While being more of an oil-slick colour than truly purple, the purple martin is still a very wonderful and interesting bird. Below, we're finding out what's on the menu for purple martins throughout the year. They're the largest of the swallow family in North America, so what does this bird eat to grow so large?
Purple martins get most of their protein from insects. They eat a lot of fly insects, including moths, wasps, winged ants and some types of bees. Dragonflies also make up a big part of their diet.
While a big part of a purple martins diet is flying insects, they do eat some other things as well. We will break down their diet more throughout this article.
Purple martins eat a lot of different insects. From houseflies to beetles and butterflies, the purple martin will take almost any flying insect. However, they will very occasionally eat ants and some other insects on the ground.
Purple Martin eating a dragonfly
Purple martins get most of their food on the wing. This means while they are in flight. They catch most of the insects that they eat at altitudes between 150 and 500 feet.
It may seem odd that insects fly at this height, but they do. Insects can actually fly much higher than this, and purple martins will fly higher to catch insects if they need to.
Purple martins simply pluck insects out of the air. They are incredibly nimble and need to be. Spotting insects in the sky is tricky for us, but for purple martins, it is very easy. They have fantastic eyesight and can spot packs of insects in the sky easily. They will try and eat as many as they can before the insects spread out.
The majority of food consumed by Purple Martins is caught in the air
Purple martins will feed throughout the day, and it isn’t uncommon for them to be flying for about 4-5 hours during the day in search of food. They use thermals to burn less energy wherever possible but can remain in the air for a very long time during daylight searching for food.
Purple martins don’t change their dietary habits based on seasons. They continue to eat flying insects throughout the year. Purple martins migrate in the winter to sunnier climates.
There is plenty of food in South America for them to enjoy, and so they leave North America and head over the border to get some protein and sun.
Purple Martin perched on a branch
Purple martins eat flying insects during the summer. In fact, they eat flying insects all year round. A purple martin’s diet is almost exclusively flying insects.
Purple martins start their babies off young with their obsession with flying insects. As the babies need a lot of protein to get strong quickly, the parents will bring them about 60 insects a day. The breeding season is one of the best times of year to see purple martins hunting for insects on the wing.
A colony of Purple Martins
It is very difficult to get purple martins to feed on anything in your garden. They eat on the wing at altitudes of up to 500 feet, so it is difficult to recreate these conditions in your garden.
Purple martins have to be trained to eat crickets, which can be done. They also respond to mealworms. If the purple martins you are trying to feed are wild, it is best to leave them to feed by themselves, though. If they are in the area, there is food for them.
Very occasionally, a purple martin may feed on ants on the ground, but it is extremely rare. Most purple martins are happy to eat on the wing.
Adult female Purple Martin in flight
Purple martins don’t eat any type of seed and thus are not attracted to bird feeders.
They may take a drink of water every now and then, but purple martins get most of their fluid from the insects they eat.
Putting out dead crickets and mealworms can attract purple martins into your yard, but not always.
These birds eat on the wing, so recreating their usual feeding habits isn’t possible in a garden. This makes them one of the hardest birds to attract into your garden.
If you have wasp nests and ant colonies in your garden, leave them to mature, and this may attract purple martins into feed.
Adult male Purple Martin
Purple martins fly at a height of between 150 and 500 feet and catch and eat insects on the wing. Mosquitoes don’t fly this high, so purple martins don’t worry about them.
Yes, along with 2,000 other types of insects, purple martins will happily eat wasps.
They do love eating house files and will happily eat them all day, every day.
Purple martins will eat crickets, but it is a rare sight. It is very difficult to get purple martins to eat crickets from a feeding table, but it has been known to happen.
Purple Martin perched on a Purple Martin house
Yes, these birds do eat some types of bees.
No, purple martins eat flying insects on the wing.
No, these birds get almost all of their food from eating flying insects.
Male (left) and female (right) purple martins perched together
Yes, purple martins will eat butterflies while in the air.
Japanese beetles spend their lives flying from plant to plant, eating as they go. While they are in the air, these beetles can get taken by purple martins and many other birds.
Yes, cicadas and 2,000 other types of insects make up the majority of a purple martin’s diet.
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