For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins

Purple martins with dragonflies.

I don’t see a lot of press releases now that journalism is no longer my full-time profession, but I did receive a few last week that caught my eye.

One was from Cole’s Wild Bird Products and the other from the Purple Martin Conservation Association. The topics were very different but did have one important commonality: spring.

Cole’s, which makes a red-hot blend that I’ve used and the birds loved, sent some spring bird-feeding tips. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring for a variety of reasons, including bears and not wanting birds to become dependent upon feeders, but I’m a big fan of spring bird feeding. It’s a great way to get close, long looks at birds such as grosbeaks, orioles, buntings and even a few warbler species if you’re lucky.

Cole’s sent along tips such as using a variety of feeder types at different heights and using a variety of foods. The food suggestions included dried mealworms, which I used extensively last spring to feed eastern bluebirds and pine warblers. More common feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice and nuthatches love them too.

Suet is another can’t-miss offering to entice birds. Use care with suet in the spring and summer as it spoils quickly in the heat. Some companies, Cole’s included, make no-melt suet products.

Fresh fruit was another suggestion. I’ve had very limited success using fresh fruit to attract birds, but I’ve seen enough photos and heard enough testimonials to know that it can work. A catbird eating from an orange half is the extent of my success using fresh fruit. And that happened about 20 years ago. I did get orioles at my feeding station last spring, but they ate suet instead of the orange slices I had offered.

Let me know if you’ve had better success with fresh fruit.

News came from the Purple Martin Conservation Association that a purple martin had been spotted in Rindge as early as April 4. “The Purple martins arrival in New Hampshire show the birds are making steady progress northward since they first made landfall in Florida two days before Christmas,” Joe Siegrist, president of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, said in the release. “Tracking the migration is not only fun, but it also provides us with valuable information that helps inform our research and strengthen our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything possible to sustain the population of these amazing birds.”

Purple Martins are North America’s largest species of swallow. They winter in the rainforests of Brazil before migrating up to 7,000 miles north into the eastern United States and Canada. I was in Florida visiting my brother last week following a few college visits with my son, and the purple martin colonies were fully active in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, purple martins are in decline and have lost up to a third of their population over the last 50 years, according to a study released in 2019. Of course, human-provided “condos” have helped the species as natural nesting habitat has disappeared.

In fact: “Human-provided nest boxes are the only thing keeping the species alive east of the Rocky Mountains,” Siegrist said in the release.

Visit for more information about the bird’s migration or how to set up housing for a colony. To receive a free booklet on how to attract and care for purple martins from the nonprofit Purple Martin Conservation Association, email or call 814-833-7656.

As an aside, the Purple Martin Conservation Association is based in Erie, Pa., my hometown growing up. I wasn’t aware of this until I saw the release. Keep up the good work, Erie.

1 thought on “For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins

  1. Pingback: For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins — Birds of New

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