow gun, slingshot, plastic spoon, or your hand and launch the food into the air. It is best if the martins are able to see the flying food, and if it reaches to the height of their house. It will likely take several tries to get the birds interested in the fodder, so be prepared to make many attempts. Once one bird feels that this is a viable food source, the others will likely join and enjoy your offerings.

When the birds are acclimated to tossed feeding, you may wish to add a platform feeder for their convenience. Open platforms work best, and can be filled with roasted mealworms, dead crickets, and perhaps even some cooked egg. Pole mount the feeder in an open area, approximately 6' to 10' high. Add perches above the platform, for the birds to rest when dining. Keep the space as open as possible, as martins search for insects in meadows often. Throwing insects directly above the platform and allowing them to land on the tray helps the martins understand that this is a food source for them. Adding a squirrel baffle to the feeder keeps rodents from taking the egg.

Offering supplemental insects to martins during inclement weather can help keep your colony healthy. It can help nestlings obtain their daily nutrients, and keep subadults and adults strong and viable. We have a large selection of poles, platform feeders, perches, and other accessories for all your martin needs. Be sure to visit our Purple Martin Houses department to check out all of our exciting products.