I've gotten a number of emails from folks wanting to know what they can do about their martins during extended periods of inclement weather. Since purple martins are insectivores and eat only flying insects, and insects don't fly during extended cold or long spells of cool rainy weather, then obviously, the martins aren't eating. Hopefully this page will help with that.
Everyone that keeps martins has probably run into this problem at one time or another. The martins return and a cold snap hits with two or three days of temps well below the norm for that time of year. No, the cold itself won't bother the martins. Their feathers have great insulating factors and, if kept dry, they will do just fine. But at the same time, they aren't eating and that's where the problem is. All endothermic, (warm blooded) living creatures need to constantly replenish their food stores in order for their bodies to create heat from the fats in those foods. Without those replenished stores and the animal (bird) will quickly use up any stores in their bodies, thus making them susceptible to the elements such as extreme cold.
Yes, there are a few things we can do in these instances and I will try to elaborate on them, however; I make no promises, because some have had success, while others, have not. All I can say is give one a try and see what happens.
This one comes from feeding Bluebirds during colder spells.
Simply pick up a bunch of meal worms at your local bait shop, or order some on-line. The amount will depend on how many birds you have to feed. Then, place a few of them in a low-profile dish and then these dishes can be placed either inside the cavity with the birds or out on a platform somewhere where all the birds can find them. However, this one has shown very hard to work because the birds are not used to eating out of any kind of container. It can be tried, but if it were me, I'd go for the crickets...
Now this method has shown to be much more acceptable to the birds and it's actually fun if they take to it. It's known as Flinging Crickets. The object is to make crickets seem to 'fly' in front of the martins and then get them to take the crickets out of the air. It's done like this.
First, for this to work, the martins (or at least a few of them) have to be sitting outside of the compartment on rack arms or house roof or wherever they like to sit.
You get a bunch of crickets, again from a bait shop or from online.
Next, get a little plastic spoon that is sturdy and the you can bend the handle a little without it snapping. (Might want to get a few just for this reason).
Now, take crickets and spoons and go out to where the martins are sitting outside their housing.
Standing somewhat under them, and in front of them, take a cricket, place it on the front of the spoon.
Putting the handle of the spoon between thumb and fingers of one hand, bend the spoon back with the opposite index finger, (while holding the cricket in place with that finger) and then, using the spoon as a sling-shot, flick the cricket up into the air in front of the martins. This might take a dozen or more tries (or even more).
IF... one of the martins is hungry enough, it will eventually come off the arm and snatch the cricket out of the air.
Again, flick another cricket.
Again, it might take a bunch of 'flicks'. The first martin, already aware that it's food, may come and get it again.
Martins are fast learners and if one sees another martin getting food, it too will eventually take a cricket.
And then, the next thing you know, they will all be doing it.
In doing so, you are supplementally feeding your martins to get them thru the cold spell.
Now, the only problem...do you have enough crickets...?
There are a number of other methods for 'flinging' the crickets, but this is the most basic and most people that supplementally feed do it by this method. Some may use a long flat stick while other will use compressed air thru a long skinny tube. How you do it is up to you.
And that's all there is to it. And, should it get cold again, you won't have to train them to do it again. They'll already know.
Oh and one more thing. If it's not cold, don't bother...they won't take the crickets... They prefer to go get their own food...