Ken Kostka,
American Swallow Conservancy

These 18 pairs of Purple Martins died during a prolonged period of cool/cold weather. DON’T LET YOUR PURPLE MARTINS DIE !!!  When faced with three or more days of consistently poor weather (continuous rain or temperatures continuously below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit), Purple Martins begin starving to death because they do not have anything to eat.  Purple Martins eat only flying insects, such as flies, beetles, dragonflies, midges, butterflies, and the like.  When it rains continuously or the temperature gets below 50 degrees, these insects become inactive and the air is deprived of the martins’ only source of food. The only way to keep your martins from dying during these prolonged periods of foul, insect-less weather is to train them to eat large crickets, which can be purchased in bulk and shipped to you overnight.

Here it is in a nutshell: When martins have endured several days without food, they become desperate and will eat large crickets if you fling them into the air with a simple plastic spoon. You can also place the crickets on the porches of the martin housing, but flicking them into the air is much more effective in getting the martins to notice and eat them. So here’s what to do. Call Fluker Farms at 1-800-735-8537 or go to their website at https://flukerfarms.com/live-crickets  and order 1000 six-week old crickets. (1000 is the minimum purchase, and six-week old is the largest available). Have them shipped overnight by Federal Express or Airborne Express.  If you have a large colony or plan to feed them through a long period of cold weather, consider ordering more.  A martin will eat about 25 crickets per day.

The crickets will arrive LIVE in a cardboard box.  Put the whole box into a garbage bag and place it in the refrigerator or freezer for about 20 minutes.  This will knock out the crickets and make them easier to handle. (Trying to fling live crickets is difficult; they keep trying to escape.)

Locate your Purple Martins.  They may be hunkered down inside the housing. You may need to chase them out of the housing by lowering the house. Once they have landed on nearby perches, phone lines, etc…, place a cricket into the plastic spoon and catapult it (fling it) high and past the starving martins. You may need to fling several dozen before one or two martins starts to go after the flung crickets. But once one martin starts going after the crickets, the others will imitate and before you know it, they’ll all be feeding. Once they have been trained to eat crickets, you can substitute scrambled egg! But you must start with crickets; this is because crickets look like grasshoppers – something that martins normally eat. The wings and legs are critical because theses body parts allow the martins to recognize the crickets as a potential food item!

Check newspaper for weather forecast http://www.nws.noaa.gov.  Monitor you birds closely during poor weather. Look for listless behavior and drooping wings. Your birds may resort to “communal cavity roosting” which means they pack themselves into one cavity for shared body heat. Don’t wait too long to act. When martins start falling to the ground and dying, it’s usually too late!

If you are not going to feed, then don’t lower the house, and hope for the best but check the housing as soon as the weather breaks and remove any dead martins that might be blocking the exit of live ones huddled inside.

IMPORTANT: Once you have trained your martins to accept tossed crickets, you can substitute marble-sized pieces of scrambled egg, which is much cheaper and more readily available!!  Keep in mind, it’s much easier to fling the crickets/egg with a plastic spoon instead of by hand/arm. To make scrambled egg in a microwave, place eggs in a large glass (microwavable) bowl, mix, microwave for 1-2 minutes, mix again, and repeat until egg is fully cooked (but no overcooked). Once the martins have learned to accept the egg when flung into the air, you can place it on a feeding tray or platform. Doing so saves the martins from expending energy by flying around waiting to get their chance at a piece of egg.

IMPORTANT: With the increase of emergency and supplemental feeding, some martins at an untrained colony may already be trained to eat egg without you being aware of it! This is because they may have dispersed from a colony that was already trained to eat scrambled egg.  Most landlords whose colonies are trained to accept supplemental feedings use scrambled egg because it is MUCH cheaper and more readily available, so thousands of martins all across the USA are already trained to eat scrambled egg.  So try tossing (flinging with a plastic spoon) several marble/pea sized chunks of scrambled egg towards the hungry martins. If there is a martin trained to eat egg (and they are hungry), they will go after the egg and others will imitate, just like with the crickets.


More supplemental feeding articles: 

40 Starving Martins Eat 900+ Hand-Tossed Crickets at Amish Colony