Supplemental Feeding

Here in Alberta as we all know, the weather can get very cold and rainy during the summer. Many times the first arriving Martins will show up before or during a late spring snow storm. If the weather falls below 10 degrees Celsius or 50 Fahrenheit, there are no bugs available for the Martins to feed on. Especially during July and August when the Parent Martins are feeding hungry nestlings. The demand for a steady supply of bugs is enormous, The cold weather is the greatest killer of Purple Martins in the northern part of their range.

On the August 1st long weekend of 2002 we lost well over 50% of our nestling Martins, when a week of cold 5 to 10 degree C weather settled in. The parents had nothing to feed them.

Then again in the spring of 2003, a late spring snow storm on the 6 of May killed many or most of our older early arriving Martins. Martins can take the cold, but they begin to get weak and starve to death if they don't get fed . Adult Martins can go without eating for 3 days, but by day 4 they start to get very weak and may not have enough energy to fly. The nestlings need food every day to gain weight. As a result the population was way down in the summer of 2003.

We now know that Purple Martins will eat SUPPLEMENTAL FOOD if us Landlords care enough about them to feed them. It was sickening for me to watch those hungry fledgling aged nestlings perish in 2002. I vowed to myself that I would never let them perish like that again.

In the spring of 2003, I was ready for the snow storm. I had about 12 adult Martins back here at my home colony, and another dozen were back at Country Nine as well. I had ordered 10,000 meal worms from Victoria and I fed them all up in just a few days. To my knowledge I did not loose one Martin.

Martins will eat Meal worms, Crickets, Grass Hoppers and even microwave scrambled eggs. They like eating frozen or chilled Crickets, but they can get a bit expensive and not always available. They will eat grass hoppers as well, so if any of you care to go out and catch them using a butterfly net, they are free. It works best I found to just freeze them and thaw them out just before you feed them.

You can buy mealworms and crickets from "Bug Order" a very good and reasonably priced supplier in Morinville AB.

Phone:      1-866-530-7867
Web site:

They will deliver them as well.

I am now growing my own meal worms, in hope of growing enough to supply many of you local landlords when the weather turns bad again. Meal worms are very easy to grow and keep. You can keep them for many months in the refrigerator, in a rubber maid container with wheat bran and a carrot or potato for food and moisture. They are very clean, easy to keep, and my Martins eat them like candy.

Oyster Bar
Bob's Oyster Bar
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I feed my martins on a raised platform feeder, that I built to supply crushed Oyster shell, egg shell, and now meal worms and microwave scrambled egg. I named this feeder "BOB'S OYSTER BAR" and my Martins love it. It took a bit of training at first to get them use to it, but once they got started they use the "Oyster Bar" every day. They especially like feeding breakfast to their nestlings early in the morning before the bugs are out and just before dark in the evenings. During the day when bugs are plentiful they will ignore the Oyster bar feeder.


Feeding at the Oyster Bar
Martins Feeding at the Oyster Bar
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I have found that they will eat microwave scrambled egg as well, but it works best to offer some meal worms with the egg on the Oyster Bar. At first they will pick up the egg, shake it and drop it, but after a few days of supplying fresh scrambled egg with the meal worms they started eating it and then feeding it to their nestlings. What a relief this is to me, I now know I can keep them alive when the weather gets bad. The Oyster Bar is a great source of entertainment in our yard. If the Martins drop any meal worms on the ground the Robins are right there to clean them up. The Oyster Bar attracts all sorts of song birds as well as the Martins.

Re-filling the Oyster Bar
ReFilling the Oyster Bar
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The Oyster bar is built out of sturdy fir plywood with a clear Lexan roof which keeps everything nice and dry. It telescopes up and down using two lengths of conduit pipe, so filling is easy. Once raised, you simply insert a pin into the upper conduit, which holds it at the 9 foot height. If any of you are interested in purchasing an Oyster Bar, I build a few to have on hand here to sell locally, so you can stop in and pick one up. Or I can send them out by Canada Post in a kit form with simple assembly instructions. You just have to purchase two inexpensive 6 foot lengths of conduit from your local electrician and your Oyster bar is ready to go.


After successfully feeding meal worms and scrambled egg for several seasons the resident Robins soon found those tasty treats as well. I had to do something to keep them from eating every meal worm I put out for the Martins.

click on pictures for larger versions

I found that adding sides to my Oyster bar and fastening them 1 1/2" up from the floor solved the Robin problem. The Martins can enter under the sides easily but the Robins are just too big and fat to fit under the plexi glass sides. I made one side so it can easily be removed to clean and fill the Oyster bar. No more Robin problems.

For more info on this conversion please fee free to Contact Me using the information given below or via email at

Below is a recipe for microwave scrambled egg, give it a try if you like.

