What Do Purple Martins Eat?

what does a purple martin eat

Purple Martin Photo by jeffreyw, Flickr

Purple martins spend their summers in many parts of the United States and their winters in South America. These birds are part of the swallow family. Like other swallows, they have evolved to eat a specialized diet. Like other birds learning what do purple martins eat will help you learn how attract these birds to your backyard. Learning how they eat can help you design a backyard that also draws these birds.

A Diet of Flying Insects

They only eat flying insects such as dragonflies, moths, flies, bees and butterflies. The Purple Martin Conservation Association reports that they also eat midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, cicadas, wasps and flying ants. Put up a purple martin house, such as a gourd with a small opening, and you’ll have natural insect control and beautiful birds to watch.

Feeding Methods

They catch their food in flight during the day. They tend to feed on high flying insects rather than those that fly low to the ground. Perches and trees high off the ground give them a good landing spot when foraging.

A Body Designed for Catching Flying Insects

The wings of the purple martin bird are long and tapered while the tail is short and forked. This gives them the ability to make quick directional changes in midflight and fly up to 45 miles per hour. Their aerodynamic body also allows them to chase and catch equally fast flying insects that are the mainstay of their diet.

Limitations

The exclusive diet of flying insects does limit the ability of purple martins to find enough food at times. When rains or cold temperatures kill off insect populations, purple martins can starve in just three days. Never use pesticides or herbicides in a yard if you want to attract these birds. Hanging fruit and other foods to attract butterflies and moths will help provide a food source.

The Mosquito Myth

A common myth is that purple martin birds consume mosquitoes. Although these birds help control various insect populations, mosquitoes (a low flying and nocturnal insect) are not an insect they eat.

purple martin birdhouseAttract Purple Martins with a Martin Birdhouse

Put one of these up in your yard and enjoy watching these birds in the summer.

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