Breakfast and late supper are prime times to provide egg during the nestling season. Of course, our nest cams are showing us that this is when parents are under the most stress. Nestlings wake up hungry and are very demanding. They are slow to settle down for the night when their tummies are not full.... every time Mom or Dad moves inside the compartment those little mouths open wide and they screech. Hard for anyone to sleep when the babies are hungry.

Once the parents begin eating the "Egg Mcmeal breakfast", they definitely
will feed it to their nestlings as well.

Several of us learned by accident that Martins are "much" more likely to eat fluffy scrambled egg made in a microwave, than dense scrambled egg fried in a pan.

You can make a large quantity of egg in a microwave oven using only a bowl and fork.

Martins seem to relish the moist scrambled egg that the water produces. It
also makes for easier clean up as the egg sticks less to the bowl. To get them started eating the scrambled egg, I put in some live meal worms beneath the egg in a plastic cat dish. The cat dish contains the worms and also makes it so easy to discard the egg from my Oyster bar once it gets old and hard.

Egg McMeal Breakfast
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Break 6 large eggs into a ceramic bowl, add 1/4 cup water, beat vigorously with a fork until yolk, white, and water are very well mixed.

Put bowl in microwave for 45 seconds. remove and stir well with fork, microwave for 45 more seconds, remove and stir with fork..... repeat until eggs are no longer runny. Eggs will be puffed up and fluffy. Don't leave any uncooked egg, but don't over cook.

Using fork, stir eggs while still hot and mash with tines of the fork to break into small pieces. Try to break most of them into 1/4" pieces. Let cool to room temp. Store cooked egg in refrigerator until you want to feed some. It will keep a few days. 6 large eggs will provide 100% calorie requirements for 12 Adult Martins per day.

This recipe can be increased or decreased proportionately.

Feeding supplemental food
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Another feeding method I use is flinging supplemental food in the air to my Martins, using a large plastic or wooden spoon. It works best if you wait until day 3 without food to train them as they must be hungry to learn this method. But believe me, once you get the first one started catching tossed food, the others catch on very quickly. This method can be a lot of fun for you the landlord as well. It usually takes about 20 minutes or so of flinging Crickets or Grass hoppers in front of them, before one will all of a sudden catch on. Just BE PATIENT! Once they learn you will be able to feed them at any time during cool weather. They remember well and soon learn that you are their savior. They will remind you when ever they are hungry during cold weather, believe me! It works best to start them off by tossing Grass hoppers or Crickets, as hoppers are part of their natural diets and they recognize them. Once they are feeding, you can switch to tossing meal worms. I feed up thousands of meal worms this way. I like to stand close to my Oyster Bar feeder when tossing so they get use to a main feeding area in my yard. Feel free to call me at any time for tips on supplemental feeding. I will be very happy to mentor you on this subject. Your Martins will love you for it! Don't worry, when the weather warms up they will once again resume feeding on their own and will not depend on you for food.

ANNE JOHNSON... an experienced Winnipeg Landlord tells her story on feeding Martins in cold weather.

I offer all forms of feeding during inclement weather...crickets on porches (you can put them in the compartment as long as you don't have nesting material in there). It gets covered up otherwise. Putting them on the porches makes them more obvious to the birds.

Meal worms in small containers in which the mealworms cannot climb up and out of, and mealworms, eggs and crickets on a feeding tray close to purple martin house.

When tossing eggs with a plastic tea spoon, you have to be determined, as it can take some time to trigger the old birds memories and also clue in the new ones.

I pretty much toss the microwave scrambled eggs just above the birds heads while they are sitting on their porches or perched on rods. You almost need to hit them with the egg (and I have at times), you need to get so close that they start to open their beaks as it goes by them. This worked for us with a few new birds that were not familiar with supplemental feeding.

Again, the key is to be determined and not give up as it could take you a few days to get them going, but it will pay off in the end. I have 30 birds and every single bird is feeding so don't give up.

Now when my birds are hungry they either fly to my low roof right by my patio doors or as soon as I walk out the doors some birds will start flying towards me. They actually get pretty demanding after a while.

Yesterday morning a male landed on my head (I was wearing a hat thank goodness as they have sharp claws...One nicked me while feeding a few days ago...) As he sat on my head I tossed a piece of egg and he flew off to grab it.

For more feeding info you can call Anne at 204- 477-6970

Thanks Anne, for saving so many Martins from starving!

-- Information and plans on the North Star Martin House --
-- Information on the Buskas Bungalow --
-- Attracting Purple Martins to your Colony --
-- Managing a Purple Martin Colony in Alberta --
-- Starling and Sparrow Control --
-- See Map to Northern Sky's and Country 9 --
-- Back to the Northern Sky's Purple Martin Colony --

Bob Buskas
R.R.2 Wetaskiwin
Alberta, Canada
T9A 1W9

Phone: (780) 352-2783
Northern Sky's Purple Martin Colony
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